Peace like a river. Holy Pentecost 2014.
St. Peter Lutheran Church, Joliet, Illinois
St. John 14:23-31
June 8, 2014
“Peace Like a River”
There was a river that had its source in the garden of Eden. From there it branched into four different rivers. Because of this river, Eden was well-watered, lush with fruit and blooms bursting with scent. It was the garden of the Lord.
Into this paradise God placed man.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God. It has its source in the throne of God and the Lamb, and it flows through the middle of the Holy Christian Church, clear as crystal. It is the river of the water of life. It makes the city of God bloom with spiritual, heavenly blossoms, fruit, spices. It produces rich crops of gladness, joy, and peace.
We are planted in this paradise when we are baptized.
The water of life proceeding from the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit. He is living water that becomes a bubbling spring welling up to eternal life in everyone who drinks of Him. He streams from the Father and the Son to us in the word of Jesus. Through the Holy Spirit the Father and the Son make their home in everyone who keeps Jesus’ word.
What is this word that everyone who loves Jesus keeps? It is His word of peace.
Jesus preached peace. Mary’s relative Zechariah prophesied about Him before His birth that He would “guide our feet into the way of peace.” At His birth the angels sang, “Peace on earth, goodwill to men.” Simeon, when He took up the newborn Jesus in his arms said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace.”
Jesus came to preach peace with God. He is “wonderful, counselor, Mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Jesus sends peace to the city of God like a river; He sends the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit brings to remembrance Jesus’ word of peace.
“The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit,” St. Paul writes in Romans chapter 14. But often righteousness, peace, and joy seem to be in short supply in the Church.
Do people lack peace in the church?
What is it that causes the restlessness and anxiety that seems to characterize so much of our lives?
Why are we so busy? Why do we never seem to have enough money? Why are we so quick to judge other people, and why do we spend so much energy worrying about how other people judge us? Why do we spend so much of our energy meditating on our irritations, our hurt pride, our resentments?
Jesus knows what the real cause of our lack of peace is. It is that people are not at peace with God.
Even if “being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1), we often do not experience peace with God. It’s because to the extent that our sinful flesh is still with us, we don’t trust God.
But how can we be at peace with God? In His law He tells us that He can’t be at peace with sinners. In His law He threatens to punish all who break His commandments. And we are constantly breaking His commandments, turning away from Him in unbelief and fear to the idols we make in our hearts. That’s the reason we find comfort in our gadgets and games and toys and all the comforts our modern world provides for our flesh, but we often find little comfort in God’s Word. We find ourselves at church singing, “Lift up your hearts,” “We lift them to the Lord,” but find it nearly impossible to get our hearts off the ground.
“Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” If God’s dwelling with us is conditional on our keeping His commandments we can never have peace with Him. That’s the reason why after His resurrection Jesus found His disciples locked in a room, hiding, despondent and depressed. They had not kept Jesus’ words even though they had wanted to. They had denied Him. And we find ourselves in the same place over and over. Peace with God that is conditioned on our keeping His commandments is out of our reach.
Jesus knew that this is how it is for us, so He came to give us peace that cannot be taken away. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you,” He said to His disciples. As if to say: The peace I have with the Father because I always do what pleases Him—I leave it behind to you. And instead I will go and take your lack of peace with God, your unbelief, your anxiety, your agony, your bloody sweat, your thirst, your unanswered prayers, your tears.
Jesus knew that not even His perfect obedience to the law of God in our place would be enough for us to have peace with God and keep it. He also had to pay the penalty for our sins, so that they would no longer remain an outstanding debt hanging over us. Not only for our willful sins, but for the mistrust of our hearts that pours out of us like the bloody sweat poured from Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.
“The ruler of this world is coming,” Jesus said. “He has nothing in me.” Yet Jesus allowed Satan to condemn Him so that all your outstanding debt would be paid. Including the anxious unbelieving heart in you which does not cling firmly to God’s Word, that comes to the Lord’s table even and leaves wringing its hands, wanting to look at the ledger of our neighbor’s debt or the record book of our own.
Jesus made peace though the blood of His cross for us who have a flesh which St. Paul says (Romans 8) “is hostile to God…[and] does not submit to God’s law. Indeed it cannot…The mind set on the flesh is death.”
But, says Paul, “To be spiritually minded is life and peace.” And the Spirit comes to renew our minds, to remind us of Jesus’ word of peace to us.
He said, “Peace” to his disciples before His death. “My peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you.” But they weren’t able to hold on to that peace. So He returned after His resurrection and spoke peace to them again.
Just so He returns to us in the Gospel, in absolution, in the body and blood of Jesus, and through the Spirit He says “Peace to you.”
“Not as the world gives do I give to you.” Jesus’ peace is unconditional. His mind did not change about it when the disciples denied Him. His mind does not change when we crawl back to church after having fallen shamefully into the same sins. He came and said the same words to His disciples when they were locked up in despair because they had failed. “Peace!” And He showed them His hands and His side. And He comes to us in the Gospel and the body and the blood and through the Spirit says the same thing He said to us when we were baptized, “Peace be with you!” His mind isn’t changed by our sin.
But when Jesus came back to the disciples in the locked room, He gave them something else alongside of His peace, a gift that would enable them to keep hold of His word of peace, to remember it and receive it again and again. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” He said.
The Holy Spirit would remind them of Jesus’ peace. He reminds us of the fixed, firm, certain peace of Jesus. He brings it to us again and again the way a river constantly carries water from its source to plants and people all down its banks.
He reminds us of the good news of peace with God Jesus preached before His death.
He reminds us of the eternal peace He went on to win from all sin by His death, sealed by the imprint of the nails in His body.
By this proclamation of peace through the blood and righteousness of Jesus, the Holy Spirit makes you a paradise, a garden of God. You are bearing heavenly fruit. Not nectarines and mangoes and grapes but fruits nourished only by the heavenly water of life that flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Love, Joy. Peace.
The Holy Spirit brings to remembrance Jesus’ peace, the peace established forever by His death, streaming in the water and the blood from Jesus’ heart. There the conflict between God and you came to an end. There, as Jesus’ body lay still in death, peace poured out like a river to us.
That is the peace that God extends to His church like a river in the Holy Spirit. It is the river that waters the church and makes you a lush garden growing the fruit of heaven—peace, but also joy, love, gentleness, kindness, goodness, self-control.
We see this river flowing through the church in four streams—in the preaching of the Gospel, in the sacrament of Holy Baptism, in the Holy Absolution, and in the Sacrament of the Altar.
In these means of grace the Holy Spirit reminds us of the perfect peace we have with God through Jesus Christ.
“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.”
The world gives to its friends. Jesus gives peace to those who have denied Him. The world gives a limited peace that ends. Jesus gives peace that has no limit. The world’s peace lasts as long as good things on earth last. Jesus’ peace is eternal and flourishes like a garden when earthly good things are taken away. This Eden is found where the tree of the cross grows.
That’s because Jesus’ peace does not have an earthly source. His peace flows from His heart pierced in death for us. It flows from eternity, where the Father planned our redemption and chose us in Christ before the world’s foundation.
And it flows to us in these earthly words, preached and joined to water, bread, and wine, where the Spirit comes to us and makes us His dwelling place, together with the Father and the Son.
Soli Deo Gloria