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Sermon for May 5 2019

Texts: Genesis 1:27-2:3/John 14:18-29

Title: “Going and Coming”

      It is difficult to be separated from those we love, particularly when no date has been set for a reunion. The fact that Jesus was preparing to leave his disciples was clear, crystal clear. Their disappointment, even dismay at the news, is reflected in Jesus’ efforts to console them:  “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.  I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

      “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places…I go and prepare a place for you.  Thomas, one of the disciples, who would later distinguish himself as “doubting Thomas,” was skeptical. “Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way? 

      If Thomas was looking for map coordinates, he was disappointed.  Instead of a point on the map we hear Jesus make what is arguably one of the best known and most often quoted declarations in the gospels, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  

Each of us has been blindsided by something we didn’t expect. Scripture tells us that the unanticipated was the norm in the disciples’ life with Jesus.

A new normal confronted the disciples as they followed Jesus from the familiar surroundings of Galilee to the province of Judea and Jerusalem. No, not the Galilean countryside, the Lord was pointing them to a domain unmapped where mystery and danger lurked.

Humble men how could the disciples be expected to grasp the new things Jesus was communicating. What registered to them with profound, and unsettling impact was that Jesus was going away, and his journey would be unaccompanied.

Jesus was going away, but he was quick to reassure them.  “I will not leave you orphaned.”  The word “orphaned” in the Greek is also translated “desolate,” or “comfortless.”

I am going, but “I will not leave you orphaned.” The statement, curiously enough, is completed by the following, “I am coming to you.” “I will not leave you orphaned, I am coming to you.”

Not going or coming. But going AND coming. The twelve disciples had many questions about how all those logistics would work out.  Jesus attempted to address their questions, and temper their anxieties, declaring, “I will not leave you orphaned.” 

Orphaned can mean many things.  To the disciples, dreading the day that Jesus would leave them, orphaned meant abandoned.  For others orphaned means uncared for, or unloved.  Orphaned can mean estranged and isolated.  Orphaned can mean excluded.

Let’s focus on a single dimension of orphaned with which all of us are familiar, orphaned as left behind. When I was a child, and I think many of you can relate, my parents planned the occasional evening away from the house. Placed in the care of a babysitter, off they went. Though I don’t think I ever doubted they would return from that evening out, the fact that my sister and I were left behind at home was unsettling. Despite the fact that my parents never gave us any reason to seriously believe that they wouldn’t return, I could never completely banish the fear that this might be the first time.

Can you blame the disciples for wanting absolute assurance the Lord would return? On matters of time and place Jesus didn’t do specifics, instead came Jesus’ assurance that the disciples would never be abandoned.  

The road ahead would remain perilous. Tests of courage and stamina were yet to be faced. There would be no guarantees that the twelve would enjoy personal safety. No guarantees that their capacity to endure wouldn’t be strenuously tested.

Jesus must have been aware of the burden under which his disciples labored. He easily might have alleviated his friends uncertainty. Instead we hear him offer the following consolation, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”  No pep talk to bolster their courage, instead he confers a blessing, “My peace I give you.”

Reading those words on the page we might ask ourselves what Jesus had in mind when he bestowed that blessing. “My peace I give you.” To get a handle on that let us scroll back to that tale in Genesis where the ancient couple are domiciled in the garden. If peace enjoyed habitat on this earth that would have to be the place. No harmony, or discord disturbed the utter tranquility and calm that reigned there. It was creation as God intended it to be.

Let’s let the fact that that perfected state did not remain so for long be a subject for another day. The point I would like us to consider is that the peace Jesus had in mind when he bestowed the blessing, “my peace I leave you,” was that primordial peace that existed in the garden, a peace where God’s intentions for creation were expressed in full.

In his letter to the Ephesians the Apostle Paul might have been taking a crack at describing peace on Jesus’ terms, referring to a peace “which surpasses all understanding.” Was he using the garden of Eden as his point of reference? Perhaps, or might the peace he experienced in his life as a result of knowing Jesus left him powerless to describe such an otherworldly phenomenon in words at all?

Jesus didn’t need to define peace in words, he embodied peace, and, importantly, he made it the centerpiece of his ministry. He came into the world God’s chosen emissary to redeem the world from everything that was undermining God’s intentions for the world. It was a tall order to be sure but made doable by the love and the courage that motivated him.

John is describing the conclusion of Jesus earthly ministry, and as we have discovered, the implications of his leaving, were not lost on his disciples. They were upset, and Jesus knew it. So what did he do? He blessed them; “my peace I give you.”

Now there are many things Jesus may have done to prepare his disciples for his absence. He may have given them a comprehensive plan for continuing his work. He may have equipped them with special powers. Instead, in bestowing his peace Jesus was, in effect, communicating the very essence of who he was.  Think of Jesus’ peace, along with his love, as being the very essence of Jesus being.

No, the disciples would not be left abandoned or orphaned, Jesus’ peace would take up residence within them, and the empowering force of that peace would spread from them into the growing circle of Jesus’ followers, until eventually some who witnessed the Jesus people in action stood back and declared that those followers of Jesus were turning the world upside down, not through revolution in arms, mind you, but through the peace they demonstrated.

True peace, peace as it is represented in our Lord consists no more, and no less than harmony with God’s will. Peace on Jesus’ terms is accepting on faith that what he taught and the way he lived are capable of yielding satisfaction and fulfillment much greater than anything that worldly pursuits might offer.

“My peace I leave you.” Peace is the legacy that you and I carry into the world as we apply our wills to modeling Jesus’ will. By your faithful efforts and mine God is empowering us to continue the work of Christ by recreating this world to become the place God intended it to be when he created it.

Jesus, of course, gave his peace tangible expression in the holy meal we are about to share. Let bread and juice remind us that the resurrected Lord returned from the dead to live on in and through us. He is with us now in the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup.

In our lesson the Lord was striving to insure his disciples that he would come back to them. Death would not defeat him. Let this holy meal remind us that Jesus was good to his word. He came back in the resurrection, and in the sacrament, the breaking of bread, and the sharing of the cup, we celebrate his enduring presence and his peace everlasting.

“Peace I leave you,” declared the Lord. May we live our lives in such a way that we learn to value the true worth of that gift, and through our actions share that knowledge with others.

There is no returning to the garden of splendor where God appointed our ancestors to live before the Fall, but there is no telling what God can do with the world in its current condition if we adapt the methods and mindset of the Prince of Peace. Amen.

 

PRAYER

O Christ, may this worship service be a worthy offering to place in your keeping. We have come seeking your presence, and the renewal and liberation you offer in your word. Prepare our minds and hearts to receive the truths you would impart.

Ease the minds of those who experience stress this day that their spirits may be renewed, and to the anxious grant release. May the lonely and grieving find solace. May those struggling with illness find strength to withstand their challenges. May the guilt-ridden find liberation in forgiveness. 

O Christ, you offer a peace passing understanding, a peace derived not from accumulating more as the world defines “more,” but a peace won as we live our lives after the manner in which you lived. We know that conditions in this world will not change unless the people of the world change. Equip us, O Christ, to be the agents of change you would have us to be, trusting that you will be how constant help in all contingencies.

 

Merciful God, brace those who live in harms way today.  We pray for our armed forces around the world. We pray for those whom, at the risk of their lives, maintain humanitarian missions in lands where crushing poverty and destitution blight the lives of the marginalized.  We pray for those missionaries who have committed their lives to embodying the gospel in distant lands.      As the school year ends we pray that you will be with students and teachers as they assume summer commitments. May the summer recess provide a time for relaxation and reflection, a time to broaden experience through new challenges.

Finally, Lord, we give thanks for the privilege in gathering in this place, with this friends, once again. Blest be the tie that binds, and my that circle that binds continue to expand that no child of your creating be left out.

O Christ, who offers peace the world cannot give, hear our prayers as we in unison pray the prayer you taught us….