Rev. Sarah Buteux

May 22, 2022

John 14:21-29, 

Easter 6 Year C

To watch the full service click here. Sermon begins at the 38 minute mark.

 

Geraldine Talley

Celestine Chaney

Roberta Drury

Marcus Morrison

Andrea Mackniel

Aaron Salter

Heyward Patterson

Katherine Massey

Ruth Whitfield

Pearl Young

I’ve been sitting with these names all week; the names of 10 innocent people who were killed last Sunday because it is still so dangerous to be black in America. 

John Cheng

John was a member of the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in California. He died last Sunday because it is dangerous to be Asian too.  

In a country where there are more guns than people, the truth is that it’s dangerous to be anyone at all, but when you combine systemic racism with easy access to firearms, it is people of color who suffer first and suffer most. 

Geraldine, Celestine, Roberta, Marcus, 

Andrea, Aaron, Heyward, Katherine, Ruth, Pearl, 

John. 

Like I said, I’ve been sitting with these names all week; the names of people who didn’t have to die. Not last Sunday. Not like this. 

“Peace I leave with you;” said Jesus,

“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.”

I’ve been sitting with Jesus’ words all week too: the words at the heart of our reading for today, words I probably would have repeated had I been leading the funeral for any one of the beautiful  souls who went out last Saturday for work, for birthday cake, for a celebration at church, and never made it home.

But were I the mother or the child or the partner or the friend or the coworker or the neighbor of any one of these people, if my skin were the same color as Pearl Young’s or Aaron Salter’s, if I lived in Buffalo, if I worshipped at the Taiwanese church in Laguna Woods, I don’t know if I could even stand to hear these words right now.

“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.”

Jesus words can feel like cold comfort in this day and age when peace is in such short supply. I’m not terribly afraid, because I’m white and well resourced. As a well connected, highly educated, white, middle class woman I have a leg up from the get go in this country and a head start if I go to sleep in America and wake up in Gilead, but my heart is troubled. 

I’m looking out at a world wracked by violence and racism and fear and I’m wondering: how this is possible? I’m wondering why things are still so bad and why so many Christians seem intent on only making things worse.

I mean, how can it be, in a world where more than 2 billion people profess to follow in the way of Jesus, that there are still so many who reject his way of love and peace and service? 

How can it be, in this country so full of people who claim to love Jesus, that the evils of white supremacy, misogyny, replacement theory, transphobia, and gun culture – just to name a few – can continue to not just fester but openly thrive…not in spite of the church but often because of it, at the behest of it, with the support of it? 

I mean, what is wrong with people? Why do some people really get it – people like Sojourner Truth, Dorothy Day, Dr. King, Jeff Chu, William Barber, Brene Brown, Lisa Sharon Harper, Harriet Wilson, David Entin, Sue Norton… while so many others really don’t? 

How can we know Christ’s love and peace in this world when there are so many Christians making such a hash of it all in their quest for power and control? 

It’s not a new question. In fact it’s a variation of the question that precipitates Jesus’ words in our scripture for today. We’re deep in Jesus’ farewell discourse during the last supper. He’s telling his disciples that’s he’s going to leave them but they are going to be okay. And yet, they are understandably skeptical. 

The world outside their door is a hostile place. The powers that be who are coming for Jesus are a threat to them too. As men and women of an oppressed race, the disciples are living in a society where their lives do not matter. They are living under the constant threat of violence and they are exhausted and they are scared. 

But you also need to know that this gospel is communicating on two levels. These words about peace are not just Jesus’ attempt to calm the anxiety of his disciples, they are also the gospel writer’s attempt to console the early followers of Jesus for whom he was writing. 

John’s gospel was written about 55 years after Jesus. It was written in the midst of a group of Jewish followers who were being cast out of their families and their synagogues and their communities of faith for persisting in their belief that Jesus was the messiah.  

So when the other Judas asks – “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’ –  you can almost hear the pain of those early Christ followers. Why do we believe in you and your way, when others don’t? Why do I get it, but my mom doesn’t? 

How is it that I see your light, but my brother can’t? How can people of my own faith, my tribe, my family, do so much damage? How can they hurt and reject me like this? Why can’t they see what I see?

“Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’

In Judas’ question I also hear the pain of many in this community who are struggling to stay in relationship with friends and family across the political divide right now. 

How can my uncle go to church and then go home and listen to Tucker Carlson? How can my college roommate call herself a Christian and post such hateful things on Facebook? 

What in the name of Sam Hill would possess a congressman and his family to pose with guns on their Christmas card?

“Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’

And I hear the pain of black Americans and Latinx Americans and Asian Americans and Native Americans who are so tired of waiting for white Americans, but especially white Christians from the far right to the radical left, to wake up to our complicity in the system and do better. 

How can my white friends still be so shocked and surprised when things like this happen? How can they say they care and do so little to change a society that is literally killing people who look like me. Why don’t they say anything at all?

“Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’

Why do some people get it when so many of us really don’t?

What’s telling about Jesus’ answer is that it’s not really much of an answer at all. 

Jesus doesn’t explain why some people see him for who he is and follow him, while others completely miss out on him and his message. Instead, he tells his disciples to stay focused on their own actions.  

“They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; 

Those who love me will keep my word.”

Notice that love here is not a feeling. 

Love is not a confession of faith. 

Love is not asking Jesus into you heart so you can be saved. 

Love is an action… the action of keeping Jesus’ commandments. 

Love is keeping Jesus’ word. 

Last week, because we were in Matthew, Jesus’ word was his sermon on the mount. This week, because we are in John, his words are even more simple and straightforward: 

Serve one another as I have served you (John 13:14). 

Love one another as I have loved you (John 13:34). 

Love one another so much that you would be willing to lay down your life for one another (John15:13).

The way John Cheng laid down his life for the people in his church. 

The way Aaron Salter laid down his life for the people at Tops. 

Love.

Serve.

Value the lives of one another even more than you value your own.

That’s what it looks like to follow Jesus.

I don’t know why some people get it and some people don’t. 

I don’t know how someone can be so radicalized by hate that they would live to kill.

But what I do know, is that you can be so radicalized by love that you would die to save. 

You can be so radicalized by love that you would give of yourself, your life, your time, your resources to make the lives of those around you better.

And friends, therein lies the peace that Jesus is talking about and it’s not the sort of peace our world gives. Because you see Christ’s peace is not a promise of calm or quiet or the security of knowing no one can hurt you. No. 

The peace Christ offers is the knowledge that by the grace of God you can be the calm, the quiet, the one who comes to help not harm. 

To paraphrase Frederick Buechner, the peace of Christ “is not the absence of struggle, but the presence of love” (Wishful Thinking). 

When we love and serve and protect one another, we aren’t just loving Jesus or living like Jesus, Jesus is loving through us and living in us. When we love and serve and protect one another we become bearers of Christ’s peace in this broken world.  

The peace of God, or better yet, the shalom of God, is about so much more than the absence of conflict. The Shalom of God is about seeking wholeness and harmony, the welfare and wellbeing of all. 

It is a way of being that is just as good for me as it is for the people who don’t look like me, love like me, speak like me, believe like me, but are nonetheless, just like me, children of God. 

That is the peace Christ holds out to us. That is the peace Christ offers. And no, it won’t make this world or this country or this church or any one of us safe, but it will make all of us all a little safer as we live it into being. 

In honor and memory of Geraldine, Celestine, Roberta, Marcus, Andrea, Aaron, Heyward, Katherine, Ruth, Pearl, John, and names too numerous to say, I hope that is the sort of peace you and I will know because that is the sort of peace we will embody as we keep finding ways to love, serve, and value all of God’s children, together. Amen.