Sunday, August 28, 2016

Peace here and now...

Rev. Mel Baars O’Malley
First Presbyterian Church Karnes City
May 1, 2016

If given the choice, I don’t often choose the Revelation passage when it comes up in the lectionary. I am happy to leave interpreting its convoluted passages to the scholars and professors. Nonetheless, there are a few passages in Revelation that I do really love. I think I discovered most of them when I was a pastor in South Africa and was called on to preach at funerals. Revelation paints a picture that is quite spectacular. Whether it’s a new earth where there is no more crying or pain or suffering or, as we read today, a city where there is no need for sun or moon to shine on it, but a place where the glory of the Lord illuminates everything and everyone. Besides the obvious savings on electricity bills, which everyone would be grateful for, the prophesy in Revelation describes this light as so spectacular that all the nations walk by it. It is hard to even imagine a time and place where all people, all nations, walk in the light.  It seems like a fantasy especially when you consider that we, even in the church, don’t always walk in the light with any real unity.

In South Africa, where there wasn’t a lot of present hope because so many people were sick and struggling to find work and to make a good life for themselves and their families, it was really easy to focus on the future rather than dwell or even deal with the problems of the present. The government wasn’t going to stop acting corruptly. HIV and AIDS wasn’t going to suddenly cease transmitting. Jobs weren’t going to magically appear and ensure solid wages for everyone who was unemployed. God’s promises were the only real hope there was and we talked about them, longed for them, with our whole hearts.

In the midst of suffering and pain, it is difficult not to give in to the impulse to escape. I have to fight this impulse every time I am called up to a room where a patient is suffering or even dying. I have to struggle myself to stay in the room for a little longer, linger in a place even where it hurts, where I am reminded of my own frailty and humanness, because God is at work here too, in the suffering and tears and pain, and if I escape too quickly I will miss it.

Revelation’s vision is a promise worth celebrating, but I think we have to be careful not to use it as our escape from life, from the complicated and messy gifts that we have in the present moment. Because as I have grown, certainly as a pastor and even more as a person, I have experienced the value of loss and pain, of valleys of darkness. Not that I would ever ask for them to come into my life, but excepting that they will sooner or later, that there is gift there, too.

About a year ago one of my friends from seminary decided that the pastorate is not really where she is called. All the jobs that she has had post seminary have not gone the way that she thought they would go. It’s been a really frustrating road. She has been treated unfairly by pastor bosses and hurt by the church as an institution. What seemed like a worthy and beautiful profession turned out to be a disappointment. So what do most people do when they are not sure what to do next in life… they go to law school. That was for you Greg. But as I have listened to her talk about her hopes and dreams for making a difference, for allowing God to use her life for good, it strikes me that law school isn’t going to make her path any easier. Bosses are still going to be disappointing and institutions, church, government, or anything else, are still going to fall short. Escaping one mess doesn’t mean another mess won’t still come our way.

What strikes me about our gospel reading today is that this disappointing world that we live in is the same reality that Jesus lived and taught and ministered in, too. His was also a world ruled by corrupt government and by people who were only self-interested, who would do anything to protect their way of life, even crucify an innocent man. Jesus knew disappointment first hand. And despite the pain and suffering he experienced, he says to his friends, “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.”

What Jesus isn’t doing here is offering an escape route to avoid the messiness of the world; he isn’t encouraging them to focus on a less painful future or even on the everlasting life that they have been promised. But he is giving them his peace reminding them that his peace is the only thing that can cure a troubled heart, the only thing that can truly cast out fear.

Jesus gives them and he gives us these words of encouragement not so we can avoid pain or detour around the dark valleys, but he speaks this good news so that we can be more ready to endure our lives, the good, the bad, and everything between, with an openness to the joyful gifts as well as the painful ones. It’s peace as you hold your grandchild in your arms for the first time. Peace as the doctor says those dreaded words. Peace when the well runs dry or the job doesn’t work out and peace when it does.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Of course, its hard not to want what the world gives. The advertisements alone paint a tempting picture, a picture that tells us with a few less wrinkles or some miracle cure, all of our troubles will be wiped away. But we also know that even this promise, as good as it seems, will still disappoint us.  

My grandmother used to talk a lot about what we would do when her ship came in. As a little kid, I don’t know if I really understood what that meant, but I knew enough that I should be hoping and praying for that ship because when it did show up life was going to be awesome. But looking back at my memories with her and my aunts and uncles and cousins as I was growing up, I realize now that my life was already awesome, and it is not only because she had an endless supply of dove bars in her freezer. But there was love and wonder and joy accompanied with sadness and disappointment and loss. We were all there together, though, enduring it all, and I have to think that at some point she realized her ship had come a long time ago.

This morning Jesus reminds us of the gift that he has left with us so that we are able to live our lives well. He makes no promises of ease. He doesn’t tell us how to escape or that we just have to hold on until heaven comes, but instead he gives us his peace. It is the gift of the spirit which helps us to keep going when we are tired or afraid; it is the gift which keeps our hearts open and willing to love. This is the good news we have to share in an often disappointing and painful world. Don’t let this crazy election season or news of economic downturn or anything else in the world detract from this. Don’t let it take away your peace. But leave from here ready to share as Jesus did, trusting that this peace will be enough today, tomorrow, and always.  Amen

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