Pastor Annabelle P. Markey
Year C – Sixth Sunday of Easter
Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA – May 26, 2019
Words are powerful. As a study from a few years ago found, the average American consumes some 100,000 words per day. Every day. For reference, Tolstoy’s War and Peace is 460,000 words. We speak an average of 16,000 words per day. Or as my introvert husband Jeff said when I relayed these speaking stats, “I’m below average!” 3 more words for Jeff…
We are inundated with words and they can have a profound effect on us. They can shape us for good or ill. They can haunt us and echo in our minds and hearts, repeatedly causing us to believe the negative stories and lies we’ve been told by others or by ourselves. They can also support us and give us confidence and grace as we move through life. So what are the words on which we are built? What is at our core that sustains us?
Before the crucifixion, Jesus gives what scholars call his “Farewell Discourse.” It includes Jesus telling his disciples he going to prepare a dwelling place for them, that he is the way, the truth, and the life, and his teaching on the Holy Spirit. All of this is connected with Jesus’ followers keeping his commandments and his word. He tells them that in doing so and in loving him, he will make himself known to them. It is in keeping Jesus’ words, in holding them near and dear to our hearts, that Jesus is made known to us.
But this doesn’t happen through our own efforts. Jesus tells his disciples that he is going away and that where he is going, they cannot follow. However, he is not leaving them orphaned – he is sending the Holy Spirit to guide them. As he says later, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” Jesus has to go away in order for the Holy Spirit – the One who will teach, form, shape, and empower the disciples – to come. Now, if all of this is making your head spin, imagine the poor disciples trying to understand what Jesus was talking about. What was happening? Where and why was Jesus going? Who was this mysterious Holy Spirit?
With all of these questions – all of these words – swirling around, Jesus gave the disciples an incredible gift: “‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.’” Jesus says he gives peace unlike what the world has to offer. In the world, peace often means the absence of war, conflict, or tension.
But in Scripture God’s peace – God’s shalom – is different. It is not just the absence of conflict, but the presence of healing, reconciliation, and wholeness. It works hand in hand with justice to ensure that all people can prosper in the fullness of life that is dwelling in God’s kingdom. It is building, shaping, re-forming, and the deepening of relationships. It is being able to live with daring vulnerability and self-sacrifice. Security within even when the outside world is in chaos and turmoil. Abiding joy in difficulty. Hope that God is at work even in trials. Faith that God is bringing new life in change, grief, and death. That is the peace that surpasses all understanding. The peace that doesn’t necessarily make sense in our minds, but in our hearts.
On the other side of the crucifixion and resurrection, as William Barclay writes, “The peace which Jesus offers us is the peace of conquest. No experience of life can ever take it from us and no sorrow, no danger, no suffering can ever make it less. It is independent of outward circumstances.”
It is the peace that we can only come to know through the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. Jesus says in treasuring God’s word and opening our hearts to listen to it eagerly like Lydia in the Acts reading, the Triune God will make a home with us. God finds us and takes up residence in us through the Holy Spirit. That’s an amazing and terrifying thought. The God of the cosmos is making a home with and in us.
Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would come to teach the disciples everything and remind them of everything he’d already taught them. Spoiler: The Holy Spirit came as promised and continues to show up – darting to and fro mischievously in our lives like a holy hummingbird. The Spirit teaches us everything and guides us into all truth, making Jesus real and present among us. Because it is one thing to talk about God, Jesus, and the Spirit as interesting topics. It is another to “know” them in our very being. The Spirit moves us into ways of being we hadn’t considered before. It is wild like the wind, persistent like a predator tracking its prey, filled with an enduring patience, bold and daring in confronting and challenging us, comforting in conveying God’s love and presence, and the One who assists us in all times. And it’s as close as our breath, dwelling within us. Inhale. Exhale.
This is all part of our baptismal identities. We, too, have been sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit: “the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in [God’s] presence.” Those words and that Spirit remind us that we are loved as we are. That we are people capable of amazing and beautiful things, no matter what our mistakes or past try to tell us. The Spirit keeps us rooted and grounded in Christ instead of seeking approval or establishing our identities on who the world says we should be or our misconceptions of ourselves. Because when we’re worried, overwhelmed, stressed, or self-conscious, our souls are stirred up with fret, fear, and unhealthy concern about possibilities, perceptions, and appearances. In short, we are not at peace. We may not be in conflict externally, but the battle rages within. When we instead hold to our baptismal identity, we are at peace, knowing we are loved, forgiven, and freed to serve God and our neighbor, no matter what comes our way.
The Spirit is also the very heartbeat of our life together. The One who gathers us – people from all backgrounds, experiences, and beliefs called to worship one God. The entity that keeps us grounded as we try to discern what we are being called to as a community. The road ahead may not always be clear, but with the Spirit leading us, pushing us, comforting us – we have that peace in our hearts that assures us that God is with us, always working for our good.
Still, it’s incredible and also a little scary to think of God as being so near and so active in our lives. Because the same Spirit that sent the first disciples out into unknown territories to proclaim God’s love, propels us beyond our comfort zones (usually kicking and screaming) and calls us to be a people of trust, holding onto the promises and word of God in spite of our fear. Thankfully and graciously, the Spirit instructs us in that kind of trusting relationship with God, giving us peace the world cannot give.
The peace that Jesus gives comes from holding his word dear. It comes from being open to the Spirit. It doesn’t say we have to keep God’s word perfectly. It says we are to pay attention to it. For it’s through Jesus’ teachings we will come to understand our relationships with God, others, and ourselves. It’s through the instruction of the Spirit regarding that word that we’ll be challenged in our thinking and forced to examine our words and actions. It’s through the Holy Spirit working in us that we will indeed learn and bear good fruit.
Holding Jesus’ words dearly can be as simple as listening to and spending time with them. So I invite you to sit comfortably, perhaps closing your eyes. And as you sit, focus on your breath. As you inhale and exhale, you might want to use a short breath prayer, a phrase such as “Teach me, O Spirit” or “My peace I give” or “Let me not be afraid” or “Open my heart, to listen eagerly.” Take a few moments to just be. How might the Spirit use these words to be at work in you? Amen.