Despite the fact that on Thursday I wrote about peace and presence, I find myself unable to let this go as my theme on this week’s gospel reading.
Peace is what so many people truly desire – both around them and within them.
And in our increasingly busy world, peace is one of the hardest things to find.
There is an endless proliferation of apps, mindfulness exercises, gadgets, medication, and activities promising peace and stress relief. There’s of course the slightly more “traditional” approaches of alcohol (and even drugs) to numb the pain.
But none of those actually deliver. Not really. Not beyond a short span of time. And some have devastating side effects.
I read an article the other day about what churches are, and are not, doing and offering. The bottom line is that we are a community who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. That in him God was made human, lived a fully human life (being at the same time fully divine), was crucified and rose again. And that in his death and resurrection we are freed from sin and death and all their consequences, through his unearned grace and love and forgiveness.
I don’t often speak like this, I know. It’s maybe something of a surprise to you.
But it is nonetheless true. This is what we as Christians believe. And this is what we are called to live, and to (when asked and when appropriate) share with others.
Christ offers us a redeemed life, a life in his presence, not just hereafter but here and now. He offers us the gift of the Holy Spirit. And he offers us his peace, and his presence.
That does not mean a life wrapped in cotton wool, where no bad things ever happen. You may have heard me say before, there is a difference between true religion and false religion.
False religion says, don’t worry, God is with you, and nothing bad will happen to you.
The problem with that of course is that sooner or later, bad things will happen, of one kind or another, and you will end up losing faith in the religion that offers such a false and empty promise.
True religion says, don’t worry. God is with you. And when the storms come, and the wind rises, and you fear that the waves will drown you, you do not need to be afraid because God will be with you in that storm. You’ll get wet, for sure. But you will survive.
Sometimes, we survive by the skin of our teeth. Sometimes it feels as if God speaks to the wind and the waves, and commands them suddenly to be still, and we are left awestruck at events. But we do survive.
What a gift, to be able to stand in the middle of a storm, or of uncertainty, of insecurity by any worldly standard, and KNOW in your heart, in the deepest part of your soul, that somehow – literally God knows how! – it will be okay.
To have the peace that the presence of God’s spirit gives.
I feel that this is exactly the kind of peace that Jesus was speaking of here. The disciples are terrified of the Jews, even more than the Romans. For after all it was the Jews who caused Jesus to be crucified, and who would turn them in to the Romans to be killed. But if we read onwards in Luke’s narrative, we soon find that they are recovering their courage. And when it comes to Acts, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they are brave as lions! No hiding in corners for them after that!
I suppose that the truth is that any preacher will speak from their own experience and from their own heart. As some of you know, I’ve had moments of storm and uncertainty in my life, particularly in the past year or so.
But in all of it, in the craziest and most dangerous moments, in the times when I should logically have been most afraid, I was at peace inside myself. And those who knew what was going on, were astounded and joined me in giving thanks to God for that peace.
It wasn’t always like that. When I was trying to work it out on my own, do it all and sort stuff out in my own strength, peace was the last thing I had. And peace was the thing I wanted most.
But when I let go of control, when I let the presence of Jesus in, the peace descended. And miracles happened.
May we all know the presence of Christ with us, wherever we find ourselves.
May we know the peace of Christ in our hearts, whatever our situation.
May the peace of Christ, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God.