Jeremiah 8:8-22, John 14:25-31
September 6, 2009
This is the third in our series of sermons on the “Fruits of the Spirit.” (not including the introduction, of course.) I hope you’ve been loving them and enjoying them! (Get it? Love… Joy…?) Once again, as Paul told the Galatians, these are the outward characteristics we will have when we are “walking by the Spirit.” This was the new Ten Commandments of the early New Testament.
I also hope, as you’ve been loving and enjoying, that you’ve been looking at your own life and seeing if you have these outward signs. And I hope you’ve been making the choice to grow in them. Again the “fruit of the spirit” is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23) And that makes the word for today – the “fruit” for today – peace. And once again, I’m taking my New Testament lesson from the farewell address of Jesus in John’s gospel. These are some of the things Jesus thought most important to tell his disciples before he left them. And so we read in this 14th chapter these words. “Peace I give you not as the world gives…” “…do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)
Those are amazingly important words for our world today, aren’t they? People in our world today are searching for, longing for, desperate for, peace! And I’m not talking about peace as the absence of warfare. I’m talking about peace of mind and of spirit. Everybody wants to know where to find those things. They spend millions and millions of dollars on medication, on meditation, and on vacation, But too often, what people have instead is trepidation – or, to use our modern buzz-word, stress!
Stress is one of the greatest problems in our world today. It causes more health problems than almost any other condition. I’ve often heard various health organizations trying to calculate the effects of stress in terms of dollars, and I’ve heard a range of figures. But the costs in health care dollars is usually given in at least 10 figures. It could literally be costing billions in heart disease, blood pressure, stroke, and any number of other related conditions! People in our world desperately want peace. Yet it seems that fewer and fewer are finding it!
I usually like to follow the guidance of my professors in seminary and stick to one reading or the other when preaching. But in this case, I can’t help referring to my Old Testament lesson as well. Because when I think of the subject of “peace,” I’m also drawn to this passage from Jeremiah where the prophet says, “You have healed the hurts of my people lightly, crying ‘peace, peace’ when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 8:11) Now, is that not a prophecy for our time?!
I grew up in the ‘70’s, and I remember all the “peace signs.” Of course at that time they did refer to the absence of war. The Viet Nam conflict was still raging, and the peace movement was in full swing. Maybe you remember all that. Well, the old “peace sign” seems to be making a revival these days. And maybe again it does have to do with the absence of war. I don’t know. But I find it ironic still that it’s the inner peace that people seek, that is still so illusive in our world! People are again crying “Peace, peace” when there is little or no peace.
Well, when we “walk by the Spirit,” that is, when we “abide in Jesus” he gives us – he promises us – peace. And Jesus calls it “peace, not as the world gives!” What does that mean? Well, one of the things I have to tell you about that peace is that it’s very hard to explain. Listen to these words from another of Paul’s letters, the one to the Philippians. “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
God’s peace passes understanding. It is hard to understand and to explain. But it will guard our hearts and minds. It does so when we “pray in everything by supplication and thanksgiving.” When we abide in Christ with all of our lives, then we will have a peace – peace that’s hard to explain or understand – but which will permeate our entire being! Isn’t that what people want? But instead, too many people avoid God. And in doing so, they avoid the greatest source of peace!!!
The other thing that’s important to know here is that the peace that Jesus gives is not conditional to a person’s circumstances. You’ve heard me say those words before. Joy is also not conditional to our circumstances. That’s what is so great about all this. We don’t have to have success or the best of circumstances in order to have the abundance Jesus promised! Our lives can be fulfilling and full of Grace, no matter what happens to us. No matter what the circumstances, we can have peace!
Peace is also one place where our witness to Christ can be so effective. When people see our peace in the midst of strife and turmoil, they are more likely at that time to ask where we get such peace. When we live that peace at such times, we almost have to say nothing about it! When we “abide in Christ,” going back to these words of Jesus in the upper room, then we have that peace. And here I will risk an old cliché, because it speaks so well to having peace no matter what the circumstances. The cliché is this: “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know the one who holds the future.”
The author of that wonderful Hymn “It is well with my soul” wrote those comforting words after standing at the rail of a ship at sea as it passed the very point where a previous ship had sunk, taking the lives of his wife and daughter. How can it be “well with anyone’s soul” when such horrible things happen? When we “walk by the Spirit.” When we “abide in Jesus.” The world won’t give you that answer. The world can’t understand that answer. The world is more apt to be like the wife of Job, telling us at such times to “curse God and die!” (Nice wife!)
The world can’t give us that answer , but Jesus does. Abide in him. “Come unto me,” he says, “all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-29) That’s all about peace, isn’t it?
While you’re thinking about that, let me tell you something else about these Fruits of the Spirit, and this one in particular. And this is the part we don’t often hear. These fruits were listed, as I said, as an outward sign, an indication that we are “walking by the spirit.” But there’s more to it. (And this is the practical side of this) When we walk by the spirit we are given the strength to choose these things.
These things – love, joy, peace, etc… – don’t happen “magically.” If they did, Paul wouldn’t have to tell us what they are or how they work. Yet throughout his writings, he gives all sorts of exhortations about the merits and the means of choosing these things. Friends, that’s our job. That’s what Paul is calling us to do. That’s what God is calling us to do. The spirit’s job, (again, according to Jesus in the upper room!) is to teach us, and to bring all things we have learned to our remembrance. That doesn’t mean the spirit makes all these things happen in us supernaturally. We need to choose them!
Yes, there is supernatural power through the spirit. Don’t get me wrong. But there’s more to it. As followers of Christ we choose to love! We choose to have joy! And in the case today, we choose peace. And yes, to a certain extent, the spirit gives “peace that passes human understanding.” But also to an extent, we have peace because the spirit gives us the strength to choose peace! And that takes strength, my friends. Choosing peace can be hard. The natural human inclination is to dwell on the chaos. It is to allow ourselves to get angry or hurt or upset, and to think about those things without restraint, simply letting our “emotions run.” Let me tell you, that is not the way to peace. The way to peace is to choose peace. And it is even to choose to let God give us his peace.
Now, if you’re not sure of this, I want you to think of the alternative. And this becomes one of those things that falls into the realm of “I can’t help it.” That’s what the world says! When we think that or say that, when we claim that condition, we give ourselves up to that chaos. (Choosing peace may be hard. But it is more the way to peace than that!) Jesus gives peace not as the world gives!
It was said after 9/11 that we need to have courage. And it was suggested then that courage is not necessarily something we have as a character trait. Some of the most courageous people were scared to death, but acted courageously. And as one TV personality said at the time, “if you are courageous, or if you merely act courageously, no one will know the difference.” Well, that’s sort of what I’m getting at here! When you choose peace, you might still “feel” the chaos – for a while. You might even think you have failed in choosing. But you are choosing to make peace rule in your heart, and that will happen. But that’s hard. That’s why it’s “walking by the Spirit” that gives us the strength we need to do these things.
I hope you will take these words and apply them to your lives. (That’s what we preachers like to say!) These fruits don’t just “happen” because we have God. If you’ve simply been hearing about them and wondering where they are in your life, that’s the reason. God gives us the strength to have them! So when you feel the alternative rise within you, when you feel the envy, the strife, the chaos, the stress, the anger, the bitterness – all those things – then, choose peace! Ask the spirit to give you not just peace, but the strength to choose and to have peace!
Eternal God, we need your peace in our lives. We need the strength you give that helps us to choose to live in peace, and when we are weak, we need that peace that passes human understanding. Grant us those things, Lord. Then, continue to help us to walk by your spirit, that we may grow in these things, and so that others may know them in us. For we pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.