Vicar Katelyn

John 14:23-29

23 Jesus answered him, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. 25 "I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 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. 28 You heard me say to you, "I am going away, and I am coming to you.' If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Oh really, Jesus? That’s ridiculous. Just listen to the news for five minutes. Political fights all over the place. Racial injustice. Terrorism around the world. Women harassed in the streets. All this, and we’re supposed to not be troubled or afraid?! How’s that supposed to work?

Jesus’ message of peace is difficult to accept. He promises to give us his peace, but it sure doesn’t look like he’s followed through on that promise, does it? Because peace means no more conflict and no more suffering, right?

I sometimes wish that’s what it meant in our faith, but I don’t think this is what Jesus is promising. Jesus isn’t promising a life free of pain and struggle. He’s giving us a lasting peace of promising to always be with us, to send the Holy Spirit to teach us and remind us of him.

The peace Jesus offers us doesn’t eliminate the hard things. But, as David Lose writes, Jesus gives us “a peace that allows us to lift our gaze from the troubles that beset us and see those around us as gifts of God worthy of our love and attention.”

In other words, when we receive Jesus’ peace, we are not dominated by the world’s messages of fear … instead, we are overwhelmed with love to act on behalf of our neighbors. We are accompanied and guided by the Holy Spirit to live out Jesus’ teachings and messages.

But still, how do we actually do this? How do we move ourselves from fear to a life full of Jesus’ peace? Jesus says, “Do not let …,” which gives us some responsibility. It indicates that we have a choice, that we can, with his help, of course, actually do something about our trouble and fear.

I think of trouble and fear not so much as things we can get rid of completely, but things we can manage. For example, many of us, including myself, feel anxious sometimes. We might be unsure if we can actually do something or worry about what might go wrong. Sometimes this feeling just bubbles up inside. To manage the anxiety, you might exercise regularly, meditate, and journal. You might develop breathing techniques to help you when you’re feeling anxious.

These practices don’t make the anxiety leave forever, but they do make it so you’re not dominated by it, so you have peace and can do the things that are important to you.

In a similar way, regular prayer, worship, Scripture reading, and other practices help us to receive Jesus’ peace and let it flow through our hearts and lives. They don’t make it so we’re never troubled or afraid, but consistent practices help us to set our eyes on our neighbor and give us the strength to hope and to live out our faith.

But you might insist, “I don’t have time for all that. I’m too busy.” Sorry, but that isn’t going to cut it. I don’t expect you to be in worship 52 Sundays every year or be diligent absolutely every day in prayer and reading Scripture. I certainly am not. But again, we have choices to make.

And it’s not about what I expect or what anyone else expects … it’s about how you want your life to be. And how God wants your life to be. You have a choice, everyday,  between receiving the world’s busy-ness or receiving Jesus’ peace.

The constant go of our culture has made an idol of being busy. And it’s definitely a huge pressure. There are so many extra-curricular activities for kids, a growing blur between work and home, and being constantly available via technology. It’s a lot. We’re so accustomed to being busy that we forget we have a choice, we forget there are other ways to live.

Jesus even says, “I do not give to you as the world gives.” The world gives us a to-do list; the world gives us over-scheduling, selfishness, and temporary happiness. Jesus gives us deep peace. Jesus directs us to not let our hearts be troubled or afraid.

With the help of the Holy Spirit, we have the ability to make worship, prayer, service, fellowship, and other practices a priority in our lives, to make them regular habits. When we do this, when we have this consistency, we are far more likely to receive Jesus’ peace.

Again, it doesn’t fix all of our problems, it helps us navigate them and frees us from fear so that we can live the life God calls us to live.

Think of Jesus’ peace as an anchor. As something that centers or grounds you.

When I was studying abroad in southern Africa in college, we had a ten-day break to travel as we wished. I took a bus with two of the other students to Victoria Falls. While we were there, Steph and Taryn somehow convinced me to go white water rafting on the Zambezi River. I’d never done this before, much less on a world-class river -- this is much rougher than you’d get on your average tourist rafting trip in the United States. I would not do this again.

But anyway, off we went with others for a full day of rafting, 20-25 rapids in all. About the third rapid or so, our raft rose in the water and tipped over. I got stuck briefly under the raft, and was tossed about in the water. This probably was all only a few seconds, but it felt like forever. It scared me in a way that I hadn’t been scared before. It was all I could do to not break out in tears as I climbed back into the raft in calmer waters. I looked up at either side of the river -- it’s not like I could scale the hundred feet of cliff and leave. No, the only way out was to continue.

I took a deep breath and centered myself on moving forward. This was only rapid number three. There were many more to go. I held myself together and was determined to make it through the rest of the trip. I didn’t so much pray as I just tried to focus on God as a source of strength and peace. Trying to focus my energy on being calm, centering myself with peace. Luckily, the raft didn’t turn upside down again the rest of the time, though it was still a rough ride. But I made it.

God’s peace didn’t make the rapids disappear or get me out of the situation -- it helped guide me through.

It’s similar to an anonymous quote I saw this week that said, “Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”

No matter what we are troubled by or afraid of, Jesus’ peace is here for us to receive.

There are many things we may fear, that are very real and not to be ignored. We’re afraid of relapsing into an alcohol or drug addiction. We’re afraid a family member might hurt themselves. We’re afraid we might have a panic attack or slip into deep depression. We’re afraid we’re not good enough. We’re afraid we’re not the mother or friend or spouse that we’re supposed to be. We’re afraid of losing someone we love and of our own health deteriorating.

These are big things.

But God is bigger.

Jesus’ peace is greater than all your troubles and fears.

And he invites you to receive his peace. It changes your life. It won’t take away the hard things, but it will keep them from dominating you. It will free you to do what’s most important -- serve Christ.

It will give you the strength to open wide the gate for justice to flow. It will give you freedom from captivity to to fear. It will give you an imagination for a world where all are fed and all are healed. It will give you the anchoring and the drive you need to live out the Gospel in your corner of the world.

So what choices will you make? Will you be dominated by fear and trouble, or will you develop habits in your life that fill you with Jesus’ peace? Will you let him free you to live your faith? Say a prayer, read Scripture, talk about faith with your family and friends. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid. Jesus does not give as the world gives. God’s peace is yours. Amen.