GiftsEden On The Bay

All are welcome ~ Come as you are

Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

John 14.23 -29 - 05/01/2016

Good morning. I am very happy to be here in Eden and I bring you many greetings from your companion synod in Tanzania. I bring the greetings of Dr. Alex Malasusa, Bishop of the East and Costal Diocese in Tanzania. Special greetings I bring from the women of the Diocese and they send you many thanks for your support of the Mkuza Girl’s Secondary School, which you supported generously. I am happy to say, that the school is developing well and the girls are performing well.

The Gospel text today connects us with the people in Dar es Salaam, because on the Altar in the Cathedral we will find the promise which Jesus gave to his disciples: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Jesus said this to his disciples while they were eating together at the last supper. He talked with them about what was to come. We heard him last week speaking about the new commandment, about the love and the respect for one another.  I think the disciples were already wondering – what is going on here. What is he talking about. And they were frightened, that Jesus will leave them.

“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.”

And what does it mean?

In our culture, “peace” is usually understood as the “absence of war” or,  the “absence of conflict or trouble.” But the peace of God is very different. When the Bible speaks of peace, it generally means a positive thing—not the absence of something bad, but the presence of something good. The Hebrew word for it is SHALOM, and it means a very powerful, steady sense of well-being and happiness. It was understood to be the quality of life led by those who followed God; it was, indeed, a gift of God.

Jesus promised his disciples that his peace would be his gift to them. “My peace I give to you.” It is his gift to us as well. The peace of God is something that you and I have, or can have, in our lives. It is what enables us to face all the challenges that confront us each day. Paul said, that it is God’s peace, that protects our hearts and minds and keeps us close to Christ.

All people feel from time to time a sense of loneliness. Which is interesting in a time, where communication is quick through internet, mobile phones and also reaching another place through planes and cars and trains are so easy. But – in our societies the sense of loneliness is growing. People live alone, they drive alone to their work, they sit alone at their computers chatting with people they never met.

In Dar es Slaam you can see it in the morning: many people, sitting in their cars alone not speaking, not smiling, waiting that the traffic will allow them to move.

I got a nice picture the last days though. On the left side were three children, playing at a little creek, muddy from head to toe, laughing. On the right side three children concentrating on their smartphones. The commentary said: I am happy that I grew up in the left side. 

Of course we are not the first people to experience loneliness! King David knew about it—the Psalms echo with his agony: “I lie awake on my bed, I am like a lonely bird on a housetop . . . Turn to me and be gracious, for I am lonely and afflicted.” Jesus knew about it—he died alone, wondering if even God had forsaken him. The disciples knew about it, too. That night they felt the pain that comes when a close friend is leaving; and after the crucifixion, they huddled in their room, lonely, empty, aching from grief.

But Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” And the peace of God is, first of all, the assurance that God is with us every moment of our lives. “I will not leave you desolate”—Jesus spoke these words just a few verses before our text this morning. It is the promise of his peace: we will not be left alone! When we know his peace, we know his presence. The Psalmist puts it so beautifully: “Where can I go then from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast.” And so it is that the peace of God, the peace Jesus promised to give us, is the assurance that, even when we feel the pains of loneliness creeping into our hearts, we are not alone. He is with us, and will remain with us.

Loneliness comes from within, but sometimes the threat to our peace comes from outside. We live in a world of conflict, and our world is often a place of fear. We read about terrorist attacks, suicide bombings, senseless gun sprees, crime, war, and we are frightened. And so we lock our doors and trust people a little less, we build walls and think we can somehow defend ourselves against all those things that scare us. You can hear the discussion everywhere in Europe for example about the refugee crisis and that we have to close our borders because THEY will come and overflow us – THEY will break down the values of our society – THEY will harms us. So close the borders and live in fear.

I tell you – this is what the terrorists want. They want us to live in fear, they want us to mistrust each and every one. This is the way they are able to destroy us, to separate us from each other.

The peace of God invites us to be open although there is danger. To help people in need, to show that we care for others although there might be danger. God is there and when we are able to share the peace of God with others there is the chance of changing the view of people, there will be no ground in which the terrorist can plant their hate and envy, because people share resources and live together in respect.

And again, we are not the first to experience this kind of fear. The Psalmist knew it: “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck! I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold.” The disciples knew fear—remember, just a few weeks back, the story of the disciples on the evening of Easter day, hiding in their room with the doors locked out of fear, terrified that what had happened to Jesus might happen to them?

But Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” The peace of God is the confidence that God is by our side, and that we need not fear. The peace of God is that gift that enables us to say, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”

Last week we heard in the reading of Peter who had to eat all this unclean food, -  because God told him so. Today we heard that Paul had to leave to go to Macedonia – to Europe – and to preach the good news to the people there – without knowing what will be there – will he be prosecuted or will he find a peaceful situation?

Peter and Paul did their tasks because they were filled with SHALOM – with peace. The peace of God. They overcome their fear, because they knew: God is with me!

A few times I met people from whom I would say they accept this peace of God in their life, or they were open to experience this peace of God in their lives. They have a certain wisdom, they don’t take themselves too serious – they don’t try to convince you that they know everything better – they listen, they give directions and comments, they are welcoming people. They are not afraid of strangers They don’t build walls between them and others

We face so many fears in life—some of them quite real, most of them products of our own minds. But the peace of God, the peace the Jesus promised to give us, is the strength and power that comes from knowing that the “Lord is our refuge and our shield, a very present help in time of danger. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.” And though we face fears, conflicts, loneliness, even death, we will not tremble, we will life in this peace and we will trust in this God who will give it to us

And the peace of Christ, which passes all understanding, keeps our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God.

Amen

Pastor Stephanie Franz

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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