Peace Amid the Storm

By the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, April 16, 2000
Palm Sunday

Readings


Jeremiah 8:4-12 Saying "Peace, peace," when there is no peace

Thus says the Lord: "When people fall, don't they get up again? If they go astray, don't they turn back? Why, then, has this people turned away in continual backsliding? They have held fast to deceit; they have refused to return. I have listened carefully, but they do not speak honestly; no one repents of wickedness, saying, 'What have I done!' All of them turn to their own course, like a horse charging into battle. Even the stork in the heavens knows its times; and the turtledove, swallow, and crane observe the time of their coming. But my people do not know the requirements of the Lord.

"How can you say, 'We are wise, for we have the law of the Lord,' when in fact, the false pen of the scribes has made it into a lie? The wise will be put to shame; they will be dismayed and taken. Since they have rejected the word of the Lord, what wisdom is in them? Therefore I will give their wives to others and their fields to conquerors, because from the least to the greatest everyone is greedy for unjust gain; from prophet to priest everyone deals falsely. They have treated the wound of my people as if it were not serious, saying, 'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace. They acted shamefully; they committed abomination; yet they were not at all ashamed, they did not know how to blush. Therefore they will fall among the fallen; at the time when I punish them, they will be brought down," says the Lord.


John 14:23-27 My peace I give to you

Jesus said, "Those who love me will obey my teachings, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not obey my teachings--and the words that you hear are not mine, but are from the Father who sent me.

I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."


Arcana Coelestia #5662 Heavenly peace

Peace is at the very center of heaven, and pervades everything there. For the peace that reigns in heaven is like springtime on earth, or like the dawn. What moves our feelings at the arrival of springtime or dawn is not the changes we notice, but the beauty that pervades everything we see, filling not only our perceptions, but every single thing around us with beauty.

These days, hardly anyone knows what the Bible means when it mentions "peace," as in the benediction, "May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace" (Numbers 6:26). Almost everyone thinks peace means being safe from enemies and having tranquility at home and with our friends. However, the Bible does not mean this kind of peace, but a peace that is vastly superior. For the Bible is speaking of heavenly peace.

We cannot gain this kind of peace unless we are led by the Lord and live in the Lord--in other words unless we are in heaven where the Lord is the All in all. For heavenly peace enters into us when the desires that come from our selfish and materialistic loves are eliminated. These desires take away our peace, inwardly harassing us, and eventually causing to think that rest is unrest and that we are at peace when we are being harassed--for we find our happiness in evil things. Yet as long as we are caught up in evil desires, we cannot possibly know what peace is. . . .

Since true peace at the center of every kind of happiness and joy, and fills everything, the people of ancient times had a common saying: "Peace be with you," meaning "May all be well." Or they would ask, "Do you have peace?" meaning "Is all well with you?"


Sermon

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

What a nice, comforting statement. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you." If we let our minds drift, we might imagine that Jesus said these words on some peaceful hillside. Or high up on a mountain with a beautiful vista spread out before him. Or perhaps by the seaside as the waves lapped peacefully up against the shore. In our reverie, we might imagine appreciative crowds drinking in these words of life, and having their lives transformed by them. Oh, how nice our lives would be if the pleasant pictures we dream up became reality!

In fact, Jesus spoke these words in a seemingly peaceful interlude that was surrounded by the most tumultuous and violent events of his life--events that culminated in the brutal end of his ministry and his life on earth.

The conflict had been building throughout the three years of Jesus' ministry. At first the religious leaders weren't too concerned. They'd seen plenty of "prophets" and "messiahs" come and go, and they had good reason to believe this Jesus would fade like the others.

But he did not fade. The crowds that followed him kept getting bigger and bigger. And now he'd really gone over the top! He had made a grand entry into Jerusalem--the political and spiritual center of the Jewish people--in the manner of an arriving king. Great crowds had greeted him with palm branches, shouting "Hosanna, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!" (John 12:13).

It was at the sight of this great public acclamation that the Pharisees remarked to one another in frustration and disgust, "See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!" (John 12:19). Something had to be done.

And Jesus knew what they intended to do. He knew that he was about to be arrested, tried, and crucified. He knew. And as he and his disciples prepared to eat the Passover meal--the meal that only Jesus knew would be their last supper together--he told them that was about to be executed. But they did not believe it. They would not believe it. They argued among themselves, and kept asking him questions, trying to figure out what in the world he was talking about.

The disciples were confused. Judas Iscariot was hatching a plot to betray him. The crowds were in an uproar. The chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees were disturbed, fearful, hatching their own plots to rid themselves of this menace to their power and position. Even the Romans could feel the atmosphere of tension in the city.

The only one at peace, it seems, was the one at the focal point of all the disturbance and unrest. Like the eye of a hurricane, Jesus rode at the center of a storm of confusion, conflict, and commotion swirling all around him, while he himself was an island of serenity.

The outward events of his life were anything but serene. He had plenty of reasons to be anxious, frightened, angry. He knew that the crowds were fickle, that the people who held the reins of earthly power were closing in around him, that he was about to be abandoned by his closest followers and suffer an agonizing death.

Yet in the midst of all this, he said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you."

His accusers knew nothing of this peace. They sensed the hour of their triumph approaching. They may have thought that if they could just eliminate this latest threat to their position, they would enjoy peace once again. But their plans and plots could never bring them peace, because they were based on greed and grasping for power. Any peace they gained would be the peace that the world gives. It would be the false and temporary peace that comes from pursuing, and temporarily satisfying, our small-minded and self-centered desires for power and wealth. Jeremiah's words could have been spoken of them:

How can you say, "We are wise, for we have the law of the Lord," when in fact, the false pen of the scribes has made it into a lie? The wise will be put to shame; they will be dismayed and taken. Since they have rejected the word of the Lord, what wisdom is in them?

Yes, they had rejected the Lord their God by misleading the people for their own comfort and gain. And now they rejected the Lord when he came in the flesh. They thought they had the answers to the problems of their people. If they could only eliminate rabble-rousers such as this Jesus, their job would be much easier. If they could only keep the Romans happy and keep the people under control, there would be peace. As Jeremiah said:

They have treated the wound of my people as if it were not serious, saying, "Peace, peace," when there is no peace.

Don't we do the same thing? Oh, I don't think any of us has crucified anyone lately. But don't we often think that if we could just get our financial situation under control, then we could relax and enjoy some peace? Or if we could just resolve our conflicts with the other people in our household, or at our workplace, or with our friends, then we could have some peace? Or if we could just forget our idealistic notions and accommodate our thinking to the aspects of the world around us that we don't like so much, then we could enjoy some peace?

This is the world's perspective on peace. Peace is when we have enough to eat, drink, and be merry. Peace is when we're getting along well with the people around us. Peace is when we've managed fit our lives into the ways of the world around us.

By this measure, Jesus should have been the least peaceful person in Jerusalem that day. He had nothing but the clothes on his back. The most powerful people in the city wanted him dead. And the reason they wanted him dead is that he refused to go along to get along. He refused to accommodate himself to the evils of his society. Instead, he continued to point out and condemn corruption, laziness, fraud, hypocrisy, and oppression everywhere he saw it. His life brought him into a collision course with all the worldly powers of his day. If any one of us were in that situation, we would likely consider it a disaster.

But not Jesus. He was the eye of the hurricane. He was the peace amid the storm. He said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives." The peace that Jesus offered to his disciples--the peace that Jesus offers us today--is a peace that the world does not give, nor can it ever give. The peace that Jesus offers is vastly superior to the outward, temporary peace that the world offers. The peace that Jesus offers is heavenly peace. It is the peace that the angels feel.

We can feel the same peace. No matter what our material circumstances are; no matter how we are getting along with the people around us; no matter what our feelings are about the society that we live in, we can feel that peace. The world has no power whatsoever over this peace--either to give it or to take it away. When we have this peace, all the storms and pain and confusion and sorrow of the world can be swirling around us and even within us, and yet we will be at peace at the deepest level of our being. Because this is not a peace that comes from the outside world. It is a peace that comes from within and above.

It is the peace we feel when we have the Lord's presence within us, in our hearts and minds. It is the peace we feel when we put aside our attachments to worldly considerations, and put the Lord first in our lives. It is the peace of knowing in our heart that the Lord loves us and has us in the palm of his hand. It is the peace of knowing and feeling that the Lord has put us here on earth for a reason. It is the peace of finding our joy by following the path that the Lord is showing us each day, step by step, moment by moment.

That kind of deep, inner peace does not come easily. To attain that peace, the Lord d spent his life fighting both worldly and spiritual powers of evil. He had been tempted by the devil (the combined forces of evil) not just on that one well-known occasion after his forty day fast in the wilderness, but throughout his life. And at the very time he spoke those words of peace, he was about to face the greatest struggle and agony of them all.

The peace that the Lord felt at his core was not one that came by accommodating himself to worldly and selfish desires. Rather, it came through confronting those desires and rising above them every step of the way.

It is our small-minded focus on our own wants and needs that causes us to slave away, continually trying to satisfy desires for material things and for the approval of others--desires that we will never satisfy. And as Jesus taught us, it is only by laying down our own lives that we can rise again to that vastly greater inner life of the spirit. When we lay down our idea of what our life should be, and instead look for the Lord's plan for our life, we can find the true and deeper peace of the Lord's warm, living, loving, enlightening presence within us.

Are we ready for that kind of peace? Are we ready to set aside our anxieties an our cares, and put our lives the Lord's hands? Is our faith strong enough that we can let go and give control of our life to the Lord?

When we do let go of our own lives, that is when we make space for the Lord to enter in. When we know that despite the storm around and within us, the Lord's love and truth and power are at the center of our lives, then we know the peace that the world cannot give.

Peace be with you.


Music: Dimensions
1999 Bruce DeBoer 


Robert Meyers