Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Peace from God” (John 14:27)
May 26, 2019
Dave Johnson

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

On this Memorial Day Weekend we remember and thank God for those who have sacrificed their lives for the sake of our freedom, freedom we often take for granted, including the freedom to worship here today.  In a well-known passage from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes we read, “For everything there is a season, and time for every matter under heaven…”  This passage continues with “a time to be born, and a time to die” and then concludes with “a time for war, and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2, 8).  It ends with peace.

When I was in Elementary School our amazing music teacher, Mrs. Powell, played guitar and taught us many songs about peace, including this classic most famously sung by Peter, Paul, and Mary—the final song on their 1962 debut album:

Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the flowers gone?
Young girls have picked them every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

This circular song continues, “Where have all the young girls gone?  Gone for husbands every one…Where have all the husbands gone?  Gone for soldiers every one…Where have all the soldiers gone?  Gone to graveyards every one…Where have all the graveyards gone?  Gone to flowers every one…When will they ever learn?  When will they ever learn?”  When will we ever learn?  Well, based on history, never.  As long as there are people on this planet, wars will continue, new innovative methods of destroying lives will be invented, and countless flowers will eventually go to countless graveyards, which will go back to flowers again as we experience the recurring times for war.  That is the bad news.

The good news is that ultimately the last time will not be a time of war, but a time of peace, peace from God.

The setting of today’s gospel passage is the Last Supper.  After washing the feet of his disciples and instituting the sacrament of Holy Communion, Jesus spoke to them about peace, “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” (John 14:27).

The peace the world gives is temporary, for the time for peace will eventually be followed by a time for war.  Along these lines in a sermon entitled “Unfulfilled Dreams,” preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on March 3, 1968, one of my heroes, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached about our difficult efforts to build a “temple of peace”:

Each of you this morning in some way is building some kind of temple.  The struggle is always there.  It gets discouraging sometimes.  It gets very disenchanting sometimes.  Some of us are trying to build a temple of peace.  We speak out against war, we protest, but it seems that your head is going against a concrete wall.  It seems to mean nothing.  And so often as you set out to build the temple of peace you are left lonesome; you are left discouraged; you are left bewildered (194).

And yet near the end of this sermon about the unfulfilled dream of peace he points to hope in Jesus Christ:

It will be dark sometimes, and it will be dismal and trying, and tribulations will come.  But if you have faith in the God that I am talking about this morning, it doesn’t matter.  For you can stand up amid the storms.  And I say to you out of experience this morning; yes, I’ve seen the lightening flash.  I’ve heard the thunder roll.  I’ve felt sin-breakers dashing, trying to conquer my soul.  But I heard the voice of Jesus, saying still to fight on.  He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone.  No, never alone.  No, never alone (A Knock at Midnight 199).

Thirty-two days later Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.  And he was not alone.  Jesus was right there.

This is true not only on the external global level, but also on the internal personal level.  The times of internal peace we experience are often eventually followed by times of internal war, when we find ourselves troubled and afraid.  In his 1950 Nobel Prize acceptance speech William Faulkner described the human heart as “at conflict with itself.”  And in those times we need to be reminded that Jesus is with us, reminded that he is right there, reminded of what he told his disciples that night, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

This peace was not just something Jesus discussed at the Last Supper; it was at the heart of his incarnation and earthly ministry.  Scripture identifies Jesus as the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), who was sent “to guide our way into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79) and for “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14).  Jesus preached, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).  Jesus commanded the stormy sea, “Peace!  Be still!” (Mark 4:39).  Jesus taught, “Be at peace with one another” (Mark 9:50).  Jesus cast out demons and healed the sick and then afterwards would gently say to those he had saved, “Go in peace” (Luke 7:50; 8:48).

The peace Jesus and his disciples shared at the Last Supper was itself very brief, as Judas slipped out into the darkness to finish his work of betraying Jesus.  Later that night when arrested, Jesus did not shift from a time of peace to a time of war.  He did not change from being the Prince of Peace to being the Prince of War.  Instead, he instructed his disciples not to fight back, warning them, “all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).  Even the next morning at his sham of a trial Jesus did not defend himself, but “held his peace” (Mark 14:61, KJV).

And even after his resurrection when the Risen Jesus visited his disciples who had locked themselves in a room because their hearts were troubled and they were afraid, Jesus appeared to them and proclaimed multiple times, “Peace be with you…peace be with you…peace be with you” (John 20:19, 21, and 26).

On Good Friday Jesus sacrificed his life for your freedom, and not just for you but for the whole world, for peace on earth.  On Good Friday “through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20).  On Good Friday the Prince of Peace died to give you peace.

And this means that regardless of whatever external or internal conflict you may be experiencing this very moment, in spite of the peace the world gives that never lasts, “since (you) are justified by faith, (you) have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).  This peace that Jesus gives is “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding (to) guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7)—the assurance that even when your life is anything but peaceful, you still have peace from God, you still know that somehow God will work things out, that you are never alone—no, never alone…no, never alone.

And this is why scripture encourages us to “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Colossians 3:15), “it is to peace that God has called you” (1 Corinthians 7:15).  That is why every week after the confession and absolution and before Holy Communion we share the peace God has given us in Jesus Christ with one another: “The peace of the Lord be always with you.  And also with you” (BCP 360).

And in response to the peace the Lord has given us in Jesus Christ we are not only called to share that peace with one another but also with the world beyond the church walls.  What does this look like?  I think one of the best descriptions of what this can look like is found in a prayer attributed to a saint whose ministry occurred early in the thirteenth century, Saint Francis of Assisi:

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.  Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.  Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.  For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life (BCP 833).

“Peace I leave with you,” Jesus said, “my peace I give to you.”  Today as we remember Jesus’ sacrifice for us on Good Friday, may the Holy Spirit renew your heart with this peace from God, remind you that Jesus is right there, that you are never alone, no, never alone—and fortify you to be an instrument of peace in times of war until the eternal time of peace has finally come, when flowers will never go to graveyards anymore.