Fear Muddles the Work of Peace

Sermon – Easter 2A – March 30, 2008
John 20:19-31
Temple Lutheran Church

I owe much of this sermon’s inspiration to the ELCA Social Statement on Peace.

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

These are the words that greet us as our Easter celebration continues–the words the disciples heard on the evening after the resurrection: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

As word of the Resurrection begins to circulate, we find the disciples locked in a room paralyzed by fear. Fear will make you do strange things sometimes. Fear changes the way you think, behave and relate to others. Fear can cause us to lose regard for the rest of the world and be concerned only about our own safety in the face of what we fear.

Fear is an important recurring theme in scripture. 365 times in scripture we hear the words “Fear not…be not afraid, do not fear”. 365 times. That’s enough times to reflect upon one of them every day of the year. Over and over, the testimony of scripture includes being set free from fear.

Since this is a leap year, we’ll make today’s passage number 366. We don’t hear the words “Fear not”, but we do witness the risen Jesus coming right into the presence of fear and proclaiming peace… “Peace be with you.”

There’s an important connection to make here. Fear is the biggest barrier to peace in the world and in our lives. Fear muddles the work of peace. Fear leads to suffering. Fear leads to violence.

I learned something this past week, quite by accident. Hopefully some of us knew this (I sure didn’t know), but we are nearing the end of a ten-year worldwide focus on non-violence. In 1998, The United Nations instituted “The decade for a culture of non-violence” to occur from 2001 until 2010. In 1999, our church body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America pledged to be a part of this decade of promoting peace.

2001-2010. So here we are in 2008, and, well…I don’t know if it’s gone so well thus far.

I imagine that it probably played out a bit like this: plans were probably laid out for the whole ten years. I would guess these plans are probably still in motion today. The decade began in 2001. And then…then came September the 11th. Unthinkable, unacceptable, and unforgettable violence reared its head. Our nation, and much of the world, got into that room with the disciples and locked the doors out of fear.

Fear will make you do strange things sometimes. Fear changes the way you think, behave and relate to others. Fear muddles the work of peace.

The risen Jesus walks right into the middle of that very real fear. This isn’t hypothetical fear. This isn’t the “idea” or “concept” of fear. Jesus walks into a locked room full of people that were convinced that they were the next ones to be dragged out, beaten & crucified. Jesus walks right into the reality of fear and reasserts once again what God is all about: “Peace be with you.”

Jesus…who fulfills God’s promises to the world. Jesus…rejected by humans, but confirmed by God who raised him from the dead in the power of the Holy Spirit so that on earth there might be peace. Jesus…who taught love for one’s enemies. Jesus…who reached out to the oppressed, downtrodden, and rejected. Jesus…who prayed for his enemies, even as they tortured him on the cross. Jesus…who reconciled us with God, even when we were enemies of God. Jesus…whose reconciling love of enemy shows us how deeply peace is rooted in who God is. It’s Jesus…who says “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you”

“As the Father has sent me, so I send You.”

As followers of Jesus, we are called to continue the work of peace. To build the kingdom Jesus came to commence “on earth as in heaven.” Through the Gospel, the Holy Spirit calls and gathers people from all nations to worship and witness to the God of peace. A people who know Christ, sent into the world to make Christ known.

We make Christ known…
…as we publicly gather to proclaim and celebrate God’s Gospel of peace.
…as we keep alive the news of God’s resolve for peace.
…as we declare that everyone is responsible before God to create peace.
…as we equip ourselves to act for peace in our communities & the world.
…as we sing “Let there be peace on earth…and let it begin…with me.”

We are called to be a movement. We are called to be a community of peace. We are the Body of Christ sent in the world. We are God’s presence in the world…a presence that wages peace.

A faithful presence that at times can disturb the status quo. Especially if the status quo is looking to false sources for peace or security. Or if the status quo forgets that “Loving your enemies” includes not killing them. Or if the status quo confuses loving your country with turning your country into a false god. If your definition of peace is a not rooted in the peace that Jesus announces, the mission of God’s church might disturb your peace.

So if any of you are planning to run for president some day, be warned: it doesn’t take a pastor like Jeremiah Wright to get you in trouble. If the church is living out it’s mission, it’s going to be counter-cultural. It will even be seen as subversive and radical. It will be radical about peace, radical about forgiveness, radical about reconciliation. It will be radical about telling the truth.

The heart of who we are called to be as Christians can be heard in these words of the risen Jesus: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” We are sent to be a movement of forgiveness. A community of peace creating bonds among people who are different. A community of peace where we can talk to one another, respect one another, share ideas, hopes, dreams, and values. The Church is a setting of freedom and respect where believers with different perspectives can learn from one another in the unity of faith. No topic should be too controversial or too contentious to discuss as a church. Where better have such discussions?

We live in fearful times during this decade that was intended for non-violence. In the next three weeks in Pennsylvania, and throughout this election year, we will again see and hear those fears used to motivate us. Fear of a recession. Fear of terrorism. Fear of immigrants. Fear of people who are different than me. Fear of a candidate whose race or gender is not the same as presidents 1-43. Once again the candidates and the strategists and the political parties will lick their fingers & hold them up to see which way the winds are blowing. Those winds can be driven by all of these fears, or the church can be the movement that changes the wind. As followers of Jesus, we can walk right into the reality of fear and reassert once again what God is all about. We can wage peace. We can be the body of Christ in the world today.

Jesus sends us into the world. Following Jesus is not a private affair. Personal, yes, but never private. “For God so loved the world” is quite the public statement.

Hear the words of the risen Jesus. Hear the invitation to risk, to an adventure of faith, to being a disciple. Hear the invitation to new birth into a living hope through the resurrection.

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”


One thought on “Fear Muddles the Work of Peace

  1. >Great sermon! I am curious about your context…I can not remember…though your book choice and town references make me think perhaps surburban? I am working a fear/peace theme as well – triggered by a commentary notice that said that God is described in John as the sending one more often than as the Father…I thought well how many people (outside of those who work for the church) think of God as the sending one and themselves as the sent.

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