Perfecting Peace: “The Peace Which Surpasses All Understanding”
Rev. Sandy Johnson
October 30, 2016
We began a series, Perfecting Peace two weeks ago with a message about Christ, our Prince of Peace. We learned that it is Christ who is our peace, not the world, not our bank accounts, not our shoe collections, or our fancy automobile. It is Christ alone who is our peace, the Prince of Peace.
Last week many of you worshipped together on our property, led by our lay leaders. Thank you to Pat, Julian and Linda and everyone who participated in making laity Sunday a success. I loved seeing the photos of us worshipping together outdoors.
Today we will examine the “peace that surpasses all understanding.” How can we get it? And how we can share it with others.
Next week, we have the peacemakers, those who are known to be blessed, right? At least that is what Jesus tells us in Matthew 5. I hope also next week to tie in our responsibility as members of our society, to take an active role in peacemaking through the power we are given in democratic process.
Then we will end the series on November 13, as we learn about “peace on earth?” What that looks like – is it only an impossible dream? In the weeks to come I hope that we will come away with a revived sense of purpose and commitment to our faith, and that we would be peacemakers and change agents. Let’s begin with a prayer. Would you pray with me?
Gracious Lord, I submit to you this message and ask that the words I speak would be pleasing to you O Lord. Amen.
John Wesley, the founder of our Methodist faith traveled by boat from England to American in 1736. As you can imagine, in those days the transatlantic voyages were fraught with danger, as storms could come upon them at any time. They didn’t have the sophisticated equipment they do now to avoid bad weather, nor did they have vessels that were as seaworthy as our modern day cruise ships.
Traveling by ship from Europe took a great deal of fortitude; it was not for the weak or faint of heart. Many thousands of immigrants risked life and limb to make the voyage, as did our founder, John Wesley. Wesley kept a diary throughout his life which gives us great insight into his character and more importantly, his faith development.
It was on Sunday, January 25, 1736 that Wesley witnessed for himself the peace described in Philippians 4:6-7. You see a storm had hit the travelers, a severe, life-threatening storm. The sea came over the bow of the ship and the main-sail was broken to pieces, water covered the decks. Wesley said it was “as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming began among the English.” They were terrified; certain they were about to die.
But next to the English sat the German’s, Moravians by faith tradition and they were singing calmly together. Wesley was stunned by the contrast of the people – some terrified and screaming in agony and the others, calmly praying and worshipping God. He asked them if they weren’t afraid. They assured him that they were not afraid, they trusted in God and were not afraid to die. They had the peace of Christ firmly planted within them. The type of peace that can’t be explained by earthly means. The peace that even and especially in the midst of a literal storm of life, they were able to be calm, trusting in God for their future.
This experience with the Moravians impacted John Wesley and he sought to find this peace, to experience the faith that these folks had demonstrated so vividly. I would venture to guess that most of us, hearing this story would also wish to imitate them. Wouldn’t life be grand if we were able to accomplish this level of peace? A peace that is virtually unexplainable. Peace that is a pure gift of God.
Think of a time when perhaps you should have been freaking out, but were enveloped in a complete and lasting peace. Can you think of a time? I can think of several. When I was in labor with my oldest son, Calvin. We were having a very difficult time and the doctor wasn’t sure we would be able to deliver him naturally. He asked me to rest for 30 minutes then he would take me into the delivery room and one way or another Calvin would be born.
I can remember resting – there was no way I could sleep! – but laying on the bed, I talked to God. I asked God to bring my son into the world in whatever way he needed, so that he would be born healthy and well. In those moments I felt peace and knew that it was all going to work out, in God’s perfect plan.
I was young in my faith and although I received God’s grace that day, it would be years later before I would wholly and completely surrender myself to God. I spent many years trying to use our morning’s scripture to my benefit, desperate to discover that peace again. I figured I could use this scripture like a formula, if you do this and this, then you get this. If I pray enough and am thankful enough, then I will find peace.
I tried religiously to work the formula. Trying to get God to honor my prayers and bring peace to my life. Dammit! That’s what I wanted, why wasn’t he giving it to me! All that happened was more chaos and anxiety. It seemed that I couldn’t pray enough, I couldn’t exhibit enough thankfulness and peace continued to alluded me.
The problem was I was looking for an immediate solution, I wanted my God-pharmacist to hand over the Xanax and my anxiety would be gone. I wanted the peace to flood over me, but wasn’t willing to do the work to receive it. The problem is, God isn’t a formula, he isn’t interested in a transaction, he wants a relationship. Our scripture is about a relationship, knowing and trusting God.
We must turn to the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ himself, and hear his words when he says that we are not to be anxious. Anxiety comes when we are far from God, we must recognize that the Lord is near. (I’m not talking about clinical anxiety. I’m talking about our self-imposed anxiety when we wrongly think that our way is the only and right way and we get anxious that God won’t do what we ask.) Our scripture says “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.”
The emphasis in the scripture changes from how we are to pray, to the reality that God has come near; he hears us, he is with us and he wants to bring us peace. But we let fear come between us. Imagine that you are stepping into a dark alley. It’s late at night, you’re all alone and it’s dark, I mean really dark. You can’t see the end of the alley and you’re frightened even to think about entering. How is that feeling changed when standing at the entrance of the dark alley, you look down and see that you’re holding onto someone’s hand. Someone you love and trust. The fear ebbs away and confidence grows. Imagine that it is Christ who is holding your hand.
We must reach out and accept the hand that is offered, to experience the peace that Christ offers. It is when we receive Christ, that peace is planted firmly within us. It is nurtured through our relationship with him and a willingness on our part to trust and obey. Trusting and obeying doesn’t mean that all of our problems will go away, but it does mean that we will be given just what we need, when we need it.
Think about the manna that God provided to the Israelites in the wilderness. God taught them (and us) that he is present, he is always doing something, even when we can’t see it. God is not a passive bystander. He provides what we need, no more no less. When we learn to trust God in all things, trust that he will provide for us, we step closer to his everlasting and overwhelming peace.
Scripture says that we are to give our worries to God, in prayer and supplication, and in doing so the peace of God, the kind that will blow your mind, that peace surpasses all understanding, will be experienced, guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Then it continues that “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”
Through surrender, through the complete handing over of our messy selves to Christ, we can begin to experience peace. We must humble ourselves, we must give up control and give God room to work. We must stop asking God to bless our ideas, our plans, our requests and ask God what he wants for us and in doing so we agree to do what he asks. That is surrender, that is where the peace comes from.
The things that God calls us to focus on, things honorable, true, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, things of excellence; these are the things that God will honor and bless. Wrong motives and impure hearts will never garner God’s blessings, no matter how much we pray for it to be so. We must concede our way to the Lord’s way. We must find that place where we can know, I mean really know, down to our toes know, that Christ’s agenda is far superior to our own. We must give up being in control and trust God to take the reins. Not some of the time, when we’re drowning and throw him a rope, but all the time, in stormy weather and sunny days. We must humble ourselves, putting God’s will before our own.
Peter says that we are to “humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt us in due time.” We are to “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” When we get the courage to let go, and give God what he’s asking for, we have to first know that we are safe doing so. God loves us more than we can fathom, his love for us is indescribable. Giving up our self-reliance and trusting God for our wellbeing is the beginning of peace.
I see this happening especially now with the future of our property. We have had a plan for years and for years have asked God to bless it. We have accomplished some, we own the property, but now I think we have to ask ourselves if it is God’s plan or our plan, to put a building on that property. I believe that God wants us to have our own space, God wants us to have a center where we can extend the hands and feet of Christ to our neighbors, I’m just not sure that the only option is the property we own on Utah and Adams. I know that when we surrender to His will for our church location that He will work mightily!
We have already begun to question, to seek Him and to step out of our own way and allow God to be God. Humble thy self in the sight of the Lord, the song goes. Humility is achieved when we put our anxieties on God, when we trust that he has our back. When we tap into that peace that surpasses all understanding, we will attract others to us, they won’t be able to stay away from the peace that resonates from us.
We have heard about God’s supernatural peace, one that comes over us in times of crisis, times of surrender, or times of trial. It is during these trials that we have the opportunity to draw closest to Christ. It is when we get to the end of our rope and we realize that the only hope for ourselves is to let go and allow God to catch us, to bathe us in his grace. The “peace that surpasses all understanding” is a gift we receive from the Holy One, when we accept His way as the only way. Amen