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Find Peace

Quiet

When I began preparing this sermon, I gave it the titled:  FINDING PEACE.   The thought was that the text (John 20:19-31) offered clues for our fearful and distraught people could find peace in Jesus Christ.  The problem was that this approach to the text made peace a commodity of sorts – something that we had to seek out and discover by taking proper steps, following some plan, or observing some religious agenda.

The more I explored the text, the more I realized that this was backward thinking.  In the text, the disciples do not find peace, PEACE finds them.  Jesus comes to where they are and offers himself.  He comes to them on the evening of the resurrection and says, “Peace be with you!”  He comes a week after that and meets Thomas (who’d been missing the week before) and says again:  “Peace be with you!”  The only thing he offers in these meeting, in conjunction with the word: PEACE is the evidence of his wounded hands and side – the act of breathing on them, saying: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” There is no steps, keys, or formula for FINDING PEACE.  There is only the narrative of Jesus finding them!

The sermon below was preached on April 27, 2014, by Dr. Bill Nieporte, at the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, VA.  You can watch the video  below.  The manuscript is right below that.  You may also visit the church website at http://www.pattersonavenuebaptist.com to watch this video, listen to the MP3, and  subscribe to our weekly podcast.

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Finding Peace

John 20:19-31

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

 But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 

Eighteen months ago, our son Michael began the process of considering which university he would attend this coming fall. He visited several schools, but at the end of the process he made the decision to attend the Virginia Commonwealth University right here in the city of Richmond.

When we toured VCU, we were shown the security call boxes that were placed at strategic locations all across the campus. If a student was out, late at night, being followed by a suspicious person, all they have to do is stop at one of the call boxes, push a button, and a security officer would be immediately dispatched to that location.

Last month we were back on campus for a new student orientation. As we were walking from the fitness center back toward the parking deck, I noticed that one of the those call boxes had a sign that said, “Out of Order.”

Underneath the “Out of Order” sign someone had scribbled the word “RUN.”

(Have read similar stories from other places and other universities!)

The purpose of the campus security call box is to provide students (and more importantly their parents) a sense of peace and safety. The call box serves as a parable of sorts for how many of us live our lives. We are constantly seeking peace. We seek a sense of security. We want to know our that our children are safe, our investments are sheltered, our healthcare is protected, and our job is secure. Really, all we want is a decent, peaceful night’s sleep.

We seek peace, safety, and security. We seek all this when we vote; when we go to work; when we put our kids on the school bus; when we drop them off at college; when we turn on the home security system before we go to bed. We seek peace with God when we come to worship and engage in our acts of piety and religious ritual. We live our lives seeking peace…and we will keep running from place to place for just a taste of that peace.

Nothing could have prepared the women for what they experienced at the cemetery. What greeted them that sunrise was the surprise of their lives.

Matthew’s gospel says:

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.”

The angel’s words to the women struck a note of hope, a resounding crescendo of triumph:

“Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”

“He is not here; he has risen.”

Do you know what that means? It means that the tragedy of the cross was not final. It means that the power of the grave has been defeated. It means that the sting of death has been removed. It means that we don’t have to go back to business as usual. It means that the adventure of faith has not ended, but is only beginning.

Having seen the tomb empty—having heard the angel’s message—the text says the women RAN “with fear and great joy” to tell the other disciples.

When the women found the men and gave them the news, the men thought it was an “idle tale.” It was too good to be true. Still, Peter and John RAN to the tomb to see what had really happened. They found the stone and the empty tomb just the way that the women said. The strips of linen that had been wrapped around Jesus’ body were sitting off neatly to the side. They knew something had happened, but they were not sure what. So they RAN back to the house where they were hiding.

Mary stayed at the tomb. She was confused and distraught by the events of the day. Eyes filled with tears, heart torn apart by grief, she encounters a stranger she thought to be the gardener.

“Please tell me where they have taken him! What have they done with his body? Tell me so I can go and take care of him!” Then the man spoke to her. He spoke her name. It wasn’t the gardener. It was Jesus, risen from the dead. So now she RUNS again, back to where the men are hiding. “I have seen the Lord. He is not dead. He has risen. I have seen Jesus. He is alive.”

The disciples had no clue what to make of all this. You can’t really blame them for their confusion. Dead people just don’t come back to life.

Evening comes and the men are still locked behind doors, hiding from the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers. After seeing the empty tomb, after all the running around, after the testimony of Mary and the other women, they still end up locked behind closed doors, insecure and afraid.

The tomb was empty! Maybe somebody took his body.

Mary claims to have seen Jesus. That’s just crazy. You can’t trust the word of an emotional distraught woman, especially Mary. They were such close friends.

So there they are, behind locked doors, confused, distraught, afraid, and insecure. All they wanted was to find some peace of mind. Then something amazing happens:

“Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side.” Then John adds these words, “The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”

“Peace be with you!” Then he showed them his hands and side.

“Peace be with you!” He was risen from the grave.

“Peace be with you!” The disciples were overjoyed.

“Peace be with you!”

If the Gospel accounts ended with the stories of Sunday morning, it might not be enough. We might have some questions. If the Gospel stories ended with just the news of the empty tomb – or perhaps with the news of Mary’s encounter with a stranger in the garden – we might have some question about the validity of the resurrection. But you read the whole story, it is Easter Sunday evening that clinches the deal. It is the joy the disciples experienced as they burst out from behind those locked doors with a sense of peace and passion that makes no sense unless they actually experienced the presence, power, and peace of the resurrected Christ.

“Peace be with you.”

Shalom Aleichem.

These words were and remain a common greeting in Middle Eastern cultures. The disciples had heard Jesus offer these words on many occasions. But on this day it was a message they needed to hear and an gift they needed to experience.

Here’s the thing: this PEACE is not something that could be earned, warranted, or achieved. It is always and only a gift of God’s grace.

There is no magic number of times that one can attend worship and find peace. There are no amount of dollars one can place in an offering plate to buy peace. There is no certain numbers of hours one can put into practicing religious rituals which can set our distraught minds at ease.
PEACE is not something we gain by doing the religious thing. Jesus said: “Peace be with you.”

Notice Jesus GAVE them HIS peace. It was a gift he had and shared.

As I prepared this sermon, I found many articles, sermons, and all sorts of devotional readings that gave practical advice for how to FIND peace. One article gave eight keys to knowing peace. Another offered five essential steps toward finding peace. One sermon offered the proverbial three points to peace with God, along with a pretty poem.

That’s where we are in contemporary religious life. We long for practical plans, keys, points, and easy steps. Draw us a map. Give us directions. Offer us the formula. Give us a recipe for finding peace in our lives.

The truth, however, is that all this “so-called practical advice” amounts to little more than finding an “OUT OF ORDER” call bax late at night. You push the button, but nothing happens, so you run to the next box. You keep running from place to place, from action to action, from deed to deed, from ritual to ritual. You engage in all sorts of religious activities trying to FIND PEACE.

But Christianity is not a self-help improvement plan. It’s really not. I know you can go to the religious section of any bookstore in Richmond and find book after book from preachers and poets proclaiming that there is a simple, easy to follow, step-by-step formula to finding peace. But it does not work that way! Look, if there were seven keys to finding peace and security in life, you’d only need one book to FIND it. But those preachers and poets produce book after book, answer after answer, solution after solution.

Notice that Jesus does not offer us a list of practical suggestions that allow us to FIND PEACE.  Notice that the text does not give us simple plans and practical plans.

John’s gospel paints a picture of the disciples, locked away by fear behind closed doors. Then what happens. Jesus appears in their midst and says: “Peace be with you.”

Jesus comes to them in their darkest moment and GIVES (graces) them with PEACE. “Peace be with you.”

They do NOT FIND PEACE.

Peace finds them.

“Peace be with you.”

The answer is not a plan, program, or formula. The answer is JESUS. He gives us himself.

as if that is something we are tasked with doing. But in the text, the disciples do not FIND PEACE. Peace finds them. Jesus finds them.

Jeana was once asked to sing in a revival. After she sang, the revival speaker preached his sermon. He advocated all types of behavior. He spoke of all sorts of religious deeds that the congregation should do to be at peace with God. Then he said something I’ll never forget. He said, “I’d rather burn out than rust out!” As soon as he said that, I leaned over toward Jeana and said: “Either way, you’re out!”

So, if we do not find peace, but peace finds us. If what we are talking about is not some formula or plan, but Jesus giving us himself as our peace, what part do we have? I hate asking it like that. What do we have to DO? It leads us right back toward finding steps and developing plans and engaging in our religious enterprises. But thats not the answer. We know that.

Maybe the answer is to do the least religious thing.

is as effortless as releasing all our labors to earn, obtain, or achieve.

Maybe we just REST and let Jesus give us his peace.

Maybe we REST and accept Jesus’ gift of himself.

Jesus came and stood among them and said,

“Peace be with you!”

—————-

Speaking of PEACE, my ethics professors and friend Dr. Glen Stasson passed away on April 26.  Glen was a tremendous scholar, a gentle man, and a noted peacemaker.  His book, “Just Peacemaking” is an excellent read.  I get a few pennies commission when people purchase a book on my blog.  Any proceeds received for sales of this book will be donated to Glen’s legacy, the “Fuller Seminary Just Peacemaking Initiative.” Just Peacemaking: The New Paradigm for the Ethics of Peace and War by: Glen H. Stassen publisher: Pilgrim Press, The, published: 2008-11-30 ASIN: 082981793X EAN: 9780829817935 sales rank: 339435 price: $10.46 (new), $8.51 (used) Just Peacemaking is the product of 23 scholars across various denominations who have collaborated annually for six years to specify the 10 practical steps and develop the undergirding principles of this critical approach.

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