Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter
Sunday, May 26, 2019
Texts: Acts 16:9-15; Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5; John 14:23-29
In the name of the risen Christ. Amen.
The church sign outside of Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Quinsigamond Village in Worcester said this:
Feeling puzzled? God has the missing peace.
I don’t know if that message was an intentional preview of today’s gospel, but it is just that. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus promised his disciples, peace.
“Peace I leave with you,’ said Jesus, ‘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.” (John 14:27)
This morning, I would like to talk about peace. Not peace as the world gives. Not peace imposed by force, not peace achieved by eliminating dissent, not peace created by mandating conformity.
Instead, the peace given by Christ. The peace that I, and each of us, need in our hearts. The peace the world so desperately needs at this time.
What is this peace? Our scriptures today, give us three ways to think about the peace of Christ: openness … fruit … and healing.
First, from the Book of Acts, our first reading this morning: openness.
Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come to Macedonia and help us.” Paul was open to the leading of the Spirit, with a spirit of openness, he set out for Macedonia. On the way to help the man that called for him in his vision, he encountered a woman named Lydia. Lydia was a successful business woman and a dealer in rare purple cloths.
Consider this: when Paul encountered Lydia, he might have said to her: “Don’t bother us. We are on a mission to help a man I saw in my vision.”
Perhaps Paul, who was first open to going to Macedonia, recognized that the Spirit had called an audible, had changed the plan? Paul might have insisted he needed to find a man to minister to because it was a man in his vision, but instead he was open to ministering to Lydia. And through their interaction, the Word of God used Lydia and her professional network, to build the church of God.
This seems to me, an important element of experiencing the peace of Christ: openness to God’s new work among us. Even as we set out in one direction, even if it seems clear we are heading in a certain direction, how might we be ready to be supple, to be flexible, to be nimble, in ministering with the people we actually encounter along the way?
Like Paul, each of us with our own visions of life, how are we called to recognize God leading us in a new way, in a different direction, down a new path?
We know peace, when like Paul, instead of saying, “No, that’s not what I signed up for, that’s not what I expected, that’s not how it should go.” We say instead, “Ok, Spirit. What is this new thing you are doing? What is this new direction you are leading? How are you about to do a new thing in this unexpected way?”
Peace experienced in openness.
Second, from Revelation, our second reading this morning: fruit.
It cannot be said enough, as we read from the book of Revelation, that we as Lutheran Christians do NOT teach rapture theology. Rapture theology, this belief in a time when the faithful are raptured and the unfaithful are left behind to burn in fire and brimstone and experience blood moons and plagues and everything else scary, is not scriptural and it is not a faithful witness to God’s work.
Instead, what is scriptural, what is faithful to God’s word, what we as Lutherans do teach, is the image presented in our reading from Revelation today.
The image from Revelation … of the tree of life, with leaves for the healing of the nations bearing fruit in each month, nurtured by the river of the water of life bright as crystal flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.
That image is the ultimate vision of the Book of Revelation, and of scripture itself.
When you think of Revelation – think of this hopeful image of the tree of life, with healing leaves and fruit, watered by the river of life. This tree with its “Twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month”
The tree of life, in the water of life, image reveals a God who does not want to punish God’s people, but wants to lead God’s people to life. This tree of life bears fruit each month – there is no “off season” for this fruit. Every moment is the “in season” for God’s fruit that nourishes and give life.
From the Book of Galatians, we have a description of the fruit of the Spirit, and that is a good way to begin to imagine the fruit of the tree of life. The fruit of the Spirit is described as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We might understand all of these fruits – as the fruit of peace.
Peace is known when we eat of the fruit of the tree of life and share this fruit with one another. Peace is known in patience with the person who is annoying us, in kindness with the person we would rather tell off, in generosity with the person we feel doesn’t deserve it, in gentleness and self-control when we really just want to scream and shout.
Consider the opposite. As opposed to the fruit of the spirit, is the works of the flesh described as enmities, strife, anger, quarrels, dissension, factions. And while these actions may satisfy a certain hunger, a hunger for revenge, a hunger for a sense of ownership or control, a hunger for a wounded pride to be salved … they do not offer peace.
How are you called into the peace of Christ today? How are you called into Christ’ peace by receiving and giving the fruit from the tree of life: joy, patience, kindness, generosity, and gentleness? How are you called down off of high horses and principled stands, for the sake … of peace?
Third, again from Revelation and from the tree of life: healing.
The tree of life has leaves with healing for the nations. Note: the leaves of healing are not for individuals. This healing is for the nations. We can understand this to mean that tree of life offers healing through relationship with one another.
Cure from disease may be individual and cure may be experienced in isolation. But healing, the deep, nourishing, and profound healing from the tree of life, is experienced in relationship among, and between, peoples. It is experienced when nations and tribes and peoples give and receive fruit with one another.
The healing from the tree of life, is healing that is communal and relational. This healing, is the healing of interactions, and relationships, and the structures of how we live together. This healing is the peace of relationships restored, healed, and renewed, it is the peace of communities, peoples, and nations giving and receiving fruit with one another.
Peace is known in the healing of relationships. Peace is experienced in forgiveness extended and received. Peace is received in the work taken to mend, to repair, to build relationships – especially with those who are different, those who are misunderstood, those who are marginalized.
Friends, that is the peace of Christ.
Not necessarily the absence of conflict, disagreement, or bumps in the road. The peace of Christ is the presence of the living Christ alive opening hearts and minds, alive in the receiving and giving of the fruit of the spirit, alive in the complex work of healing and reconciling relationships.
The Good News today, is that Jesus Christ lives and because Christ lives Christ continues to pour out peace upon us.
Here, at the font, in the water of life bright as crystal, stands the tree of life with healing leaves for the nations.
Here at the table, in the bread and cup, is the tree of life with fruit for you, for me, for all.
Take it, take it freely, peace is for you, peace is for all nations.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!