- The Rev. Frank St. Amour, III
Sermon - 6 Easter
In the Name...
One Sunday, after the service, a man said to the minister,” Pastor, today your sermon reminded me of the peace and love of God.” Leaving the minister looking pleased, the man said to his wife, “It passed all understanding and it endured forever!”
Today's Gospel reading is set at the Last Supper and in it Jesus tells his disciples that he was giving them something very special. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you."
What wonderful words. What a wonderful promise. Yet there is a strangeness to the words and the promise as well, a strangeness found in the last phrase, "I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled." What does that mean? Why should such a gift be troubling?
There is a story told that may help us begin to answer that question. It seems that one day an artist was commissioned by a wealthy man to paint something that would depict what he called, "True peace." Thinking this would be child's play; the artist whipped up, in short order, a beautiful country scene with green fields, sheep, birds flying in the blue sky and a lovely little village lying in a distant valley. But, as he studied it, something nagged the artist and he wasn't all that happy with the painting. So, he thought for a few days and then returned to his canvas where he placed, in the foreground of this pastoral scene, the beautiful figure of a smiling mother holding a sleeping baby in her arms.
But again, before he could deliver it, he became discouraged. The painting still wasn't right. This wasn't turning out the way he had expected and anger swelled inside him. Why was this so difficult? Then, all of a sudden an idea came to him. He tossed aside his country scene and took a new canvas.
When he finished, several days later, he really felt good about it and took it to his patron. The wealthy man studied it carefully. The artist held his breath. Then the man nodded and said, "Yes. I see true peace."
What was this painting? It depicted a dark sky filled with black rain clouds - a violent storm scene with lightning tearing the sky and wind breaking the trees. A sea boiling in turmoil created great destructive waves pounding against a cliff. And, in the middle of this chaotic maelstrom, under an overhang in the cliff, the artist had painted a small bird with her chicks, safe and dry in their nest snuggled in the rocks. The bird was at peace amidst the storm that raged about her, because she knew that in the morning, it would all be over. The bird was a symbol of peace because she was also a symbol of faith.
Jesus doesn't give us a worldly, superficial, beautiful sunny landscape with the smiling mother, an absence of conflict. Jesus gives us a peace of knowing that in the midst of conflict, at the height of turmoil, when the sun is blotted out and nobody's smiling, there is a place where we can find refuge, a power that can and will keep us safe until the storm is past.
In this world, we look for assurance, for hope, for joy, for good things. And when we pray about peace, in our hearts and minds, in our families, in the world, we ask for an end to conflict, to the violence that nations and individuals do to one another. And there's nothing wrong with that.
But, often, I think, we mentally restrict, we unconsciously limit what it is we're looking and praying for in a way that is not helpful. Because we just seek an end to the things that disturb us and others and we forget that the lack of peace which we experience in our hearts and in our world is just a symptom, a consequence of other factors. In Hebrew, the word "Shalom", is much more than the absence of some bad things. It's linked to the concept which we call “wholeness”, wholeness - of being at one with God and with our neighbours and with ourselves.
That means, for example, that when we pray for various parts of the world, we should be asking, for example, not only for a war to end, but for all the causes of the war - greed, hate, fear, injustice, intolerance, and prejudices, to be eliminated as well. It means that when we pray for people who need guidance or healing or jobs, or whatever, that we're also asking for the emotional or physical or economic situations which went wrong for them to be corrected, as well.
We need to think about all our prayers in this way. We’re not just lifting up one person or even lots of people in a troubling situation. Every prayer we offer must have the situation as its intention. Every prayer we offer must be for wholeness, not just what we call peace. And maybe that's why Jesus said we might find his kind of peace troubling to our hearts because it asks us to think about so much more than we might think we can handle.
But, it is something we can handle because we have a presence that helps us in our prayers, a presence that reminds us that our prayer can be effective and work towards wholeness. That presence is the Christ himself. And that is part of what Jesus means when he says, “My peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” He is Peace itself. He is Shalom, wholeness, and he has promised to be with us even to the end of time.
So, this goes even beyond the picture of the bird sitting safely on its nest. The bird can only sit and wait passively, but we can act. We can do things to bring the presence of Christ to a world which is in turmoil. Great storms rage around us. But, we are not hopeless victims. We have the power to say to the winds and sea of life, as Jesus did, “Peace, be still.”
The peace of Christ is knowing that when the ultimate storm is over, it is over forever, all creation will know Shalom. The words of Jesus are not easy words and his peace is not always easy to make happen but it is something that lasts, that triumphs, that heals, and that is not something that the world can give us. It can only come to us from God.
And, indeed, it does pass all understanding and it lasts forever.
In the Name...