Monday, August 27, 2012

Sermon for 8/12/12--Trinity 10

Knowing What Makes for Peace

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The deepest longing of the human heart is for peace.  And that is really the same thing as saying that our deepest longing is for God Himself.  St. Augustine put it this way: “Our souls were made for Thee, O God, and they find no rest until they rest in Thee.”  Peace was the condition of our first parents in paradise before they fell into sin and set this world into chaos.  And peace is where the faithful of Christ are heading, because there is nothing in heaven that will upset the peace of eternity.  In the meantime, however, peace is not a word that we would often use to describe our present condition.  Life is anything but peaceful.  It is disturbed all too often by disappointment and regret, by pain and grief, and we know too well that the storms that “rock our boats” are often of our own making.  Instead of peace, we have opted for chaos.  Instead of God, we have chosen ourselves.

It is enough to make a man cry, which is just what Jesus did.  He wept because He knew what could have been, and what should have been; and He knew what now would be.  Jerusalem, the holy city, had chosen the way of wickedness.  Instead of peace with God, she had chosen to turn God away at the gate by rejecting the very Messiah He had promised.  She did not know the things that made for her peace.  How much of this description fits the Church today? How well does it describe us as individual Christians?  Do we know the things that make for our peace?

Christ gives Himself and His peace to us in particular ways.  He gives to His Word the power to do more than merely inform but to give us the fruits of His peace made with the Father in heaven for us: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.  In Holy Baptism our sin is drowned in the death of Christ, and we are pulled out of those waters into a newness of life that is full of the peace of God which surpasses all understanding; so far beyond our understanding that we often fail to realize that it is there.  In the Sacrament of our Savior’s body and blood we are given the remission of our sins, and there is nothing more conducive to a godly peace than to know that our sins have been taken away.  These are all simple things really: Word, and water, and bread and wine.  These are things we can hear, feel, and taste.

But there is also a complexity behind these things that defies our understanding and tests our faith.  What is in the mind of God?  Why would He do what He has done, and say what He has said?  When we question God’s ways, we question God Himself.  And we have all done this.  We have questioned God’s timing in taking a loved one from us.  We cannot seem to get it though our heads that there is a profound peace that is given in the death of a Christian; he is now with Christ forever.  We have questioned God’s wisdom in putting us where we are in this life.  We fail so often to see that all of life is a gift from His hands, and thus is a part of the peace He offers.  But often, all we see is a difficult job with difficult people, or children who test not only our patience but our sanity, or those many circumstances over which we have absolutely no control.  And, sadly, what frequently happens is that peace with God is broken.  We forget what makes for our peace.  We let our fear and frustration, our pettiness and anger, get in the way of God pouring out His peace on us in measures we would never expect.  We forget that the peace of God does surpass all understanding, and that it is present wherever Christ is with His grace and His gifts. But we tend to come at such things the opposite way.  If only we can understand something, then we will be able to accept it.  If only I can understand why this death occurred, then I will be able to accept it.  If only I can understand why these terrible circumstances have hit me now, then I will be able to accept them.

But that is not the way God works with us, nor is it the way He works with His Church.  We are called to faith first; then understanding, as much as we are able, will follow.  It is only when we first believe God’s Word of promise to us that it begins to make sense to us.  It is only when we believe that water joined with the Word of God cleanses us from all sin that we will begin to understand, as much as we able, how powerful the ongoing blessing of Holy Baptism really is.  It is only when we believe that our Lord Jesus Christ gives us His very body and blood with the bread and wine for the remission of sins that we will begin to understand, as much as we are able, that this blessed Sacrament is “the medicine of immortality,” as early Christians loved to call it, the food of eternal life.  It is only when we know that God has made peace with us, through the blood of Jesus Christ, that we will begin to understand what makes for our peace.  It is only when we know that God has visited us in Jesus Christ, His dear Son, that we will begin to understand that He continues to visit us in His Word and His Sacraments, that He gives us Himself there; that He is really present with us when we gather in His house of worship and prayer to receive the gifts He has invited us to receive.  It is only when we know that this same visitation of grace is what sustains and strengthens us in the midst of grief, and pain, and suffering, that we will begin to see the gracious hand of God in everything, even in that grief, and pain, and suffering.

And when we know and accept these things, then we will begin to understand one other thing of supreme importance.  When peace has been broken, when sin has brought its stain into our lives, God is also in the business of restoration.  And He restores peace in the very same way He makes peace; He gives, and gives, and gives beyond our understanding.  Even as He gave His own Son into death for the sins of this world, He continues to pour out the gifts of this salvation for the life of the world.  He continues to visit this world with His peace and will until the end of days, until He has restored His peace to all His people, that they might have it unto eternal life.  In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

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