May 1, 2016

My Peace I Give to You

Passage: Acts 16:9-15, Psalm 67, Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5, John 14:23-29
Service Type:

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.

Acra Pacis (Source: Wikimedia) Acra Pacis (Source: Wikimedia)


The Ara Pacis Augustae (Latin, "Altar of Augustan Peace"; commonly shortened to Ara Pacis) is an altar in Rome dedicated to Pax, the Roman goddess of Peace. The monument was commissioned by the Roman Senate on July 4, 13 BC to honor the victories of Emperor Augustus upon his return to Rome after three years in Hispania and Gaul, (Spain and France). The original location of the altar was on the northern outskirts of Rome in the Campus Martius (Field of Mars) a plain developed by Augustus into a complex of monuments. This altar was placed in such a way that the shadow of the obelisk on the Campus Martius would fall on the Ara Pacis on the birthday of Emperor Augustus. Over the centuries, the monument became buried under silt. The first sculptures were rediscovered in the sixteenth century; it was reassembled in 1938 with a pavilion to protect it at the initiative of Benito Mussolini. Ironically, this altar of peace was reassembled the year before the beginning of World War 2.

1. It is said that the altar represents the peace and prosperity achieved as a result of the time period known as the Pax Romana (Roman Peace), which occurred between the years 27 BC to 180 AD. And we know how this “peace” was achieved—by the aggressive use of military force. With respect to peace not much has changed since then. In my lifetime Canada has enjoyed a peace that has, in some measure, been secured by the military protection and power of the United States of America. (This in not to diminish Canadian military.)

This altar known as the Ara Pacis was consecrated on January 30, 9 BC. Forty two years later, in what was considered a backwater Roman province known as Palestine, a Jewish Rabbi named Jesus of Nazareth—a nobody by Roman standards—met with his disciples in Jerusalem for the Passover meal. The Passover, a worship festival that commemorated the event of the freeing of Israel from slavery in Egypt, was being celebrated again—this time as a people under Roman occupation. Against this backdrop listen again to what our Lord said: “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.”

Reflect with me on a couple of questions. Whose name would you associate with peace, Augustus or Jesus? Whose birthday do you remember? Long after the obelisk that cast its shadow on this peace altar on Augustus’ birthday had crumbled our Lord’s birthday in known and celebrated around the world. My point is this. There are many voices in our world akin to those of Augustus telling us what will make for peace yet countless believers over the centuries testify that true peace is a gift of our Lord. If we are going to listen to a voice to tell us about peace our Lord’s is the voice of which to take heed.

Further, take note that our Lord said this peace is not like how the world offers peace. It doesn’t come by military might or force. It doesn’t come by erecting walls to protect ourselves or gates to control who gets in. And those walls can be physical and psychological. Sometimes we speak of “making peace with ourselves.” There is that inner turmoil that manifests itself in many ways—we describe it variously as feelings of fear, inadequacy, anger, confusion, unsettledness, unfulfilled, depression, or uncertainty. There is something in us that somehow witnesses that we shouldn’t feel this way—that we were made for better things—but we do feel this way. Like a pain in our shoulder that says something is out of joint we know something similar within our being. Can we make this angst go away? I think that many people try to treat it with distraction—as long as I play my music loud enough I drown out that dull hum of disquiet.

2. First, as we have been observing, our Lord’s peace is not like anything our world offers. Secondly, his peace—and I would say true peace—is something only he can give. “My peace I give to you,” said our Lord. It is important to note here that we have what he brings only by having him. Peace isn’t an elixir for purchase at a heavenly pharmacy. Jesus gives us his peace by giving us himself. His peace is experienced, then, in relationship with him.

These sayings of Jesus we read today are part of what is called his farewell discourse. This is the upper room of that last meal with Jesus before the cross. He has told them that he is going away from them to prepare a place of them. He said he would go but come again to them. These disciples cannot imagine how this can be good news for them. How can the departure of this one they have come to love and trust and depend upon be anything but devastating? They cannot imagine any future apart from him. Just as we cannot imagine that the loss in death of the one closest to us in life could be a positive so these disciples all the more with respect to Jesus.

The disciples are dumbfounded and floundering as might be expected. Thomas, and Philip, and Judas (not Iscariot) ask questions borne of broken hearts at Jesus’ announcement and Jesus patiently responds. The portion of scripture we are considering in this message began with our Lord’s response to Judas’ question. (Oddly the Lectionary begins after the question.) ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’ Judas is responding to Jesus’ assertion that he would reveal himself to “those who love him.” In response Jesus said “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.”

Here our Lord is touching on the nature of faith, the nature of our relationship with God. It is something that happens at God’s initiative. Religion is people imagining what God is like and acting out of their religious imaginations. Faith is our Lord’s incursion into our lives. Judas may be thinking that all we need to do is get the word out and everyone will be onside. Jesus knows that humanity is enslaved in the prison house of sin and needs someone from the outside to set them free. That you love Jesus is our Lord’s incursion into your life.

We read today of the person we call the first European believer. She was a successful Philippian business woman named Lydia. Listen again to how the scripture describes her faith experience—“the Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.” (Acts 16:14) What is true for Lydia is true for every believer—the Lord opened her heart. Or as we hear from the lips of Jesus—my peace I give to them.

The peace Jesus gives is first and foremost peace with God. Humanity’s indifference towards God’s existence, for example, is not benign nor innocent as if lacking proof or information. It is enmity with God. WE stand under God’s judgement seen in that it was God who drove Adam and Eve from the garden. The breach is wholly humanity’s fault yet it is God who moves towards us to repair the breach—in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself. Our Lord’s peace is grounded in his making peace with God for us. Jesus said of our relationship with him—“and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

Jesus is looking to the event of his cross when he said “I go to prepare a place for you.” In Rome an altar had been erected to peace—a peace delivered by force. Nothing about the nature of human history changed in how we pursue peace. At a garbage dump outside Jerusalem a peace would be made that will change the world and all history as Jesus is hung on the wood. Yes the altar at Rome is much nicer to look at and seems much more peaceful than the hideous nature of what is happening to the Son of God at Golgotha. But only one of these makes for peace. The altar at Rome was a celebration of people trampled on for the welfare of others. At the cross the pains and wrongs of the world are being absorbed by the Father and the Son that there might be peace, real peace.

3. Our Lord’s peace is (1) not like the peace the world gives, it is (2) something only he can give, and it is (3) a peace he does give. This is not an empty promise. The Apostle John whose gospel we read wants us to know that this peace is real. John went through the travail of seeing Jesus arrested and killed. He experienced the dread of all being lost; the crush of losing everything he was counting on for the future. He wants us to know that our Lord gives this peace he promised otherwise why would he include this detail of Jesus’ teaching from that troubling night.

Knowing and enjoying peace with God, Christ’s people are now blessed with the peace of God. My peace I give to you. The peace of God is that peace which every last individual desires. The peace of God is that “eye” of rest at the centre of the hurricane, the oasis in the midst of the desert storm, the calm in the midst of convulsion, the tranquillity that no turbulence can overturn ultimately. The peace of God is that peace which God grants to his people as they face life’s assaults. No one is surprised to hear that peace with God issues in the peace of God; a peace with God that didn’t issue in a peace deep inside us would be an exceedingly hollow peace.

The peace of God needs to be renewed moment-by-moment throughout life. The peace of God isn’t static, isn’t a state; the peace of God is dynamic, a constantly renewed gift blessing those constantly waiting upon God. Why the emphasis on “moment-by-moment” and “dynamic”, on “constantly renewed” and “constantly waiting upon”? Because disruption without us and disturbance within us; these unfold moment-by-moment too. The doctrine of creation reminds us that creation occurs as God suppresses chaos so as to allow life to arise. In a fallen world, however, chaos always threatens to reassert itself; in a fallen world, chaos always laps at creation, always nudges it, sometimes jars it. A fallen world unfailingly reminds us that the political chaos of disorder, the biological chaos of disease, the mental chaos of unforeseen breakdown: these are ever-present door-knocks of a chaos that ceaselessly knocks at the door of everyone’s life.

Many of the assaults that leave us craving the peace of God are not merely unforeseen but even unforeseeable. They resemble the “blind side hit” that leaves the football player momentarily stunned. The football player is running full-tilt down the field, looking back over his shoulder for the quarterback’s pass. Just as the ball touches his outstretched fingertips an opponent, running full-tilt up the field towards him, levels him. The worst feature of the blind side hit isn’t the pain of the impact; it is the fear that may arise from it, for if the player becomes fearful of the blind side hit he’ll never want to look back for the quarterback’s pass. In other words, the fear of subsequent blind side hits has taken the player off the field; he no longer plays the game.

As life unfolds for you and me we are blind-sided again and again. We are clobbered by circumstances we couldn’t foresee and therefore didn’t expect. Because we didn’t expect them we weren’t particularly armed and equipped to deal with them. Pain of some sort is inevitable; momentary disorientation is likely. And fear? It would be unrealistic never to fear life’s blind side hits. The ultimate issue here isn’t whether or not we fear; it’s whether or not our fear is allowed to take us off the field, induce us to quit. Plainly, the peace of God has everything to do with our ardour for life and our commitment to kingdom-work in the face of the clobbering we can’t avoid.

To his fellow-Christians in the city of Philippi Paul writes, “The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The Greek word for “keep” (phulassein) is an expression drawn from the realm of military engagements. “Keep”, in ancient military parlance, has two major thrusts. In the first place it refers to the action of an army whereby the army repels attackers, holding attackers at bay so that while attackers may assault, even assault repeatedly, they never gain entry, never overrun, and never triumph. In the second place (phulassein) “keep” refers to the protection an army renders inhabitants of a besieged city so as to prevent the city’s inhabitants from fleeing in panic. The apostle draws on both aspects of the military metaphor: the peace of God prevents life’s outer assaults from undoing us ultimately and thereby prevents us from fleeing life in inner panic.

Please also note the apostle’s assertion that this peace of God “passes understanding”. In fact, it passes “all understanding.” It passes understanding inasmuch as it isn’t natural; it isn’t generated by anything the sociologist or psychologist or neurologist can account for; it isn’t circumstantial. In a word, there’s no earthly explanation for it. Peace of mind that arose in the midst of peaceful circumstances would be entirely understandable and therefore entirely explicable. On the other hand, innermost peace in the midst of turbulence and treachery; this is peace that occurs for no apparent reason.

4. One last note. Jesus knows that these assaults in life trouble our hearts. He anticipates as much as he promises his peace to us. “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.” Faith isn’t measured by a constantly calm and fearless heart. The surety of faith in in the hands of the giver—My peace I give to you.
Jesus says to his disciples, “In the world you are going to have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Our good cheer arises in the midst of tribulation just because Jesus Christ has triumphed over everything that doesn’t make for good cheer, even as he gathers his people into his triumph. In exactly the same way peace arises in the midst of turbulence and treachery just because Jesus Christ has triumphed over everything that doesn’t make for peace, even as he includes his people in his triumph.

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.