Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 26, 2019
John 14:23-29 – Sermon by Rev. Dr. Rolf Svanoe
Spring is here! The weather this weekend is beautiful. It’s nice to be able to open the windows and let the fresh air in. Great to be outside without a jacket. The flowers are beautiful. And the smells of the trees and lilacs blossoming fill the air. Springtime is beautiful. Don’t you feel it? Don’t you feel Spring in your body? There’s a little more friskiness in your step. Just feels good. It’s like after winter, mother nature is sighing a collective, “Ahhhhhhh.” There is a sense of peace.
This morning we gather in this place for a moment of peace. We hear the good news. Jesus said, my peace I give to you. We all want peace, don’t we?
What is peace? Many would say it is the absence of conflict. When there is no war, no conflict, there is peace. We tend to define peace by the external things in our lives. When the nation is at peace, when our family is at peace, we have peace.
But I think we all know that peace is more than that. There is an internal peace also. We experience peace both externally and internally. Stress, worry, and anxiety can create an inner sense of conflict. We can have external peace and yet still experience turmoil inside. Jesus wants us to know a real peace, a peace “the world cannot give.” Even when the circumstances of our lives are filled with all kinds of stress and pain, we can still know a peace “that surpasses understanding.” That is the good news of the Gospel. Our sins are forgiven. God has made us his children. We are loved unconditionally. That’s the good news that can produce a peace inside us that we can feel deep down, even when the circumstances of our lives are filled with stress or conflict. That is the peace Jesus gives us, a peace that the world cannot give us.
That is the good news. The Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ is the treasure that the church has that we are called to give away freely. But it amazes me how easily the church can turn the good news into bad news. We say things like, God’s grace is free, but you have to do this and this and this first. And if we don’t do those things then God’s grace turns to God’s wrath. I remember visiting with a couple that had joined the church I was serving several years ago. They had left the church where they had been members for 30 years. I asked them how they could leave that church after so many years and such deep relationships with others. They said, “We got tired of hearing we were going to hell every week.” I would get tired of that too. How can you have peace if you are always worried about God and whether you are in or out of God’s grace?
Martin Luther once said, “If grace depends on our cooperation, then it is no longer grace.” Grace comes to us with good news, and that good news has the power to change our hearts and our lives. Fear and guilt can be powerful motivators in people’s lives, but they aren’t good news, and they don’t change people’s hearts. Only unconditional love and grace can do that. And we experience that like a breath of fresh air, like the first warm day of Spring. It is a gift of peace in our hearts that only God can give.
Three years ago I had the privilege of serving as a volunteer chaplain in the Wittenberg English Ministry, in Luther’s home town of Wittenberg Germany. We offer English language worship services to English speaking tourists from around the world. It was an amazing honor to be able to lead worship and preach in Luther’s church. It was Luther who began the Reformation of the church. We often refer to Luther’s discovery of God’s grace alone, faith alone, as his tower experience. I can imagine Luther studying the Bible in his scholar’s tower, chewing on each word of scripture until he made his mighty discovery of God’s grace. But scholars now think that it wasn’t in the tower Luther had his great revelation. When we visited the Luther House in Wittenberg, there behind the house was a new excavation. It was the Luther toilet, his outhouse. Luther suffered with chronic constipation and spent a lot of his time there, sitting on the crapper. Scholars think it was there on the toilet that Luther had his great revelation into the Good News of God’s grace. And isn’t that appropriate, that God comes to us in our mess and dirt, into our weakness and vulnerabilities and accepts us, forgives us, cleans us up and loves us unconditionally. God comes to us in the midst of our sin, in the midst of our doubts, in the midst of our rebellion, and God says to us, I love you. I forgive you. That’s the Good news that gives us peace deep inside. That’s the peace Jesus gives that the world cannot give us.
Today we are singing a hymn new to most of us. It is called, The Leaves Upon the Linden. This is the most favorite hymn in Norway to be sung in the Springtime, and especially during the Norwegian national Holiday in May. Please open your bulletin. Verses 1-4 are a celebration of Springtime. God’s Word and the Gospel is like springtime bringing us peace. Verses 5-8 talk about a Wintertime in the life of the church, a spiritual darkness, cold and frozen hearts. And God sends the warmth of his Holy Spirit. This is a reference to the Reformation and Luther’s insight that we are saved by grace alone. Springtime comes again and the leaves on the linden tree are budding. Verses 9-12 talk about the church’s mission to let the light of the good news shine across our world to bring new life to all.
If there is a Springtime in nature, there is also a Springtime in our hearts. There is a peace we feel in the sun’s warmth. There is a peace we feel in the warmth of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ. Let that warmth sink deep into your soul and fill you with peace. Let that love motivate you to love others, to work for justice and peace in our world, and to care for God’s beautiful and wondrous creation.
Today we remember those who have gone before us. We remember those who have died in uniform. We decorate their graves. We often say to them- Rest in Peace. But God gives a rest in peace on this side of the grave, a peace that doesn’t make sense to the world, a peace that goes beyond all understanding, but a peace we feel deep in our souls. Thanks be to God.
Glory be to the father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.