Things That Make For Peace

A Sermon preached by the
Rev. Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, May 6, 2018

Text: John 15:9-17 (The Message)
9-10 “I’ve loved you the way God has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept God’s commands and made myself at home in God’s love.

11-15 “I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from God.

16 “You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask God in relation to me, God gives you.

17 “But remember the root command: Love one another.

“I used to think there was something in me that was too precious to run the risk of mixing with ugly, ordinary things – a kind of mystical dream of something that might grow into something very beautiful, if I kept my mind up in the clouds enough and did not allow it to be soiled. I can’t explain it, but it was purely selfish. And now I know that life is clean, dirty, ugly beautiful, wonderful, sordid – and above all love. Just fancy, I even used to think I was rather good at that. I used to think being nice to people and feeling nice was loving people, but it isn’t, it isn’t. Love is the most immense unselfishness and it’s so big I never touched it.”
Florence Allshorn, in J. H. Oldham, Florence Allshorn and the Story of St. Julian’s

The day broke, bright and clear. Maybe it was beautiful spring day like today. Jesus and his followers had made it to the edge of the glorious old city. They could see it, shimmering in the distance, its magnificence crowned by Herod’s Temple, rising atop Mt. Zion. Today was the day they would enter the city itself, but not as they might have on any other day. Today would be special.

While Pontius Pilate, in an immense display of Roman power, would enter from the other side on his handsome stallion, accompanied by legions in spotless uniform with gleaming armor, weapons at the ready to defend the “Pax Romana,” the great peace of Rome, Jesus would enter in direct opposition on a borrowed burro, draped with some of his followers’ dusty cloaks. As he trotted along, others spread their cloaks on the road to provide for their Messiah a sort of poor peoples’ “red carpet.” Here he came, proclaiming the superior power of the mysterious shalom of God, the peace that passes understanding. Both candidates came offering peace. Whose campaign would ultimately win that day – power and might, love and compassion – which program was more likely to secure the “welfare of the city”? Only time would tell.

Luke’s account of Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry” records that “As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!’ Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’” The conflict is joined. The religious authorities are eager for him to tone down his parade. They live in mortal fear of the way the Romans will crush any challenge to imperial power. I guess that’s one way to “keep the peace,” but is it really peace that’s kept? How often has military might and collusion with oppression led to true peace? Luke says, “He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’” Apparently, there is something more at work in the world than an uneasy peace held together by weapons and wealth. The peace of God will not retire quietly into obscurity.

Still, Luke continues, “As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes’” (Luke 19:37-42). Here in the middle of the great celebration, he is heart-broken when he sees the condition if the Holy City – the greed and dishonesty, the violence and abuse, the grinding poverty, people crying out for healing and wholeness, the city shaking with the tread of the marching Roman warriors. There may be more at work in the mind of God, but it is yet to be revealed in its fullness. For now, he weeps. What wondrous love is this, oh my soul, to see the Christ weep for the ancient city?

Now I know it is not Palm Sunday today. We are already nearing the end of Eastertide. Next Sunday is Ascension Sunday when we will watch Jesus ascend through the clouds back to heaven and to God, from whom he came. That will be topped the following week by the descent of the Holy Spirit with transformative power as we celebrate the birthday of the church at Pentecost. So why the journey backward to the “Triumphal Entry”? Well, maybe this is a little excursion into how my mind works. I invite you to come along, if you’re interested.

For the past several years, May has been the month in which we take a special offering for the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America/Bautistas por la paz. Over that time, we have attempted to focus our education and worship on peacemaking in some way or another. This seems appropriate as our congregation was one of the first congregations to align itself officially with BPFNA. We are considered a charter member. Anyway, as I was considering how we might focus on peace this month, the phrase “Things that Make for Peace” popped into my head. I was thinking with a theme like this we might explore some of the things that make for peace.

Then I googled the phrase, “Things that Make for Peace,” and was reminded of its origin in Luke’s account of the “Triumphal Entry,” which gave it a different context and significance than I had first thought. I had imagined a sort of Pauline list that would tell us, here are the things that make for peace; then, we could spend time exploring familiar concepts and considering how we might apply them. Instead I found Jesus, in the midst of the tumult and raucous joy of a parade, sitting on a donkey, weeping over the old city. “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!” His followers were delighted to be with him. They were enjoying the party. Their hearts were full of the hope that often comes with the springtime and the promise of adventure. Ah, if only they understood the things he had been telling them about the shalom of God’s Beloved Community. Of course, that would mean confronting the price that would be paid. Clearly, they weren’t ready on this day.

As we often are in matters of faith, we are left with a mystery. What are the things that make for peace? As we look out over our city, and see what troubles it and us, what, on this day, might bring about God’s shalom? Remember that the peace Jesus is referencing here is not just a lovely spring day without any conflict. God’s shalom is much more. Peace, tranquility, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, well-being are some of the terms applied, and not just for me and mine but, indeed, for the whole creation. If we work with this definition, what are some of the things that make for peace? Yes, I’ve already claimed a big one, love, and I’ll say more about that in a minute. What are some others?

So here is your list – empathy, honesty, patience, generosity. In the next few weeks, I will try to address some of these ideas on Sunday morning. Today’s text, from the gospel of John, picks up where last Sunday’s text left off. Jesus is trying to say good-bye to his disciples because he’s about to leave them, at least, in any sense that’s been familiar. It’s hard for him, both to say good-bye and to try to work with their denial of what he is trying to tell them. There’s real urgency and concern in his voice as he attempts to prepare them for what lies ahead, to secure in their consciousness what their time together has been about and what he needs them to do to keep the mission going.

In spite of the urgency in his tone, there is also deep intimacy here. “Friends – yes, friends – listen to me. I’ve got important things to tell you before I move on. They are vital for your own sense of peace and the well-being of God’s Beloved Community. So, listen carefully. You’ve got to love one another. It’s the root command – you’ve got to love one another. I know that’s easy enough when we’re all sitting around the campfire singing “Kum ba Yah.” But there are tough times ahead and you’re going to have to figure out how to love one another when the tough times come as well.

Remember, I’ve loved you the way God has loved me. I hope with all my heart that you’ve gotten a good taste of what that’s like. What an amazing thing to be loved by God. So, dear friends, make yourselves at home in my love. Come in, come in and sit down. You are a part of the family. You are finding your deep peace and true love in me, but that is not enough. You need to go forth to spread that peace and that love wherever it is needed – and how it’s needed! I weep to see the welfare of the city ignored and violated. I have tried to care for you and those we have encountered on our journey together. Now I’m counting on you to carry on the work for the Beloved Community. You see, as Meda Stamper observes, “…it is only against the backdrop of the world’s hate that the radical nature of God’s love is revealed in its fullest glory. And it is into such a world that Jesus’ own are sent to testify and bear fruit, to love as Jesus loves” (Meda Stamper, “Commentary on John 15:9-17, May 10, 2015, workingpreacher.org).

Remember, I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. I know that is an enormous challenge but you will never be alone. That’s why it’s so important to keep yourself rooted and grounded in the love that God and I have for you. It will carry you through. Keep God’s commands and make yourself at home in God’s love. That’s exactly what God and I want for you – to be at home in the holy and to help others, even from the ends of the earth, find home there, too. This is where God’s Beloved Community dwells.

Want to know something that makes for peace? Remember the root command: Love one another. Amen.

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