The Peace that Jesus Gives – Sermon on John 14:23-29 for Easter 6C

May 26, 2019

We are still in the upper room from last week, it’s still Maundy Thursday. It may seem strange to be reading about events from Holy Week during the season of Eastertide, but in John’s gospel, these are the chapters where we learn from Jesus himself what living into resurrection reality truly means.

Last week, we heard Jesus tell his disciples he was going where they could not follow him. This was upsetting news. They’d been following him 24/7 for three years. They were just beginning to figure it out, they thought, and now Jesus was telling them he was leaving, and they couldn’t come with him.

Chapter 14 begins with words of comfort that we often use for funerals. “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. In my father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so would I tell you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself so that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:1-3) These are words of comfort when we grieve. But for the disciples, they were words that stirred up more questions.

Peter has already asked Jesus why he can’t follow where Jesus is going, insisting he would lay down his life for Jesus (13:36). Jesus knows that Peter will deny even knowing him in a few short hours. Now Thomas asks, “How can we know the way to follow you, if we don’t even know where you are going?” (14:5) And Jesus reminds him that Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life.” (14:6)

Then Jesus goes on to include the disciples in his relationship with the Father, “If you know me, you know my Father,” he tells them (14:7), and Phillip jumps into the conversation to say, “Show us the Father and we will be satisfied” (14:8). Jesus reminds the disciples that if they’ve seen him, they’ve seen the Father, because the Father and Jesus are in each other. Which makes Judas – the other one, not Iscariot – want to know, “How is it you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” (v. 22) And that brings us to today’s reading:

Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But 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. Peace 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. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe. – John 14:23-29

Bible scholars often call chapters 14-17 “The Final Discourse,” as if Jesus were standing behind a podium giving a long speech. But this is really a conversation among friends. And at the center of this conversation is the relationship that has been developing among these friends over the past three years. Now, as his mortal life is drawing to a close, Jesus invites his friends into an even deeper friendship than the one they have shared. He invites them into the eternal relationship he enjoys with the Father.

So when Judas asks “How is it we get to see you in your fullness, but the world doesn’t?” Jesus tells him that the answer lies in this eternal relationship with God, and this requires our obedience to his new commandment.

“Those who love me obey my words, and my word is to love one another as I have loved you,” Jesus says. “What’s more, the Father will love you who love and obey me, and the Father and I will make our home with you. But the converse of this is also true – if you don’t love me, you won’t keep my words, and this isn’t just me talking here – this word comes straight from the Father.”

Christ reveals himself to his own because they are looking for him. They can recognize the Father in him. And that recognition did not come any more easily for those first disciples than it does for us. But we have it on good authority – straight from God the Father – that if we don’t love Jesus, we won’t obey his commandment to love each other. If we aren’t loving each other, it’s a pretty good indicator that we don’t really love Jesus.

Why is Jesus making such a big deal out of this? He knows his mortal life is reaching its end. And when he isn’t around in flesh and blood any more, his followers are going to need something to hold onto. “I have said these things to you while I am still with you,” he tells them, “But 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.”

In other words, you don’t need to take notes. The Holy Spirit will help you remember what I am teaching you. Jesus calls the Holy Spirit an Advocate. An Advocate comes alongside us, walks with us through the difficult times, and stays beside us without getting in our way or pushing from behind. The Spirit doesn’t force us into one direction or another, but guides gently while walking next to us, standing up for us, keeping us company, giving us comfort.

This is exactly the kind of comfort and support Jesus means when he says, “I give you my peace.” And that brings us to the core truth of this passage: Jesus gives peace that is not like the world’s peace, so don’t be troubled and stop being afraid.

Here’s the big question this passage asks of us: How is the peace Jesus gives different from peace the world gives? And why does it matter?

The biblical idea of peace is grounded in the Hebrew word, ‘shalom.’ Shalom is more than an absence of strife or conflict. In fact, one of the indicators for Christ’s shalom, is the way it sustains us in the middle of conflict and strife.

Shalom indicates completion, wholeness, a time in the future when everything is made right and put into God’s intended balance for Creation. Christ’s peace brings this hope for wholeness into the present. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Christ’s peace is not just some future hope, it’s something we can experience now. So while the peace that Jesus gives is eternal, in contrast to the temporary nature of any peace we might find in the world, we don’t have to wait for Christ’s peace to become real to us. Eternity begins this moment.

But it is so easy to get stuck in an endless cycle of looking for peace in all the wrong places, constantly striving for the kind of peace the world gives us. We think if people would just stop arguing and start listening to one another, there could be peace. If we could just be satisfied with what we have instead of trying to consume more and more, we would find peace.

Maybe if governments would just do their jobs, and people would stop taking advantage of others’ weaknesses, if the rich would stop building their fortunes on the backs of the poor and people would take responsibility for the harm they cause – maybe then there could be some hope of peace in the world. Maybe then our hearts could stop being troubled, and we could stop being afraid. Maybe then we could stop worrying, our collective blood pressure would get under control. Maybe then there could be peace.

But the peace the world offers isn’t really any peace at all. At best, it’s a bandage we put over the wounds of our fear and frustration. It won’t last. It is only a temporary fix.

“Stop being afraid. Let your hearts be free from worry,” Jesus says. “I give you my peace. And it is nothing at all like the world’s peace. You don’t have to earn it or build it or create it out of your own meager resources. I give it to you. Just receive it.”

As his disciples were wondering what would happen next, Jesus gave his peace to them. Even before he would be arrested and tortured and killed, Jesus knew that his work was already accomplished. He was already living beyond resurrection, and his words were already preparing the disciples for the moment when they would see him rise into the clouds and return to the Father’s side. Beyond incarnation, beyond crucifixion, beyond even resurrection, Christ’s ultimate purpose is revealed in his ascension into glory. And the ultimate purpose of John’s gospel comes into focus.

Jesus says, “And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.” This is the purpose of John’s entire gospel: “These things are written that you may believe, and believing, have life in his name.” (Jn 20:30-31)

John’s whole gospel is about the incarnation – God becoming flesh.[1] God came among us to fulfill God’s deepest desire to live with us, to make a home with us. The goal has always been to include us in God’s interrelationship of Father, Son, and Spirit. There is more beyond incarnation, even beyond resurrection. Ascension brings us to a plane of existence where we are in Christ just as Christ is in the Father.

This is the peace that Jesus offers. It has nothing to do with earthly armistice agreements or treaty negotiations or conflict resolution protocols. Christ’s peace is both an inner peace we know in our hearts, and an outer peace we experience when we love one another. But more than that, it is the peace Christ gives us when we believe in him and we receive life in his name.

[1] Karoline Lewis, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1994

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