Peace of Mind and Heart

“Peace of Mind and Heart”

John 14:23-27 (14:27) – May 22, 2022

            The world is in powerful need of peace right now! Isn’t it? Just think of the many places in the world today, right now, where there is strife, conflict, fighting, and even outright warfare. The gift of Jesus that He speaks of here in today’s reading, peace of mind and heart, is something truly to wish for! Even, to clasp tightly to our minds and hearts!

            Here in John, chapters 14 through 17, is His Farewell Discourse. These are the last words that Jesus gave to His friends before His arrest and crucifixion. Important words, indeed!

            Even at this point, on the night before Jesus was betrayed, His disciples needed some further explanation of what Jesus was saying to them. First Peter (John 13:36), then Thomas (14:5), then Phillip (14:8), and then Judas (not Iscariot) (14:22) ask for clarification about exactly what Jesus is telling them. Jesus packs a whole lot into just a few short verses.

            I would like to highlight one particular verse: John 14:27. Jesus said, 27 “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” There is so much conflict, fighting, mass shootings, and attacks of one kind or another happening in this world right now. We need peace badly!

            David Lose, one of my favorite commentators, wants us to think more deeply about this word “peace.” I hear Jesus say this word. But why? How do we understand peace? What do we imagine Jesus means? “Too often, I think, we think of peace as simply the cessation of conflict. And clearly an end to violence is a good thing. Many of us have prayed for peace in the Middle East, [peace in the Ukraine,] peace in our community, perhaps even peace in our homes. But I think the peace Jesus offers is more than the absence of something negative.” [1]

            But, wait a minute, some people say! I know the world needs peace in the Middle East, and peace in Ukraine, and peace in lots of other places worldwide. But, what about me? What about my house, my neighborhood? I am not experiencing much peace in my personal life!

            Rev. Janet Hunt agrees just this past week that peace is regularly shattered in her neighborhood in the town of Dekalb, in the community where she lives and serves. She mourns the fact that “peace of mind, heart and body are too hard to find; so many needs, physical and otherwise, go unmet. And even if all else seems to be going well, still we struggle through our personal, sometimes private heartaches which threaten our peace, our sense of wellbeing.” [2]

            Looking at Chicago, I was just on the spot of a mass shooting on Friday, just a few blocks west of the Water Tower, off of Michigan Avenue. The police activity was still very present as they investigated that evening shooting and the aftermath. I needed to be in the area for my job, to visit a patient for the hospice I work for. Yet, I saw firsthand the very real conflict and disruption in the city center, in one of the most affluent parts of the city.

When someone reports feeling calm and “at peace,” so often people scoff, or are jealous, or disbelieve. That is, at first. Why is this? Is peace so rare or so unusual?

            I want us to go back to the Upper Room, back to the Farewell Discourse. “Think, again, of the timing of Jesus’ promise: it is the night of his betrayal, the evening when he will be handed over to those who hate him and who will take him away to be executed. And yet in that moment, he not only senses peace but gives it to others.[3]

            Yes, Jesus knows He doesn’t live in a peaceful world, and Jesus knows very well that His personal life is going to be rocked to the core in just a few hours. Yet, Jesus tells His disciples that He gives them His peace. And, guess what? We can access that same peace! That peace which the world does not understand, that the world cannot give.

              When someone reports feeling “at peace,” that person “instead testifies to a sense of wholeness, even rightness, of and in one’s very being It’s a sense of harmony with those persons and things around us. Peace connotes a sense of contentment, but even more fulfillment, a sense that in this moment one is basking in God’s pleasure.” [4]

            Even when you and I are in the midst of hardship, struggle, even conflict or disruption, we can access Jesus and His peace! Countless believers have clung to this blessed promise, even through great difficulty, horrific tragedy, and deadly conflict. Through personal tragedies or nationwide devastation, it does not matter. Jesus still offers His peace, freely! That peace is not only to be embraced in some far distant future, but it is already ours!

            God’s promise of peace is not maybe, or perhaps, or just in case. God loves us with an everlasting love! God has already gifted us with that peace that passes all understanding. God has already laid claim to us! With that claim comes peace that is truly beyond our understanding, peace that is always ours for the receiving.

            With Rev. Janet, I can affirm that in the hardest of times, in the hugest of challenges, when my heart is most tender, God’s peace is right there for me, and for you, too. Both when faith runs deep, and when it’s hard to believe, too. And when it’s a challenge for you to have faith alone, that is what the church is for – to believe together, in community.

            Jesus said, “the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” This gift of peace is truly for us all.  Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

(Thanks to Rev. Janet Hunt and her excellent commentary on this Gospel reading for the 6th week of Easter, https://dancingwiththeword.com/when-peace-like-a-river/. I have used several ideas and quotes from this post in this sermon. And, thanks to Rev. David Lose as well. I owe much to him, from http://www.davidlose.net/2016/04/easter-6-c-peace-the-world-cannot-give/)   


[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2016/04/easter-6-c-peace-the-world-cannot-give/

[2] https://dancingwiththeword.com/when-peace-like-a-river/

[3] http://www.davidlose.net/2016/04/easter-6-c-peace-the-world-cannot-give/

[4] http://www.davidlose.net/2016/04/easter-6-c-peace-the-world-cannot-give/

When There Is No Peace

“When There Is No Peace”

Luke 1:46-55 (1:52) – December 5, 2021

            What do you remember most from Christmas celebrations? Holiday laughter? The joy of giving? The family gatherings? What about Christmas carols? Hearing and singing of Christmas music is so memorable, and so meaningful for so many people.

            Our Scripture reading this morning contains the lyrics to a song. Shortly after the angel Gabriel came to Mary and told her the news that she was going to be the mother of the Messiah, the Son of God, Mary burst into song. She had to express her emotion in some way – and what a way to express these deep-down, amazingly rich feelings. Amazement, yes! We find abundant joy, awareness, questioning, curiosity, and excitement here, too.   

            But, let’s take a step back. Perhaps several steps back. When many people today consider Mary, the mother of Jesus, some probably see her through the lenses of the modern-day. Some perhaps see Mary dressed in rich robes of blue, with fair skin and blond hair, as many paintings and depictions through the centuries show. What do we know about Mary?

            Mary was a teenager, and we know she came from a Jewish family of the lineage of King David. Her family was probably not well-to-do. Yet, Mary was biblically literate. I suspect she could read and write. She certainly was familiar with Hannah’s song from 1 Samuel. And, she had maturity beyond her years – certainly, beyond most teens of today.  

            How many teenagers do you know who could sing such a revolutionary song? Because, that is exactly what Mary did, about the moral, social, and economic turning upside down of the world with the coming of the baby she would bear.

            What kinds of songs do we sing today about the Baby born in Bethlehem? So often, these gentle songs, hymns and carols talk about the coming of peace. Just think of these lyrics: “Peace on earth and mercy mild,” “All is calm, all is bright,” “Peace on earth, good will to all.” Listening to these modern carols, we might think that the coming of the Christ Child was neat and tidy, picture perfect, like a lovely Christmas card. Can’t you see the shiny glitter glued on the outside to make it extra pretty?

            This is the second Sunday of Advent. The second candle of the Advent wreath is the candle of peace. So many people look at the birth of the Christ Child as so peaceful – and it was. So many people gathered together, as they hold hands and sing to praise God.

            However, I believe Mary had the right idea, when she talked about the overturning of everything the greater society held dear. She lived in a time of foreign occupation. Israel was occupied by a foreign power, the Roman army, with Roman governors and administrators in charge. I think Mary was on to something profound when she saw with unusual maturity that God can bring peace when there is no peace.    

            Sure, the first century had little peace, and Mary sang a revolutionary song about the coming of peace, crashing through, into the weary world. What about today? What does it look like to explore the idea of peace in a chaotic and uncertain time, like right now?

My friend Rev. April Fiet reminds us that “both the Greek and Hebrew words for peace (eirene and shalom) have more to do with wholeness than with quiet or rest. Eirene comes from the verb that means “to join together” or “to tie into a whole.” Shalom is about wholeness and goodness in the relationship between things.” [1]

Oh, to have wholeness in this world, right now! Everything seems so fragile, so broken, so disjointed, disrupted, and just plain falling apart. Things are so divided, in terms of the fragmented relationships between individuals, groups, nations, and the uncertain state of humanity and the world. Mary certainly had to deal with a great deal of grit and difficulty in her personal life, as an unwed teenaged mother. Her social situation was not easy, by any means, even with the support of Joseph, her betrothed. Yet, she was able to sing a revolutionary song telling of the turning of the world.

Are things today much different than they were for Mary, so long ago? She was able to sing joyously, and look forward with clear eyes, wide open – even though her world was anything but peaceful and peaceable, Mary still had an inner sense of peace within her very being that was a wellspring of God’s peace for her. Yes, and God-given hope and joy, too!  

In modern-day terms, “Perhaps, our calling in a world without peace isn’t to strive for days off, or quiet hours, or interruption-free days (though those things are blessings, too), but to participate in the work of tying things back together. In peace-less days, we are called to be peacemakers, with all of the grit and difficulty that will entail.” [2]

In the words of a modern retelling of Mary’s song: “Though the nations rage from age to age, we remember who holds us fast: God’s mercy must deliver us from the conqueror’s crushing grasp. This saving word that our forebears heard is the promise which holds us bound, ‘til the spear and rod can be crushed by God, who is turning the world around.” [3]

            No matter what storms and distress rock each of us or batter our lives, our hearts can still sing to God. Even when we are too weary or too uncertain, God does indeed hold us fast. We can see, as Mary joyfully saw so long ago, that God brings wondrous things to those who wait. We can all take refuge in God. Yes, we can find God’s peace where there is seemingly no peace, because we have faith in our mighty, powerful God, who can turn the world upside down.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: www.pastorpreacherprayer.com, matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] https://aprilfiet.com/my-thoughts/advent-for-uncertain-hearts-week-2-when-there-is-no-peace?fbclid=IwAR3xUZFElo2UtTUuD5qYh_cPIEQ7Txbrvcq28sDZCmTHAmQYQJme1eYn_0w

[2] Ibid.

[3] Cooney, Rory, “Canticle of the Turning,” (GIA Pulications, Inc. Chicago, IL: 1990)

Hope and Wholeness

“Hope and Wholeness”

Mark 1-27 Jesus-the-divine

Mark 1:21-28 (1:27) – January 28, 2018

A common saying is “You only have one chance to make a first impression.” How true that is! A close parallel is beginning a new position. A great deal is riding on that first impression, the first few days or weeks at a new job, the first major thing or statement a prominent person does or says.

Our Gospel reading today from Mark chapter 1 happens at the very beginning of the Rabbi Jesus’s ministry. Jesus is beginning this new position as an itinerant rabbi, traveling around the countryside, preaching and teaching. What else does Mark include here? This is a narrative of an important first thing that this prominent person Jesus says and does, setting the tone for the rest of Mark’s Gospel. I’d like to thank bible commentator Paul Berge for his fictional first-person account, which is a narrative adaptation of this first miracle of Jesus.

“Were you at the synagogue in Capernaum today? I wasn’t sure I saw you and so I will tell you as clearly as I can what happened. I can only explain that something occurred that has never, yes, never ever happened before in our hometown synagogue where our people “gather together.” What took place is unlike anything our rabbis have instructed us in over the years. This was far beyond their teaching and authority.

“Shabbot worship started out like a routine, very normal gathering. We all came with the usual expectation. Now, don’t get me wrong, our rabbis are faithful interpreters of the Torah as they instruct us in the Word of the Lord, but their teaching does get to be routine. Everything was progressing as usual, the prayers, the Psalms, the reading of the Torah, when a newcomer “immediately” entered the synagogue and began teaching and instructing us, dare I say, with a new “authority” (Greek, exousia). His authority was not as our scribes. When I use the word “authority” about his teaching, you know that the word also includes the power to “exorcize” demonic spirits.

“I am still in shock as to what happened next. “Immediately” a deranged person screams out. No one in the synagogue had a clue as to what brought forth this outburst. It appears an unclean spirit had identified this rabbinic-like teacher as one who had authority to exorcize and called out to him by name: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” The voice was a shrill demonic-like scream. How did this spirit know the name of the rabbi from Nazareth? Did the voice really assume that this teacher has the authority to exorcize demonic or unclean spirits?

“The scream continued with words of blasphemy using the name of God: “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” With this a hushed silence came over the entire synagogue as these words were spoken. The rabbi named Jesus from the hill country of Nazareth sensed the offense of these words, and the identity of the Holy One of God. Jesus addressed the possessed man and rebuked him with exorcizing words which likewise silenced the entire synagogue, “Be silent, and come out of him.”

“What occurred next was a demonstration I have never, ever, witnessed before. The man was writhing on the floor like he was in conflict with the spirits possessing him. Then the voice of a demonic spirit cried out with the same shrill demonic-like scream. The unclean spirit came out of him and the man appeared to be calm. He stood up and in his right mind looked as normal as any of us.

“Needless to say, we were all overcome and amazed and kept saying to one another, “What is this? A new teaching — with authority he exorcizes a demonized person!” What took place we saw with our own eyes that he commanded even a host of unclean spirits and they were obedient to him. On my oath, this is what took place on this Shabbot. I can’t explain what came over us, but it was like we gave witness to the rabbi from Nazareth as our praise to the one, holy and righteous God in our midst. We have no other experience like this to compare. We have since heard that what took place in our synagogue “immediately” spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.” [1]

Do you hear what Jesus did? He cast the unclean, evil spirit out of the man, and made him whole again. Gave him a new lease on hope and wellness. Gave the man the gift of emotional, psychological and mental wholeness, of abundant life itself.

Not everyone believes that Jesus casts out evil, unclean spirits from people, in the spiritual realm. Some people are very skeptical about this kind of miracle. But, I would like to remind everyone that belief in evil spirits has been a common, widespread belief for thousands of years. It does not as much matter that many people of the 21st century don’t believe that Jesus did this. The point is that the people of New Testament times did believe in the power and authority of the Rabbi Jesus. Power to cast out unclean spirits.

For thousands of years, society has dealt with different kinds of mental, emotional and psychological issues in individuals. Sometimes, these issues and illnesses have been called spiritual and demonic. From what we now know, these conditions can be medical. These people with illnesses and issues sometimes seem to be held hostage to internal, powerful forces only recently understood.

Regardless of whether the illness or issue was emotional, physical, psychological or spiritual, Jesus came alongside of this man with an unclean spirit. Maybe Jesus was the first who had approached the man in a long time. Jesus, with holy power and authority, ordered the evil spirit out of the man. And, immediately, the man was cured.

Was it really and truly an “evil spirit?” In this case, as in certain other situations in the Gospels, My opinion is, “yes.” There are a great many situations which are spiritually energized, throughout the world. Both positive and negative, concerning good and evil spirits.

But, that is not the only thing. No, there are negative tendencies, urgings, and thoughts people get in their heads, on their insides. An explosion of anger, over and over. A suicidal impulse or thought. An intense jealousy, suddenly flaring. A wild sexual fantasy that returns again and again. An overwhelming feeling of depression and dread, creeping into the deepest places inside. We, as human beings, are keenly aware of these unwelcome, unclean spirits in our hearts and inner thoughts. We often wonder where these “unclean thoughts” come from and why we can’t get rid of them. It is as if they are part of our inner nature as human beings. [2]

It does not matter whether our issues are psychological, physical, emotional, spiritual, or some combination, Jesus can come alongside of us. Jesus has the power and authority to take care of the situation and restore hope and wholeness. Yes, in this situation in Mark’s Gospel, with this troubled young man. And, yes, in a multitude of various situations, today, too.

Today, you and I are often ashamed of individuals such as this troubled man. We tend not to speak of it. We fear the misunderstanding or the judgment or avoidance we expect we will surely see in the eyes of others. Or, hesitate to choose to whom we dare to entrust that which hurts us the most. [3] Whether we name it evil spirits, mental disturbance, emotional instability, addiction, or something else, Jesus can overcome. Jesus can provide healing, hope and wholeness, whatever the situation. Yes, in Mark’s gospel, and yes, in all of our lives, today.

(A big thank you to Dr. Paul Berge, who wrote the adapted first-person account of this Scripture reading from Mark 1:21-28. Thank you for this writing, and for your excellent insights from your Gospel commentary!)

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1122

Commentary, Mark 1:21-28, Paul S. Berge, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

[2] http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_b_hunger_for_healingGA.htm  “Hunger for Healing,” Gospel Analysis, Sermons from Seattle, Pastor Edward F. Markquart, Grace Lutheran Church, Seattle, Washington.

[3] http://dancingwiththeword.com/out-in-the-open-casting-out-unclean-spirits/ Janet H. Hunt.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Justice, Healing, Wholeness

“Justice, Healing, Wholeness”

Eph 2-14 word cloud

Ephesians 2:14-17 – August 21, 2016

The Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro have been going on for two weeks. The Olympics has been a marvelous time of both competition and camaraderie, crossing international borders. I have not spent as much time as in years past watching the different competitions, but there have been some exciting and nail-biting times in these past weeks. Swimming and diving, gymnastics, track and field: the United States has won medals in these and many more. And yes, there have also been some scandalous things that happened, both on and off the field of play.

Scandals, quarreling, fighting, bombing. Attacks, sniping, terrorism, and even warfare. So often those are common events in the world today. Sadly, common, and sadly, robbing countries of their best and brightest young people.

From the time that I was little, I was drawn to the Olympic competitions not only for the sake of sport, but also for the sake of the Olympic values and traditions. The Olympic values strive to counteract those negative traits and actions I just mentioned. Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games, wanted the Olympics to lift up the ideals of respect, fair balance, pursuit of excellence, joy in effort, and balance between mind, body and will. He held up these as the essential Olympic values. What wonderful ideals to reach for!

However, as faulty, error-filled people in this mixed-up world, we have a big problem. Sin gets in the way of these lofty ideals. Negative feelings like hatred, xenophobia, classism, separation of all kinds get in the way. Sin also includes the haves versus the have-nots, all over again, in a myriad of ways.

I would like us to switch gears and look at the Scripture passage for this morning from Ephesians 2. The Apostle Paul is in the middle of a very long paragraph about Jesus Christ and why He came to earth: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who … has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility; His purpose was to create in Himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross..”

As is typical with the Apostle Paul, he makes a complex argument and brings a whole bunch of ideas into play. But I want to highlight this central fact from Ephesians chapter 2. Humanity was once far away from God, made far away by our separation and sin. There was—and is still—a dividing wall of hostility. Hostility between us and God, and hostility between human beings. Hostility between individuals, neighborhoods, groups, nations, races, classes, and a whole host of other separations.

The Olympic ideals, values and tradition help in counteracting this hostility and separation between humanity. The United Church of Christ’s Statement of Mission helps to counteract this, too. I have been preaching through the Statement of Mission this summer. The sentence for this week states: Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called: to work for justice, healing, and wholeness of life.” Wonderful things to strive for! And, worthy ideals to shoot for, from the point of view of the Olympic ideals, or from a Christian framework.

Jesus Christ came to earth to reconcile us to God, to destroy that dividing wall of hostility, so that each of us could have healing and wholeness of life. Praise God! Alleluia! That involves our relationship with God. Our vertical relationship, which is so important. Jesus has done that for us. No longer separated and far away, we now have a relationship with God.

But, that is not the end of the story. No! God wants us to take the next step. God calls us to work for justice, healing and wholeness of life, not only for us individually, but for others as well. That is our mission, from the UCC Statement of Mission.

I spoke about this several weeks ago, when several moms from Morton Grove went to the south side of Chicago, into the Englewood neighborhood. Two of us went again this past Wednesday, to help serve at a dinner outreach to that community. We took this opportunity to reconnect with the good people in the Englewood neighborhood and show them that friends outside of their community care, and are concerned. Friends want to help them strengthen relationships, and bring peace into their streets. Their neighborhood. Their community.

By several of us going to the Englewood neighborhood, this was a concrete way of showing our love and caring for others. As a follower of Christ, it was and is my responsibility to work for justice, healing and wholeness of life. Not because I am a pastor, not because I am a leader of this congregation, but because I follow Christ and strive to do the things He did and to say the words He said. And most especially, I strive to love the way Jesus loves.

All of us are called to do that same thing. To follow Christ to the best of our ability.

Let me switch gears and talk about the Olympics again. I did have the opportunity to watch a bunch of races last week. My son and daughter got really excited about the men’s and women’s swimming. We were awestruck to watch Michael Phelps add to his haul of Olympic medals, plus all of the other American swimmers doing an outstanding job in the pool.

I also made note of Simone Manuel, who won two gold medals, one for the 100 meter freestyle and the other as a member of the 4 by 400 relay team. Ms. Manuel is one of the fastest swimmers on the planet today. She also happens to be African-American, the first black woman to medal for the United States in swimming. Ever.

Articles and news stories immediately proliferated on the Internet, television, newspaper and other forms of media. Yes, they all praised Ms. Manuel for her grand achievement. Yet, some of the longer articles told a different story. About how the history of swimming pools and racism are closely tied together in this country. About how “according to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, in the United States, a black 11-year-old is 10 times as likely to drown in a swimming pool as a white 11-year-old. And as of 2010, around 70 percent of African-Americans said they couldn’t swim, compared with some 40 percent of white folks.” [1]

I quote from an article in Rolling Stone, “the fraught dynamics of segregation were fought within swimming pools as well. Often whites would shut down or avoid pools rather than have to intermingle with black people. There were legal battles fought throughout the 1950s over the access black people had to swimming pools and beaches that continued even after Brown v. the Board of Education and the idea that “separate but equal” facilities were deemed unconstitutional.” [2] A large percentage of American children having a likelihood of drowning. It doesn’t matter who, or what, or where. They are our country’s children. All of our children. And, this is a matter of justice—or, injustice.

This racist attitude is changing. Praise God! Plus, I am so happy for Simone Manuel and her two gold medals in swimming! This aspect of justice is something we all can do something about. And healing, and wholeness. Can you hear God calling? Calling to each of us? As the book of Isaiah says, “God will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in God’s paths.”

We can all look forward to God’s shalom, healing, peace, and wholeness, and verdant life. God wants us to try to communicate this Good News, work for justice, and do our best to spread healing and wholeness. To our friends, our neighbors, those we work with. Let us strive to live healing-filled lives, with God’s help. Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/08/12/484841513/simone-manuel-wins-olympic-gold-thats-a-really-big-deal

[2] http://www.rollingstone.com/sports/simone-biles-and-simone-manuel-wins-impact-on-race-w434453

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)