The Spirit's Peace
Pentecost; May 15, 2016
John 14:15-17, 25-27
Let's work backwards through the text: I'll riff on that word "peace" for a bit, then back up to the rest of the Scripture. You may have heard the Hebrew word "Shalom," which is usually translated as "Peace." And it does mean "peace" as we ordinarily use the word: nobody invading your country, the army safely at home. And it means more than that, too. It carries a sense of "harmony" and "well-being." To wish someone "Shalom" is to wish them a healthy body, mind, and spirit, to wish them good friendships and family life. It is to wish them enough to eat and a place to live and an overall sense that their life is going well.
And so Jesus says to us, "My peace I give you as the world cannot give." Just about all the world can give us is relatively secure borders. Jesus wishes more for people: harmony and well-being, a good life: Shalom.
Most Sundays, we invite you to "pass the peace." "The peace of Christ be with you all," we say, and you answer, "And also with you." And we ask you to greet one another with the peace of Christ. Yet, my experience is most people say, "Good morning" or "Did you see the game yesterday?" Jesus wishes more for his people than simply a nice, pleasant morning; he wishes his peace, shalom. So I wish people would greet one another with the peace of Christ. After all, we're in church: it's safe to talk about Jesus here.
Peace is gained, it seems from the Scripture, not by treaty negotiations or by going around armed. Peace is the gift of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, the Advocate… all these wonderful words Jesus uses to describe the One whose coming we celebrate today on Pentecost.
I'm taking the risk this year of talking about the gift of the Holy Spirit without reading the story from Acts 2, because what Jesus says about the Spirit in John 14 is enough for us to chew on. Just before promising to give us his peace, Jesus says this about the Holy Spirit: the Spirit's job is to remind us of all that Christ has said to us. You know the wisdom in marketing: you cannot over-communicate. Say it, say it again, and say it again. Well, that's what the Holy Spirit does: Jesus said it, and the Spirit says it again, and says it again. The Spirit says it through the Bible, through preaching, through the sudden insight that comes to you when a line from Scripture connects with what you see out your window.
So the peace that Christ gives, which the world cannot give, is given to us as the Spirit reminds us of what Jesus has said. You got that? The peace that Christ gives is given to us as the Spirit reminds us of what Jesus has said. Goodness, we don't even have to learn anything new: just remember what Jesus has already said.
Pastor Sara and I are going to try something beginning next week, on Trinity Sunday. We're going to use an alternative cycle of Scripture readings called the "Narrative Lectionary." It takes God's people all through the story of Scripture every year, but picking up on different stories and using a different Gospel each year. There is only one Scripture reading most of the time, and the point is for the preacher to help the people understand the Scripture. Even though not every reading is about the teachings of Jesus, even so it should help us focus on cooperating with the Spirit's work of reminding us of what Jesus has said.
At the beginning of what I read to you is the point-blank piece of instruction of what we are supposed to do with what Jesus has said to us: obey him. I'll bet you love that word "obey." Freedom-loving Americans don't like to obey anyone, although we might concede to obey our parents when we are under 18 years old and are likely to get caught, or to obey the boss as long as someone is signing a paycheck. But let's not mince words: Jesus has said things to us with the expectation that we will obey him. "Pray for your enemies." That isn't just a lovely ideal: he expects us to do it. "Forgive one another." Do it. "Go and make disciples of all peoples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit." Do it. "Eat and drink in remembrance of me." Do it.
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments." William Barclay reminds us that love is not sentiment or emotion: it is obedience. If you love your husband or wife, the best way to show that love is not with words or flowers but by doing what he or she wants of you. I know it is frustrating and hard: if you think I find it hard, just imagine how hard it is for Kathleen to be married to me! We can sing, "O How I Love Jesus," but the words are empty if are not praying for our enemies, forgiving one another, making disciples, and eating and drinking in him.
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments." And the Father will send you the Holy Spirit The Spirit will remind you of what I have said, and I will give you my peace, shalom. Jesus truly wishes us peace, shalom, the well-being of God, and as we listen to him and obey him Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit so we will know shalom. The peace of Christ be with you all.
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master
Benson Presbyterian Church
Omaha, Nebraska William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible: John, vol. 2 (Westminster, 1975), p. 166.