Sermon: Emory UMC April 23, 2023*
Text: John 14:27.
Thank you for the privilege of speaking to you about the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ, who said,
“Peace I leave you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
Most often when we consider peace we think of “tranquility,” “harmony”—maybe “rest.” But Jesus spoke the words of our text soon after he had eaten a last meal with the disciples and shared that he was going to be betrayed by one of them to the authorities. Within hours he would be arrested, he told the disciples. And then he would be killed. And it was at that point, just hours before Jesus was in fact arrested, placed on trial, mocked, stripped, whipped, dehumanized, hung on a cross, (but having foretold what was to happen) that he said, “My peace I give to you.”
The Lord’s peace is clearly of a different kind. There is turmoil, dissension, and hurt in our society and too often in our lives. But before we spend a few minutes this morning reflecting more deeply on the Lord’s peace, let’s bow our heads in prayer.
The Lord’s peace is of a different kind. Let me offer an analogy that makes sense to me.
Thirty-five or forty years ago, my brother John, Dad, and I were fishing on lake Marion north of Charleston, South Carolina. The lake is huge with a shoreline 315 miles long and a basin of more than 170 square miles. In the 1930s when the Santee and Cooper rivers were dammed for the creation of hydroelectric power for the low country, some sea bass who had come upriver for spawning were trapped. And cut off from the Atlantic, those bass mutated into wonderful freshwater game fish, especially when they school. People of the area refer to them as Rock Fish.
So, Dad, brother John, and I had pushed off in N aluminum boat with its little 25 horsepower Johnson outboard in search of the fish early morning. And we found them, maybe 30 minutes out. Then, as the day progressed, we kept following the fish, further and further from our campsite. About noon, we saw dark clouds rising from the southeast. The wind had picked up. But, as the barometric pressure falls, the fish school and feed more; so, the fishing was good. And even knowing better, John, Dad, and I stayed with it until around 1:30 or 2:00, when we could no longer ignore the angry clouds. The wind was gusting, and we could see lightning a few miles away. So, we started heading back.
But we had drifted too far and waited too long. Our boat was too slow. About ten minutes from shore the rain caught us, lashing down in sheets. That Johnson motor was open full throttle. But to no avail. The afternoon had become like dusk. And then maybe thirty meters from shore, the little outboard coughed and sputtered. The waves pounded. The thunder was earsplitting. The wind sounded like a locomotive. The pines off the shore were buckling. Lightning lit the skies overhead. We had a paddle and John paddled while Dad bailed water and I frantically coaxed the motor. My sweet Dixie, the children, Mama, my sister Suzanne had gathered at water’s edge, waving for us to hurry. Anxiety blanched their faces. And we were pushing with all our worth toward the safety of shore.
“My peace I give you. Not as the world gives, I give. Let not your hearts be troubled; neither be afraid.Our Lord’s peace, I submit, is like racing full throttle in the eye of a storm.
Suzanne Reed and Renato.
One of our students at Emory & Henry in the late 1990s was a young man from overseas, Renato Nascimento. Maybe some of you remember him. Today Renato is married with two beautiful daughters and does well in life as the owner/operator of a Chick-fil-A in Kissimmee, Florida, right close to the entrance of Disney World. But when he arrived in Emory as an 18-year-old he struggled. At the end of the first semester, it wasn’t at all clear that he would make it.
One of the persons Renato most credits with helping him is Dr. Suzanne Reed. Suzanne just wouldn’t let Renato fail. She worked tirelessly improving his level of English. She helped him with customs and homesickness; persuaded him to concentrate on his studies; helped get him a job; arranged a place for Renato to stay over breaks. I love Suzanne’s grit, her spirit.
But something else about Suzanne: As many here know, she is physically disabled. She tried not to show it to Renato and the rest of us, but Suzanne in the 1990s lived with tremendous pain. And there were other storms in her life too. I once was at a restaurant with Suzanne and Robin, her husband, when inexplicably to me at that moment, Robin became confused. His eyes glazed over and within moments he fell to the floor, sweating and shaking. Robin is diabetic, you see, and had gone into hypoglycemic shock. But Suzanne knew what to do. She raised Robin’s head so he could sip some fruit juice. The danger of coma passed. Suzanne was Robin’s rock. (And Suzanne had other storms in her life.)
You and I don’t have Suzanne’s storms in our lives. It would have been easy for her, disabled, suffering pain, with other worries and responsibilities to just let that 18-year-old foreign student slip through the cracks. But no. Suzanne was full throttle in the eye of the storm with her love. “My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, I give to you.”
Renato and Orphans in Haiti.
One of the arrangements Suzanne made for Renato was for him to complete his Religion course requirement with me. That allowed him to complete his Bible survey course readings in Portuguese. Renato passed the course but as mentioned, he was struggling in those days and, as far as I perceived then, read only what was required.
But God works in mysterious ways, and thirteen years later Renato was a great Bible reader. And it was during one of his devotional times, as he tells it, while battling to find the greater purposes of life that he felt a deep need to go to Haiti. Now, Renato had no connection to Haiti, mind you. This occurred soon after that small nation had been struck (January 2010) by an earthquake that killed perhaps as many as 300,000 Haitians. So, claiming his vacation time from the financial institution he was working with then, Renato put together a team with a couple of medical doctors, some builders and business associates, and traveled to Haiti to help rebuild an orphanage. Renato described the condition of the country: there was hunger and sickness everywhere; homelessness; looting; violence. Fires burning. It was a struggle to find drinking water. The small team worked on the orphanage and were able to provide beds for the children and rebuild the kitchen. Renato shared pictures of his work and being hugged all at once by a dozen or more children with smiling faces. Renato said of his experience that helping those orphans was one the most important things he had done in his life. The little that he was able to help was dwarfed by what he received in return.Renato found deep peace there. Christians live in order to serve. But on closer examination, it is in caring for others that we find our deep self—life, and life in abundance.
Not all of us have Renato’s means to help those ravaged by storms. But every one of us has been given the talent to love. A few years ago, Anita Coulthard and I bumped into each other in the mail room in the basement of Wiley Hall. And Anita, as sometimes she did, took the opportunity to request prayer, not for herself, but for someone that was dear to her and that she was worried about. This was so much like Anita. The apostle Paul on occasion referred to Christians as saints, and you and I had a saint who lived among us in Anita. She strove full throttle for others.
Anita understood that like reading the Bible, prayer is significant to the Christian life. After Jesus spoke to the disciples calming their fears, passing on his peace, in the passage of our text, he prayed for them; and then he prayed for the church—that is for us (John 17). [Paraphrase: “I do not pray for these only, but for all who through their words trust in my ways. I pray that they be one” (vs. 20).]
My grandmother Ethel was a person of prayer. Now, my father was in the Merchant Marine during WW II, for four years on munition ships in the North Atlantic and Pacific. I inherited the Bible Grandmother would read nightly during those days her son (my father) was at war, and the margins are filled with notes and prayers. As you might imagine that is a precious Bible to me.
Grandmother died of cancer in 1948 at the age of fifty-nine. I was just a few months old at the time but have pieced together her last days. Grandmother was bedridden. My Aunt Agnes and family had traveled two days by train to be with her in those last weeks. The visit had revived Grandmother, so Agnes and family stretched their stay longer. But then, they couldn’t delay. There were duties. And then also, Agnes was pregnant with what would be her third son. It was late in her pregnancy and Aunt Agnes had already at that time suffered two miscarriages. It was a hard goodbye. Aunt Agnes said that last she saw her mother’s eyes, was when Grandmother raised up from her pillows and kissed her. The cancer made even whispering painful. Grandmother smiled and her eyes were shining.
The rest of my story I culled from my grandfather. After Agnes left, Grandmother motioned Grandfather near and told him: “You are going to pray for them to have a good trip, and then I am going to pray.” It was the last audible prayer she prayed, praying that God would help her daughter and family on their trip home. Then Grandmother said to my grandfather, “Now, Father, we are going to sing ‘God be with you till we meet again.’” Grandmother was racing full throttle in the storm of pain and disease. That was the last song Grandmother sang on earth. Her last prayer and song were about her concern for other people.
Conclusion: The Greatest Story.
“My peace I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled.” My last illustration is my best and most important one. It concerns a man named Jesus who was the son of a woman from the tiny village of Nazareth. When he was full grown, this Jesus had followers and fed multitudes. It is recorded that his friend Peter referred to him as a mighty prophet, anointed by the Holy Spirit, who went about doing good.
But he had enemies, and they decided to get rid of him. “He has got to go,” they said. The lightning flashed, and the thunder was loud. Day turned to night. “We’re going to get rid of him,” they said. And Jesus had to carry a cross up a hill. We can picture some women crying with tears streaming down their cheeks. The innocent man was going to be crucified, they whispered. Jesus stopped. “Don’t cry for me,” he said. His look would have been tender. “Cry for yourselves and your children.”
We can see Jesus nailed to the cross, exclaiming, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” As life ebbed from him, he could have felt sorry for himself. He was in such pain—agony! But no, he looked down and saw his friend, John, and his mother, Mary, and he told them, “John, you look after Mama, and Mama, you look after John. Let him be to you a son.” This was Jesus full throttle in the eye of the storm.
And the man on the cross next to Jesus, recognizing how unusual this man was, his greatness, called out to him, “Sir, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And fixing his eyes on him, Jesus replied, “This very day, I’ll be there, and you will be there too with me.”
Forgetting the self; concentrating on loving others; racing full throttle through the eye of the storm— “Peace, I leave you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives, I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid”?
* I want to thank the Emory United Methodist Church for inviting me to preach in celebration of my retirement. The topic of the sermon should be credited to the much beloved Reverend Will Rogers.
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