June 8, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Where is your place of peace? I like sit down by the boat launch on the Missouri River and watch the river roll by (in fact, it’s where I was when this sermon started to come together). Maybe your place of peace is on the porch, freshly brewed coffee at hand, engrossed in a novel. Or maybe it’s walking the trails over at Camp Trinity. Maybe your place of peace is on a beach with the constant background of crashing surf drowning out the cares of the world.
Wherever your place of peace is, it rarely lasts. You have to leave paradise for the daily grind. The trail comes to an end. The coffee gets cold and the novel runs out of pages. The river keeps on running, but so does time—and you eventually have to move on to less than peaceful places.
But even in your peaceful place, distress and conflict can rise. Your peaceful vacation can turn into a family feud at the drop of a hat. The trail can be overrun by pests or worse. The novel and coffee can be interrupted by annoying telemarketers. The river can turn from peaceful to killer in a moment if you lose your respect for it.
The world offers some fleeting glimpses of peace. Your peaceful place can give you a short rest from the conflicts and the grind of daily life, but it’s never a lasting peace. It’s never a true peace. It’s more of a temporary escape.
This is true not only on a small scale, but also on the larger scale. Jesus says that from His day until the end of the age there will be wars and rumors of wars (Mt 24:6). And indeed, a list of the major conflicts and wars of the 20th century shows that only 15 of the one hundred years were free of a major conflict across the world. And, of course, nearly the entire 21st century has been consumed with several wars so far. Wherever your place of peace is, it rarely lasts.
Why is peace so fleeting? Because peace is not the default position for man. The flesh is naturally hostile in its fallen state. The first men born of women demonstrate the hostility of the flesh. Cain rose up against his brother Abel and murdered him on account of jealousy. There is even a whole discussion between God and Cain regarding this natural rage that ends up consuming him. “Why are you angry,” God asked Cain, “and why are you looking down? Isn’t it true that if you do right you are accepted? But if you don’t do right, sin is crouching at your door. [It’s desire is for you]; but you should [rule over] it” (Gen 4:6-7 alt).
Everything from little spats to world wars can be contributed to the obstinacy of the flesh. Even the smallest slights can boil over into harsh conflicts, or worse—erupt into full-blown wars. St. Paul writes to the Romans, For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sins, those which were through the Law, were working in our members, to bear the fruit of death (Rom 7:5).
Your place of peace can provide a short respite from the conflicts and struggles and wars in your life. But it’s never true and lasting peace because you always bring with you your own flesh. Even in your place of peace you stew over the wrongs with which other people have wronged you. Even in your place of peace you plot against your neighbor. These are the passions that lead to sins, the desires of the flesh.
St. Peter also writes, Beloved, I am counseling you as aliens and foreigners to abstain from fleshly desires, the same that are waging war against the soul (1 Pet 2:11). Have you ever tried to abstain from a passion or a desire? First of all, fleshly passions rise up before you even realize that they’ve come. And the more you try to clear them from your head, the more they eat away at you. Like Cain, sin is always crouching at your door, and you let it rule over you.
This is nature of the war that is being waged even when you are at peace with the world. But it’s more than just an internal struggle for peace. Your war is also against God. You are at enmity with your creator. You cannot find true and lasting peace because you cannot find peace with God. This is a war that can only end in death.
There is another peace, however, a peace which the world cannot give. It is the peace that is achieved when Jesus becomes your fruit of death, nailed unnaturally to a tree outside Jerusalem. Peace I am leaving with you, My peace I am giving to you; not as the world is giving am I giving to you. Your heart be not troubled, neither your heart be afraid (v 27), says Jesus—just hours before His crucifixion.
True, lasting peace can be found nowhere in the world, but only in Christ. His is a peace that surpasses all understanding. His is a peace that shines forth from the cross. His is a peace that is given to you as a gift, to put an end to the hostility of your flesh. His peace is a gift and fruit of the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit Brings Christ’s Promised Peace
The war that your flesh wages against yourself and against God will only bear the fruit of death. And so to end the war, God Himself goes to death. St. Paul writes, For [Christ Jesus] is our peace, who has made the two one, and He has pulled down the dividing wall, the hostility which separates, in His flesh, the law of commandments in dogma being rendered ineffective in order that He create in Himself the two into one new man, making peace, and that He reconcile the two in one body to God through the cross, putting to death the hostility in Him (Eph 2:14-16).
The peace that the warring world so desperately needs is accomplished in Christ. In His body, the hostility of the flesh is put to death. God and man are reconciled in Christ’s incarnation; the enmity is buried in His crucifixion. He departs this world, not just in Spirit but also in the flesh; He raises our flesh to sit at God’s right hand. And from thence He sends His Spirit.
The Feast of Pentecost was a harvest festival commanded by God in the Old Testament. There is no harvest if there is war. In war times, warriors beat their plowshares into swords and their pruning hooks into spears. Armies pillage the crops, or set fields afire for no reason. Pentecost is a reminder that God had given the Israelites not only their own land, but had given them peace.
And so on the Pentecost following Jesus resurrection and ascension is when Jesus fulfills His promise of peace. He sends the Spirit to the Church. But the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, who the Father will send in My name, that One will give you all and will call to your minds all that I said to you (v 26).
It is the work of the Spirit to give you all things that pertain to your salvation, and to bring to your remembrance the Word of Jesus. It is He who reminds you that the Father put to death the hostility in His body. It is He who gives you the gift of peace. And He does so by speaking to you a word of forgiveness.
Our Easter season began with these words of Jesus following His resurrection: “Peace to you” And after saying this, He showed them His hands and side. Again, He said to them, “Peace to you. As the Father has sent Me, so also I am sending you.” And after saying this, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they have been forgiven for him; if you retain anyone’s, they are retained (Jn 20:19b-23).
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, is the gift of the Spirit when your sins are forgiven. He brings to your remembrance the scars in Jesus’ hands and His open side leading directly to His heart.
Where is your place of peace? It’s the place where you hear these words: I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. As the Father has send the Son to put an end to the hostility of the flesh, so also the Son sends the Spirit to the Church to proclaim peace.
When two nations sign a peace treaty, concessions are made and the armies go home. When you’ve made your peace with someone you’re in conflict with, you probably go your separate ways (and even some friction may remain). But the peace of Christ that is the Spirit’s gift to you does much more than simply end the conflict.
The peace of God is declared with a Word from God—the Word of forgiveness. The Holy Spirit preaches this Word to you through the ministry of the Church. Jesus answered and said to him, “If someone loves Me, he will keep My Word, and My Father will love him and We will come toward him and We will make a dwelling beside him. The one who does not love Me, he does not keep My words. And the Word which you are hearing is not Mine, but the Father who sent Me” (vv 23-24).
It’s not just peace so that you and God can go your separate ways. The peace of God is a peace that draws you closer to God—or, better yet, a peace by which He draws closer to you. It’s not you who goes to God, but the Father and the Son come to you—through the ministry of the Spirit—and establish their dwelling with you.
This is a place of peace that goes with you wherever you go. It exists as the river rolls by, as you sit on your porch, when you walk through the trees. It exists when the world rises up against you, when your life is threatened. It exists on the battlefield with bullets whizzing by. This place of peace—the dwelling of God, Father, Son, and Spirit—is a place of peace that goes with you.
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard