Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sharing Peace -- a Sermon for Easter 6

Based on John 14:23-29


             I love baptisms. 
            You may have noticed this about me. 
            I love everything about baptisms, from conversations with parents and sponsors, to pouring water and getting my sleeves wet to drawing crosses on foreheads.
             I love getting to hold babies and introducing everyone to our new sister or brother in Christ. 
            I love how the liturgy is almost always the same for a baptism, but how every baptism is different, because different people are involved. 
            So there are all these different stories –- like the three children who all got baptized at the same time, and one of them was so excited he said, “this is fun!  I like baptizing!”
             or the baby that grabbed both sides of my stole as she was being lowered down to the font. 

            One of the things I really liked when I first came to this congregation was that sometimes we would have a number of people, babies and children, and sometimes even adults – baptized at one time. 
            That was exciting to me, both getting to know the people beforehand, and the large crowds around the font on the big day. 
            I remember that one day there were five people getting baptized – a 5th grader, two third graders, a 4 year old, and a baby. 
            They were all people new to the congregation, and one of the families included a single mom. 
            We were putting the service together and wanted her ex-husband and his family to be included. 
            And, as a step-mom myself, I wanted to be sensitive to everyone involved.  But I knew that it might be awkward, and that there are often really deep wounds, even when all the people involved want to work together and do the right thing for their children. 
            So I was nervous about how the day of the baptism would work out,  and the potential for conflict as well as for blessing.   
            I suppose that on this day, I really wanted there to be peace.

            Peace.  That’s what Jesus offers to his disciples, in the gospel reading today. 
            Here they all are, in the upper room again, gathered around, and Jesus is teaching them and telling them the most important things he wants them to know, to prepare him for his death – to prepare them for life in the world – to prepare them to be his disciples. 
            And even though he goes on for five chapters, really, what he has to tell them has a few simple things in it, that he says over and over. 
            “Love one another.  As I have loved you.”  “The Holy Spirit will help you.”
             I am giving you peace.   My peace.  Not the world’s peace, whatever that is.”    
            Over and over he tells them the same simple things.
             Love.  Share peace.   My peace.  The Holy Spirit will help you. 
            And the thing is – he’s not just telling the disciples in the upper room. 
            These are Jesus’s words to us as well.
             “Love.  Share peace. My peace.”  He’s telling us.  “The Holy Spirit will help you.” 

            And you know – we all want peace.  I know I do. 
            Not just on that baptism day long ago when I wanted things to work out well for that little family that had trouble and conflict.
            We really want there to be peace.  I pray for peace in the world, for the wisdom to make peace, for a good night’s sleep when I’m worried.
            What about you? 
            I want peace in my family, peace in my community, peace among neighbors – whatever that is. 
            So when Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give to you,”
            I know I get a lot of images in my head, from a general sense of contentment – ah, peace – and a good night’s rest – to the peace that comes when enemies set down weapons and sit down at the table together. 
            There are a wide varieties of images for peace – and we want them all.  We want them all. 

            But what I really want to hone in on today is the image of peace between us  -- and peace between us and God. 
            Because I think when Jesus is speaking about peace he isn’t speaking generally about contentment, but he’s speaking about  peace as reconciliation, peace as something between us  -- and peace as something that is between us and God.
             He’s talking about a peace that closes the gap, goes the distance, overcomes fear and gives courage to do what Garrison Keiller used to say that Powdermilk Biscuits do,
             “give shy people the courage to stand up and do what needs to be done.” 
             I want to connect Jesus’ word on this night “Peace I leave with you” with Jesus’ words to his disciples when he came back to them after he rose – he walked right through those locked doors and he stood in front of them and said, “peace be with you.” 
            And we might think he was just saying “hello”  -- after all, the Hebrew word for “peace”  “shalom”  -- is also a greeting. 
            But I think that when he told them “peace be with you”  -- he was not just saying ‘hello,’    He was also giving them peace.  His peace. 
            The peace that closes the gap.  The peace that goes the distance. 
            The peace that won’t let anything – not fear or failure or conflict -- not anger or even betrayal or death  – get in the way of his love – and his presence.  “Peace be with you.” 

            Peace.  We all want peace.  I know I do.
           
      And we receive this peace and we share peace every Sunday, when we come here. 
      We come and we confess the distance we feel – the distance between us – the distance between us and God. 
      We come and confess our failures, our secrets, our failings, our fears, and we hear again and again that God comes to us, that God forgives and heals and loves and sends us – yet again. 
      Again and again God gives us the peace of his presence – I am with you.  Do not be afraid. 
      And then we share this peace with one another.  The peace of God be with you always – we tell one another. 
      We wish God’s peace on one another – friends, enemies, strangers – we close the distance, bridge the gap.
       It’s only a moment in the service, but that’s what it’s about.  Because we all want peace.  I know I do.  And it’s a gift.  And it’s our work, too.

      Peace.  It’s not about avoiding the newspaper, because knowing the pain of the world can keep you up at night, sometimes. 
      But it’s about reading the newspaper, and  praying for peace, and working for peace, however you can.
      It’s not about simply the absence of conflict, but the presence of God even when there is conflict.
       It’s not saying everything is perfect, even if it’s not.
       It’s about saying even though everything is not perfect,  we will work together, we will serve together, and I will bless you with God’s peace.  
      And we can be instruments of God’s peace…. Together.

     
            So, on the day, on that baptism day, you know – it was something. 
            All those people, standing up at the font.  The four your old looking all solemn and being able to tell the congregation, “I want to be baptized.” 
            The two third graders and the 5th grader and their families around them – and you know – now that I think about it – they have all been on many mission trips as youth at this church. 
            And the sponsors, receiving candles, and hearing the words, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works, and glorify your father in heaven.” 
            The congregation welcoming. 
            But the moment I most remember is this:  at the close of the service, the single mom and her ex-husband shared a hug.   I don’t even remember who started it, and it probably isn’t important.  
            Peace.  We all want peace.  I know I do. 
            I don’t think that everything was magically perfect for them after that, but they shared God’s peace that day -- the gift of peace.  And  even after that, sometimes, I imagine. 

            Baptisms.  I love baptisms. 
            The wet sleeves, the babies, children, adults – all children of God  The promise of it.  The abundance.  The stories. 
            The images of quiet babies resting in the promises of God, receiving the peace of God, and the images of screaming babies awakened to the less-than-peaceful world, still receiving the peace of God. 
            Walking up and down the aisle and saying, “this is your new sister or brother in Christ.”    Sharing that peace.

            The peace of Christ be with you always.  Amen

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