Not as the World Gives”: Receiving Jesus’s Gift of Peace

DiscourseBy Wes Howard-Brook and Sue Ferguson Johnson

Readers of hardly need to be reminded of the sharp contrast between the pax imperium and pax Christi. It is foundational that Jesus’s messiahship is grounded not in militarism but in love. What it can be easy to forget—or to remember but not practice so well—is the holistic nature of the peace Jesus offers: the “ease of fit” between our inner and outer, our individual and communal lives.

In our passage today from John 14, the disciples are growing increasingly upset as Jesus tells them of his impending departure from “the world.” Half of John’s gospel’s 78 uses of the “world” (Gk, kosmos) are in the Last Supper Discourse (John 13-17). Jesus seeks to prepare them to become his presence after he leaves, but they remain completely in the dark (13.30). Like little children whose parents turn out the light at bedtime, they are terrified of the monsters that lurk in the night. Throughout this long, slow speech, Jesus offers words of consolation to sooth their troubled heart (14.1, 27, Gk, tarassesthō humōn kardia, collective singular).

It is in the midst of this painful encounter that Jesus offers them the gift of his own peace (14.27; 16.33). His peace is the medicine to heal their inner turmoil. It invites them to live continually in his presence, where he and God “abide” with them (14.23). Jesus emphasizes this as his speech comes to a close: “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you are under pressure (Gk, thlipsis). But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (16.33).

For those of us troubled and often afraid while in the darkness of “the world,” Jesus’ holy words are a needed balm. We work for peace, but there seems to be no peace (cf. Jer 6.14; Ezek 13.10). We strive for justice, but racism and brutality persist. Empire seems to quash every effort to give birth to God’s dream of beloved community. The temptation to quit is always at hand, urging us to join the demonic choir singing, “Who is like the Beast and who can fight against it?” (Rev 13.4).

We, like Jesus’s first disciples, desperately need this embodied Word of true peace. Without it, we burn out, quit, or turn against one another in resentment, rage, bitterness, anxiety or fear. These dark emotions threaten to drag us down into the pit. It is only the fullness of Jesus’s own peace that offers an effective antidote.

We (Sue and Wes) know this reality all too well. It is so “easy” to keep our heads down, working grindingly through the endless to-do list, and in frustration take it out on one another or those around us. And for those of you into the Enneagram, you can only imagine what happens when two “8”s like us go at it! Our only salvation comes from the outside in, as the gift of peace that we cannot manufacture or control. In our regular Thursday community gathering, we regularly end with a benediction that includes, “we go in the peace of Christ that the world can neither give nor take away.”

Jesus’s peace is not only consoling; it is empowering. The Risen Jesus comes to the disciples in their fear, offering them his peace and sending them out into “the world” just as God sent him (20.19-21). Jesus models that peace as he stands before Pilate, whose death threats do not frighten him into submission (19.10-11). It is the absence of that peace that led Peter, just moments earlier, to deny three times that he is one of Jesus’s disciples (18.17, 25, 27). The embodiment of Jesus’s peace can suffuse the most ordinary person with the confidence and trust to speak Good News to “the world,” to be the Light that shines in the darkness and cannot be overcome by it.

The people we’ve known who have kept on the Way of discipleship for the long haul radiate this peace. It can be tangibly, palpably experienced in and through those whose inner being moves in harmony with their outer life. Communities that embody this peace welcome strangers with joy and generosity, laugh and sing heartily, and break bread with gladness of heart (cf. Acts 2.46).

We ended last week with song lyrics, and we do again this week, calling upon the words of a classic hymn to express better than we can what the Gospel points us to this week:

My life goes on in endless song
Above earth’s lamentations,
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation.

Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear it’s music ringing,
It sounds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?

While though the tempest loudly roars,
I hear the truth, it liveth.
And though the darkness ’round me close,
Songs in the night it giveth.

No storm can shake my inmost calm,
While to that rock I’m clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?
When tyrants tremble in their fear
And hear their death knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near
How can I keep from singing?

In prison cell and dungeon vile
Our thoughts to them are winging,
When friends by shame are undefiled
How can I keep from singing?

“How Can I Keep From Singing?” by Robert Lowry (1869)

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