John 14: 22-29
When we love someone as the disciples loved Jesus, it’s hard to anticipate a day when he’ll no longer be with us. When we care for someone deeply, the last thing we can imagine is not being able to go to have a casual dinner together, or travel together, or laugh together – or heck, even make a few miracles happen in our midst – whatever form that miracle might take. Each of us has realized a loss in our lives that’s driven us to such a tumultuous emotional place that feel like anything but “peace”. And as much as a personal loss can lead any one of us to resentment or anger or lashing out in our mourning, a corporate loss from a bomb or a war or an accident or a maniac can lead to such a surge of unrest in the world that anything but peace seems possible. So when we come to these words in the Gospel of John that Jesus is said to’ve offered to his disciples, it might be hard to understand how a very simple word like “peace” could begin to replace a friend, or family member or ideal that has been so important in our lives.
But as we’ve come to know about most of what Jesus proclaims, the peace Jesus provides is not a peace that is otherwise understandable to the human mind. Scripture says his peace is not as the world gives. Jesus as our Prince of Peace offers a peace for each one of us that pronounces victory over the warring in our hearts. Jesus, as the Prince of Peace for the world extends such hope for life that tension and misery and combativeness and waywardness that lead to death in body if not spirit has no place. As each one of us comes to peace with our own restlessness and anxieties, so can each of us prepare the way for the Prince of Peace to enter our hearts and redirect our pathways toward peace for the world.
Sometimes, this comes to us in a most circuitous way. You might know about Alfred Nobel. He was the Swedish chemist who lived in the 1800s and paved the way for the Nobel Prizes upon his death. But none of the Nobel Prizes would’ve been conceived were it not for the premature publication of Alfred’s obituary.
Imagine waking up one morning to find that the world thinks you’re dead. For some reason or another – eager journalists, malicious neighbors, simple misfortune – there it is. Your obituary. Unfortunately, the headline leaves you no room to imagine the fondness people felt for you or the tremendous outpouring of gratitude displayed for your contributions to society. The headline robs you of that pleasure as you see the words that grab everyone’s attention that morning, “Merchant of Death.” The text? an accusation that you’d grown rich by finding better ways for people to kill each other.
That’s what happened to Alfred when his brother Ludvig died in 1888. A French newspaper mistakenly ran an obituary for Alfred that delivered some tough medicine. Alfred Noble was an inventor – a genius inventor who created dynamite. Dynamite was, of course, the precursor to the nitroglycerin bomb. An interesting side note to all of this is that Alfred Nobel really believed that his invention would be the tool to peace. Eerily mindful of Thomas Aquinas’ 13th century Summa Theologica and his justification of war in terms of proportionality, Nobel is said to have written, “The day when two army corps can annihilate each other in one second, all civilized nations, it is to be hoped, will recoil from war and discharge their troops.” (You see, it’s nothing new that we’ve come to expect that the peace of the world is often grounded in the very principles of war.) Upon reading his erroneous obituary, Alfred Nobel must have done some soul searching. What did his life stand for? How had he impacted his family, his friends and the world? Was his life holy and godly – righteous, if you will? Were his gifts and talents and treasures shared to the glory of God? How might he make peace with this all?
Putting his money where his heart was, Nobel restructured his will. Upon his death on December 10th, 1896, the world learned that most of his vast wealth from all that dynamite, I suppose, would be used for five prizes. Including one for peace. The prize for peace was to be awarded to the person who “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding of peace congresses.”1
There’ve been 555 Nobel prizes awarded since 1901 — the first year they were presented. (It took a few years after Nobel’s death to get the program up and running. Ironically, Nobel’s family fought over his will.) Of the 555, 93 have been awarded for peace.
If life were such that we could see ourselves from such stark advantage, might we, too be compelled to work for peace? If life were such that we could see our shortcomings or our side-steppings or our wrong-way-windings so clearly how might we re-imagine peace for ourselves and others? If life were such would we recreate the story of our church such so that the most prominent memory of our life together would be one that paved the way for peace…
I believe that when Jesus offered his dear friends a simple word we call “peace” he was launching a tremendous ideal into the cosmos that the first step toward peace in the world is a world full of people who are at peace within ourselves. If we want peace in the world, you must take steps to insure that our life and your legacy represent that peace, too. When you and I are at peace in our family relationships, our friendships, our community of faith and our faith in God, we’ll find stop looking for fault with others in their home lives, their relationships, their religious practices and their beliefs. When we open our minds to opposing ideas, changing technology, controversial research findings and sometimes controversial personal choices, we’ll be less defensive toward others’ thoughts, new ways to crack a code and difficult subjects. When we’re at peace with what we’ve earned or been given or seem to have stepped into in life, we’ll be less inclined to want what other people have. When we’re at peace with ourselves, we’ll stop looking for faults in others. When we’re at peace with what we have, we’ll stop our more corporate, territorial tendency of wanting to rob people of things that are just not ours.
When we invite the Prince of Peace to enter our hearts, when we allow Jesus Christ to come in to the core of our being and motivate our lives, we’ll feel the fullness of the Lord and be at peace with who God has made us and with what God has given us – recognizing that all that God has given us is intended to be spent to the glory of God. When we embrace the peace of Christ in our hearts, we’ll be more open to embracing who God has made of others and what God has granted them, too. This, Jesus proclaimed, is a pathway toward peace for each one of us. And this, he made sure, is a formula for the beginning of a peaceful co-existence between people of all religions, political beliefs, and socio-economic backgrounds across the world. In this circular process of receiving God’s gifts of grace and extending that same grace in honor of the gifts others’ve been given, we will be embracing God’s sovereignty in the world. We will be at peace within ourselves and be in a position to re-imagine an even greater peace for the world where God’s rule reigns forever and ever.
This isn’t a superficial experience of life. It’s a hard earned, carefully sought after result of discussion and discernment that recognizes as essential the conflict within ourselves and in the world as the stimulus for discernment and dialogue that creates a groundswell of understanding that raises the consciousness of the world for all time. This is the work of peace without which our anticipations of it are lacking of honesty and the results of which are superficial. The Rev. Dr. George H.O. Madsen, a grand Lutheran pastor from today’s snow-covered, upper Midwest, says that this work of peace “is the shape of the future, the vision of that to which a mysterious power summons us all here and now, in the role of servant, in bringing and establishing justice and freedom, grace and peace.” This peace is shalom. (It) “is our human legacy, given to us in a state of fearlessness and without a troubled heart.”
How do you behave bitterly or judgmentally or angrily toward someone? Have you made some disappointing choices in your life? Are you wishing that you would’ve extended your talents or your treasures in a more constructive direction? If you’re worried about war in the world, begin to think through your own insecurities, your own anger, and your own negative reactions that produce all kinds of war in your heart. Earnestly engage in the great conflicts of life to realize a more lasting peace that’s essential for each one of us in our daily lives, in our church and in the world.
On this sixth Sunday of Easter, as we continue to celebrate the creation and history of the Christian church, let us embrace the truth that Jesus wants each one of us to live at peace knowing that we are all destined to be with our sovereign God and the prince of peace for all eternity. Let us consider our opportunity to work toward the fullness of peace in our lives as essential to the process of peace for the world. Let us pray fervently for how our church might reflect a perfected embodiment of peace for all God’s people for all time to come. Then, may the peace that passes all understanding enter where the rough places have become unbearable and the winding roads have taken you on strange courses, and may you start again this very day to live with the peace of Christ in your heart.
Thanks be to God. Amen.