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Let Me Say It Again: Peace Be To You (Part 1)

purple tulips beside window
 
“Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.” John 20:19-20

How often do you need to repeat something important? How many times do you need to remind someone in your family to turn out the lights, close the door, or turn down the TV? What reaction do you get from your family when you make this same reminder for the fifth time?

Generally, we have to say the most important things in life more than once. And when it’s good news, no one minds. That’s the case with the Gospel reading that is often used for this second week of Easter. Jesus appears to the disciples both at Easter and then a week later to the disciples and Thomas, who had been missing from the first meeting. Three times in this short section of John 20, Jesus says the same good news: “Peace be with you.” Let’s look this week at these three announcements of the best news we could ever hear.

Jesus comes through the closed door to the room where the disciples were sheltering. They had heard the news of an empty tomb, had heard from the women at the tomb that an angel had spoken to them, and had heard from Mary Magdalene that she had even seen and spoken to Jesus. And yet, they, the eleven disciples, hadn’t yet seen Jesus. Their last sight and certain knowledge were his death. What a tension they must have felt: death they knew, but resurrection they had only heard about.

And then there Jesus was, standing among them, showing his hands and side. Imagine all the words he could have started with:  Where have you been? Why are you doubting? Why are you hiding here? He could have reminded them of their broken promises to stay with him. He could have spoken of the incredible pain that he went through. But none of that was his message. He focused not on himself but on them. He spoke not of guilt but of peace. And his message is the same for each of us today. As he steps through the walls and doors of your day, the first words would be the same. Peace be to you. Every day, those are the words of Jesus to each of us and the reason for his coming to be among us.
 
Prayer: Our Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your Son not to condemn the world but to stand among us and announce your peace to each of us. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Peace (Part 3)

bouquet of tulips flower

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”    John 20:21

With the familiar Jewish greeting, peace be with you, Jesus answered the worst fears and rekindled the fondest hopes of his disciples.  And now, well, now Jesus would always be with them, right?  Nothing could ever go wrong again. This joy they felt would go on and on.  I wonder if they forgot what he’d told them just a few nights earlier: “I am going to prepare a place for you. . . If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father. . . Peace I leave with you.”  Peace didn’t mean that he’d be there physically to still their storms and multiply their bread and put threatening forces on their backsides with a word.  Peace meant that because he had died for their sins and rose again for their justification, God was on their side no matter what.  Peace meant that it was going to be OK, even when their anxiety was elevating and their situation was deteriorating.  Peace meant that the Holy Spirit would remind them of Jesus’ promises, answering their fears and doubts.  Peace meant that Jesus would ascend to the Father in order to govern their world on their behalf.

Just when the word “peace” had calmed their nervous nature, Jesus ramped up the anxiety again. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you,” he said.  Not safety and security, but the pressure and uncertainty of the same mission that had brought Jesus to earth. Jesus was sending them to bring the Gospel to the world. They wanted to stay with Jesus. He was telling them to go.

Do you know the difference between a disciple and an apostle?  A disciple is a learner, a follower, a student.  An apostle is a teacher, a leader, an ambassador on a mission.  Not much is expected of a disciple, just pay attention and learn.  The teacher handles the hard questions and solves the big problems.  A lot is expected of an apostle, from doing the right thing to taking the heat and assuming responsibility for the work.  A disciple sits.  An apostle goes.

Would you prefer the “peace” message from Jesus rather than the “send” message?  The promises of God are easier to embrace than the commands of God.  Comfort and joy make sweeter music than trials and tasks. While you are always a disciple, you are also an apostle — sent into a community, a workplace, a family to represent your Savior and share his love.  You get to deal with the tough questions of unbelief and anger.  People will watch you to see if you mess up and confirm their suspicion that Christians are hypocrites.  Some people will look to you for comfort and others for direction.  Actually, the “peace” message and the “send” message are perfectly compatible.  Peace disintegrates into boredom when there’s nothing important to do.  Peace accompanies Christians who have a sense of mission about their lives.

Not long after college, I volunteered to spend a summer making evangelism calls for churches in northern California.  I met the pastor who was my mentor, and he gave me a stack of cards – names and addresses of “prospects” who’d been referred to the church.  I drove to the first address and sat in my car for what seemed like an hour, scared by an assignment for which I felt unprepared.  It was a good thing that home was 2000 miles away.  I prayed like never before for peace like that which Jesus spoke to his disciples on Easter.  And here’s what I discovered.  As I haltingly explained to a mother and father what Jesus had done for them and asked them to send their children to Vacation Bible School, the Gospel I shared gave me the peace I prayed for.  I discovered that summer that learning theology without sharing theology misses the point.  God calls us to be apostles while he’s teaching us as his disciples.  Sometimes that means we’ll be anxious, but that only drives us back to him and the peace he won for us.  You are an apostle, you know.

PRAYER: Thank you, Jesus, for the peace there is in knowing that I am your disciple – forgiven and loved.  Now help me to embrace your call to be your apostle, sent to those around me with the mission of loving like you and applying your truth.  When I’m in over my head, be right with me.  When I’m not sure what to do, push me to do what you would, regardless of the cost.  I love you, Lord Jesus.  Amen.


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We Need DAD: Despair

Now the Philistines were fighting against Israel, and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines and fell slain… The battle pressed hard against Saul, and the archers found him, and he was badly wounded by the archers. Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and mistreat me.” But his armor-bearer would not, for he feared greatly. Therefore Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. [1 Samuel 31:1,3-4]

Just give up… Despair is a crippling, overwhelming sense of hopelessness. Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Holocaust, came up with a very simple equation: despair = suffering – meaning. We all experience suffering. The real problems come when we cannot see any point behind it. 

With all the negativity and struggles and pain in the world, we humans need to be able to see some meaning in it all. Saul, after years of ignoring God’s Word, finally felt caught, fully alone, and desperate. In a battle that had already claimed the lives of his sons, he felt his suffering at this point was pointless. He chose to take his own life rather than endure any more suffering. 

We can see the appeal to this line of thinking. It gives us an escape from the momentary pain. But as Christians, we know two things. 

First, all suffering has meaning. Jesus said we all must take up our cross, and James reinforced that by saying, “Consider it pure joy when you encounter suffering (James 1). Jesus suffered for us, and in doing so, redeemed all suffering. 

Second, we cannot escape God by escaping the pain of this world. Ironically, Saul fell right into the hands of the One whom he was trying to escape. We want to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” when we come into God’s hands in death. Despair clouds our sight of the eternal reality. The reality that there is life after this life, that there is still a God on the other side, still awareness, and still a time for further judgment.

We trust that Jesus has a purpose to our pain. And we persevere. We need our DAD to see us through DAD- Depression/Anxiety/Despair. No matter what trials and tribulations you are facing today, know beyond a shadow of doubt that your heavenly Father is with you, has saved you and is preparing an eternal place. For you! 

Prayer: Dear Jesus, help us to always see purpose in our pain. We look to Your cross and we are humbled by Your willingness to suffer for us. Lead us in the way everlasting, and enable us to live in the power of Your Spirit. Amen.

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Peace (Part 2)

purple and yellow roses

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  John 20:19-20

A study by Duke University identified contributing factors to “peace of mind.”  Here are a few of those factors and the parallels in our Christian faith.  1) The absence of suspicion and resentment (forgiving Christian love); 2) not living in the past, preoccupied with old mistakes and failures (forgiveness for past sins for Jesus’ sake): 3) not wasting energy fighting conditions you can’t change (trust in God’s will and love for you); 4) involvement with other people, not withdrawing (Christian fellowship and service); 5) refusing to indulge in self-pity, having a realistic view of life’s troubles (the Bible’s teaching about the consequences of the fall into sin); 6) cultivating such virtues as love, compassion and loyalty (Read Colossians 3:12-17.); 7) believing in something bigger than yourself (That is our God.).

Jesus’ resurrection is an historical fact AND it is a practical fact.  It changes how we view life and death, how we handle problems and where we place our hopes. We sing “Christ IS risen,” not HAS risen – a present tense that communicates here-and-now reality.  PEACE BE WITH YOU is the first thing Jesus said to his disciples Easter evening.

Peace for those disciples was the answer to conflicting reports circulating through Jerusalem.  It wasn’t grave robbery, a cruel hoax, or an unsolved mystery. Jesus was alive.  Peace meant that death had not merely been cheated temporarily, but overcome with finality.  They hadn’t lost a Messiah; they had a Savior.  Peace means that your nightmares aren’t real, that the fear clutching at your heart is a passing thought, that cemeteries are good places for Christians to rejoice.  Peace is a huge sigh of relief into which you can pour all your anxieties.

St. Paul began his letter to the Romans affirming that Jesus “was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.”  With POWER.  Which of your worries is beyond Jesus’ power to take care of?  Which of your weaknesses places limits on your Savior?  Our lives can be artificially limited by a variety of lies that begin “I can’t.”  “I can’t take any more bad news from my doctor.”  “I can’t overcome my addictive habits.”  “I can’t be what my kids need from me.”  “I can’t live with the verbal abuse my boss yells at me.”  What’s your “I can’t?”  The resurrection of Jesus says that your God can.  He died in your place to take away your sins, so he’s invested in you and won’t abandon you.  He said he would rise, and he did; you can trust his promises.  His resurrection demonstrates that no law of nature or power of evil can stand up to your Savior.  Peace is yours because what you can’t, he does.

If you’ve ever faced a sleepless night worrying that you’d ruined your life with one stupid, sinful act. . . if you’ve stayed away from church because you felt you had no right to be there, then you can understand what was going on in that locked room before Jesus showed up on Easter evening.  Those disciples had failed Jesus, doubted and denied Jesus.  How would they ever face him?  Would he even want to see them?  Could he forgive them?  Guilt drives people inside themselves, where things get worse.  Guilt rubs our noses in our unworthiness.  But then Jesus was there, showing them his wounds – not to add to their guilt but to show them that he had paid the price of their forgiveness.  John wrote: Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  He took their attention off themselves and onto him – alive, their salvation accomplished.

It was a familiar Lutheran custom to end the sermon with these words from Philippians 4: “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  That’s not a pious wish; that’s a divine fact.  Peace is yours.

PRAYER: Lord, help me to apply to my heart and my mind the truths you certify with Jesus’ resurrection.  Counter the lies I tell myself with the truth you’ve revealed to me.  Assure me of your forgiveness and give me peace in that assurance, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.


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We Need DAD: Anxiety

The Philistines assembled and came and encamped at Shunem. And Saul gathered all Israel, and they encamped at Gilboa. When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets. [1 Samuel 28:4-6]

Panic, worry, fear. The unimaginable happens, and you don’t know what to do. Fight, flight, or freeze… Our bodies react to stress and all the unknowns by leading us into an anxious place. Anxiety is the natural human response to facing chaos, scary situations, and all the things we don’t know. 

We all find ourselves there. Modern life has dramatically increased our anxiety, too. The more we come to know, the more we realize we don’t know very much at all! 

Saul found himself in a situation where God was no longer speaking to him. Saul spent years disobeying God and turning away from God’s commandments, and God finally had enough. God stopped talking. As Saul faced imminent war, he needed God’s wisdom, but he got nothing. We can all imagine the dread that washed over him. It led Saul to make a terrible decision- seeking out a medium, who would bring back the spirit of a dead prophet. Instead, Saul should have sought out David, God’s anointed Messiah, but he had spent too many years trying to kill David and leaving David full of anxiety.

When we experience anxiety, there is a better way forward than fighting, fleeing, or freezing. We can fear God. Now, I am not saying just move that fear and worry onto your relationship with God. But put it in heavenly perspective. Jesus said it this way, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Put you fear in the right place. We believe God can do all things, including giving us eternal life and raising us from the dead! That puts everything else we go through into perspective. 

We are certain to experience anxiety for the rest of our lives. It’s one of the ways we know we are human! But don’t let it hold you back or hold you down. Don’t let it keep you from continuing to follow God’s path for your life. When you encounter anxiety, remember: We can take all things to our DAD, our Heavenly Father.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” and maybe the ending of anxiety. 

Prayer: Dear God, heavenly Father, please help us to see everything through Your love and Your will. Help us to make it through all the situations and relationships that leave us feeling anxious and uncertain. Show us where to move and where to go on the path You have placed before us in Jesus. In His name we pray, Amen.

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