Sixth Sunday of Easter [by Revd Margaret Bullitt-Jonas]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Acts 16:9-15
Acts 15:1-2.22-29
2nd Reading
Rev 21:10,22-22:5
John 14:23-29
by Revd Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Missioner for Creation Care for both the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts and Mass. Conference, United Church of Christ

Receive the Peace of Christ

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.”    (John 14:27)

Today’s Gospel passage is a good text for an in-between time, a time of transition in which something is coming to an end and the new has not yet come.  Jesus is saying farewell to his disciples at the Last Supper and preparing them for his crucifixion.  But because we read this passage in Easter-tide, we also hear it as the risen Christ preparing his disciples for the ascension, when the vivid resurrection appearances will come to an end.  Jesus assures his disciples that the Holy Spirit will come in all its fullness – but it has not come yet.  It is an in-between time.

Can you touch into that sense of living in an in-between time?  Maybe you are between jobs, or studying and keen to get on with the next stage of your life.   Or maybe you will soon complete a big piece of work, and you haven’t yet launched, or perhaps even discovered, whatever work comes next.  Life is full of in-between times.  I think of the interval between realizing that a relationship with someone or something needs to change, and finding a way to change what you can.  I think of the interval between becoming engaged and getting married, or the interval between becoming pregnant and giving birth.

It is  an in-between time for the planet as a whole, as we sense the approaching end of an old way of being and wonder what new way of being we can create in its place.  Scientists tell us that modern industrial society, with its sudden expansion of our human capacity to extract and consume the planet’s abundance for the sake of short-term profit, is simply not sustainable.  For the past 250 or 300 years, human beings have been extracting goods faster than they can be replenished, and dumping waste faster than the Earth can absorb it.  Those who are rich live in a luxury once reserved for kings, while the billions who are impoverished struggle for clean water and a mouthful of food.  Species are going extinct at a rate unprecedented since the death of the dinosaurs.  The global climate with its delicate balance of gases turns out to be more fragile then we ever imagined.

I know I don’t need to go on.  Many of us walk around with a more or less vivid awareness that a chapter of human history is coming to an end.  Just as the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago ended one form of human society and brought a new one into being, and just as the industrial revolution 300 years ago also changed the way that society is organized, so we now find ourselves on the brink of what some thinkers call a “third revolution.”  [1] Modern society as we know it is coming to an end, and more and more people around the world are searching for ways to create something new – to bring forth a human presence on this planet that is “environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, and socially just.” [2] We don’t have much time to do this and to get it right, so it is a precarious and precious time to be alive and to take part – if we so choose – in this great work of healing.

We live in an in-between time and we feel the ground shifting under our feet.  So with great interest we turn to see what Jesus has to say at an in-between time: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.”  Jesus’ gift at an in-between time is the gift of peace – shalom, to use the Hebrew word – but you’ll notice that it is not any old peace.  It is, he tells us, his peace, the peace of Christ, something that is evidently quite different from the peace that is offered by the world.  Right at the center of the Eucharist, we exchange that peace among ourselves, when we say, “The peace of the Lord be always with you,” and we let that peace flow from one person to the next until everyone in the room is strengthened and lifted up by its presence.  And at the end of the service we often refer to it again, when the celebrant, quoting from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, blesses us with “the peace of God, which surpasses … understanding” [Philippians 4:7].

What is the peace of God, and how is it different from the peace of the world?  To answer that question, I’ve invited two guests to join me this morning at the pulpit.  My first guest is Industrial Society, who would like to speak to you about the peace it has to offer and the worldview that lies behind it.  Then we’ll hear from our second guest, the Holy Spirit, who will say a few words about the peace of God.

“Ladies and gentlemen – or, shall I say, consumers, for that is who you really are – my name is Industrial Growth Society,[3] and boy, do I have something great to give you: the peace of this world.  The main thing you need to know about yourselves is that you are alone.  You’re alone as individuals and alone as a species.  You are limited to the envelope of your skin – that’s who you are.  Your identity ends here – and your task in life is to focus on that isolated self – what it wants, what it needs, what kind of shampoo it likes best, what kind of breakfast cereal.

“You know, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and self-advancement is the name of the game.  The only peace an isolated self is ever going to find is the kind it can grab for itself.  Wielding power over everything around you – that’s the ticket to peace.  Domination is the path to peace – protecting your own interests, guarding your own small self.  So go ahead – drain the aquifers, clear cut the forest, over-fish the oceans – it’s all yours for the taking.  Never mind if indigenous cultures are being decimated, to say nothing of non-human creatures.  So what? It’s every man for himself.

“Peace grows by focusing on what you like and by surrounding yourself with pleasant things.  You’ll definitely feel more peaceful if you pile them up – gadgets, information, boats and planes, credentials, clothes – and then go all out to keep them safe.  Don’t think about the collapse of honeybees or the deaths in Mozambique – ouch!  That doesn’t concern you.  Thinking about stuff like that just messes up your peace of mind.  Put up some walls – don’t take that in.  There, that’s better.  It makes much more sense to put your head down and focus on yourself and your family.  Get that promotion.  Get your kid into a good college.  Get that mortgage paid off.  Lose those five pounds.  Finish organizing your slides.  Then you’ll have peace — or something like it, anyway, and hey, if you still feel restless inside, or start feeling lonely, you can always go shopping, have another drink, pop a few pills, or stare at some TV.  We’ve got plenty of entertainment for you, plenty of distractions.”

Thank you, Industrial Growth Society.  Now let’s hear a few words from the Holy Spirit, who has consented to make a brief appearance before fully arriving at Pentecost, two weeks from today.

“Friends, you are not alone and have never been alone.  You were loved into being by God the Father-Mother of all Creation, and God so loved the world – so loved you – that God sent God’s Son to become one of you, to enter every aspect of human life and to draw you and all Creation into the heart of God.

“The peace that Jesus gives you springs from your connection to the flow of love that is always going on between the Father and the Son and me, the Holy Spirit.  God has made a home within you, so there is nowhere you can go where God is not.  The Creator and Redeemer of the world dwell within you through the power of the Holy Spirit (that’s me), and with every breath you draw, with every beat of your heart, God is breathing into you and flowing through you.

“When you really understand that, you begin to see that you are much more than an isolated self – at every moment you are connected with God – and not only with God, but also with every other human being and with your brother-sister beings,  [4] to whom God also gave life and with whom God has a loving relationship, just as God has with you.

“So when you feel pain for the world – when you weep for rapidly disappearing species or the forests and wetlands we’ve already lost, when you feel morally outraged when narrow self-interest or short-term political or financial gain trump a larger good and a longer view – when you let your defenses drop and feel your sorrow and anger and fear about what is happening in the world around you, you are expressing how big you are, how connected you are with the whole web of life.

“The peace of God is spacious enough to stand at the Cross and to open itself to the pain of the world without closing down, without running away.  Christ bears that pain with you and for you, and by allowing it into your awareness – by opening the doors of your senses and the door of your heart so that sorrow and joy can flow through – then you allow the power of healing, the power of the Risen Christ, to move through you, as well.

“So now the walls around you can come down.  The peace of God is open to life, and it may impel you to move into the world’s most brutal and broken places, to be a warrior for life and to protest the unjust powers of this world.

“God bless that peace that is in you, a peace that the world cannot give you and that the world can never take away.”

Listening to these two voices in an in-between and turbulent time, it seems to me that if we steep ourselves in the peace of Christ, we will have everything we need.    We have glimpses of what we and our neighborhoods will need to do – draw down our carbon emissions, buy locally produced goods and food, build different kinds of dwellings, develop new, sustainable and non-polluting energy sources – and there are changes that each of us can make now.  But only a shift in consciousness can sustain us in that crucial work, a deep rooting in the ground of our being, which is God.  We are engaged, together, in a great turning [5] – a third revolution – that will require new depths of wisdom, compassion and courage.  These are the depths that pour forth eternally in the peace of Christ.

So today, and every day, as we celebrate the gift of being alive at this crucial moment in the planet’s history, may the peace of the Lord be always with you.

by Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Massachusetts