Sermon for 6 Easter Yr C, 16/05/2004
Based on Jn 14:27
By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of the Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“The Gift Peace”
A retired couple was alarmed by the threat of nuclear war so they undertook a serious study of all the inhabited places on the globe. Their goal was to determine where in the world would be the place to be least likely affected by a nuclear war. A place of ultimate security. They studied and travelled, travelled and studied. Finally they found the place. And on Christmas they sent their pastor a card from their new home—in the Falkland Islands. However, their “paradise” was soon turned into a war zone by Great Britain and Argentina. 1
Fast forward now to the present day, right here in Canada. This past month or two, our multicultural, multi-faith, peace-loving, tolerant nation has been plagued with one of the world’s oldest and evil sins—antisemitism, hatred toward the Jewish people and their religion. Jewish schools and synagogues and cemeteries have been vandalized and desecrated; the Canadian Jewish community is understandably fearful that such acts could all-too-easily escalate into more violent acts against the Jewish people rather than their property. This in a country that prides itself as “a peaceful kingdom,” with a past reputation worldwide for peacemaking and peacekeeping. As Lutheran Christians living in this context, what is our response to our Jewish neighbours? Is it not to stand in solidarity with them; to condemn in the strongest of ways and means these acts of hatred and evil; and to be even more resolved to live and work for peace among the citizens of this nation?
Peace. Each person here today has his or her own dreams, hopes and experiences of what peace means to her or him. All of us long for peace of one sort or another. Every Sunday liturgy includes the following words as we leave our worship services and enter the mission field of our world: “Go in peace, serve the Lord.” In today’s gospel, Jesus not only spoke to his first disciples—he also speaks to you and me right now, saying: “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.”
What shape does peace take in your life and mine? How do we live in peace and share Christ’s peace with a very troubled, hostile, divided world? Is peace merely a state of mind for you? Is it associated with particular people and/or places? Does it involve doing certain things?
Often in conversations, we speak of wars, violence, noise, the destruction of nature all as the lack of peace. Our lives are full of stresses and anxieties; we scramble to meet our tight schedules, duties and obligations. Too many people fail to spend enough time with God, thus, is it any wonder that they lack peace in their lives? We have so much to do and such little time to do all of it in—yet we long for peace. Peace in our own lives; in the lives of others; in our nation; in the whole world; is what we deeply yearn for.
Peace in the Bible is an all-inclusive, all-encompassing word. In the Hebrew Old Testament, it means wholeness of a person; of the human race; of the whole creation. It means well-being, good health, material prosperity, social and political justice, right relationships with God and other human beings.
In the Greek New Testament, peace also means: the unconditional, eternal gift of Christ to his followers in every time and place. That’s why he does not give peace to us as the world does—for the world, peace is often very conditional, fragile, temporary, and, frequently is reduced to mean only the absence of war. Worldly peace is never a gift—there are always some kind of strings attached. There are certainly no promises that worldly peace will last forever.
However, with Christ’s peace there are no strings attached; there is the wonderful promise that it will last forever. Peace, in the New Testament sense, also means: salvation, forgiveness and reconciliation between God and humankind as well as between human beings with each other—whether Jew or Gentile, black, brown, yellow, red or white, male or female, rich or poor. It also means the whole world being reconciled with God. Peace, in this New Testament sense then, is the power and presence of our risen Jesus Christ with us in the Word and sacraments; in prayer and the study of the Bible; in the daily routines of our lives. Peace is also the Holy Spirit in our lives as friend, comforter, counsellor, teacher and healer.
The gifts of health, contentment, wholeness, security, friendship, reconciliation and love belong to each one of us—thanks to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Thanks to his gift of peace. That’s why Christians like Mother Teresa could go out into the streets of Calcutta and minister to all kinds of human beings; in all kinds of different deprived conditions. That’s why Bishop Desmond Tutu could become involved with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in his nation of South Africa; attempting to bring Christ’s peace to all citizens regardless of race. That’s why Lutherans are involved in the work of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews to promote greater understanding, respect, peace and love between Jews and Christians. That’s why we here at Grace Lutheran can go into the future; trusting that Christ’s peace will always be with us as a gift to reassure us and give us confidence in our times of struggle and suffering; hurt and grief. May each one of us live under the power and influence of Christ’s all-sufficient peace. Amen.
1 Cited from: James S. Hewett, Editor, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton, ILL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1988), p. 402.