Risen. Renewed: Peace - Rev. Michael F. Bailey

Risen. Renewed: Peace
John 14:23-29
Michael F. Bailey
May 1, 2016

John 14:23-29: Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, 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 keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. ‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, 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. You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.

I’d like to start off today by sharing some words of hope and encouragement. But I’d tell you the reason why. In nine days, the general conference of United Methodist Church will start. The General conference is the highest legislative body in the United Methodist Church. They will do many fine things at General Conference, but they will also act on some issues over which United Methodists do not all agree upon.  And, in my experience, media will focus almost entirely on these controversial issues. As a matter of fact, if past patterns hold true, we will see stories that proclaim the death of United Methodist Church and stories approached with a Chicken Little, “the sky is falling” mentality. 

Because of this, I want to share with you encouragement and hope. You say, when General conference is over, we will still the same warm, welcoming, accepting congregation we were before General Conference. I see hope and encouragement here! I see hope in the near 3 dozen young people that were confirmed or baptized into the Christian faith 3 weeks ago. I see hope and encouragement in the 40 plus young people that learned shared scripture in the story of Esther last week. 

I see hope and encouragement in the Annual Conference’s Flamebuilders executive leadership program for United Methodist Young adults. Flamebuilders was started by our own Cindy Thompson and Bishop Larry Goodpaster, among others. Yesterday was their graduation after a year of the experience. Our own Katey Blaylock shared how Flamebuilders inspired her to deepen her ministry to our youth by enrolling in the Duke Divinity School’s master’s program for church professionals, the Master of Arts in Christian Practice. Courtney Guadagno, our communications director brought us to tears with her sharing about how her ministry now was being a Christian mother. My own youngest son, Ian, shared how Flamebuilders clarified his calling to parish ministry and resulted in his beginning Duke Divinity School this fall. Others spoke of starting ministry to the rural poor and impoverished college students. There is hope and encouragement in the United Methodist Church and none of this will change with General Conference.

We are in a beautiful season, Spring, where the entire planet seems to be renewed. And in our life together we’re still in the season of Easter, where we’re considering how the Risen One renews our life. We’ve considered how the Risen Christ renews our faith life even when we have doubts; we’ve looked at the difference Christ’s grace makes in our lives; we’ve considered how our perspective changes when we’re captured by the reality of eternal life; last week in the contemporary services I shared how our greatest testimony to being Christ follows is how we love one another; today, we consider how we’re renewed by the very peace of Christ.

Now the world often defines peace as the absence of conflict or war. Individually, we seek to have personal peace, that is, being ok with life; living without anxiety or fear. We know that the peace of Jesus will one day reign. We know that the Kingdom will fully arrive and that we “will war no more.” Our experience is that Jesus also helps us with our fears and anxieties personally.

However, the Peace of Christ is far deeper. It is shalom; wholeness; completeness. We humans are made whole when we are in Christ and Christ is in us. The Peace is Christ is nothing less than the complete promises of Christ and his redemption in and of our lives. The Peace of Christ is Christian hope, joy, encouragement, love and strength–all from Jesus. 

Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee, O Christ.” Truer words have never been spoken. Adam Hamilton describes searching for everything but Jesus to “rest” our hearts, as “restless heart syndrome.” In our efforts to cure our restless hearts, we try wealth, status, relationships and acquisition. Yet, true peace is found only in placing our entire trust in Christ alone. Let’s think together about some of the dimensions of our lives lived in the Peace of Christ; a peace which he gives, not as the world gives through earning and attached strings, but a peace that is a graceful gift to all who seek it. 

For one thing, the peace of Christ affects how we view our past, present and future. 

If we’re honest with ourselves and God, most of us have some aspects of our past, the memory of which causes us emotional, relational and even spiritual pain. Our pasts are often littered with broken promises, violation of God’s desires for our lives, anger and resentment. The peace of Christ intervenes and arrives, perhaps quickly or perhaps gradually, as we come to understand that Christ cleanses us from our sin and failures. The Word teaches they are removed as “far as the east from the west.” In the grace of Christ we are “new creations” (II Corinthians 5:17). Our newness in Christ sets us free from the sin and guilt of our pasts. The slate is wiped clean.

And being a new creation in Christ affects our view of who we are today, in this very moment. The world is all about slicing, dicing, segmenting, labelling and generalizing about us all. Here’s the great good news: no matter who you think you are or who the world has told you, you are, your most important identity is as a new creation in Christ. You are sons and daughters of God. Living out of this identity leads to peace with one’s self.

Of course being a new creation in Christ brings with it his peace regarding our future. While we of the Wesleyan tradition would never view God as a puppet master. We know that God’s character is immutable, un-changing. Jesus reveals that character to be one of love. Our loving God will be in our tomorrows, caring and loving us no matter what tomorrow brings. But more, because of Christ we even have assurance of our eternal life. We are those, all because of Jesus, who viewed death as a passage into a even more life-filled existence than we have now. And that too, brings peace.

The peace of Christ also acts between us and others. 

Many of us have experience a divine kind of healing of a damaged relationship. After much prayer, much seeking and offering of forgiveness, the very peace of Jesus can make a broken relationship whole again.

I once became angry with a fellow that said something untrue about me. I was told by a trusted friend what he said, and in one of those sad triangles we often get ourselves in, promised the person who told me that I wouldn’t say anything. So, I held resentment for 12 years and ironically, the other person wasn’t even aware of it! How often that happens to us. I prayed and prayed and eventually the peace of Christ descended. It took a long time, I suspect because of my stubbornness, but it came. When I met with the fellow after such a long time, there was true peace and we are now friends. Divine peace from Christ helps us forgive and reconcile. And, Christ’s peace assists us in relationships with those totally different from us. Now our initiative is to start a relationship, but Christ promises to be there with us, granting unity.

 

And perhaps greatest of all, the peace of Christ grants us peace with God.

Some have been damaged by what people carelessly say about God and become estranged from the false images of God they’ve had hoisted on them. For years, I sat on a theology and doctrine examination committee with former Christ Church associate pastor David Hockett. David’s favorite question to the candidates was, “Why does theology matter?” I believe theology, the words we speak about God, matters because I’ve been with people who have been damaged by careless God-talk. 

I sat in a modest living room with a family who had just learned about the death of their beautiful 16 year old daughter in a car accident. Someone said, “It was the Lord’s will.” 

I remember the woman who had bought into a health and wealth theology, that is is you’re doing life “right” you’ll always be healthy and wealthy. I remember her pained questioning of “what did I do wrong for God to give me breast cancer?” 

I shall never forget the young adult woman who in pain shared that her own grandmother said that, “God hates you,” because of your sexual orientation. 

Every one of these people wanted peace with God and the true God of the universe wanted to offer it. So much so that He gave His only begotten Son! But they were at odds with these careless crafted, false images of God. 

And here’s what Jesus does for us: Ge gives us the purest, best, clearest picture of God we can possibly have! Jesus is the lens and filter for all damaging pictures of who God is. So no, Jesus’ love reveals that God wants and wills no 16 year old to die in a car wreck. And Jesus who lived the most “right” life ever in relationship to God was so poor He had “no place to lay his head.” And more, He lived life right and died a tortuous death on a Cross. So no! God didn’t punish that woman with breast cancer! And Jesus loves all people so much that Ge lived, died and rose again for their eternal salvation. Jesus doesn’t hate anyone and loves all, including that young woman and the same can be said for God. 

We all need the peace of Christ. Perhaps as you come to the table this morning and commune with Christ, you’ll want to ask for this gift of peace – with your past, present and future; perhaps you need to seek peace in a relationship with others or maybe you need to be at peace with the True, Living God of the universe. Christ promise is that when we ask, we receive. Won’t you ask for the Peace of Christ this morning? I can imagine no more valuable gift for us all to seek and receive. 

Amen.

Sharing starters:

Share with your group where you see signs of hope and encouragement in the church.

Share with your group where you seek the peace of Christ regarding your past, present and future.

Share with your group where you seek the peace of Christ in human relationships.

Share with your group “false images” of God you’ve heard spoken.

Share with your group regarding your desire to have peace with God.