Easter 6 C: Peace the World Cannot Give

John 14:23-29

Dear Partner in Preaching,

You could, I suspect, spend a full year preaching on just this passage and not run out of things to say. “Those who love me will keep my word.” “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will teach you all things.” “Do not let your heart be troubled.” “If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father.” “I have told you this before it occurs so that when it does occur you may believe.” Goodness, where’s an honest working preacher to begin?

Well, as if often the case when a passage is a rich and complex as this one, sometimes it helps to focus on one key verse or phrase that gives you insight into the rest. Or, in this case, I was struck by two interconnected verses. The first is this: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”

Peace. I can feel my whole body almost sigh with relief and expectation when I hear Jesus say that word. But why? How do we understand peace? What do we imagine Jesus means?

Too often, I think, we think of peace as simply the cessation of conflict. And clearly and end to violence is a good thing. Many of us have prayed for peace in the Middle East, peace in our community, perhaps even peace in our home. But I think the peace Jesus offers is more than the absence of something negative. Indeed, I think it has its own presence and gravity. When someone reports feeling “at peace,” for instance, he or she is reporting more than an absence of conflict but instead testifies to a sense of wholeness, even rightness, of and in one’s very being. It’s a sense of harmony with those persons and things around us. Peace connotes a sense of contentment, but even more fulfillment, a sense that in this moment one is basking in God’s pleasure.

And that can come even amid hardship, struggle, conflict, and disruption.

Think, again, of the timing of Jesus’ promise: it is the night of his betrayal, the evening when he will be handed over to those who hate him and who will take him away to be executed. And yet in that moment, he not only senses peace but gives it to others.

This peace is a gift of God, something we sense most keenly when we give over to God a certain amount of control of all the things that we worry about or normally pressure. Not that we surrender responsibility, but rather that we recognize there are limits to what we can affect or achieve on our own, and sensing those limits, we place ourselves, our loved ones, our fortunes, and our future in God’s hands. And God’s response is to give us peace, a peace that allows us to lift our gaze from the troubles that beset us and see those around us as gifts of God worthy of our love and attention.

God’s response. Which brings me to the second element of this passage, really the second half of this verse: “I do not give to you as the world gives.” Indeed, one might wonder if the world gives at all. All too often, you see, the rules of the world are that you have to earn anything which is worthwhile, you need to look out for yourself, that there is simply not enough to go around, that one is in a constant competition with all others for scarce resources. (And if you’re not sure that this is message of the world, listen to the political ads going around these days!)

Peace, from this perspective, is at best a break, a moment of rest, a brief lull in the fray of everyday life and the constant need to compete, secure, hoard, and protect.

But Jesus gives differently than the world. Jesus gives freely, with no expectation of return, only the hope that, transformed by this peace, we might pass it on, giving others the gift we have received.

My tradition often has a moment in the service where we “pass the peace.” In some settings that amounts to little more than a well-intended and churchly “good morning,” while in others it is a more heartfelt liturgical greeting. But I wonder how often we really sense the depth of God’s gift of peace, the promise that no matter what happens, God will not abandon us but is always working for our good and through us for the good of our neighbor and world? How often do we feel caught up in and by God’s peace, the promise that God loves us more than anything and will hold onto us through all that may come? How often do we sense God’s deep purpose that we not only experience this peace but also share it with others?

Perhaps the opportunity before us this week, Dear Partner, is to ask how many people need, crave, or covet this kind of peace? How often have we sought it only to find it rather illusive? How often have we accepted what the world offers as peace only to discover it was a counterfeit promise? Having asked these questions, then we can move to declare that God’s peace isn’t something you can seek or grasp but only receive. That only as we release our grip on the many things we are trying to hold onto do we discover open hands that can receive God’s gift of peace. And then we can promise our people that even in those moments when we are convinced that it is all up to us, yet God is still there, offering us God’s peace, a gift the world cannot give.

With all that in mind, then ask folks to bask for a moment in God’s pleasure, in the confidence that God loves us and wants to use us for good, and then to turn and bless those around us with that same gift, saying simply and meaningfully, “the peace of Christ be with you.”

Jesus gives us peace in a way that no other can. Perhaps this week we will receive it anew and share it with all those we encounter in the sanctuary and beyond.

Blessings on your proclamation, Dear Partner, as through your words God is still giving the amazing and life sustaining gift of peace.

Yours in Christ,