Of Peace and Fear

The Day of Pentecost

John 14:27

Every once in a while the disciples must have gotten terribly frustrated with Jesus.  Today’s Gospel Reading is a good example. At this point in St. John’s Gospel it’s that Thursday night, the eve of the crucifixion, and Jesus has just told His disciples that 1) He’s leaving them, and 2) they can’t go with Him.  And then He says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  Really?!  It’s easy to imagine their reaction being something like, “Give us a break!”

Or maybe that’s just the way it seems to us, looking at it from the 21st Century.  “Don’t let your hearts be troubled?”  Are You kidding, Jesus?  Look at this world!  Seemingly endless warfare in the Middle East.  Endless political squabbles over immigration, health care, and now this Benghazi mess.  The economic woes. People still out of work.  Churches in conflict over the faith once delivered to the saints.  Bombs in Boston.  And our own lives are turned upside down with change and loss.  And yet we’re not supposed to be troubled?  For crying out loud, Jesus, what’s not in trouble these days?!

This is what makes Jesus’ promise of peace so difficult to grasp.  Peace is exactly what it feels like we don’t have these days.  Peace should mean the cessation of all this conflict, the end of all this turmoil, the laying aside of all of our waiting and wanting and worrying.  Shouldn’t it?

Not exactly.  Usually we think of peace as the absence of something negative—the absence of war, or strife, or fear.  And, indeed, that’s often the first dictionary definition of peace: freedom from disturbance.  But listening closely to Jesus’ words to His disciples, we get Him very wrong if our understanding of peace is only the absence of something negative.

Peace, as Jesus speaks of it, “His peace,” isn’t an absence.  It is, in fact, a presence…His presence.  This is what Jesus is saying when He says, “My peace I give to you…not as the world gives.”

You see, we tend to operate with a sense that our human problem is that we have a need, a lack of something, a restlessness, an emptiness.  You know, like St. Augustine’s famous line, “My heart is restless, O God, until it rests in Thee.”  And Augustine is right!  But that picture of our restless human condition often gets turned around a little.  We say that God fills the empty hole.  God meets the need, completes in us what we lack.

But once we start down that little road it’s only a few small steps to concluding that if we have faith in God, well then, everything should suddenly become hunky-dory.  If we have enough faith in God, we’re no longer going to be aware of our need or lack or fear or emptiness.  Oh…but when that doesn’t happen…we have a crisis of faith.

That’s not the way Jesus talks, when He talks about faith and peace and life with God.  Faith doesn’t take away all the fears in life.  Faith makes those fears bearable.  More than that, faith doesn’t just take away the difficult things, it just keeps those fearful things from dominating us, from defining who we are.

All these things which seem to shout an absence of peace—our needs, wants, losses, illnesses, this world of woe—these things remain an accurate description of us and this life.  But because of faith, they no longer define who we are.  We are more than what’s missing in our life.  We are, as St. Paul writes, a new creation.  Thus faith is not some divine plug for the holes we carry around.  Faith is a daring call to something else.  It is the voice of peace.

Jesus begins this passage by saying, “If anyone loves Me he will keep My Word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.”  He isn’t speaking about us human beings inviting Him into our hearts.  Jesus is talking about something which God does!  God abides.  And He is the abode.  The one who abides in Jesus’ Word knows what love is, and in that abode of the Word, there God too abides, Father and Son, who come into that abiding place in love by the Spirit.

For St. John in his Gospel, the quotable movie line is very true: “The dude abides!”  The Father abides in Jesus and Jesus abides in the Father.  Jesus abides in us and we abide in Him.  We cannot bear fruit unless Jesus abides in us and we in Him.  Jesus’ Word abides.  The Holy Spirit abides.  The Dude abides!

There are two different views of the Christian life.  Both acknowledge that this world, and we individually in it, are full of trials and challenges and seismic ups and downs.  But one view assumes that when you come to faith in Jesus, things settle down.  They stop shaking, and all our troubles suddenly make sense.  Yeah, well…good luck with that!  The other view of faith, however, doesn’t promise an end to the tremors of life.  It is the faith which enables us to keep our footing amid those tremors.

That’s what Jesus is talking about.  It’s the presence of His cross even here on the Day of Pentecost.  We never move beyond the cross of Jesus.  St. John underscores this by placing the Spirit, as well as Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the Spirit, the Water, and the Blood, at the cross.  Because Jesus didn’t die in order to plug the aching holes in our lives and therefore give us peace.  He died so that by the Water and the Blood from this crucified Son, we may abide in the Spirit’s peace even with our aching holes.

The Spirit comes as the Advocate (the Helper, as our translation calls Him)—the One who takes to our defense—the Comforter, who will not leave our side in the midst of fear.  There is nothing about Jesus’ words that would suggest that He’s promising us an end to our troubles.  He promises peace—not as the world gives—peace as this divine confidence and trust in which to abide all our days.

It’s been said of Martin Luther that when he was once asked what he would do if he thought the world would end tomorrow, he replied, “I would plant a tree today.”  That’s not optimism; that’s hope.  That’s not simply a lack of fear, it’s courage, a fear which abides in Christ.  It’s not only the absence of conflict, the absence of life’s woes, it’s peace, Jesus’ peace, which He gives as an abiding place with Him, a place which the world cannot give.

Cross and resurrection.  Father and Son.  Spirit and Water and Blood.  In the fellowship of the Word.  “I…prepare a place for you, that you may be where I am.”  The dwelling place of peace.  Our battles with fear are won not with weapons but with God.  They are won where the way leads to the cross…to the Christ and His Spirit in Word and Water and Blood.

“In the world you will have tribulation,” He said. “But take heart…take heart…I have overcome the world.”   And there is peace.