Keep Calm and Carry On

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Rev. Sarah Buteux
May 5, 2013
John 14:23-29

I did not have time to write a sermon this week.

It was Monday night, about as far from Sunday morning as one can be, and I was already panicking.

I did not have time to write a sermon this week.

I lay in bed exhausted, trying to fall asleep after a very full day and sleep was nowhere to be found because I couldn’t stop thinking about all the things I had to do and trying to figure out where exactly I would find the time to do them.

Like a perverse game of Tetris, I could already see my week laid out as if on a grid, and as I lay there I watched with horror as all the commitments I could remember began falling into place, locking into patterns that would not leave me a sizable enough chunk of time to do the most important thing I would need to do.

I did not have time to write a sermon this week.

Although, truth be told, I really didn’t have enough time last week either. The week before that Scott preached, so I was okay, but the week before Scott preached, I was also pretty panicked. Actually, it would seem that I never have enough time: not to get to all the things that really matter, not to say all the things that need to be said, not to do and be everything I think I’m supposed to be and do and I’m getting tired of it.

I’m tired.

I’m tired of all the anxiety and the running around and the feeling that no matter how hard I work or fast I run or efficient I become that I’m still somehow not getting the job done.

And I bring this up, not because I want you to say, “Oh poor Sarah.” I bring this up because I’m pretty darn sure I’m not the only one. I mean I know you’re probably not lying awake at night agonizing over your sermon, (that’s just my peculiar cross to bear) but I have the sense that there are a whole lot of you walking around with more anxiety than you can comfortably carry. 

Am I right?

Some of it is work related and some of it is just life.

I think there are a whole host of us who feel like no matter how hard we try there is always a little too much month left at the end of the money and not enough week left at the end of the work. Be we parents of young children or the children of aging parents, we burn the candle at both ends till we ourselves are burnt out from trying to balance it all. But even worse than that, I think there are a whole lot of us who can’t sleep at night not just because we are stressed, but because we are scared: scared for the future, scared for our children, scared for our country and our planet, scared not just of what’s happening, but of what’s to come.

And that’s not ok. It’s not ok.

Jesus said, “I came that you might have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10) not “I came that you might have life in all its scarcity; therefore my children go forth and use every last little second of life as efficiently as possible because this is all you’re going to get.”

He didn’t say that.

Jesus came that we might know peace. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he said, and do not let them be afraid,” and yet so many of us are troubled… so many of us are afraid.

So much so, that I think it would be good for us to look a little more closely and think a little more deeply about this peace Jesus offers. He comes right out and says to the disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” But he’s also very clear with them: “I do not give to you as the world gives,” he says. And I think there is something there, something worth meditating on.

What is the difference between the peace the world offers as opposed to the peace Christ brings?[1]

I’ve been thinking about this all week and I’ve come to realize that whether you’re talking about peace on a global scale or a personal one, the peace Christ holds out to us really is diametrically different from the peace the world gives.

It was in his day and sadly, it still is in ours. I mean think about it, on the grandest of scales, when we talk about peace what we are really talking about is the time between wars... right? Peace, as it is defined by the world, is any stretch of time when one’s country is not actively engaged in fighting with another country.

Well believe it or not, Jesus lived in a time of relative peace, during a time historians actually refer to as the Pax Romana. From 27 BCE to 180 CE, Rome slowed way down on its expansion - having already grown about as big as it could possibly be - and maintained a high level of order within its borders for over 200 years.

If you were a Roman citizen these were good times to be alive, but -and there’s a pretty big “but” here – this peace was achieved, imposed, and maintained by means of violent force. Which is to say, if you weren’t a Roman citizen, these times weren’t very good at all. The empire of Rome was so big because it had conquered, subdued, and subsumed all the nations around it. They had the most power and the largest army and they used that power to take what they wanted, crushing anyone who got in their way. So at this point in history, yes, there was peace, if by peace you mean not all out war, mainly because the others nations were too crippled to fight back.

But it was an uneasy peace at best. Peace bought with violence and maintained by the threat of more violence always is. The Roman authorities were constantly on the look out for insurrectionists and forced to grapple with the violent outbursts of insurgents; men whose countries of origin might have been neutralized but whose spirits were not entirely broken. Thanks to their superior power, the Romans were able to crush these rebellions and keep the peace as it were, but when you think about it, a peace like that really isn’t that peaceful at all.

And yet this seems to be the best sort of peace the world can offer. It was back then and is even now. The trouble with this sort of peace is that it never lasts, which may be why peace has been defined, by our very own Pentagon of all places, as nothing more than “a state of pre-hostility.”[2]

Yeah, “a state of pre-hostility;” that is the peace our country is striving for, that is the peace the world offers, which I think goes a long way to explaining why so many of us have trouble sleeping at night.

Well Jesus came to offer a different kind of peace. Jesus came to teach us that peace is not what we gain when we finally have enough power to crush those who hate us.  Peace is what we gain when we make the courageous decision to just stop hating one another at all. Jesus came to break the endless cycle of violence and retribution, and he taught us with his words and showed us with his very life, that the only way to break it is to refuse to engage in it. 

Peace was something Jesus was willing to die for, it just wasn’t something he would ever kill for, because he knew that violence only leads to more violence, that the cycle has to end somewhere, and so he said let it end here with me, and invited his disciples to follow suit. Like the old bumper sticker says, “When Jesus said love your enemies, I think he meant don’t kill them.”

That is the path to peace Jesus offers, and I believe it is not only the truest path toward a more peaceful world, but toward a more peaceful night for those of us who have so much trouble sleeping in this one.

But what about a more peaceful life? Let’s bring this down to a personal level for a moment and talk a little about our day-to-day experience, because it would seems that the offer of peace is all around us if we could only figure out exactly how to procure it. As we scurry off to work or collapse back at home we are bombarded with advertisements that purport to sell us peace: peace of mind if we’d just upgrade to the latest security system, purchase that anti-viral software, spring for better life insurance, the longer warranty, the high end car seat, the Audi A6. A more peaceful existence would be ours if we just had a bigger recliner or a new duvet, a spa bathroom or a cruise to Tahiti.

I page through the J Jill catalogue (a moment of true confession here) and find myself looking longingly at women lounging on white couches in $400 cashmere sweat suits while sipping chamomile tea. J Jill is hoping I’ll buy the sweat suit but what they’re really selling me, and what I’m being seduced into buying, is the promise of peace. I want to look like that women looks. I want to feel as relaxed as she appears to feel. I want to live in a world as soft as cashmere, a world where I can lie down in the middle of the day on a white couch that never get stained. 

But- because again when it comes to the peace the world is giving there always seems to be a but- to afford that vision of tranquility or a sense of security, the new car or the overpriced Eileen Fisher hoodie, we’re going to need money, right? Be it cashmere or a cruise, none of this comes cheap, and so we work and work and work and spur one another on to do the same. Work becomes our master, money becomes our end, debt becomes our reality, and we run ourselves ragged till the peace we are chasing has receded so far off into the distance that all the cashmere and chamomile in the world couldn’t calm us were we ever to lie down.

That’s the peace the world is selling, but it’s a peace Jesus refuses to buy into, because yet again, that way lies no true peace at all. 

“Consider the lilies of the field,” Jesus says instead, “…they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these….Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ …your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. (So) strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

I can tell you right now that no one on Madison Ave has those words hanging over their desks. Because, you see, peace, like so much else in this world, is treated by the world as nothing more than a commodity. Peace, in the eyes of the world, is something that can be bought and sold, a thing one must earn or achieve. But peace for Jesus, well, to hear him tell it, peace is not a thing at all, and certainly not something he’s selling.

Peace is not a product, but a state of being, a state of grace, a state he embodied and invites us to step into.  Peace isn’t about what you have or what you’ve done, peace is about who you are: a beloved child of God born into the family of God; and nothing, nothing, nothing, will ever change that.

Peace comes when we realize that everything we have is a gift from God, given to us as freely, as beautifully, as bountifully, as it is given to the sparrows of the air and the lilies of the field; given freely that we might in turn learn to give it to one another.

Jesus invites us to approach all we have in a different way: to enjoy rather than posses, receive rather than grasp, and to share what comes our way with one another such that no one goes hungry, no one is homeless, no one need fear. There’s always enough to go around in God’s economy, as long as we’re willing to share because all I have is as much yours as it is mine, and vice versa.

This may sound a little crazy or even a little socialist, but it goes right to the heart of who we are striving to be as a church. It’s why we say, every time we baptize someone, that “our resources are your resources,” why we pray to “Our Father” rather than my Father, and ask for “Our daily bread,” rather than bread for ourselves alone. And it’s why we, as a church, do everything in our power to support one another in times of need. No one sitting here this morning should ever have to stress about things like food or clothing or shelter, (or even losing their job… because maybe they didn’t have time to write their sermon), not with this many brothers and sisters sitting by our side; brothers and sisters we can trust to love and support us come what may, the way our Heavenly Father loves and supports us all.

Actually, that is, in part, what this meal represents, this meal Jesus was serving when he said those words about giving us his peace.  When the first Christians met to re-enact the last supper in remembrance of Jesus they didn’t serve it the way we do now with just a loaf of bread and a cup of wine. [3]  Communion in the early church was always potluck. They called it a love feast because it truly was a feast - offered in love and open to all- a feast so full of real food that no one ever left a gathering of Christians hungry. It was a sign of the kingdom of God come to earth, a sign of God’s abundance, a sign of the peace Christ holds out to every last one of us if we would but trust in his truth and follow in his way. A peace waiting here for you, right here, right now, if you’re willing to receive it.

“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you.” Peace free of charge, peace free for the asking; a peace as free as grace itself. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] Thanks to Mary Ann McKibben Dana and her wonderful post on The Hardest Question this week. Her questions inspired this sermon.

[2] Robin Meyers, The Underground Church, p .95

[3] I learned this reading Robin Meyers “The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive way of Jesus”