This message was given at the 8:15 Wesley and 9:30 AM Traditional Service.
July 13, 2014
Peace be with you!!!
Any of you who have children in your life know what it means to just want a little bit of peace. Sure, you love them, they bring joy to your lives, you can’t imagine being without them. But you hit that wall most days where you just want to have some peace and quiet. After our grandkids have been to our house for a weekend visit, Greg and I can be found sprawled out on the couch, sippy cups dripping on the kitchen island, toys littering the floor, and we’re just basking in the peace and quiet.
Peace. Lots of songs about it, we sang one of my favorites this morning. Diplomats and world leaders negotiate for it. Back when I was a teen, giving the peace sign and wearing a t-shirt with a peace symbol on it was all the rage. But what, really, is peace? A Google search returns 767 MILLION articles when I entered “What is peace?” I could take an entire lifetime and ever be able to read all those pages. So I went for something more concise. When I looked up “Peace” on Merriam-Webster.com, the first definitions that came up were:
- A state in which there is no war or fighting
- An agreement to end a war
- A period of time when there is no war or fighting
It was only when I looked further down, at what the page listed as “Full Definition of PEACE” did I find:
- A state of tranquility or quiet
- Freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions
And I when I think of Peace as we heard in the scriptures, that’s the kind of Peace that we’re looking for. Tranquility. Freedom from disquieting thoughts.
I used to think that peace would come when I could have my to do list completed. When all the rooms were clean. When all the things in my life were organized and straight. Maybe it would be when the kids were no longer toddlers. Or when they got into school. Or graduated. But then the nest became empty and quiet, but that didn’t equate to peace.
It’s hard to find a piece of peace. There is a lot of noise in the world. Sometimes it’s almost like I can see that scene in my head from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” where he’s got his hands on the sides of his head: ALL THE NOISE, NOISE, NOISE, NOISE! It’s hard to be tranquil, it’s hard to have freedom from disquieting thoughts or emotions with all the noise. But the noise isn’t just something that we experience with our ears. Not at all! Aren’t all of our senses on overload? How many different images do we see in a day? How many different smells do we smell? Sometimes all the noise makes our skin even tingle, our nerves get jittery. And even when we CAN sit still, what do we do? We pull out our smart phones and we read our FaceBook page, or we play a game, or we message someone, or we read our email. Even when we have the opportunity to sit in the quiet, we have a hard time doing it!
How can we find peace when there is so much going on around us? For me, the answer came a couple years ago, on what would have seemed to be one of the worst days.
In March of 2012, I had a cough that I just couldn’t get rid of. Tried all the over the counter remedies, went to the doctor and got antibiotics. On the afternoon of Palm Sunday, Greg and I are sitting at home after church and I found that I could not take a full breath. I coughed to try to open up my lungs, nothing happened. I told Greg we needed to go to the ER. I spent the next 4 days in the hospital being treated for pneumonia. The week after that was spent at home recuperating. I returned to work the following Monday. It was the same old routine, a job that I had come to hate; a workplace that had become very, very toxic, fiscally unstable, and depressing. I struggled to find something positive to grasp hold of. On Friday of that week, Friday, April 20, 2012, I was asked to come to the office of the president of the company. This wasn’t unusual, as I reported to the president of the company. He asked me to take a seat, and said that, due to financial constraints, I was being let go. Let go. I was told who I should transition my work to. I asked if I could take time over the weekend to put together a summarization of my work, to ease the transition. The answer was, no, they would figure it out.
As shocked as I was with the layoff, there was a great sense of release. I didn’t have to go back to that toxic environment. I packed up my desk, I met with my co-worker to transition my projects. I received many hugs, I dried many tears, I encouraged my team to carry on, but to take care of themselves. I then carried the box with my personal items and placed them in my car. I sat behind the wheel in the parking garage, leaned my head back, stretched out my arms, and prayed. I said, Father, I don’t know why things have happened the way they have. But I’m through with trying to control. I give it all to You. I keep nothing. Whatever You have for me, I am ready to accept.”
I had said words similar to this before to God. But they had been hollow, they had lacked depth. If I had given anything up to God, I had just as quickly reached by up and taken back, and held on to it. But on that day, that Friday in April, I meant what I said to God. I gave it all up to Him. And I haven’t reached up to take any of it back.
In that moment, in a parking garage, on April 20, 2012, I found not just a piece of peace. I found a bounty of peace! It is the peace that Jesus promised to use, that He would leave us with peace. As the reading from John says “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
You see, we let the noise get in the way of accepting the peace, which Jesus left for us. Which God WANTS for us. It is another of the incredible gifts that the Father provides. God loves us, and provides for us, NOT as the world gives to us.
In the peace that we can have, when allow God to “take the wheel”, I found that I was much more able to hear the voice of God. Now I must admit, at first it was a little scary. And I know that not everyone experiences it in the same way. For some people it is a burning passion within their soul, of some it is the intuition of what is supposed to be done. For me, it truly was the voice of God, quietly in my right ear, as if He were sitting next to me.
The Tuesday after I was laid off from work, Valerie and Nick were starting up a new session of their Tuesday Bible study. I had been interested in attending, but having a job 10 am on a Tuesday had never been an option. I thought, I’ll attend until I find another job. I was still getting to know people in the church, as for the most part we’d been just coming to service on Sunday and we’d started attending Crosswalk in January of that year, so we didn’t know a lot of people. The timing of this study was just around the time that Valerie’s cancer had come back. She had shared a little with the class and we all did the generic “I’ll keep you in prayer.” About three (3) weeks before the end of the study, while sitting in a regular Tuesday session, I hear in my right ear as plain as day. “Have everyone lay hands on her and pray.” Well, I was startled, I remember losing my place in the discussion that was going on in the room and thinking “What the heck was that?” I decided that my mind was playing tricks on me and cast it aside. The next Tuesday rolls around, and it happens again! I try to rationalize it away and say, in my mind, to God “I hear you God, but she’s not gonna want us to do that. But you know I’m praying for her.” And I thought that was it, I was praying for her and that’s what God wanted me to do. The next Tuesday comes around, it’s the last Tuesday of our session before we break for the summer, and we’re all going to go out to eat afterwards. I’m sitting in my chair, leaning in, participating in the discussion, when, this time much louder in my right ear, I hear “Gwen, I’ve asked you twice before. You need to get everyone to lay their hands on Valerie, and pray for her.” Now I was shaken. I tried to rationalize again, it didn’t work. I tried to bargain, it didn’t work. God was persistent. I knew that if I were to get up out of my chair, walk to the door, turn the knob, that the door would not open. God had something that He needed me to do. And He was going to see that I listened. We always closed each session with prayer requests and a prayer. I asked everyone if they would join me in laying hands on Valerie and praying. I got up out of my chair, as did everyone else, and we all laid our hands on Val, and we prayed. In that time of prayer, we all felt God’s presence. Earlier in John chapter 14, Jesus says “I will ask the Father and He will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever.” And in verse 26 says “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” That, my brothers and sisters, is Peace. It is accepting, feeling, and allowing the Holy Spirit to be an active, living part of your life.
But the story does not end there, as you can guess. This is a human body. It is frail, it is weak, it is tempted. Peace is not a one-and-done proposition. It can be, but these earthly shells, well, they want control. I cannot say that I’ve reached up and taken back that which I gave to God, but I sure do give Him a run for the money. The noise creeps back in, the busyness, the schedules, the obligations. But now I know what that peace feels like, and because I know that, I also know that I have to take care of it. I have to nurture it, I cannot ignore it. Just as any relationship needs attention, the relationship with God needs attention, too. In fact, THAT is the ONE relationship that needs attention. For as I work on my relationship with God, I find my other relationships grow stronger. I’ve had estrangements begin on a path to healing. I’ve made friends that I never would have made before.
But the biggest thing of all that I have found in this gift of peace, is the abundant blessings that come with it. And these blessings come in ways that I never would have imagined. When you give control to God, and you accept His peace, He puts you to work! He looks at your hands, your feet, your heart, your brain, your life experiences, and He places in your path incredible opportunities! For me that has meant becoming a lay speaker, becoming a youth advisor, stepping into leadership positions here at SUMC, and the greatest blessing of them all, God asked me to walk a journey with my best friend.
Now, I’ve shared with you my personal experience of accepting and living God’s peace. Just as each and every one of us is a unique son or daughter of God, each and every one of us has before us our own unique opportunity to accept and live God’s peace. It may be found while hiking on a beautiful mountain trail. It may be found in conversation with someone special to you. It may be found when you have reached the bottom, and the only way to go is to look up. It may be found on the happiest day of your life, or the saddest. But it is there. And you will find it at the moment when you are willing to let God do His work through your life.
Peace. Peace IS with you, if you will just allow God to place it there.