Pastor Tom Millner
John 14:27; Philippians 4:4-8
April 3, 2011
A few years ago a beauty queen from Virginia, left the ceremony where she crowned her successor, and drove 250 miles seeking revenge on her boyfriend who had rejected her and married another woman. She packed with her a hammer, a gun, a lighter and some lighter fluid. She arrived at the home of the parents of the other woman where the ex-boyfriend and his bride lived and gained access to the house by telling the father that she had car trouble and needed to use the phone. Once inside she took the hammer to the father and hit him squarely on the head. The father was only stunned, but began to fight back. The mother heard the commotion as the beauty queen was trying to pull out the gun and the mother joined the fray to help secure the girl until the police arrived. Queenie had not known that the father was a former Secret Service agent. When confronted, the beauty queen stated that she just had to get some inner “peace” over having been jilted. Is peace within something different for each of us? Could it be that for this person to receive peace she had to destroy the lives of others? Perhaps instead it’s her foggy mental filter muddied by false assumptions that lead to faulty solutions? How many here want more of that “peace that passes all understanding”?
In our reading from John 14:27 today we heard Jesus saying “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” Jesus was talking to His disciples and He had been referencing His leaving His Holy Spirit to those who love Him enough to obey His commands. Jesus was about to face the cross, so He wasn’t just flapping His lips. Paul, writing from his prison cell and facing death urged the church members in Philippi “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” What is it that allows Jesus, who was facing the cross and Paul who was facing certain death to speak of peace? About what peace are they talking? The peace that passes all understanding; that is not as the world gives, is the relationship with God that is grounded in His grace and mercy. The peace that passes all human understanding IS the peace that comes in the restored (as created) relationship with God. Created in the image of and fashioned after the heart of God, our ancestors sought to have it all themselves (just like they thought God had it) and the tragic result was a world set at odds with itself – a world no longer at peace. From an ancestral point of view, then, peace is something we seek to achieve on our own. There are multiples of ways that seem right on track for the peace we seek, but we find anything but peace at the end of the tracks!
Absence of conflict: The Middle East is fraught with conflict. One sect or another is seemingly at odds with each other over religious, cultural, or sociological differences. Political and fiscal conservatives are at odds with moderates and liberals over the “right” direction for this country. Conservative and liberal religious groups are at odds with each other over acceptance of gay, lesbian, or transgender persons into their bodies as full participants in the grace of Christ. If only these conflicts would go away – then we’d be at peace, right? Which side of the conflict needs to be dismantled? Is there a place in the middle that holds promise for peace? The middle seems reasonable, doesn’t it? Who sets the middle agenda? What if one side just obliterates the other side? That would take care of the problem, wouldn’t it? Didn’t for Miss Virginia, did it? Who sets the agenda for peace if it’s just the absence of conflict? I’d venture to say that just about everyone present today would volunteer to be the agenda setter if you knew your agenda would be carried out without conflict. Now, that would be real peace – NOT! A quarter ways into the process you’d change your mind because it wasn’t working out the way you thought, and thus create a new conflict all over again. Where’s the peace? Peace is not found in the absence of conflict, it’s found in the presence of its Creator – Jesus Christ. That presence is magnified in relationship. It is in that relationship that the individual finds peace in the midst of conflict. It is in that relationship that the individual find peace in the midst of heartaches, trials, pain, suffering or great joy. It is in that relationship that peace comes alive in the way that we were created for it. Peace is His presence; His presence is relationship. We have to be present to engage.
Security: Some folks try to find peace in places of security. We probably all have the image of a security blanket as a child. If only one has enough money, then one can feel secure and at peace, we think. Gaddafi has lots of money, power, and assumed position. Think he’s feeling the peace right now? A better home, a bigger apartment, a newer car: - “I can finally be at peace.” We tell ourselves that if maybe we have a better job, a larger salary, a greater commission, a stronger client base; that will give us greater security and a greater sense of peace, right? “Perhaps if I just had enough to cover the bills for this month or enough food to last through next week, I could be at peace.” What are you looking at to give you security that leads to peace? Scripture tells us that security and peace are not to be found in a place or thing, but rather a person; Jesus Christ. Paul writes in Romans 8:28 that “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That’s a pretty secure place, isn’t it? That is a place of real peace! If nothing can separate us (that means anything we do or don’t do, anything people say or don’t say, any declaration of interpretation that is exclusionary, any rule, regulation or outrageous stipulation) then our relationship with LOVE Himself is eternally secure. That includes any ifs, ands or buts that anyone wants to throw in. So now that I’m at peace with my secure position in Christ, what about this sense of loneliness I have?
The right person: The media is full of the romantic notion that when the right person comes along, everything’s going to be all right. When I know that special person comes along that truly loves me for who I am, I’ll be at peace. There is a built in desire for us to have that desire for intimacy met and we have so many romanticized notions as to what that looks like. We all want to hear those three little words that we believe are at the bank of peace like a river- “I love you.” Once we’re there beside those still waters, we believe, we’ve found true peace. That place, however, is the launch pad for some of the hardest work you’ll encounter in life, a potentially rich and rewarding journey, but not everlasting peace. You see, in the beginning, hormones are raging and you’re feeling on top of the world. You are loving how you’re feeling in the presence of the other (as distinguished from loving the other person). What you’re experiencing is the love of how you make me feel, as opposed to truly loving you. Loving someone else in a relationship comes with getting to know the other and allowing oneself to be known. Then the act of love directed at the best interest of the other can be nurtured, explored, and ultimately consummated with a commitment to continue to act in the best interest of each other. There are moments of peace in relationships, but it is not constant. If your expectation is that relationship is the place for peace and refuge from all other concerns, you are in for a rough ride! This is why some folks give up on developing a relationship and settle for living with fantasies or one night stands with Mr. or Ms. “Will Do.” Peace is not to be found there either! Peace IS to be found in a relationship, however. His name is Jesus. Unlike human relationships, this one comes with an instruction booklet – the Bible.
PEACE then, as Christ was declaring it is not just the absence of conflict or an abundance of security. The peace as Christ describes it is present in the midst of conflict or not and abundantly with us in our securities and insecurities. The peace that passes all understanding is the presence in our lives of the person Jesus, who fills us with His Spirit, affirms us with His love, molds us in His mercy, and secures us in His grace.