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The Rector’s sermons for April 15, 2018    

         

                                                                                                              

Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48



 

Life is complicated and I’m beginning to notice something about myself that is a little unsettling.  I have a fairly simple routine most of the time, but the past few weeks have been more than challenging.  We had all the usual preparations for Holy Week and Easter, but this year we added the Community Holy Week services.  Add to that multiple medical appointments, a somewhat difficult issue with a family member, and the anticipation of a new grandchild any day, has thrown me into a very uncomfortable and unsettled place.  It would seem as if the orbits are all out of kilter; I don’t know what’s coming next.  Actually, that’s pretty much a description of life, isn’t it?  It’s called change!!!  We live in a world that is turned upside down, circumstances are every-changing, and often our expectations are indeed too high.  Today Gospel message speaks to us when we are in those places of chaos. Jesus can and wants to enter into those places of chaos and He offers His peace.  

 

You have to pity the disciples. They were, in the days right after Easter, confused and scared. The brutality of the crucifixion took away their dream of a Messiah.  They were left with shattered dreams and painful doubts. Everything they had counted on had been ripped away—they had been thrown into a new land without a map or directions.  From our perspective, of course, we have an advantage over the disciples.  We are 2,000 years removed from the violent events of Holy Week.  We know that Jesus’ story didn’t end on Good Friday.  So here we are, in the midst of the Easter season, sharing the joy of the resurrection, looking back at the empty tomb and the neatly folded burial cloths.  We read the words of the heavenly messengers: “He is not here, he is risen.” We know there is great reason to celebrate.

           

But those poor disciples!  They were still lingering in the sadness of Jesus’ death.  Can they believe what they have heard from the women?   Or did someone steal the body?   Rather than calling to mind all that had happened the Jesus himself had predicted, they were thrown into a place of chaos.  Instead of believing and rushing out to share the good news, they seemed frozen in place, overwhelmed by what they had heard and wanted to believe.

They were paralyzed by fear.  And when Jesus does finally appear to them, the disciples still don’t understand. We might expect them to immediately break out in praise and worship, but the opposite is true. They are “startled and terrified.”  Instead of seeing a vision of new life, they believe they are seeing a ghost!

 

In that dramatic moment when Jesus appeared to them, they could not recognize the activity of God.  This is important for us to keep in mind when we are searching for signs of God’s presence or “proof” that God is with us.  In the midst of the chaos in our lives, we sometimes miss God altogether!  God may be trying to speak to us, but we may not be able to hear or understand.  It can be difficult to remember that God has promised always to be with us, even when we may not recognize God.  That’s why our first response when things go wrong or the unexpected happens may be doubt or panic or even terror.

           

This is nothing new.  It’s always been that way —ever since Jesus was born (and even long before that, if we look in the Hebrew scriptures).  The Gospel of Luke tells many stories of surprising God-encounters.  Jesus enters into people’s lives, and that changes everything.  Nothing seems familiar.  It would be like any of us trying to drive somewhere new without a map or GPS.  We can feel disoriented and even afraid.

 

But when we open our lives to Jesus, he speaks to that fear with the gift of peace. The power of God’s peace is that it can reverse the initial effects of anxiety, isolation, suffering, doubt and loneliness.  Just thinking about God’s peace changes everything.   The first time we see this is in the very beginning of Luke’s gospel, when Jesus is born.  The angels announce his birth to the shepherds, who are “terrified”—there’s that word again!  The shepherds have the same reaction at Jesus’ birth as the disciples have at Jesus’ death. The angels answer their fear with the words, “Do not be afraid.”  These angels reassure the cowering shepherds by singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth.”   That peace enabled the shepherds to travel to Bethlehem to encounter God firsthand in a manger.  God’s peace gives courage.

           

A few days after Jesus was born, that gift of peace was given to Simeon, an elderly prophet who had waited his entire life to see the Messiah.  When the infant Jesus was brought to the temple by his parents, Simeon rejoiced by saying, “Lord, you now have set your servant free, to go in peace as you have promised, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which you have prepared for all people.”  His lifetime of yearning, waiting and searching finally ended in receiving the promised peace.  That peace allowed Simeon to place himself in God’s hands, knowing that he would be safe.  God’s peace gives comfort.  When a sinful woman dared to bathe Jesus’ feet with her tears and anoint him with oil, Jesus forgave her sins.  He made her whole again and said, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”  Her lifetime of suffering and shame was over, because God’s peace heals.  Jesus healed a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. But he didn’t just heal her body. He gave her the additional blessing of comforting her soul.  As he released her from the illness that had isolated her for years, Jesus said,  “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”  God’s peace can and does soothe a weary soul.

           

That is the power of God’s peace—it can change lives.  Again and again, we see Jesus encountering people whose lives have been thrown into turmoil and despair.   He offers what is needed most—peace.  In the midst of chaos, despair and fear, He offers peace.  “Peace be with you,” he says to them. He comes offering the gift some do not even realize they need.  Peace reassures, it casts out fear, it allows us to relax so that God’s presence can be felt.

 

As believers, we might wish that our faith would guarantee us a smooth, trouble-free passage through life. But the reality is that our lives are often chaotic—unexpected events and difficult disappointments happen all the time. If our lives were taking place on an airplane, the “fasten seat belt” sign would appear often…with the warning, “Buckle up! It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”  Unexpected twists and turns can fill us with uncertainty or fear or doubt.  But in those bumpy moments, we are promised the gift of peace…if we ask for it.

 

Our lives are not static. Change happens all the time, and change is never easy.  Joyful changes like a much-anticipated baby, a new job, moving into a new home, starting a new school, or changes that bring sadness, like losing a loved one, losing a job, the betrayal of a friend—all of those things can leave us in a state of happy confusion or a state of despair.  

 

Precisely in such a moment, Jesus offers soothing peace and reassurance. He enters into our confusion or turmoil to remind us that we are not alone.  Our circumstances may remain the same.  But Jesus’ promise, “I am with you always,” reminds us that we face nothing on our own.  He stands beside us to comfort, guide and give peace.

Sometimes we experience that peace that passes all human understanding through the words and actions of others. And sometimes others experience it through our acts of kindness.  Jesus tells the disciples—and us—that we are called to be “witnesses of these things.”  That’s when we can put the peace Jesus has shared with us into action for others.

 

Whom do you know who is tired or afraid or grieving?   Is there anyone you know who feels alone or lonely? Those are the situations where we are called to be bearers of Christ’s peace. That peace, the gift of loving kindness shared with us and passed to others, can change everything.





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