by the Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas and posted at Sustainable Preaching
Rev 21:10, 22 – 22:5
Receive the Peace of Christ
[NOTE: The preacher may wish to have available a hat, scarf, shawl, jacket, or other piece of clothing to wear when each of the two characters shows up in the sermon]
“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.” (John 14:27)
Today’s Gospel passage is a good text for an in-between time, a time of transition in which something is coming to an end and the new has not yet come. Jesus is saying farewell to his disciples at the Last Supper and preparing them for his crucifixion. Because we read this passage in Easter-tide, we also hear it as the risen Christ preparing his disciples for the ascension, when the vivid resurrection appearances will come to an end. Jesus assures his disciples that the Holy Spirit will come in all its fullness – but it has not come yet. It is an in-between time.
Can you touch into that sense of living in an in-between time? Maybe you’re between jobs. Maybe you’re about to graduate and haven’t begun whatever comes next. Maybe you’ve broken up with someone and haven’t yet started dating again. Life is full of in-between times. I think of the interval between becoming engaged and getting married, the interval between getting pregnant and giving birth, or the interval between deciding to move to a new home and actually moving.
It is an in-between time for our planet, too, for we sense that an old way of being is coming to an end and we wonder what new way of being will arise in its place. Scientists tell us that modern industrial society, with its sudden expansion of our human capacity to extract and consume the planet’s abundance for the sake of short-term profit, is not sustainable. Over the past 250 or 300 years, human beings have been extracting goods faster than they can be replenished, and dumping waste faster than Earth can absorb it. Society is increasingly unstable, as those who are wealthy live in a luxury once reserved for kings, while the billions who are impoverished struggle for clean water and a mouthful of food. The web of life is unravelling before our eyes, and species are going extinct at a rate unprecedented since the death of the dinosaurs. The global climate with its delicate balance of gases turns out to be more fragile than we ever imagined.
I know I don’t need to go on. Many of us walk around with a more or less vivid awareness that a chapter of human history is coming to an end. Just as the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago ended one form of human society and brought a new one into being, and just as the industrial revolution 300 years ago also changed the way that society is organized, so we now find ourselves on the brink of what some thinkers call a “third revolution.”1
Modern society as we know it is coming to an end, and more and more people around the world are searching for ways to create something new – to bring forth a human presence on this planet that – in the eloquent words of the Pachamama Alliance – is “environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, [and] socially just.”2 We don’t have much time to do this and to get it right, so it is a precarious and precious time to be alive and to take part – if we so choose – in this great work of healing.
So, with great interest I turn to see what Jesus has to say at an in-between time: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” Jesus’ gift at an in-between time is the gift of peace – shalom, to use the Hebrew word – but you’ll notice that it is not any old peace. It is, he tells us, his peace, the peace of Christ, something that is evidently quite different from the peace that is offered by the world. In the middle of the Eucharist we exchange that peace among ourselves, when we say, “The peace of Christ be always with you,” and we let that peace flow from one person to the next until everyone in the room is strengthened and lifted up by its power. At the end of the service we often refer to it again, when the celebrant, quoting from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, blesses us with “the peace of God, which surpasses…understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
What is the peace of God, and how is it different from the peace of the world? To answer that question, I’ve invited two guests to join me this morning at the pulpit. My first guest is Industrial Society, who would like to speak to you about the peace it has to offer and the worldview that lies behind it. Then we’ll hear from our second guest, the Holy Spirit, who will say a few words about the peace of God.
“Ladies and gentlemen – or, shall I say, consumers, for that’s who you really are – my name is Industrial Growth Society,3 and boy, do I have something great to give you: the peace of this world. The main thing you need to know about yourselves is that you are completely alone. You’re alone as individuals and alone as a species. You are limited to the envelope of your skin – that’s who you are. Your identity ends here – and your task in life is to focus on that isolated self – what it wants, what it needs, what kind of shampoo it likes best and what kind of breakfast cereal.
You know, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and self-advancement is the name of the game. The only peace an isolated self is ever going to find is the kind it can grab for itself. Wielding power over everything around you – that’s the ticket to peace. Domination is the path to peace – protecting your own interests, guarding your own small self. So go ahead – drain the aquifers, clearcut the forest, over-fish the oceans – it’s all yours for the taking. Never mind if Indigenous cultures are being decimated, to say nothing of low-income and minority communities, and all our non-human relatives. So what? It’s every man for himself.
Peace grows by focusing on what you like and by surrounding yourself with pleasant things. You’ll definitely feel more peaceful if you pile them up – gadgets, information, boats, planes, credentials, clothes – and then go all out to keep them safe. Don’t think about the collapse of honeybees, the massive droughts and floods, the profits being made by fossil fuel companies as they push to extract more oil and gas – ouch! That doesn’t concern you. Thinking about stuff like that just messes up your peace of mind. Put up some walls – don’t take that in. There, that’s better. It’s much more peaceful to put your head down and focus only on yourself and your family. Focus on that promotion. Impress your neighbors and pull every dandelion out of your lawn – or, better yet, spray everything with chemicals. Lose those five pounds. Clean up your email. That’s all you should think about, and then you’ll have peace – or something like it, anyway – and hey, if you still feel restless inside or start feeling lonely, you can always go shopping, have another drink, pop a few pills, stare at the TV. We’ve got plenty of entertainment for you, plenty of distractions.”
Thank you, Industrial Growth Society. Now let’s hear a few words from the Holy Spirit, who has consented to make a brief appearance before fully arriving at Pentecost, two weeks from today.
“Dear friends, you are not alone and you have never been alone. You were loved into being by God the Father-Mother of all Creation, and God so loved the world – so loved you – that God sent God’s Son to become one of you, to enter every aspect of human life and to draw you and all Creation into the heart of God.
The peace that Jesus gives you springs from your connection to the flow of love that is always going on between the Father and the Son and me, the Holy Spirit. God has made a home within you, and there is nowhere you can go where God is not. The Creator and Redeemer of the world dwell within you through the power of the Holy Spirit (that’s me), and with every breath you take, God is breathing into you and flowing through you.
Once you really understand that, you will see that you are much more than an isolated self. At every moment you are connected with the love of God – and not only with God, but also with every other human being and with your brother-sister beings to whom God has also given life and whom God loves, just as God loves you.
So, when you feel pain for the brokenness of the world – when you weep for rapidly disappearing species or for the forests and wetlands we’ve already lost, when you feel morally outraged that narrow self-interest or short-term political or financial gain so often prevail over a larger good and a longer view – when you let your defenses drop and feel your sorrow and outrage and fear about what is happening in the world around you, you are expressing how big you are, how connected you are with the whole web of life.
The peace of God is spacious enough to stand at the Cross and to open itself to the pain of the world without closing down or running away. Christ bears that pain with you and for you, and by allowing that pain into your awareness – by opening the doors of your senses and the door of your heart so that sorrow and joy can flow through – the peace and power of the risen Christ will move through you, as well.
So, now the walls around you can come down. The peace of God is open to life, and it may impel you to move into the world’s most brutal and broken places to be a warrior for life, to protest what is unjust and to help midwife a better and more beautiful world. In an in-between time, you can trust in the peace that God has planted deep within you, a peace that the world cannot give and that the world can never take away.”
As I listen to these two voices, it seems to me that if we steep ourselves in the peace of Christ, we will have everything we need. We know that society needs to be transformed from top to bottom – we need to draw down our carbon emissions, to buy locally produced goods and food, to build different kinds of dwellings, to develop new, sustainable, and non-polluting sources of energy. I can think of no more beautiful way to spend our lives than to take part in what leaders like Joanna Macy and David C. Korten call the Great Turning, the epic transition from a deathly society to one that fosters life. It’s what philosopher Thomas Berry calls the Great Work: our wholehearted effort to create a more just and sustainable society. And it’s what Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls the “supreme work” of Jesus Christ, who longs to reconcile us to God, to each other, and to the whole of God’s Creation.4
We are engaged, together, in a third revolution that will require new depths of wisdom, courage, and compassion. But only a shift in consciousness can sustain us in that crucial work, a deep rooting in the ground of our being, which is God. So, today, and every day, as we celebrate the gift of being alive at this crucial moment in the planet’s history, may the peace of Christ be always with you.
- See, for instance, Joanna Macy, John Seed, Lester Brown, and Dana Meadows.
- Pachamama Alliance, “Mission and Vision”
- The term comes from Norwegian eco-philosopher Sigmund Kwaloy and has been popularized by Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown, Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World (Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society, 1998).
- Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Foreword, The Green Bible, New Revised Standard Version (New York: HarperOne, HarperCollins, 2008), I-14.
This is a slightly edited version of a sermon with the same title that I preached in 2007.