One of the privileges of being a pastor is that I have a lot of opportunities to pray for and with people in this congregation and the community. And when I ask people what they need most in prayer, hands down, the most common answer – is that they need peace. Whether it’s dealing with an uncertain situation, a conflict, an illness, or something that is out of their control – we long to experience more peace in our lives. And we long for it in our world – marred by violence and fear of those who we do not understand. I know that this is true for me as well. But as we were talking about this in our Tuesday evening bible study, it seemed important to highlight what we meant when we said – that we wanted peace.
As a mother of a 6 and 7 year old – I have been known to say that I just long to have a moment of peace.
Which often means that I want a moment of quiet. Where no one is around. Where no one is asking something of me. And where I can just be.
If that moment also coincides with my house being clean, with a resolution to any particular conflicts I might be dealing with, and with my family all being in good health and cheer – that is even better.
But as I read through this Scripture today – as Jesus promises peace to his disciples – the kind of peace that will remain with them.
I realized that unfortunately for me – he doesn’t seem to be talking about calm, serenity, quiet, and clean houses.
Our Scripture today is taken from a talk Jesus is having with his disciples on the last night of his life.
He’s already told them that when he leaves he will send this Helper, this Advocate, this Counselor, this Spirit – as we talked about last week, this Friend – to be with them forever.
And as they head into the hardships that the days ahead will undoubtedly bring, Jesus wants to elaborate on what this Helper, this Spirit, this Friend will do for them.
This Spirit, will teach and remind them of everything Jesus taught them. So the learning will continue.
And this Spirit will give them PEACE. So, even in the face of trials and struggles, they need not be troubled or afraid.
The literal translation here is “Do not let your hearts be troubled. And do not be cowardly.”
We like the phrase – Do not be afraid, but we bristle a bit with the idea of not being cowardly.
But Jesus has, once again, gotten to the heart of the matter.
The very definition of cowardly is to be guided more by our fears than by our courageous trust.
And I certainly know for me – that when I am guided more by my fear – I make some pretty poor life choices. And have been known to act a bit like a crazy person.
In the final months of my pregnancy with Marcus, I became increasingly obsessed with getting everything in the house orderly and organized. In hindsight, I realized that the arrival of this child made me very afraid of the control that I was now losing in my life. And so the desperate, frenzied, and crazy efforts to clean out every closet in preparation was a last ditch effort to hang on to some of that control that I feared I was losing.
The words of the poem rang helpfully true –
“You don’t have to act crazy anymore. We all know you were good at that.”
But retire my dear, from all that hard work you do. Of bringing pain to your sweet eyes and heart.
And look instead in the clear mountain mirror – see the beautiful ancient warrior
And the divine elements you always carry inside
That infused this universe with sacred life so long ago
And join you internally with all existence – with God.”
Jesus reminds his disciples that he doesn’t give peace the way the world does. It isn’t a false sense of peace brought back external circumstances.
The peace of Christ gives doesn’t change our surroundings – it changes US.
It doesn’t quiet the noise around us, it quiets the noise within us.
I particularly appreciate the word in the poem – “RETIRE.”
I’m a fair distance from retirement but I do know that the decision to retire from something is to let it go. To move on. To leave behind the energies and efforts focused toward one vocation and put them in a different direction.
Hafiz invites us to gaze in a clear mountain mirror – to remember our deep connection with God – and to allow it to give us a kind of strength – courage perhaps – to see the beautiful ancient warrior – who because of the very Spirit of God living in her – is able to walk forward into even the moments of struggle and uncertainty – with the assurance that God is with you.
It is because of this Spirit that lives in us that we move from making decisions out of fear. And are able to make them from a courageous place of trust.
When I was in high school and college, I ran cross-country. I wasn’t the fastest runner on the field but I did stay with it for a number of years.
My favorite pair of shoes to wear for one of our meets, particularly when the terrain was a little muddy or soft or hilly, was a pair of cross country cleats. The ones with some spiky edges that could dig into the dirt, provide a solid footing and help me launch to the next step.
So, in seminary, when one of my classmates and I discovered that the actual Greek word for Holy Spirit is “paraclete” – we just couldn’t help but go there.
The word itself means – “the one who helps, the one who comforts, the one who exhorts and encourages.”
And so my friend and I had a lot of fun coming up with all of the ways that the Holy Spirit was like a pair of cleats – helping us navigate safely through the terrain that is uncertain – even through the moments of pain and struggle - and guiding our feet on the pathway toward life. A pair of cleats that we can trust. No matter what comes.
I can admit that a part of me still longs for the clean house and calm, serene family that I will probably never have. But the
And so while a part of me still longs for the peace that is about my circumstances changing, Jesus instead invites me to trust every day more fully in this paraclete – this helper and Friend who walks with me into the noisy, chaotic, uncertain, messy, frustrating realities that make up our real lives. And invites us to find, even in the midst of this – a peace – a peace that is deep within us – because the one who walks with us – will not only not leave us as orphans – but will see us through to the other side.
so that I can live with courage and not fear. With trust and not anxiety.
With peace and joy.