Thursday, May 9, 2013

Peace He gives, not as the world gives . . .

     Last week we looked at Jesus’ description of love.  We contrasted it with what usually passes for love in the world at large.  Given our divorce rates, our unmarried rates, our general selfishness, it is no wonder that we hardly recognize that steadfast love with which our Lord holds us.  It is so unusual, so rare, that Jesus rightly instructs us that if we are able to love others as He loves us, the world around us will take notice.  If each of us is truly trying to love others into the kingdom, as is our responsibility as sons and daughters of the Lord, some in the world will want to share in that love, that inheritance.  We looked at last week how love is rightly demonstrated to the world, and I mentioned that the fruits of that love obedience would be made a bit more clear this week in John’s Gospel.  The result of our keeping His instruction, remember out of thankfulness rather than fear, is that He and the Father will come and make their home with us.  It is an amazing promise.  The Creator of heaven and earth will come and make His home with us!  Can you imagine what that would be like?  I know, I know, some of us need to clean our houses and do the laundry and run the dishwasher before we want that to happen!  But it is, nevertheless, an amazing thing to think of dwelling with God, of Him pitching His tent among us in our messes.  Yet that is precisely His offer.

     I wanted to look this week, however, at the result of that dwelling with us.  It would be fun to continue to look at the love described by Jesus, but the truth is Holy Week should still be fresh in our mind.  We have at the front of our minds that wonderful example of love, that ultimate laying down of a life to restore us into right relationship with God.  This week, I wanted to look at the primary fruit of living that life full of love and dwelling with the Father and the Son and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.  I suppose, as with last week, I would ask each of us present to reflect on a definition.  How would you describe peace?  What is peace to you?  And, does your understanding of peace reflect what Jesus offers?  Challenging questions, to be sure.  They are particularly challenging if one feels harried and troubled and afraid all the time.  Yet, as His disciples, you and I are told by our Lord that we will experience peace.  Was He lying?  Or do we, perhaps, look for a peace that He does not offer and miss out on something He offers us all the time?

     By way of explanation, I want us to reflect on the image from Revelation this morning.  We jump back a couple weeks for the first verse, and then we spring ahead.  John is shown the heavenly city coming down out of heaven and settling on the mountain.  And this city is unlike any city of its day.  John records that the city has no lights, not even the sun or moon; has no gates; has no temple, and has nothing unclean within it.  For this vision to occur, much will have had to change.  For example, the temple in Ezekiel 44 is closed off.  Notice the gates here are always open.  In a world without walls and stealth bombers, the imagery is lost on us.  But think of the importance of walls in the ANE.  Walls were often all that protected a city from being razed by any determined band of marauders.  Worse, at night, they were the only real protection.  Watchmen would walk the walls or keep assigned posts and peer into the dark looking for enemies.  Unfortunately, cities were easy to espy at night.  Ever been driving along the interstate at night and seen Des Moines or Cedar Rapids or Chicago off in the distance?  Now, imagine a world with far less light.  How much more do you think cities would stick out at night?  There is no temple.  The One worshiped in the temple at Jerusalem is present among the people.  His presence, according to John, drives away all darkness and all falsehood and all heresy.  There is no interpretation necessary.  His name is on the foreheads of the people.  The people think with the mind rightly ordered by God; they love those things that the Lord has instructed them to love; and they want those things which accord with His will.

     It is not just a blissful paradise.  I think sometimes we sell God short when we describe heaven as “church for all eternity” or as a restoration of the Garden of Eden.  Will there be worship in the recreated earth described by John?  Probably.  But it will be a worship of thanksgiving and joy.  There will be no boring sermons like you must endure week in and week out.  We will have been taught by the Lord.  And there will be no need for the Eucharist because the pledge will have been fulfilled.  We will be with the bridegroom and taking part in the great Wedding Feast.

     And pay attention to the difference between this cities and others described in Revelation.  There are no evildoers allowed.  None will enter who are not redeemed by God.  Can you imagine a city with no hucksters or charlatans?  A community of God’s people with no heresies?  Food will be provided.  Water will be given.  And even the leaves on the tree provide healing!  Talk about a difference between His city and the cities of the world whose leaves are poisonous (Rev. 18:23).  And His people will reign for forever!  Of course, even the idea of reigning is different from our current understanding and certainly the Roman understanding when this was recorded.  Rome claimed to be the eternal empire; it claimed to be the ruler of the world.  History teaches us those claims were false.  But even we are faced with a big question.  If we all reign, who or what will we reign over, particularly knowing God is present with us?

     Now, just to remind you, as John records this, his vision includes a victory over evil.  All of God’s people are called to the throne.  Actually, all the peoples of the world are called to judgment, and then His people are gathered before the opening of the seventh seal.  Nothing, no natural disaster, no disease, no human contrivance, no plot of Satan, not even death will keep His people from this amazing setting given to John.

     Does the passage sing to you?  Does it seem like a place for which you should long?  Does it, perhaps, remind you of the perspective with which you are called to see?  So often in life we get bogged down in our problems.  Make no mistake, Scripture never makes light of the so-called human condition.  Looking around this room, God sees His sons and daughters suffering with disease or other health issues, He sees people who are worried about job loss and provision, He sees people who have a hard time loving one another as He loved us and called us to love, He sees people who are struggling with transitions in life, He sees people who are approaching death (or are watching a loved one approach death) with worry and uncertainty.  Most importantly, though, He sees men and women who claim His only Son as Lord and are, by virtue of His grace, adopted into His holy family.  And being the heavenly Father, He hates to see us worry.  He hates to see us suffer.  He hates to see us fret.  He weeps with us.  He strokes our hair as we fret and worry.  But, best of all, He reminds us of His love for us and His power in an effort to remind us of the peace that He offers.

     It is true that His peace is not the peace of the world.  This is no hippy dippy “make love, not war” kind of offer.  This is a genuine shalom, a genuine understanding of one’s place in the world and salvation history.  Brothers and sisters, you and I face uncertainties and random events all the time.  For many of us, they can become crosses which help us testify to the saving grace of our Lord to those in our lives.  But behind all that uncertainty, behind all that certainty, God’s promises are established.  He has given us a bit of a peek ahead.  As with His disciples in John today, our Lord has spoken before it has occurred.  If you claim Christ as Lord in your life, you will see this vision realized.  Nothing, absolutely nothing, will thwart His recreation.  Not your misunderstanding, not your uncomfortableness with His grace, not your laziness, not your lack of provision, not your poor health, not even your death with prevent you from living in that holy city described in some detail by John.  He has already overcome both death and the world.  Neither might yet know it, but God has already won.  There is no suspense; there is only certainty.  The One who makes these promises always keeps His promises and is the only One with power to keep all that He promises.

     Brothers and sisters, the peace that our Lord offers is unlike anything in the world.  You and I might watch a suspenseful movie for the umpteenth time and feel no real suspense, or we might watch our favorite sports team’s last championship over and over again (Cubs fans obviously exempted since television, errr . . . papyrus and ink did not exist then!) basking in the certainty of their victory over every pitch, every shot, or every snap.  That peace is the barest shadow of the peace He offers you and me!  Brothers and sisters, we have literally read ahead.  We know how the story ends.  The other has shared with us the plot devices, the character development, the themes, and the ending.  Knowing the ending, brothers and sisters, knowing our destiny makes all the nonsense we face bearable.  We can face whatever the world throws at us because we know that it neither defines us nor ever separates us from the love of our Father in heaven.

     Nowhere in this passage, brothers and sisters, does He promise a lack of trials nor an end to those things which can chip away at our faith.  He does, however, promise us that He and the Father will dwell with us, and He promises that the Advocate will come as well, reminding us of all that He has said to us.  Each of us gathered here has problems.  I know that and so do you.  Each of us have problems given us by our own actions, by those who are in our lives, or just by random gift of the world around us.  But you and I have something greater than all those problems.  All of us baptized into His death and Resurrection have the promise and power of the living God, the promise that one day, we will see Him face to face, that one day, we will be entirely healed, and that one day, we will reign with Him forever.


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