A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 16, 2004
Text: John 14:27
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”
Jill Jackson and her husband Sy Miller wrote those lyrics nearly 50 years ago, in the wake of the Korean War. The little song was written originally for a youth retreat, but from church camps to VFW lodges, it hit a chord. The simple tune and hopeful sentiment it expressed caught on, and today you can find “Let There Be Peace on Earth” in collections of Christmas hymns, on CD racks, and being played millions of times each day on countless web sites.
We long for peace. We always have. Whether we call it peace or paz, shalom or salaam, virtually every human culture has considered peace to be the greatest blessing that can be given.
Take the Hebrews, for example. Here is a group whose history is filled with warfare and conflict. A small band of people wandering the wilderness of Palestine, attacking and being attacked by the local tribes. Even after they have settled into the land that their God has promised them, they continue to fend off attackers and conquerors. Eventually the Hebrews would be overthrown, their kingdoms of Israel and Judah pillaged, their people taken into exile. For such a people, a people in almost constant conflict, the gift of peace is an almost mystical one – peace not just in politics but in body and spirit, in family and community. The word peace became in Hebrew first a blessing and then a common greeting – visits began and ended with wishing peace on your neighbor…Shalom. Peace be with you.
We Americans are also a peace-loving people; that is how we think of ourselves. Formed in the Revolutionary conflict and hardened in the forge of civil war, the American spirit is reluctant to take up arms, and we do not move lightly toward hostilities. We have seen enough blood shed within our own country, and we are not eager to send our young men and women into harm’s way anywhere in the world.
It’s hard to believe, then, that our country has spent 181 out of its 226 years in some sort of combat or another, according to one military timeline. 181 years where we have had troops involved in at least one hostile incident! In the entire lifetime of our nation, there have been only 45 years of peace. And those years don’t take into account American hostilities toward the native residents of this land. Figure in the seemingly endless conflict between American settlers and soldiers and Native Americans, and there is hardly a single year that has passed since the founding of our country when we haven’t taken up arms against someone. Almost without realizing it, our nation has been in practically constant conflict – no wonder we cling so tightly to our love of peace!
Even our relatively calm lives here on the home front are shaped as often as not by conflict rather than peace.
We use war talk constantly. How many of us are fighting the battle of the bulge again this summer? Has someone dropped a real bombshell in your life lately? Have you ever fantasized about sending your kid to one of those boot camps Oprah’s always got on her show?
War is fashionable. For as long as I can remember, people on the runways and in the school hallways have been wearing camouflage. The splotchy fabrics – especially the blue and gray “urban” kind – are like the new white. Kids clunk around in combat boots. Wealthy boys get around town in monstrous, military-inspired 4x4s. Why, just up the road in Valley City there’s a bright red Hummer cruising around town. If you can’t (or wouldn’t want to) be in places like Iraq or Afghanistan, you can at least look the part.
And since September 11, 2001, we Americans have seen warfare through new eyes. The distinction between civilian and combatant vanished that morning in a massive heap of rubble. We’ve come to realize that we will never see a “Code Green” – that in the new world of terrorism, there is no such thing as war “over there” and peace “back home.” We catch ourselves worrying about drinking water and crop dusters, and we wonder – can there be peace on Earth at all?
In the midst of all this chaos and conflict, Jesus offers us his peace. “My peace I give to you,” he says to us. Let there be peace on earth, yes…but it can only begin with Jesus. “I do not give as the world gives,” he promises. The peace he’s offering isn’t temporary; it’s not the uneasy lull between one war and the next. Instead, Jesus gives us the peace that he himself has.
We misunderstand that peace if we look for it in the world. One day Jesus will return and all the violence of this world will come to an end…but until then, the peace of Jesus will not be found on CNN or Fox News. Jesus himself predicted that we would continue to have wars and rumors of wars – and yet his peace is with us. What peace can he mean?
The peace that Jesus gives us now, this very moment, is peace between us and God. That’s the old, old conflict – the single deadliest war ever fought. And into that terrible battle Jesus stepped, paying the ultimate price so that there might finally be peace between the Children of Adam and the one, holy God. The peace Jesus gave his disciples and gives to you this day is the blessed, eternal peace he has always shared with his Father. It is the peace that forgives all your sins, and the peace that brings you life.
The Hebrews believed that shalom would be complete when Messiah came. They were half right – when Jesus the Messiah first came to us, he gave us peace with God through his death and resurrection. When Jesus the Messiah comes to us again as he promised, then we will find that shalom, paz, salaam, peace are at last complete. Then will the bloodshed cease. Then will the nations all bow down together. Then will the Lamb on the Throne rule forever in absolute peace.
Jesus has given us peace with God now, and the promise that one day soon, peace will be all in all. And so we pray today even as the church has always prayed: Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly! Amen.