A Deeper Peace
Acts 16:9-15 John 14:23-29
May 2, 2010
It is really easy to let things upset us. It is easier for us to turn our attention on our worries and fears, rather than to focus on the good that unfolds for us each day. The words Jesus speaks to his disciples in this morning’s reading from John cut right to the heart of the matter. They come in the midst of Jesus’ conversation with the disciples about what it means to really love him, and how he and God the Father are one. In this context, Jesus seems to be telling the disciples that if they truly live in his love, then there are plenty of good things that will come to them as a result. One of these good things is that they will have a sense of peace deep within them that can not be shaken by anything or anyone.
Sometimes we read this statement to mean that if we worry or give in to fear, we have failed God in some way. But what is more important in this context is that this peace of Jesus is offered to us, held out to us on a silver platter. All we need to do is take it, say “yes” to it, and let it in. This is the hard part for many of us. We assume that we have to hold on to our worries a bit longer, at least until answers to our questions become clear. We imagine that Jesus was not really offering that sense of peace to people who brought difficulties on themselves, like you and I do. We think that Jesus’ peace is really only given to people who manage to live their lives free of flaws, who do the right thing at every turn, who make wise choices each time a choice is presented to them. We think that Jesus’ peace is only given to people who are always kind and compassionate, to those who are confident in their faith every day, leaving no room for doubt.
These assumptions are wrong. As Jesus himself said, “the healthy have no need for a doctor. I came to heal the sick.” Well, we are the sick. We are the ones who need to learn what Jesus’ peace feels like, because we find ourselves in turmoil so much of the time. We are the ones who need to receive this peace from Jesus, because we have no way of excavating it from within our own hearts. We don’t know peace firsthand. We need Jesus to teach it to us, to give it to us, so that we can begin to become familiar with it, so we can begin to know what it feels like. And maybe eventually we will be able to create a bit of it ourselves. Maybe eventually we will learn how to live in a state of peace. Maybe eventually we will be able to offer some peace to other people and even out in this world of ours.
Peace is in short supply these days. I am not sure if peace is harder to come by because our country is fighting a war or not. Maybe there is some connection between a broad sense of the absence of peace and the more private sense of it. But I do know that we can create peace, no matter what else is going on in the world or in our lives. When we go through a tough time, it can be difficult to see anything clearly. It can be hard to carve out a place for peace, when nothing feels peaceful in us or around us. At the college, the sense of tension rises as we get closer to the end of the semester. It can be extremely difficult to convince students or even faculty and staff, who are also under pressure, to take time out of their hectic schedule for some relaxation or meditation. Just when we all need it the most, we usually feel too busy to take a little time out to court a bit of peace. We see it as indulging ourselves, as giving in to some of our more basic needs, rather than as feeding the part of ourselves that can help us maintain our equilibrium in the midst of chaos and stress. I know in my own life, I find it very difficult to prioritize things that are “just” for making me feel better, helping me cope or feeding my spirit. When I am feeling particularly stressed, what I tend to do is dive right into the things on my “to do” list, with little thought given to getting my balance first. I figure I will get around to doing things for myself if I have time after all of the so-called “important” work is done.
But Jesus would not be very happy with this pattern. He spoke of giving us a peace that is different from what the world gives to us. When we pursue peace as a last item on our “to do” list, it is very, very different from making peace your top priority. Jesus’ peace is the kind of peace that can be lived out of. Jesus’ understanding of peace was as a foundation from which everything else that is desirable flows. When we hold Jesus’ peace at the center of who we are, we are stabilized and anchored no matter what else comes. Frustrating situations show up in every person’s life. They are just part and parcel of what it means to be human. We all struggle with the fact that we cannot control these situations. No matter how carefully we guard ourselves against them, difficulties will still come to us. In fact, sometimes we even bring them on ourselves. The challenge when this happens, is to tap back into the peace that Jesus offers, and regain your sense of balance before you go any further, before you respond, if possible. The peace we attain by living our lives perfectly, avoiding any conflict, is not the same thing as the peace that Jesus offers. Any peace we are able to create is tenuous at best. Because it depends on situations, it can be upset by the smallest infraction in the perfection we aim for. On the other hand, what Jesus offers is a peace that goes beyond the circumstances in which we find ourselves at any given moment. It is like an underground river flowing beneath the surface of the earth. You cannot always see or hear it, but it nourishes everything that is seen. It is evident in everything that exists on the surface, everything that shows itself in the living of our lives.
As a part of his comments to the disciples at this time, Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Maybe this is a part of our work in this whole practice of peace. Maybe we need to learn how to face situations without giving in to worry or fear. Maybe it is a practice, much like any spiritual practice? Many of us take time in our daily lives to read the Bible and pray, perhaps to write a bit in a journal. What if we also made it a part of our daily spiritual practice to calm our hearts and learn how to let go of our fear and worry? My sense is that this practice could really open up some doors for those of us who are stuck in our own heads too much, those who worry as if it is an Olympic sport, those who allow fears to change the course of our actions and our lives. What if we took Jesus at face value here and chose to encourage our hearts to stand strong no matter what challenges them? What if we embraced our worries with peace, and just surrounded them so that they couldn’t affect us? What if we faced down our fears by standing on the strength of Jesus’ love for us, and the sense of unity we have through Jesus with God? To borrow from Paul’s letter to the Romans, “If Christ is for us, then who can stand against us?” - not even our own fears.
It may take some time and quite a bit of effort, but we can find Jesus’ peace deep within ourselves. And this peace can become the source it was meant to be for us - a source of a life lived from the heart, free of the petty fears and worries that haunt us, free in the love of God who wants all of us to be at peace in Him, in this world, and in ourselves.
God, you are the source of our peace. Help us to come to you first, when things worry or upset us. May we discover your peace living in our own hearts. May we make your peace an active and beautiful part of our lives, holding us in balance with all that comes our way every day. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.