Monday, June 2, 2014

Not As the World Gives: Sermon on John 14:15-21

(Note: I did not post this sermon last week because I ended up changing the last portion of the sermon drastically on Sunday morning.  What was written was not exactly what was proclaimed.  The sentiment is basically the same, but how one arrived at the final destination was quite different.  A member requested that I post the sermon, and I will do so with the above disclaimer.)

    Jesus said, “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.”

    I’d like to take some time to unpack this statement this morning, because in all reality, I think many folks’ hearts are troubled.  Many folks are afraid.  I mean, I know Sean Hannity oftentimes tells his listeners, “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” but then he goes on and on and on about why your hearts should be troubled and you should be afraid, particularly of one political party.  And of course, those on the other side of the aisle point the fingers right back and say, “Actually, you need to be afraid of them!” They are the ones causing all the problems.”  I’d better stop there before I offend too many other folks.  While this saying of Jesus I think speaks to such matters, there’s a lot of groundwork that needs to be laid before we go too far down this rabbit hole.

    So, therefore, let’s begin with Jesus.  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives.”  Let’s start by wrestling with this, “What does Jesus mean by giving not as the world gives?”  To grasp this, I think we need to try and see how the world gives.  And to do this, I’d like to read a few snippets from C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  The scene I will read from is about one of the characters named Edmund who has an encounter with the White Witch.  I think you will see its relevance.

    “It is dull, Son of Adam, to drink without eating,” said the Queen presently.  “What would you like best to eat?”

    “Turkish Delight, please, your Majesty,” said Edmund.

    The Queen let another drop fall from her bottle onto the snow, and instantly there appeared a round box, tied with green silk ribbon, which, when opened, turned out to contain several pounds of the best Turkish Delight.  Each piece was sweet and light to the very center and Edmund had never tasted anything more delicious.  He was quite warm now, and very comfortable.

    While he was eating, the Queen kept asking him questions.  At first, Edmund tried to remember that it is rude to speak with one’s mouth full, but soon he forgot about this and thought only of trying to shovel down as much Turkish Delight as he could, and the more he ate the more he wanted to eat, and he never asked himself why the Queen should be so inquisitive.

    Let’s skip down a little bit.

    At last, the Turkish Delight was all finished and Edmund was looking very hard at the empty box and wishing that she would ask him whether he would like some more.  Probably the Queen knew quite well what he was thinking; for she knew, though Edmund did not, that this was enchanted Turkish Delight and that anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it till they killed themselves. But she did not offer him any more.  Instead, she said to him,

    “Son of Adam, I should so much like to see your brother and your two sisters.  Will you bring them to see me?’

    “I’ll try,” said Edmund, still looking at the empty box.

    “Because if you did come again–bringing them with you of course–I’d be able to give you some more Turkish Delight.”

    I’m going to stop reading and just brush through the highlights.  At this point, the White witch begins laying it on thick telling Edmund that if he brings his brother and sisters, she will make him a prince.  She will give him a crown and riches.  She promises him the moon and all the Turkish Delight he can eat.  Of course, if Edmund doesn’t deliver, he won’t receive this stuff or anymore Turkish Delight.  But Edmund is almost beyond thinking.  He has tasted something very sweet, and he wants more.  How badly?  A few short pages later, Edmund is reunited with his sister, Lucy, and he finds out the Queen he ran into was actually the White Witch.  He finds out she is dangerous, but what is his state of mind?

    Edmund was already feeling uncomfortable from having eaten too many sweets, and when he heard that the Lady he had made friends with was a dangerous witch he felt even more uncomfortable.  But he still wanted to taste that Turkish Delight again more than he wanted anything else.

    I want to ask you, do you see any parallels between this work of fiction and the way the world gives and what the world promises?  I hope you do.  I personally can’t help but see them vividly. 

    The world beckons to each and every one of us offering satisfaction.  The world says, “Eat of this fruit.  Taste and see that it is good.”  And it is.  I mean, let’s just take one example.  How many of you, like me, were extremely proud of your first paycheck?  I remember receiving it while working for the Banquete Grain Coop.  I had worked long hours, and the check was rather large.  I was happy.  I had tasted the fruits of my labor, and I liked it.  I liked it a lot.  Holding that check offered me promise: I could buy CDs of my favorite music.  I could take someone out on a date.  I could afford to drive my parents’ car to the places I wanted to go.  I could go to movies.  A whole new world was opening up.

    How many of us become delighted with such a thing?  And so we strive to get a better job so that we can get more of that precious commodity of money.  As we earn more, we spend more.  Our standards rise with our income.  Never satisfied, we long for more, and the world offers us more and more promise.  We stuff our faces with the Turkish Delight of such things, but we aren’t satisfied.  We always want more.

    And we oftentimes aren’t aware that there will come a day of reckoning.  There will come a time when the world sees that we are enamored with what we have, and it will use that to its advantage.  Later in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the White Witch demands Edmund’s life.  The world oftentimes demands ours.

    “How so?” you might ask.  Oh, it starts innocently enough.  “Make yourself invaluable to your company so that you have job security.”  And so we work hard–oftentimes harder than we have to.  “Can you stay a few hours late this week?  This job really needs touching up, and you are the best one we have.”  And so we stay.  “Can you work half a day on Saturday?  We really need this project completed.  Don’t worry, we will take care of you.”  The extra money rolls in, and we rejoice.  It will help us pay down a little bit of debt and perhaps go on a vacation.  But who then pays? Do children miss their parent?  Does a spouse or best friend have to cancel a date?  The corporate ladder gets climbed, status gets added, a sense of self-importance rises.  The world demands more and more.  We pay it.  Working and slaving as we see that one day retirement can take place–we will have a nest egg.  But we are never sure that it is enough.  We’re never quite peaceful about it.  There is still that nagging hunger to get more.  Finally, we are too worn out to work to get more.  We’re too tired and weak, so we stop.  We try to rest.

    But then what does the world do at that point?  Here’s what I have begun to see–the world gives, and then it does its best to take it all back.  The world robs you of your family and personal time to pad your bank account and then seeks to drain it dry leaving you penniless when you die.  Don’t believe me?

    How many of you who worked for many years find medical bills eating up your income?  How many of you know someone who slaved for years who are now spending almost everything they have on nursing homes or home health care?  Prices of food, fuel, and shelter continue to rise.  Taxes continue to go up.  When you die, your family has to pay for funeral expenses, and then the government will come in to collect its share from those who inherit whatever you had left to pass on.  Yes, the world gives, but then it wants a whole lot in return.  It wants to dominate you and take you for all that it once gave to you.  And it never leaves you at peace.  Never.

    “My 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 be afraid.”

    Jesus stands in stark contrast to how the world operates.  At first, it may not look like it.  In fact, when you first look at Jesus and look at all that He says, it is quite frightening.  The world offers the sweetness of Turkish Delight–it looks appealing; it tastes sweet, but it never satisfies.  Jesus offers death.  “Let anyone who wishes to follow me deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.  For anyone who wishes to save their life will lose it, but those who lose their life for my sake and the sake of the Gospel will find it.” 

    These are not comforting words.  They seem a very bitter pill to swallow.  The Turkish Delights come in a pretty box; the food Jesus offers comes dressed in a cross.  “Come and die,” Jesus says.  “Die to everything the world says you should have.  Die to finding your self-worth in your job, in your bank account, in your possessions, in your race and ethnicity and all those other things the world says give you satisfaction.  Do not eat of the sweetness of the world, feast on me.”

    It sounds crazy.  Completely crazy.  It’s impossible for us to do such a thing.  Literally, it’s impossible for us to die to these things because they are our default settings.  We’ve been taught to be productive citizens.  We train our children to be good producers and consumers.  We buy into the system to the very core.  And we can’t escape it.

    So Jesus says, “You can’t live the life you are supposed to live.  You can’t die to yourself, so I will die for you!”  And He does.  On the cross, He dies and pours Himself out for the world.

    “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world, but to save it!”

    And we may say, “Yes, I believe this!  Yes, I believe that Jesus died for me.  I believe that Jesus is the Savior.  I believe that Jesus lived the life that I couldn’t live, but why don’t I have peace?  Why am I still so hungry for what the world gives?  Why do I still have the emptiness inside?”

    Think about the deepest desire of your heart.  What is it?  Be honest with yourself.  What does your heart dream about?  Safety?  Security?  To be admired?  I told you before, mine was to be seen as a great pastor and to receive recognition.  If these things are at the center of your heart, then you are simply trying to work out your own salvation.  You are simply trying to justify yourself and rely upon yourself.  You may cognitively believe that Jesus died for you, but it hasn’t sunk into the deep recesses of your heart, and that’s why you still hunger.  You are still pursuing the things of the world.

    “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not be afraid.”  How can we reach this point?  How can we reach the place where we are not afraid of the future or our hearts are troubled?  Not by anything we can do, but by what Christ has done.  He has already accomplished all.  He has already justified you.  He has already given you worth.  He has already prepared a place for you.  He has promised to take care of you.  It is finished.  Put your trust in Jesus, and He will pour Himself into you.  He will fill you.  He will give you peace, and unlike the world, He will never, ever try to take it away.  It’s yours forever.  Amen.

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