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“Peace Be With You”: Sermon 4/15/2018

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sermon Text: Luke 24: 36b-48
(also John 20: 19-31 and Psalm 4: 8)

Peace….we all crave it. We might have heard one of our parents say, “All I want around here is a little peace and quiet!” In the tongue and cheek movie Miss Congeniality, the FBI agent playing a beauty contestant had this question posed by the Emcee, “What is the one most important thing our society needs?” Her answer, “That would be…harsher punishment for parole violators, Stan (and the crowd is silent) and world peace! (and the crowd cheers enthusiastically). With the recent airstrike in Syria, we are praying for peace even more right now. We would like to have peace in our homes—right now I would like to have peace between my three cats and my daughter’s two (she just recently moved in and brought her two fur babies)—it is taking a while for the cat population to adjust. We would like to have peace and safety in our schools and neighborhoods. But God’s meaning of peace is far deeper than just a cessation of squabbling. As Paul wrote to the Philippians: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

One of my favorite Christmas hymns is “Silent Night” and if you remember the first verse ends with: “Sleep in heavenly peace.” Our psalm for this week, Psalm 4, ends with: “I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.” Even in the face of difficulty, confidence in God gives us the ability to rest knowing that we are safe and all is in His hands. Here are a few verses from Psalms and Proverbs:
• “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.” Psalm 3:5
• “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure,” Psalm 16:9
• “When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.” Proverbs 3: 24

In our Luke 24 reading today, we find Jesus making a sudden appearance to the disciples after His resurrection. He came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” In Luke’s account, “they were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Jesus asked them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”

In John 20: 19-31, we read a similar story where Jesus appeared to the disciples who were behind locked doors. He said to them, “Peace be with you.” He showed them his hands and his feet and his side and they believed and rejoiced. Twice more in this passage Jesus said, “Peace be with you.” I find it both significant and comforting that the first words the resurrected Jesus said to his people were “Peace be with you.” It is a blessing, a beatitude. God’s blessing here means that because of Christ’s resurrection, anxiety about Jesus’ well-being is at an end. They no longer have anything to fear and no reason to doubt. Be confident in God’s plan—victory is at hand is what Jesus is saying.

One commentator wrote: “At a profoundly personal level, Jesus is summing up the essence of his work and presence in the world. Peace is the gift of his kingdom. In John 14: 27 Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  Also in John 16:33 Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” In these two passages, Jesus promised that this peace would be his gift to them; now he has delivered it.”

There are many other references to peace in The Bible—here are just a few:
• “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” Colossians 3:15
• “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” Hebrews 12: 14
• “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13
• “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.” Psalm 29:11
• “Deceit is in the hearts of those who plot evil, but those who promote peace have joy.”  Proverbs 12: 20

Being a hospice chaplain, peace is an important concept. You’ve heard me say many times that the deeper meaning of the word “peace” especially in the Hebrew word for peace, which is “shalom”, is wellness, wholeness, completeness and prosperity. Greeting someone with “Shalom” or “Peace Be With You” is extending to them a blessing, wishing upon them prosperity and wellness.

In leading a recent funeral, I used this passage of John 20 to emphasize peace. This family had much relational strife. Healing needed to be addressed as much as grief.

In pastoring the dying as well as the families, peace is an important element. How can you wish wellness, wholeness and completeness in this situation? Our minds race to thoughts of: “but they are not well and are not going to be.”  If we think about the body---yes, unless God grants a miracle, it is most likely that they will die. But remember that God does not want ill for us. Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future.” Which is what He did in Jesus Christ, his beloved Son! 

Wellness does not always mean just health in the body—but in mind and in spirit. Wellness may come in being at peace with one’s condition of dying, of making the transition from this world into the heavenly kingdom of God. What we fear the most about dying is not so much where we go but how we get there. We fear the pain, the loss of “what we wish we had done”, the separation from loved ones…and sometimes things. But once the time is near, as we spend time at the bedside of the dying, we realize that we are on holy ground, that time is not chronological for them, that they are on His time (Kairos time). It is for us to ease their minds with the blessing of peace, of wellness and wholeness and completeness in the life they have lived while on earth. It is for us to ease the minds of those “sitting vigil” as I call it, that all is well because God has everything in His hands and He will send comfort and peace to their hearts and make them to prosper and to be complete once again even after the loss.

Pastor Tony Campolo served a church in Oregon. He had been praying for a man who had cancer who had come to him that Sunday. In the middle of the week, he received a phone call from the man’s wife. She said, “You prayed for my husband. He had cancer.”  I said, “Had?” I thought to myself, “Whoa, it’s happened.” She said, “He died.” Pastor Tony felt terrible. The woman went on to say, “Don’t feel bad. When my husband came to church, he was filled with anger. He knew he was going to be dead in a short period of time, and he hated God. He was 58 years old and he wanted to see his children and grandchildren grow up. He was angry that this all-powerful God didn’t take away his sickness and heal him. He would lie in bed and curse God. The more his anger grew toward God, the more miserable he was to everybody around him. It was an awful thing to be in his presence. After you prayed for him, a peace came over him and a joy came into him. The last three days have been the best days of our lives. We’ve sung. We’ve laughed. We’ve read Scripture. We’ve prayed. Oh, they’ve been wonderful days. And I called to thank you for laying your hands on him and praying for healing.” Then she said something incredibly profound: “he wasn’t cured, but he was healed.” (Tony Campolo, “Year of Jubilee”)

Prosperity, healing, wellness, completeness and wholeness come when we have confidence in God. That is true for every situation: whether we face death, whether we face change within a church, whether we face relational strife in our families, or whether we face world war. It is all in His capable hands. In leaving it in His hands, we can heal in our dying, we can prosper in our church, we can regain completeness in our familial strife, and we can be a whole people on a war torn planet.