Sermon Archives

Sunday, April 15, 2018
The 3rd Sunday of Easter (Year B)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
Peace for Which We Yearn

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

From the looks of it, he had it all.  His little hobbit-hole at Bag End was as well appointed as any in the Shire, and his once-in-a-lifetime journey to the Lonely Mountain awed even the most adventurous hobbits and provided not only all that he would need to live out his days in comfort and peace, but a treasure-trove of stories to fill his tales in There and Back Again.  Even more, at eleventy-one years old, he was in better health than most hobbits half his age.

And yet, he felt thin and stretched and desperate to get away.

I suspect one or two of us, or perhaps many more of us, feel that way as well.  In spite of our comfortable homes and, I pray, healthy bodies and minds; in spite of our challenging careers and cherished families and good friends, many of feel stretched and thin as well; like “butter scraped over too much bread,” as Bible so vividly describes it.

There’s just not enough of us to go around.  We do our best, but it’s hard, really hard.  Some of us are getting up before the sun, darting off to work, from meeting to meeting, hoping to make a son’s or daughter’s big game, only to head back to the office to finish things up.  Others are running a house in constant motion, waking just in time to make breakfast and get the kids in the car and to school, in order to run to the market then to the gym then back to school and on to practice and homework and dinner and bed.  Others are waking up with the anxiety of aging, wondering how today will be – can I leave my spouse alone today?  Or will today be the day she falls and really hurts herself?  Or, even more, will I overcome this latest diagnosis?

No matter how differently our days may be filled, we often get to their end simply grateful that the day is done.  Some of us are just hanging on.  Some are stretched way too thin.  Some are simply overwhelmed by the demands and anxieties of life.

Too few of us, it would seem, are at peace.

Like Bilbo, we may have it all, we may have all that would seem to make for peace – a safe and comfortable home, a good and loving family, a profitable and rewarding profession. 

And yet, we have no peace. 

This is nothing new, of course.  Every generation, for millennia, has struggled with the real burdens of life.  All the way back to days of Jesus and before, the burdens of human life have weighed heavily on the backs of men and women simply trying to get by. 

Jesus himself stood among the disciples and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

It might be tempting to dismiss these words simply as Jesus’ last, comforting words to his fearful and soon to be persecuted followers.  And to some extent that is true.  By the time Luke compiles the story of Jesus in his Gospel, the Jewish and Christian communities have begun to face brutal persecution by Roman authorities, such that they must already hide away their faith in secret. 

And yet, Jesus’ word of peace was not solely offered to his followers in the face of their persecution.  Rather, this message of peace offered today behind the locked doors in that upper room was the same message that Jesus had instructed the seventy apostles to share with each house they entered.  “Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!”

We must remember that, well apart from persecutions, first century Christians and, by and large, first century Jewish women and men, and first century Samaritans, and first century Palestinians, new the pressures and anxieties of life.  You see, the first century world was hard.  Few knew comfort and security – most knew struggle and hardship.  Not only did they not possess the comforts of life that we take for granted today, but they didn’t know any of the securities of life that we have now – as tenant farms and day laborers and slaves (as most early Christians were), one’s day-to-day existence was constantly under pressure.

Into this word, Jesus resolutely offers peace. 

Too easily, we bind up Easter with eternal salvation, we have so tightly tied Easter to what happens when we die, that we fail to realize that Easter, that Jesus’ message is, in all actuality, almost entirely bound up with this world, about our life here-and-now.

In this regard we mustn’t dismiss today’s message, Jesus’ message, as simply a message of peace in the face of persecution, or peace at the last; for if we do, Jesus’ offer of peace will have no meaning for those of us who are in desperate need of peace, but don’t face persecution or imminent death.

“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.”

This remarkable peace, which I suspect we all yearn to know, this profound peace which surpasses all understanding that we so desperately desire, is meant to for you in our day-to-day life; it’s meant for soccer dads and working moms, it’s meant for the office and the home and the hospital, it’s meant for the young and the old alike; today.

But it’s not found in the places we so often look.  As Americans we have long taught that peace is found in a myriad of places:  individual liberty, professional success, economic mobility, consumption and leisure. 

Today, we enjoy the greatest personal freedoms of any society – throughout time – and yet we still yearn for peace. 

Today, American society promises the possibility of immense economic mobility such that a Latina immigrant can become not only a citizen of the United States but the CEO of a fortune 500 company, and yet, we still yearn for peace.

Today, we enjoying profitable careers and American society boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates of modern American history, and yet we still yearn for peace.

We have told ourselves that consumption and entertainment brings peace, and yet, in spite of the fact that our homes are larger than they have ever been and that we have as much as 7 square feet of self-storage space for every woman, man, and child in America; in spite of the fact that we spend over $500 billion on entertainment annually, . . . consumption and leisure has not brought our peace.

Now, don’t get me wrong, these places aren’t bad, but they don’t offer the peace that Jesus speaks of and the peace we crave. 

No, Jesus offers a peace apart from these things, a peace that is found not in acquiring things but offering love; a peace that is found not in simply personal freedom, but in the service to others; a peace found not by accumulating life for ourselves, but in giving life to others; a peace found not by holding on but in letting go.

“Love one another as I have loved you,” Jesus says to his disciples as he washes their feet and places bread into their hands.

This is a different path to peace, and a different peace in the end.  It is not an easy path – like anything valuable, it takes practice and discipline, it takes mentoring and refinement, it takes time and commitment.  But in the end we find a gift that the world cannot give, a peace which the world, and all its things, cannot provide.

Jesus himself stood among the disciples and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

May we find his peace.