1 John 1:1—2:2; John 20:19-31
The Great Wall of China was first built about 200 years before Christ. A major renovation occurred during the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century. The essential purpose of the wall was to protect the Chinese people from invasion and bring them peace.
But the strength of the defense is only as good as the people doing the defending. In one section of the wall, those forced to build the wall actually rebelled. In the 1600’s the Manchus entered China through gaps in the wall and defeated the Ming dynasty. Military and structural defenses were not enough to secure peace for China.
Ben Franklin taught us all about saving money for a rainy day: A penny saved is a penny earned. And so we saved and invested and put our money in housing because housing values always go up. We thought we were finding peace of mind by having lots of money saved for our future.
But we weren’t counting on the greed of bankers and financial agencies, and even our own tendency to want more than we should have. We believed in the lies that we could have our cake and eat it too, and many of us lost a lot more than we could afford to lose when the market crashed in 2008. We discovered that there is no real peace in financial or real estate assets.
Several times a day, we hear messages on TV and in the newspaper about healthy eating. Drink coffee; don’t drink coffee. Don’t eat butter; butter is better for you than margarine. Count carbs; count calories; count fat. Do yoga; do Pilates; swim; walk 10,000 steps a day. We keep hoping to find the magic way to peace through eating just the right foods, doing just the right exercise.
Our bodies do feel better when we treat them right. But every body is different, and responds differently to food and exercise. Every body has its own DNA coding for the tendency to have cancer or heart disease or diabetes. It’s important to take good care of our bodies, for physical and spiritual reasons; Paul reminds us that our bodies are temples. But just because we treat our bodies well does not mean we will not die; there is no real peace in healthy living.
On the evening of Easter day, Jesus pops into the room where the disciples are. They are all in a muddle, trying to piece together the mystery surrounding Jesus’ death and the report by Mary that she has seen the Lord. On that first night, Thomas the skeptic is not with them.
When Jesus appears, he seeks to calm them down, just as angels do when they suddenly appear. I imagine the pulse and blood pressure of the disciples is soaring, and the adrenaline is pumping. What’s going on here!
“Do not be afraid. Shalom,” Jesus says. “Peace. It really is I, Jesus, the one you know, the one who loves you. See, I can prove it. You can see the wounds. Look at my hands, my feet, my side.”
They look at him and calm down. And Jesus repeats himself. “Peace, shalom. Not the world’s kind of peace, the peace found in military might, or in wealth, or in self-care. But God’s kind of peace, the kind of peace found in eternal life with God. I want you to go into the world and spread my peace everywhere so all people may know their sins are forgiven.”
Martin Luther sought peace. He spent hours confessing every sin he could remember. Just when he thought he had named them all and was leaving the confessional, he remembered more sins, and returned to confess them so he could be absolved of all his sins. He physically abused his body in self-flagellation. He climbed the steps of St. Peter’s on his knees.
Luther hoped to find peace in forgiveness, but could never accept that God really does forgive us. His confessor finally directed him to teach the Bible to others. It was in studying scripture that he discovered Paul’s writings and realized that there was no need to worry.
“God is faithful, and just, and forgives sins. Yes, people sin. If people deny their sinfulness, they are lying to themselves. If people refuse to accept forgiveness, they are saying that God is a liar.”
Suddenly, Luther was on fire – he was forgiven, not because he confessed all his sins, not because he tore the skin off his back with a whip, not because he made a pilgrimage to Rome. He was forgiven because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus! He was forgiven because Jesus promised us that God forgives sins, and God does not lie!
In the certainty of the forgiveness of sins, Luther finally found peace. And he could not keep it to himself. The Church (capital “C” Church) and the world changed because Luther discovered that God forgives sin when we simply confess that we are sinful people and ask for forgiveness for that sinfulness.
For us today, this is still true. There is no real peace to be found in having a strong military; there is no real peace to be found in having a lot of money or stuff; there is no real peace to be found in a certain style of living; there is no real peace to be found in dwelling on our sinfulness or the sinfulness of others.
This week, think about where you find peace. Do a reality check to see if the places where you think you find peace is really where you find peace.
How do you go about getting peace? Do you intentionally spend time with Jesus, and allow the Holy Spirit to strengthen your relationship with God?
When we fail to offer or accept forgiveness, it interferes with our ability to find peace. Do you believe in Jesus’ promises of peace and forgiveness? Do you ask God for forgiveness and then receive it? Do you forgive yourself? Do you forgive others?
The only real peace is found in a relationship with a loving and forgiving God. Jesus happily passes on this kind of peace, this shalom, to all of God’s people. And, he asks us to be his hands and feet and mouth as we share that peace, that shalom, that forgiveness with the rest of the world.
Please pray with me. Forgiving God, we find it so hard to forgive, and so hard to ask for forgiveness. We find it hard to believe that you really do forgive us. We often feel no peace, because we are troubled by this need for forgiveness. Grant us forgiveness and peace in our hearts so that others may be led to you through our own sense of peace and forgiveness. Amen
Sharing the peace in church is not just a time to say hi, or let’s have a cookie after worship. It’s a time to tell each other we want them to have God’s peace in their hearts.