Peace Be With You

Rev. Megan Huston
April 12, 2015

John 20:19-
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

It was an average day when Willie set out into deep sea waters with his clients. Willie’s family owned a fishing lodge in Elfin Cove for 10 years. That day Willie’s boat was headed to what they called Rose Bay, which was situated on the inside passage and part of Glacier Bay National Park. He thought it would be a day like any other: setting bait, navigating choppy waters, keeping guests entertained and hopefully reeling in the latest catch.

The boat was anchored, guests had set their lines, were sipping on coffee and watching the beauty of the ocean and mountains, when Willie noticed that a pump light was on, indicating there was an excess of water inside the boat. When he went underneath to check the problem, he discovered a hole the size of a baseball in the bottom of his boat.

I imagine that Willie’s next thought was the temperature of the water they were floating in: so cold that most could only survive 15 minutes in it.

When their beloved Jesus died, I imagine that the disciples were in a state of both shock and panic. There was a sudden hole in the boat and the disciples were in dangerous territory. The disciples had plenty of reason to panic, when they gathered behind what the Greek describes as literally closed doors, grieving their crucified Messiah. The Greek word is “kleiso” which if that sounds familiar it is because it is found in the Greek “Ecclesia” meaning church, literally translated as not closed. According to John, Mary had already told them the good news, but still, they panicked. They closed the doors and shuttered in fear. It was a natural and very human response to the trauma they experienced.

I feel like I am fairly familiar with the experience of panic. Some people suffer from depression, others experience insomnia, but my default dysfunction of choice is anxiety. When I began at First Christian in Paris, TN, I felt a bit like a captain driving a boat with a hole in it. Church attendance my first few Sundays was 40 people or less. Discussions had been shared about if the church would have to close it doors. I learned there physical signs of when I was feeling especially anxious. And I learned there the absolute necessity of prayer, exercise, and only one cup of caffeinated coffee a day. Because I did not want to lead that church in a state of panic, but the temptation was there nearly daily.

So I didn’t actually figure out the whole anxiety thing until about my third year. In an attempt to make things better I began running with a church member, started a more disciplined practice of prayer, and began a strict rule of no caffeine past noon. My experience was that the peace of Christ was not just a spiritual phenomenon, but a physical one. Things not only in my life, but in the life of my church changed. At a fundraiser this past week, I saw some of my former church members, a couple who were one of the faithful forty there when I arrived, and nearly the first thing they told me, with these huge smiles on their faces, was, “There were 200 people at church last Sunday!”

Inviting the peace of Christ into our lives changes everything.

I’m reading a book called The Emergent Church by Phyllis Tickle who is a sociologist of religion. She has this theory that the church (and most religious movements) undergoes a reformation every 500 years. If we look back about 500 years, we will find the Protestant Reformation- the breeding ground for it was the printing press, and a change in political and religious authority.

Tickle suggests that we are in the midst of another reformation of the church. We all know that church attendance is down and increasing numbers of Americans identify themselves as “nones” meaning they claim no religious affiliation. There is a hole in the boat of what we know the church to be. And what I love about what Tickle says is that it isn’t good or bad, it just is. The Protestant Church will not die, but it is in the process of reforming itself.

But so often, when there is a hole in the boat, our reaction is panic. Lock the doors, hide your fear by keeping things the exactly the same, make more rules, preserve order.

But the locked doors did not stop Jesus from entering. And while I would imagine that he would be pretty disappointed in his disciples behavior- that they fell into their neuroses the moment Jesus was gone, instead of greeting them with a scolding, he offers them a blessing, “Peace be with you.”

It would have been customary for him to greet them with peace, but to say it twice, indicates there is more going on. Kathryn Huey points out, Jesus “first words to the disciples were not fear, scolding or turmoil, they were only peace.”

And I wonder if these words might not have been a greeting nor a blessing, but rather a command. Like when Jesus goes fishing with his disciples, and a storm comes. The writer of Mark says that Jesus “rebuked” the wind and said to the sea “Peace! Be still!” It was no mild blessing, but a command to change. Jesus told his followers then and he commands us now that even when there is a hole in the boat, our call is not panic, but peace.

William Sloane Coffin says that the primary task of the church is to try and think straight. I love being your minister because it seems that amidst this reformation, we have received the blessing and command of Christ to peace, and so we have flung open the doors of the church welcoming the hurt and brokenhearted, taking seriously worship and prayer, staying calm even amidst a lot of change.

The Coast Guard instructor who taught Willie’s licensing course told him, “no matter what goes wrong on the boat, there is always a way to fix it, you just have to stay calm enough to figure it out.” Willie stayed calm enough that day to find a temporary solution- he stuffed rags in the hole so it would be secure enough to make it home. He calmly asked his passengers to put on their lifejackets until they made it back to safety. And they made it back because Willie chose peace instead of panic.

There are moments in our lives that require life jackets. Hurts that cut so deep we wonder if we will survive. Disappointments so great that we can get lost in a sea of despair. Betrayal that leaves scars on our lives that never go away.

I must admit, I don’t know that I agree with that coast guard instructor- sometimes our problems are so big and so real that there isn’t a way to fix it. But there is still this call of Christ to receive the peace of God, to be breathed on by the Holy, to live our sometimes hectic and unsettled lives, firmly planted in the peace of God.

I don’t know what holes might be in your boat today. But I do know that we worship a God whose first words after the agony of the cross, are, “peace be with you.” As followers of Christ, we are commanded to live in a posture of peace not panic.

May you experience the breath of God, fully, today and live into both the command and the promise of the peace that God offered then and God offers now.

 

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