June 25, 2023

    06.28.23 |

    June 25, 2023  Scripture: John 14:25-27 Fruit of the Spirit: Peace by Pastor Jenn

    In our years of traveling, Scott and I have passed over many bridges. Which is not something we necessarily enjoy. You see both Scott and I have what is known as gephyrophobia (jeff-i-ro-fo-bia), people with an intense fear of driving over a bridge.

    Here’s one of our least favorites: the Chesapeake Bay Bridge  17.6 miles. Did you know you can hire people to drive you and your car over the bridge? With just an hour’s notice and $40, you can let someone else take the wheel.

     When we took our big 2018 cross country trip in the RV, this was probably the scariest bridge.

    It’s the Hoover Dam Bridge  1905 feet longest singe arch bridge. What was scary was the wind that kept blowing our 36 foot RV, trying to push us side to side. But Scott pressed on.

     In 2019 we took the RV to eastern Canada and in order to go to Prince Edward Island you must cross this bridge, which is 8 miles. Again, 36 foot RV, sitting as high as a truck, does not help this fear, however, Scott succeeded, twice! Once to get to the island, the other to the mainland.

     Bridges can be scary, but they are necessary to get from point A to point B. If we don’t cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, we don’t get enjoy the beautiful shores of the east coast. And if we didn’t cross Hoover Dam, well, we wouldn’t have made it to the next stop, the Grand Canyon. And if we didn’t cross the Prince Edward Island we never would have seen how lovely that whole island is. Crossing bridges is not just a physical accomplishment, but it leads to new experiences.

    As we study the way and teachings of Jesus, we can see how he is a bridge builder, inviting people to get from point A in their life to point B. Be it forgiven, transformed, renewed, welcomed, Jesus built bridges for people and their life’s journey. In our lesson today, he promises the help of the Holy Spirit to build bridges of peace.

    Here’s the background, John 14 is part of Jesus’ final discourse with his disciples before he is arrested, tried, and crucified. So he is wrapping up his teachings with his friends. That night his lessons were on servitude, as he washed the disciples feet. And he also predicted Judas betrayal and Peter’s denial. But then Jesus is speaking in a future tense. First talking about God’s house and in verse 3 of chapter 14 he says, if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life John 14:3-6

    Meaning, he will guide us to way, and the life God hopes for us.

    Then Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit and peace. John 14: 25 ‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But 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. 27Peace 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.  

    Now the word peace in this text in Hebrew is shalom. And to understand that word is to understand God’s peace.

    Shalom is not just about quietness or absence of conflict, like we tend to think of. Rather, the ancient Hebrew meaning of shalom was “to make something whole”[1]. That is a completeness in mind, body and being. Shalom is a way of living with God, with ourselves, with the people in our lives, and in the world.[2] This of course is manifested in Jesus.

    Think of the shalom he brought to Nicodemus, a Pharisee, who struggled with following the man-made laws of the Hebrew faith, and what Jesus was offering him, was a new understanding and way of life with God. I imagine when Jesus met with Nicodemus, he brought shalom, and it changed Nicodemus, to the point he was an advocate of Jesus.

    Jesus brought that shalom to many others and in our lesson he promises to leave that shalom, that peace with us by way of the Holy Spirit. So that the fruit of the spirit of peace, is about God directing our life, our being.

    Sometimes that peace can be used to qualm our fears. Let’s face it, fear comes from the unknown. That unknown diagnosis, unknown challenge or event. But if we move forward with the assurance of the peace of Christ, then we stop running, and start embracing. Embrace that a new path may need to occur to get healthy. Embrace the unknown as an opportunity to rely on the active presence of God to assist.  Those are ways the peace of Christ is at work with us.

    Another way that peace can direct our lives is to recognize it’s not us vs them. We saw that with Jesus when he challenged the lawmakers of the day, who would condemn people based on their rules and interpretations of scripture and law. Jesus didn’t’ do that, and he doesn’t expect us to either. In fact when Jesus offers us his peace, we are called to do what he did to see the people around us as fellow brothers and sisters on a journey, and therefore stop with the labels. Labels that separate based on race, creed, age, sexual orientation,or socio-economic status. We are to be like Jesus and see each person as valid and beloved.

    In her book Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Brokenhearted World, author Osheta Moore experienced a revelation in her journey of shalom. She writes how she was volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center and sponsoring a child in Ethiopa, but one night at dinner, she got upset with a waitress who didn’t refill her glass, and her husband called her out on it quoting , 1 Corinthians 13 where Paul writes, “If I give all my possessions to feed the poor, but do not have love, it profits me nothing” She writes, “Love was nowhere to be seen in the way I treated people who served me everyday: the barista, the bank teller, the mail carrier, our landlord”.[3]

    So she decided to give herself forty days to practice what she called “customer service shalom” She writes, “For forty days, I treated every person in customer service as if they belonged to me and I belonged to them, and soon we did. Now my barista, cashier, bank teller, and hair dresser are no longer a means to an end but allies in this life. Their hard work and attention keep me going. I pay attention to them, and let them know that I see them…It’s one of my practices of everyday peacemaking.”[4]

    Embracing, acknowledging, that’s shalom. It’s tearing down walls of fears, injustice, and labels and instead building bridges for relationships.

    Let me share one more example from the Hebrew Bible. His name means “Who is like Yahweh” and he was a prophet for the Lord to the people of southern kingdom of Israel, Judah, during the 700’s BC. He was from a small village called Moresheth. I’m talking about Micah. 

    And in his time the Assyrians were pressing down on their nation. They had already destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel, and so were demanding pay from Judah in order to buy them off. But they were not the only ones. You see the Babylonian Empire was also pressing down on Judah, both demanding goods and money.  Unfortunately, the rich and powerful of Judah, that is the king, the priests, the court had used their influence to exploit the vulnerable and create greater inequalities of wealth, in other words, they ended up taking more money from the poor to pay off the Assyrians and the Babylonians.

    So Micah speaks up and reveals the truth of how such oppression would lead to their downfall. We hear that in Chapter 3: 9 Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob and chiefs of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity, 10 who build Zion with blood  and Jerusalem with wrong! 11 Its rulers give judgement for a bribe,  its priests teach for a price,  its prophets give oracles for money;  yet they lean upon the Lord and say,  ‘Surely the Lord is with us!  No harm shall come upon us.’ 12 Therefore because of you Zion shall be ploughed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,  and the mountain of the house a wooded height.

    Now just to be clear, Micah is not saying God will bring their downfall, but because of their own selfishness and oppression which leads to the kingdoms division between the people and their leaders, the kingdom is weak, so weak they have no chance against the Assyrians or Babylonians or any other force of power. 

    And yet, in the following chapters Micah offers words of encouragement for One who will restore them after their own destruction. One who will build bridges with shalom. He writes, “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days…And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,  in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth,and he shall be the one of peace. Micah claims that even though Israel experiences condemnation and ignorance, God will raise one who tears down walls of division and builds bridges of security, strength, and peace. He prophesied about Jesus who says, 27Peace 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.  

    Friends, we are called and gifted by the Spirit to build bridges, to extend the peace God has given to us in Jesus, to those around us. And sometimes those bridges may look overwhelming that we will want the assistance of others to help cross them, and that’s okay, so long as we acknowledge that and ask for the help. Other times we may be scared of what that bridge building may bring, or how long it may take. It was 700 years after Micah until Jesus was born. And yet, through it all, the incarnate God in Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will get us across that bridge, and experience something new, something encouraging, something we can call shalom.

    Let us pray: Almighty God, we give you praise for your abundant mercy and grace we receive. We thank you for your faithfulness even though we are not always faithful to you. Lord, we ask you to give us peace in our mind, body, soul, and spirit. We want you to heal and remove everything that is causing stress, grief, and sorrow in our lives. Please guide our path through life where your peace reigns in our family, at our place of work, and in everything we do. And for those who our suffering pain and persecution, war and oppression, conflict, and division, may your peace that passes understanding be at work in those situations, and may we be an instrument of such peace, laying down our emotional weapons and fears, so that You may be glorified in our relationships. We ask this in the name of the Prince of Peace, who taught us to pray…

    Offering Invitation: Mother Teresa once said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other”. When we offer our tithes, our gifts, our offerings, we support a peace that exemplifies belonging together. Because those gifts support local, national, and global food banks, mission work, and other ministries that reveal shalom. We thank you for your ongoing support.

    [1] https://firmisrael.org/learn/the-meaning-of-shalom/ 

    [2]  P62

    [3] P217

    [4] P217