a sermon for the sixth sunday of easter on John 14:23-29
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Peace. A simple concept really. A concept that immediately sets us at ease. A concept that releases the tensions, the anxiety, the fear, that we carry with us in this life. A sense of peace is always welcome. A sense of peace is always wanted. But, this world we inhabit does not freely give us this peace we seek. In many ways, this world we inhabit strives really hard to do the opposite of that. Most of us will experience in this life times of uncertainty. Even when we are in a “good place,” there is a nagging sense that this world will put something else in front of us to challenge that temporary peace, that will push us back into the cycle of uncertainty, anxiety. When we are in this cycle it is physically draining, crippling, it affects our productivity, it affects our relationships, and in doing so, drives us further into the clutches of the anxiety and fear that put us there to begin with.
We try and break out of this cycle. We seek out peace wherever we can find it. The proliferation of the spiritual but not religious movement is in direct relation to this cycle of unrest. People are trying to connect again to the spiritual, to seek out calm, peace, through meditation, connecting to nature, connecting to the holy in the world. They do this because our secular world has continued to chug along with greater expectations of productivity, competition, climbing the corporate ladder, filling your resume, being the star student who also excels in athletics, is the president of three student clubs, and also invented a new way to change the world in their free time. This desire to connect again to the holy, to experience a sense of spiritual peace has driven people away from organized religion because of the stigmas attached to being labeled as “one of us”, because of the social structures in place at these houses of worship that perpetuate the cycle they are trying to escape, because we have done a really poor job of making this space a place where peace can be found, as opposed to anxiety over being new, over not knowing what to say, how to say it, and when to sit, stand, or kneel.
But, that doesn’t mean peace cannot be found here, it just means we need to do a much better job of making that reality a priority of our worship. You see this during our service each week when we share a sign of peace with each other, a reminder that we are in community together, that we are part of something bigger, that there are those in our lives who we can reach out to and receive peace from, just as we can give peace to others. And when we share this sign of peace, it is not our peace that we are sharing. When we share this sign of peace, it is not peace that comes from this church, from the words that the Dean or the deacons or the leaders from the congregation or myself say. When we share this sign of peace, it is the peace of the Lord, peace that we pray is always with us. Jesus Christ is this peace we share, peace given to us, peace left for us.
This peace of the Lord is a peace that combats what the world gives to us, it combats those things that trouble our hearts, that fill us with anxiety, that make our bodies physically ill because we are so filled with fear, fear of failure, fear of inadequacy, fear of coming up short. Our bodies negatively react, putting us on edge, overwhelming our entire being. And, the world gives a lot of this unrest to us.
I struggle with the American Dream. Right now, I’m doing pretty good. I have a lovely wife, a lovely home, we have two fully operational cars, and a lovable if somewhat obnoxious puppy. Our two careers afford us the opportunity to enjoy ourselves, to carefully plan our future, to put away for retirement, to decide when exactly we want to have children (as much as one can). I am living (for all intents-and-purposes) the American Dream. So, why do I always feel anxious about it? I am anxious because I have been taught that I must hold onto this for the rest of my life. I am anxious because I’m not sure what that means moving forward with my life. When I have children, how will that change things. When I move from this position, where will we live, will the home be enough, will the town be enough, will the education and opportunities be enough, will my position be enough. Most importantly, I am anxious because the world constantly reinforces that I should be anxious, that whatever I do in my life will not actually be enough.
One of the current candidates for president uses the campaign slogan: Make America Great Again. And while I think the slogan does a great job of reaching the audience it’s targeted at, what is this slogan really saying about us? It says that we are not currently great. Greatness then becomes a supposedly attainable goal, one where we all live into a society that pushes us to maintain the ideal of the American Dream, and if not, then it must by definition punish us when we fail to reach that, in reality lofty, standard. When we are told that we need to Make America Great Again we are being told that America is currently not great. That we, by association, are not great. That all of the work and energy, time and resources, mind-numbing paper-pushing and life-giving passions, that none of that is great, that all of that it is not good enough to elevate our communities, our country, it is not good enough and therefore we are not good enough.
This is not to say that we must be satisfied with this world we inhabit, but the notion that we constantly have to work harder, we constantly have to reach higher, we constantly have to be more than what we currently are, is exhausting at best, and downright dangerous at worst. When the pressures to save our community, save our country, save our world, are laid at our feet, and all of the real work we have done to save these things is labeled as not enough, as not great, then we either enter the never ending cycle of good but not great, or we wash out entirely and go live off the grid because this world is too much to handle.
Now, I honestly would not be opposed to living off the grid, hooking my tiny home up behind my truck and finding a secluded spot out in the wilderness with a quiet lake thrown in for good measure to live out my days, but checking out does not further the message of Christ. Checking out does not share the peace of Christ. Checking out hoards the peace of Christ to ourselves. Checking out hoards a message that must be shared with the world, a message that must change the very hearts of the people that hear it, a message that we must be willing to engage with spiritually and religiously.
It is in engaging this message, a message of faith, hope, love, a message that removes the anxiety of this world, that we can find respite from our daily anxiety. We neither need to give into the cycles of anxiety, of not good enough, of a life of almost but not quite, nor do we need to give up because it is an unwinnable proposition. When we accept the peace of Christ, and accept that this peace must be shared, so that others may experience this peace, we are challenging the current structures of this world. We challenge those who say we are not good enough, who say we must attain a mythical level of greatness that has no basis in reality. When we, as a Church, as a community of believers, commit ourselves to sharing the peace of Christ with the world, we are publicly stating that we do not accept the vicious cycles that permeate our culture. We are publicly stating that there is in fact a different path. That there is a reality where we can all experience peace in this life. That peace is not something we have to achieve, but is a gift that has been given to us, left waiting for us, if only we are willing to break free of the man-made cycles and structures of this world to accept the spiritual health and wellbeing that Christ readily offers. For, as scary as it may be to leave behind those structures that we are so used to operating within, that tell us if we don’t achieve their standards we fail, and not only do we fail ourselves but we fail our friends, our spouses, our children, our parents and grandparents, we fail our entire community even those whom we never were going to impact anyways, as scary as that promise of failure may be, the reward is the peace that we seek, as unimaginable as that may be to grasp.
We can have the peace of Christ. Each Sunday we catch a glimpse of this in that moment of peace-filled recognition we experience when we turn to our neighbor, whether friend or stranger, and say The Peace of the Lord be ALWAYS with you, and we respond in kind And ALSO with you. We need only recognize this, recognize what has been left for us by Christ. When the world comes to trouble us again simply remember that Christ’s peace is always with you, and may you then share that peace with every person you meet.