Peace & Music in the Heart
Text: John 14: 27
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.
You may remember that we have been referencing a poem over the past few weeks written by Howard Thurman, an African-American theologian titled “The Work of Christmas”. For those who may be unfamiliar or who have forgotten, let’s take another look at that poem.
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
I have decided that this is the last week of this series and I am combining the last two elements of the work of Christmas; that is to bring peace among the people and to make music in the heart. I believe we can combine them because they seem very closely related to me. Like two sides of the same coin – if you have peace, you will have music in the heart and if you have music in your heart, chances are, you are at peace.
The front half of this service, if you have noticed, has had a theme of peace as it relates to nations and conflicts among people. That is certainly one way to interpret peace; that kind of peace may be expressed as the absence of war or conflict. We speak often of world peace as an ideal we lift up or pray for; that all nations all around the world could simply live in peace.
But if we reference the text I read a few minutes ago, there is another kind of peace that is also worth considering; this peace seems to be a bit more elusive. We know what it means to not be at war, but what did Jesus actually mean when he said he would give us peace? Did he mean that nothing would ever go wrong? I don’t think so. Did he mean we would never get angry or frustrated? I don’t think so. Did he mean that we would never experience hardship or pain, that we would always have plenty of money and food to eat and a roof over our heads? I don’t think so. So the question remains; what did Jesus mean when he said he gives us peace? And on top of that, what does it mean when he says that he gives not as the world gives?
I want to explore some of these questions. They are hard questions, but they are all good questions, and as you may have heard; we think questions are a good thing!
The first thing I want to offer is a fresh way of thinking about personal peace; this is what Jesus is talking about in our text, personal peace, as opposed to world peace or peace of a nation, it is personal peace that Jesus zeros in on. But when we think of personal peace, I believe, that often we think about our external circumstances. In other words, whatever situation we find ourselves in at any given moment helps determine whether or not we will experience personal peace.
If you notice, when we revisit some of the questions I asked just a minute ago, almost all them deal with external circumstances. Did things go right at work? What made us angry or frustrated? Do we have enough money or enough to eat? Are we healthy and free of disease or sickness? You could ask questions like this all day long and most, if not all, deal with external circumstances.
I want to give you something to really think about. Consider this definition of peace for a moment; peace is not your external circumstance, peace is an internal condition.
Of course I realize that at times external condition can help you experience peace. For example, someone might say that they love to walk around the lake because it is so peaceful. That may be true, but the external peacefulness of the lake does nothing to the internal condition until it is absorbed by the brain and the body. You can go to a place that is peaceful and still be in inner turmoil.
For many of us, this is a shift in thinking. We actually believe, if we are honest enough to admit it to ourselves, that our peace is somewhat dependent upon our external circumstances. In other words, we will experience peace as soon as I find the new job. I will experience peace as soon as this relationship is healed, or this disease goes away, or this bill is paid. We link our personal peace to our external circumstance all the time. We have an argument at work, we get frustrated at the DMV, we get stuck in traffic, we get put on hold and are forced to listen to elevator music for 10 minutes and our personal peace evaporates.
Consider this again. Peace is not external circumstance, but rather internal condition. What’s more, with enough practice, I think, it is possible to separate the two. You can experience peace within the most chaotic of external circumstance. But it doesn’t just happen, it takes practice. Jesus, I think, had mastered this kind of peace.
Consider some of the stories from our New Testament. Have you ever hosted Thanksgiving dinner at your house? How peaceful was that for you? And yet, when Jesus was approached by his disciples and they told him the crowd was hungry and should be sent home, Jesus responded with those famous words, “you give them something to eat.” Then Jesus very peacefully and methodically went on to feed the five thousand guests he was entertaining on that day.
When Jesus was arrested in the garden, some of the disciples wanted to respond with violence and anger. But Jesus very peacefully told them to put away your swords, he healed the centurion’s ear, and peacefully was led away to his mock trial.
In the midst of being executed and in what must have been excruciating pain, Jesus very peacefully prayed for his executioners; “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”
Once again, peace is not an external circumstance, peace is an internal condition.
Of course this is a topic that has been studied, written about and practiced for thousands of years. Much of this topic supersedes faith traditions and imaginary walls that separate one religion from another. Much of this kind of information predates Jesus and predates Christianity, but it was something that I am convinced that Jesus practiced and was aware of.
There is really too much information about inner peace to cover in a single sermon or even a series of sermons. But you do have to begin at some point, and I believe that beginning point is the realization that there is separation between the internal and the external. Your mind and your emotions may seem to be influenced by external forces, but this is an illusion. You are not your mind, and your thinking about something isn’t always accurate or true. The external circumstance that occupies your mind and generates worry or anxiety or anything that blocks the experience of peace isn’t really your current circumstance. Why I say that is because most of the time our minds are somewhere else other than in the present moment. Our minds, our thinking, tend to always be in the past or the future trying to convince us that when certain things take place, then we can allow ourselves to be at peace.
So step one of experiencing this peace that Jesus spoke of is to quit thinking about the past and the future and simply focus on the present moment. With full acceptance of the present moment comes the peace which the world cannot give and by staying in the present moment you can stay in peace. I think this is what the Psalmist meant when the words were written to be still and know that I am God.
Food for thought. Go in peace and go with God. Amen.