I Give You My Peace

Seven weeks ago, on March 8, we were only two weeks into a new teaching series called A Bigger Table, about Jesus’ command to his Church to offer radical hospitality to the world -- to swing our doors wide open!  

Let’s just soak in that irony for a moment.

Because in only one week, by March 15, worship had moved online, and we had created a new teaching series we’ve called Living Peace.  That title is derived from Paul’s words when he said, “The mind governed by the sinful nature leads to death.  But the mind governed by the Spirit leads to life and peace." (Romans 8:6, NLT)  Paul’s words here are based on a fundamental premise: The world is in conflict with God.  That’s not a very comfortable idea, and there are scores of worldviews that try to work around it.  

But that bad news is answered with what the Bible calls the “good news” -- While the world was still in conflict with God, God offered his own peace to the world. 
Our scripture today comes from the good news according to John, chapter 14, starting in verse 22.
Remember that Jesus himself was a victim of the world’s conflict with God, and in the most violent way.  But even the day before he was unfairly put to death, Jesus was offering people his own peace.  

22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”
23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.


I did a quick Google search of two words and a number--God, COVID, and 19--just to see what would pop up as the top results.  Within seconds, I saw articles about how:
God isn’t involved in the pandemic
God is involved in the pandemic
God isn’t responsible
God is responsible
God isn’t good
God is still good
 The wide variety of answers, and all of them given with such hasty assurance, illustrates how desperate people really are for ultimate answers.  People are asking the same question that began today’s scripture: “Why?”  

And in response, Jesus offers his peace to anyone willing to receive him as he is.

There are three basic parts in today’s passage.
Our question: Why?
Jesus’ answer: Relationship
Jesus’ offer: His peace
 
Our most frequent question for God is probably the same as Judas’s: “Why are you doing things this way?”  And we ask it for the same reason he probably did -- we make assumptions about what God should be like and then map those assumptions onto God.  And sometimes our assumptions and the reality don’t match.  So, We ask “Why?” because it can be hard to receive Jesus as he is.  

Judas wasn’t alone.  Other people also questioned Jesus when he didn’t fit their expectations of a king or savior.  And even after Jesus was resurrected, the apostles asked him if his resurrection was going to meet their expectations!  Like them, we aren’t always aware of our assumptions.  Even if we believe in Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah and Savior -- our belief is still colored by an array of assumptions which are easily disappointed when Jesus doesn’t match.  

It was June 22, 1984 when our method for waxing cars would change forever.  It was the release date of the original, The Karate Kid.
Daniel is a high school kid being bullied and wants Mr. Miyagi to teach him karate.  In this scene, Miyagi agrees, but on one condition.  He says, “I promise teach karate...  You promise learn.  I say, you do.”  Of course Daniel agrees, right?  But what Daniel doesn’t know is how many assumptions he has already made about what his teacher ought to be doing.  
Miyagi gives Daniel several household tasks -- painting the fence, painting the house, sanding the deck by hand, and of course waxing a bunch of cars.  Eventually, Daniel’s assumptions are revealed when he erupts in disappointed anger and accuses Miyagi of teaching him nothing at all!  Only to realize every task has been its own lesson.  

Likewise, the disciples had made assumptions about their Teacher, Jesus.  So we must ask ourselves:
What assumptions have we been making about God?  
What traits are we projecting onto God, based on those assumptions?  
Are we letting God answer for himself through scripture and prayer, or are we filling in the blanks because we don’t have the patience to listen, or because we don’t like the answer we’re getting?  
In today’s passage, Judas assumed that reason would make him feel better and give him peace.  

But Jesus doesn’t answer with a reason.  He answers with a relationship.

That word “love” continues to be tricky for us in English.  There are at least four kinds of love wrapped up in that one word.  There is family love, friendship love, romantic love, and then the kind that Jesus is referring to here.  The Greek word he uses is agape, and it is sometimes described as “unconditional love.”  It’s the love one expresses when they say, “No matter what, I’m with you.”  
Is it any surprise then, that this is the word Jesus used for Love in the Greatest Commandment: Love the Lord your God...and love your neighbor as yourself”?  Or his even more shocking saying, “Love your enemies.”  
These are all agape -- a love that is consciously chosen in any circumstance.

Since I was a teenager, I’ve experienced occasional cluster headaches: painful headaches that come every day for a certain amount of time.  In my case it was usually 2-3 weeks.  But last summer, for almost 8 weeks I awoke every night with an excruciating headache.  Sometimes I’d get one midday, too.  It got to the point at which I didn’t even want to go to bed because I knew the next thing would be waking with a headache.  It sounds selfish but it was especially hard because it lasted through the summer.  It seemed so unfair that the fun of summer was tainted by daily pain.  All the obvious questions came to mind as I naturally looked for some reason. Why me?  What have I done wrong?  Why would God let me suffer?  
But several weeks into this cycle, I realized I was being presented with a choice.  I didn’t understand my headaches.  But I didn’t have to.  I didn’t like the pain.  But I didn’t have to.  God never asked me to always understand, or always be comfortable.  With no guarantee of divine healing or answers, I knew God was asking if I would choose to love him no matter what.  He didn’t answer with reason; he answered with relationship.

Those headaches brought with them emotional pain, too, the pain of isolation.
So many people in the world -- some of you watching this -- are experiencing physical and emotional pain in all new ways.  Social distance, loneliness, unemployment, constant nagging fear, anxiety and depression, physical suffering with illness, the ache of grief.
Through the pain, God may or may not give you any kind of reason.  But God will always give you the chance for a relationship with Him.  
That’s Jesus’ answer to the question, “Why?”  A relationship with him.  Now, that response might actually make some of you more angry, more disappointed.  You were hoping for some good reasons, after all!  But I know that for some of you, you know that is exactly what you’ve been needing to hear all along.  

Jesus said he would not leave us as orphans; and in any circumstance,
Jesus offers his peace in his way.

One of the most profound sentences in scripture to me is Jesus’ statement in verse 27 “I give you my peace.  I don’t give like the world gives.  And I don’t give what the world gives.”  He echoes God’s proclamation that we heard earlier in the reading from Isaiah:
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good…As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
The truth is that God doesn’t always match your expectations, but it’s not because God is beneath them.  It’s the opposite!  God exceeds them, even if you can’t see it yet.  God wants more for you than you want for yourself.  God knows you better than you know yourself.  God loves you more faithfully than you can love yourself.  God sees wider and higher and deeper than you can see for yourself.  And God doesn’t expect us to always understand, so God doesn't always give us reasons.  But God always gives us opportunity -- to choose His peace, in His way, or to continue on our own.

In the context of a global pandemic, I know there are a lot of people disappointed by the idea of God, or at least the idea of a good God.    
But I’m also curious to know who among you is just as disappointed by what this world has to offer.  Disillusioned by systems that have failed you; a body that is more vulnerable than you’d like; promises that someone didn’t keep.  Which of you out there is hearing for the first time that Jesus gives something the world can’t give?  That Jesus gives in a way that the world can’t give?  And which of you out there is finally realizing that this is good news?  

If you are the one who needed to hear this today; if your heart rate quickens at this news; then you know who you are.  And I think you know that you’re ready to receive Jesus as he is.  I believe the Holy Spirit has brought you to this point and shown you that you can stop trying to be your own Master, and stop waiting for some leader to be your savior, because that isn’t working out for you.  You’re ready to let Jesus be in charge of your life.  You’re ready to receive His living peace.  
So I'll invite you to talk directly to God with a simple prayer.  You can change these words to make them your own, or use them as they're written.  But if you're ready to let Jesus be in charge of your life, you can tell him directly.  
Living God,
Thank you for showing me your love in Jesus;
Thank you for showing me the limits of this world;
I confess that I’ve tried to be my own Master,
I’ve lived apart from you, in ways that lead to death.
But I’m ready to let go, and receive you as you are,
To let you be in charge and call you my Lord, and my Savior.
Thank you for loving the world so much that you gave us yourself.
I choose to walk with you from now on.
Let it be so, Amen.

If you have chosen to renew or begin following Jesus, please let us know your story.  We want to listen, to celebrate, and to accompany you in discerning your next steps.  

On the journey with you,
Mike

P.S. If you've read all the way to the end here, and you have questions about anything above, feel free to just add your questions to the comment thread here on the blog.  

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