Rev. Drew Stockstill
Fruit of the Spirit: Peace
July 24, 2022 Rev. Drew Stockstill
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you. 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.”
This week on our walk through the orchard where the fruit of the spirit grows, we are tasting the fruit of peace. We began with the fruit of love. You can taste a bit of love in all the Fruits of the Spirit. The fruit of Peace, Paul says, surpasses human understanding, it’s beyond what we can wrap our minds around, and yet, peace is a most precious gift God has given us.
We just heard in the gospel reading, that Jesus told us, before he was killed, that he would leave his peace with us, that he would give his peace to us. His peace is our protector – a sacred, wonderful gift. After Jesus died, and after he rose again, he appeared to his disciples when they were all in this locked room, terrified, filled with grief and worry and fear. The first thing he said was, “Peace be with you.” Then, after he let them examine his body, he said it again, “Peace be with you.” Thomas was the only disciple who wasn’t in that locked room that day, so a few days later, Jesus showed up to him too. Know what the first thing he said to Thomas was? “Peace be with you.” When Jesus showed up to his worried and grief-filled disciples, he spoke peace to them, he blessed them with the gift of peace. It’s the same gift he wants to bless you with today: the sweet fruit of peace. Jesus’ gift turns our worry into peace. Jesus’ gift embraces grief with peace. Jesus’ gift transforms despair into hope with peace.
Peace appears in the very beginning of the Bible, in the book of Genesis. In the OT peace is the Hebrew word, “Shalom”. Shalom was a pretty common greeting in the times of the Bible, kind of like, “Hey, how ya doing? Hope you’re doing well.” In Hebrew, shalom has a broad meaning. Shalom refers to a state of wholeness or completeness. If today, as a nation, we are as divided as folks say, we aren’t at peace because we aren’t whole. If we were one, united, on the same page, we’d feel like we have shalom, peace. Does it feel like you have peace? Paul said, the fruit of the spirit is peace. Jesus said, “My peace, I give to you.” We have it, friends, peace; at least, God has given it to us. Whether we receive God’s peace, that’s another thing.
I think it’s safe to say, the citizens of the United States are not great at receiving God’s gift of peace. Imagine, it’s Christmas morning and the thing you’ve been praying for, the thing you’ve been dreaming about, the thing you’ve put on every list and circled in every catalog, well, it’s the thing God has given to you. You unwrap it and it’s PEACE!!! And God is beaming at you in your footy pajamas, waiting to see your reaction to the peace you’ve always wanted – internal, world peace, it’s here and all you have to do is take it out and play with it, enjoy it, put it on, wrap up in it, peace. You’re friend calls. “What did you get for Christmas? Oh yeah, God gave me that too.” Turns out we all got the same thing and God is waiting to see what we do with this peace we’ve been given, a big smile on his face. And what do we do with peace? “Oh, this again, I’d rather have an iPhone where I can get on Facebook and then get banned.” “Gee, thanks, peace? I’d rather watch the news.” “Peace, wow, no, I love it, I’ll probably play with it later, but first I’m going to sit here and imagine all the ways things can go wrong and have gone wrong in the past. Actually, God, I appreciate the thought, but could I get the receipt for the peace you got me? I think I’ll exchange peace for worry, guilt, shame, outrage, frustration, and just general existential despair.”
Peace may be our hearts’ greatest desire and God’s favorite gift to give us, and yet it seems a most challenging gift for us to actually receive. Maybe that’s why shalom was the constant greeting in the old days, people need to be reminded that it was something they want and something they can have at a personal level, a community level, and a global level. Shalomcan mean the absence of war and conflict, something you’d get a Nobel prize for. But it can also mean personal or communal welfare, well-being, quiet, to have tranquility, and contentment. You have shalom when you are not overwhelmed by stress, but can manage it because you know God is with you and all things will work together for good, and you can take a deep breath and feel at peace. We have shalom as a city when there is greater fairness, when young folks feel hopeful about the future and the adults in the community are working together for their good, for their education, for their wellbeing, and not when we continue to have young people shot and killed right outside our church. God commanded us through the prophet Jeremiah, “Search for the shalom of the city where I have placed you…pray to God for it, and in the city’s shalom you will also find shalom.” Our shalom, our peace and well-being are united to the shalom of Harrisburg. We have some searching to do for the peace of this city.
Thinking about all that stands in the way of peace, it sometimes gets me to worrying. There’s so much hurt, so much violence. How can we face the struggles, both in the community, and even in our own lives, and also enjoy peace? Jesus invites us to peaceful discipleship, not anxiety and worry. Paul, who wrote out the Fruit of the Spirit, wrote in another letter to the Philippians and said, “The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Prayer is the antidote to worry, prayer is the pathway to peace. Peace isn’t something we can just make ourselves feel, it’s beyond our understanding. But when we take time in prayer, particularly when our prayers are ones of silence, to listen to God, and thanksgiving, where we name to God all that we are grateful for, then in these practices of prayer God’s peace, which goes beyond what we can imagine, reframes our worries, God’s peace soothes our stresses. Paul says, God’s peace actually guards our hearts and minds against the stresses of this life that we may more confidently and more peacefully face whatever is before us.
And, y’all, it’s OK to step back, to take a breath, to ground yourself in peace when you are getting stressed, exhausted, filling with despair. Boundaries are necessary to maintain our peace. Jesus got away from his people to maintain his peace and connection with God. God mandated that we take one day of sabbath for rest, for peace. That is a boundary built into creation, a boundary in the Ten Commandments. Sabbath is the OG self-care. When we practice Sabbath, holy boundaries, step away from the news and the internet from time to time, take a break from the caregiving, take time to rest and restore and reconnect with God, God’s Holy Spirit nourishes us with the sweet fruit of peace. God’s peace, which is beyond our understanding, outside our control, will guard our hearts and our minds so we may with shalom, with “energy, intelligence, imagination, and love,” truly care and carry out the life and ministry God has blessed us with.
My grandmother and her siblings down in GA use to love to sing this old hymn, that says, “When peace like a river attendeth my way; When sorrows like sea billows roll, Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.” That is the fruit of peace. When we are enjoying the fruit of peace and life is just rolling along, sweet as a gentle river, peaceful as can be, we can say, “it is well with my soul.” It’s well with me, I have shalom. But when we have the peace of Christ as an anchor in our lives, then even when sorrows like sea billows rolls, that is when we are facing heartbreaks, stress upon stress upon stress like crashing waves, even then, the peace of Christ anchors us in the storm. Even in the hardest times we can also say, this is a hard time, this is a really tough time, and yet, by the grace of God, “It is well, it is well with my soul.” It’s well with me, I have shalom. And as a people, a community, a church, when we come together it is certainly for prayer and praise of God, but also to share the peace of Christ, to encourage each other, to remind each other what sweet gift from God we have, that we may say in good times and in hard, whether we feel it or we are trusting that God will restore it we can say, in all times, by the grace of God, “It is well with our soul.” Say it with me: “it is well, it is well with my soul.”