Sermon St Eustachius Sunday 15 March 2020 ‘Peace’ Revd. Mike Loader
Readings Exodus 17v1-7 Psalm 95 Romans 5v1-11 John 4v5-42
Once again the Lexionary has presented us with a beautiful and powerful set of linked readings from which we can barely scratch the surface this morning.
When Jesus, and his first five disciples, came to Jacobs well near Sychar, they were on their way back to the Galilee following the Passover feast in Jerusalem during the spring of AD 28, and little did they realise that new beginnings for them were soon to occur.
Although we read that Jews and Samaritans have nothing in common, they did not mix or interact, Jesus and the Samaritan woman met at the well and talked, and she was to become the first Gentile evangelist for Jesus ministry when she went back to her town and told the people there of her encounter, “can this be the Messiah”.
While the disciples had gone looking for food, Jesus broke with tradition in speaking to this foreign woman, and he sensed that her heart was not at peace, particularly being in her present relationship.
And peace is what I want us to reflect upon this morning. I believe ‘Peace’ to be particularly relevant at this time with much fear over the current corona virus pandemic.
There are many types of peace, peace between individuals, or communities or nations, and how we need to pray for all of those when we look around at the disturbed and desperate state of our world. But I wonder what do you understand and expect for the peace that we as Christians should be experiencing?
When we greet one another with those beautiful words of Paul, “grace, mercy and peace”, how do you envisage that peace?
What is the peace that we call for in that greeting? It is a peace that is to be the expected experience of us as believers in the one true and living God, and in His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
As the Israelites journeyed with Moses during the exodus from Egypt, they saw and experienced the visible presence of the Lord God journeying with them in the pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night, but they still did not seem to know peace, and they were continually grumbling to Moses.
So what should peace be for us Christians who have God, by His Holy Spirit, journeying with us?
Let us start by asking what do we mean by peace? Peace can be defined as ‘harmonious relationships’ or as ‘a freedom from mental stress or anxiety’. How does that sit with each one of us in our everyday pilgrimage as Christians?
Maybe one of our first responsibilities as Christians, if we are to know true peace, is to be in ‘harmonious relationships’, not just with our brothers and sisters in Christ, but with any and all of our neighbours. And that is where we may need the help, support and prayers of one another, and also of God’s grace, and of the Holy Spirit.
Paul reminded the Galatians (6v2) that we should bear one another’s burdens, and in so doing we then fulfil the law of Christ.
And do you Remember the words of our Lord from the sermon on the mount (Mtt5v9), “blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God”. Do you, do I, want to be found as one of God’s precious children? Then we are called to be people of peace.
Jesus then goes on to tell us how peacemaking is to be practiced (Mtt 5v23), “if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there and first go and be reconciled to your brother”. That reconciliation may not always be possible, but in as far as it is up to us, that is what is required of us to peruse as disciples of our Lord, and if it is not possible to effect a reconciliation, then we are discharged from our responsibility and can move on.
So where does true and lasting peace come from? We read in Luke (1v79) that John the Baptist’s father Zachariah prophesised of Jesus that he was to be the one “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet”, our feet into what, “into the way of peace”.
Some 600 years before Zachariah, the prophet Isaiah (Is 1v79) described God’s coming Messiah, our Lord Jesus, in these lovely words, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called ‘Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace'”.
So I believe that it is only through Jesus that we can know real peace.
We Christians await the coming of Jesus to rule and to reign, that is our hope.
So we now await with anticipation the peace that he, the Prince of Peace, will bring to us and to our hurting world.
But Isaiah also goes on to say, (Is 26v3) “God will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed-or focused, on God, because he trusts in God”.
So Isaiah gives to us this promise, set your heart and your mind fully upon God, and God in return will give you ‘perfect peace’.
From Isaiah’s perspective, peace comes from a purposeful decision on our part to set are minds upon God, to chose to have God always at the forefront of our minds.
And that same message was conveyed to the Roman Christians by Saint Paul (Rom8v6) when he wrote, “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Holy Spirit is life and peace”.
You may say, but how can I do that in troubling circumstances? Well here is a wonderful story that may help. How many of you have heard the lovely hymn, ‘When peace like a river, attendeth my way’?
An American lawyer, business man and committed Christian, Horatio Spafford, penned the words of that hymn following a great family tragedy. In 1873 he had planned to travel to England with his wife Anna and their four children, but sent them on ahead. Their ship was sunk at sea after a collision, and only Anna survived. Shortly after Spafford sailed to join his grieving wife, and when his ship passed near the spot where his daughter’s had been lost, he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write these words:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Those words could only have come from the heart of a man who was at peace, and knew the peace of God in his heart.
Another person to my mind whose heart was indeed ‘stayed upon God’, was the old man Simeon in the Temple, when Mary and Joseph presented the 40 day old Jesus according to the requirement of the Jewish law. We often say the words of Simeon, the Nunc dimittis, at funerals to bring great comfort to those who have lost a loved one.
Simeon could see that this baby Jesus that Mary gave him to hold, was the Messiah, the one sent by God to bring Salvation and Peace with God to us all.
As Christians we can, and should know, two types of peace that those outside of the household of God, those of the world, can not, and do not know. ‘Peace with God’, and ‘the Peace of God’. I believe old Simeon had both of these, and so he could come to the end of his life in peace, and die without fear.
So the searching question we have to ask is, ‘Do I have peace with God’?
Peace with God comes when we confess our wrong doings, our shortcomings, our sins before God, and ask for His promised forgiveness, and put our trust, our faith, in Jesus. We then know that those transgressions have been forgiven, forgotten, and as the psalmist says (103v12), removed from us as far as the east is from the west, by our faithful Heavenly God and Father.
As Paul says to the Ephesians (2v13-14), “You who were far off have been brought near through the blood of Christ, foe Jesus himself is our peace”.
And Paul has a similar message for the Christians in Rome (5v1) who have put their trust in Jesus, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”.
Because we then have ‘Peace with God’, we can also experience ‘the Peace of God’. So do you, do I, also experience that peace of God dwelling in our hearts day by day?
It is a peace that quietens our hearts and minds; a peace that helps us to overcome our fears.
Jesus described this peace to his disciples at the last supper (Jn14v27) when they were clearly anxious as to what was about to come, he said to them, “my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid”.
When writing to the Christians at Philippi (Phil 4v7) Paul said that, “the peace of God passes all understanding”. So it is a peace that we cannot describe, explain or understand, but we can know and experience God’s peace deep within our innermost being. It is a peace that guards our hearts and minds as we walk our pilgrim path with our Lord and Master, Jesus.
When writing to the Christians in Galatia (5v16) Paul says that they, and we, should ‘walk by the Holy Spirit’, that means we should follow the leading and prompting of the Holy Spirit in our lives, for there can be no deep peace without God’s Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is graciously given to us as we humble ourselves, and as we allow the ‘fruit’ of God’s Spirit to become evident in our lives, those fruits of ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’.
It is God’s passion that we should each know the ‘fruit of His Holy Spirit’, and that we each experience that peace which the world cannot give, so let us be sure that today we are rejoicing in that peace.
Let us pray Give us honest hearts, O God, and send your kindly Holy Spirit to help us confess our sinsand bring us the peace of your forgiveness; in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen