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Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter
A sermon preached by Sandi Albom on April 19, 2015

Click on the blue arrow at the bottom of this page to listen to the sermon.

I’d like to tell you a story. 

There once was a king who offered a prize to the artist who would paint the best picture of peace. Many artists tried. The king looked at all the pictures. But there were only two he really liked, and he had to choose between them.

One picture was of a calm lake. The lake was a perfect mirror for peaceful towering mountains all around it. Overhead was a blue sky with fluffy white clouds. All who saw this picture thought that it was a perfect picture of peace.

The other picture had mountains, too. But these were rugged and bare. Above was an angry sky, from which rain fell and in which lightning played. Down the side of the mountain tumbled a foaming waterfall. This did not look peaceful at all.

But when the king looked closely, he saw behind the waterfall a tiny bush growing in a crack in the rock. In the bush a mother bird had built her nest. There, in the midst of the rush of angry water, sat the mother bird on her nest - in perfect peace.

Which picture do you think won the prize? The king chose the second picture. Do you know why?

"Because," explained the king, "peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. Peace means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart. That is the real meaning of peace."[1]

When we enter Luke’s gospel this morning, the disciples are gathered in a room talking and nothing is as it should be.  The tomb is empty and dazzling messengers have appeared to the women to declare that Jesus is gone from there!  Peter sees the empty tomb for himself and we are told he is amazed.  Jesus appears to travelers on the road, though they do not recognize him until they are breaking bread together, and then he disappears again.  This makes no sense and it is rocking their world! 

How can this be that Jesus is out and about, popping up here and there?  Yes, the women have told their tale and Peter has seen with his own eyes, …..and…. still the possibility of resurrection is so far fetched.  In the rational world dead is dead.  Gathered there together in hiding, the friends are wary of every sound, every creak.  Every knock on the door is met with suspicion.  I wonder if there was a super secret knock, a special way of signaling that a friend is at the threshold. 

So it is no surprise that when Jesus appears in the midst of them that they are startled and terrified.  They thought it was a spirit, an apparition.  Well of course they did!  I mean really….just imagine if John Lennon walked down the sidewalk in front of Christ Church Andover, strolled through the door and sat down next to________________.  Would we even recognize him in his round wire-rimmed glasses if we never ever expected to see him, face to face ever again?  We might not even believe it if he got up sang “Give Peace a Chance”!

But, Jesus says to them, “Peace be with you”, don’t fear.  Don’t let your doubts upset you.

See that I am really here with you. You are witnesses to God’s plan.

See that I am whole and believe. 

Peace be with you.  Don’t fear.

The words are so familiar.  The gospel writers record over and over Jesus speaking and acting in the name of God’s peace.

Peace – Comfort - “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you”

Peace – Protection - commanding, calming the waters.

Peace – Mission – Sent out the seventy-two to heal and teach, telling them, when you enter a house greet the inhabitants with “Peace to this house”.

Peace….it’s such an every day word. It’s imbedded in our everyday lives and popular culture.  Peace is something we long for.  We look for ways to inner peace, peace of mind. Think about the last time you used the word Peace.  Really, think about it, I’ll give you a few seconds. 

Was it when you needed a little peace and quiet before you gave someone a piece of your mind?  I can identify with that!  The apostle Paul used it in the salutation of every letter he wrote.  “Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  I often use Peace as a simple one word closing for an email.  I like it better than “best regards”, and I can send along a prayer for the person I am writing to, whether they “get it” or not. 

Peace - In Hebrew it is Shalom, and in Arabic, Salaam.  Did you know, the words Salaam and Islam are derived from the same root of language and meaning in Arabic? 

In all three faiths “Peace” can be a simple greeting or an expression of deep care.  In all three there is understanding of completeness, safety, prosperity and concern for the welfare of individuals and communities in the care and presence of the One God.  Peace, Shalom and Salaam are strongly linked to justice, unification and the placement of everything in its proper order; the way God means for it to be.  In a specifically Christian context there is peace in the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ.

This past Thursday night, we joined with the family of Sallie Reynolds to celebrate her life, and I could tell from the stories that were shared, that Sallie lived a extraordinary one!  One of the songs in the service I had not sung since I was a teenager in the early 1970’s, sitting around the fire at church camp.  You may know it, Kumbaya.  It was so lovely to hear our voices raised, calling for God to “come by here”.  

Peace is God drawing near to us, and God is ever longing for us to draw close………Close enough to see Jesus’ wounds, touch his flesh and bones, and to know the risen Christ.  Theologian Stephen Cooper says this about the impact of the resurrection for believers.  “Resurrection life brings peace; it calms, clarifies, unites and empowers us.  Perhaps a sense of God’s peace is the way we can accept the radical message of the resurrection.  To insist on the reality of the resurrected body is to demand that we accept our present reality as the place where transformations of ultimate reality can take place.”   

Theologian Walter Brueggemann asserts that God calls each of us to Shalom.  Peace and all of its possibility is freely given and with it comes the responsibility to live into that gift.  Just as with his disciples, the peace that Christ cultivates in us is a peace that arises out of, or sometimes in the absence of …… faith. 

Brueggemann  reminds us that Jesus’ Shalom is an announcement that God has a vision of how the world shall be and is not yet….. and, here’s the kicker for us:

  • We are expected to go where we are not yet
  • We are expected to become who we are not yet

This Peace Jesus gives to us is more than wistful greeting card sentiment that can be easily expressed with a flowery message, and dismissed with an “Awww, isn’t that beautiful”.  The reality we find in the resurrection means that what Jesus said in the scriptures is true.  And if that is the case, then we must assume he really meant what he said about how if we are his followers, we must treat others as he did, especially those people living on the margins.  To what does that kind of Peace call us? Where can you bring the radical hospitality of Christ’s peace?  Who does it lead you to in his name? 

It will be just a few short minutes and we will have the opportunity to greet each other in The Peace of the Lord.  For me, this act of hospitality and caring is a small slice of God’s Kingdom that is being revealed to us.  We’ll stand up, turn from side to side, extend a hand, or if we’re really adventurous, we may even cross the aisle and hug each other.  When you look your neighbor in the eye and bless them with this gift, what is it you are giving them?  The words we use are the very same words that Jesus greeted the disciples after the resurrection, “Peace be with you”.  This is a prayer, a priestly blessing we offer each other. 

You know, what we do here is a pretty subversive act compared to the life that awaits us outside of our red “Holy Spirit” doors, an outside life that rewards us, most often not in Peace, but in competition with our neighbor.  We are not simply a group of friends meeting to share a meal or catch up on each other’s news.  We are gathered as Christ’s Body.  Our peace is not rooted in the fact that we like the Red Sox, or that our kids are on the same teams, or because we enjoy our friendships, all of which may be true.  We are drawn here as brothers and sisters worshipping because of and in the name of Jesus Christ.  The Peace moves us beyond normal human relationships.  We greet in Peace those we know and those we don’t, those we may or may not feel close to.  We may even be called to greet or enemy in the peace of Christ.  Through this greeting we are reconciled to each other and share in God’s Peace.

People come to church with many different stories.  We all have something to give, a care to lay at the feet of God, a thanksgiving to share.  No matter our circumstances, when we enter into this beautiful, and sometimes uncomfortable, liturgical movement of “passing the peace”, we are intentionally encountering each others lives and assuring each other than no matter the circumstances, no matter our joy or the brokenness, no matter what you are going through, the Peace of Christ is with you in this place. 

Let us be mindful as we “Pass the Peace” this morning.  What we are doing carries an awesome responsibility.  What is it you wish for each person in the name of Christ?  What are they hoping for you?  Are you prepared to be at their side to go into the world in peace to do the work God has given us to do? 

May you know the peace of God, be cradled in a safe nest and blessed with a calm heart in the midst of the noise, trouble and hard work.  The Peace of the risen Lord be with you today and always.  AMEN

 

Additional references:

Bartlett, David Lyon. "Easter 3, Year B." In Feasting on the Word Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Vol. II. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008.

Brueggemann, Walter. Peace. St. Louis, Mo.: Chalice Press, 2001.

WordPress.org. “Greeting: Peace be with you”.  WordPress › Blog Tool, Publishing Platform, and CMS. Accessed April 14, 2015.

[1] From the book: Stories for the Heart (p. 252, Catherine Marshall)

Last Published: April 29, 2015 2:57 PM