I can hear the disciples snickering and mumbling under their breath as Jesus tells them not to let their hearts be troubled and not to be afraid. How is that possible? All he is talking about is leaving—how can this be good news and a reason to rejoice? How are they NOT supposed to be afraid? They barely have peace with Jesus given all the crowds, and the Roman and religious leaders after him—how they are supposed to find peace after Jesus leaves? They live in the midst of economic oppression, illness, poverty, violence from Rome--They do not want some stinkin’ spiritual Advocate—they finally got used to living with Jesus, and they would like to keep him, thank you very much! They changed their lives for him—he could at least have the decency to stick around. Do not be troubled or afraid—and oh, here’s some peace—have you taken a look around at the world, Jesus?
Indeed, have you taken a look around at the world, Jesus? We are still in the Green Risk Level for Covid spread in our area, but cases are up 55% nationally, and the virus continues to haunt the background of our lives. One million people in this country have died—that’s like wiping out both the cities of Boston and Pittsburgh. Globally, there have been well over 6 million deaths. Now we have something called the Monkeypox virus showing up on the east coast. These traumas are enough in themselves, but the disease of racism still infects our nation so much so that it creates the conditions where a white man would go to a grocery store in Buffalo and livestream his violent hunt to kill black people as if it's a sport. And the epidemic of gun violence in this country continues unabated—last weekend saw the 198th mass shooting this year alone. We point the finger at Putin as a man of violence—which he is—yet we refuse to keep our own children, schools, houses of worship, and citizens safe. Add the unpredictable economy, and our divisive political environment, and we indeed feel as the disciples do –we have very troubled hearts and it’s hard to imagine why Jesus would tell us not to be afraid.
But, that is exactly what Jesus does. “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid….Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”
Jesus says that if we look for our peace from the world—we will never find it. If we need the world to move toward certain results—for agreement to finally arrive between warring nations to feel good, we will forever be heartbroken. If we wait for our party, candidate, or policy to win, we will never have peace. If we depend on Mr. Jack Daniels, or Ms. Mastercard or Visa for our peace, we will experience momentary satisfaction, but we will always need more. If we need a certain amount of Likes on social media, we will always be wanting. If we look to world leaders or even other Christians to behave properly our hearts will always be troubled. When things go our way, we can enjoy the benefits of good outcomes, but not the deep peace that lasts through life’s ups and downs and traumas. Because the world cannot give the real peace that passes all understanding that calms our anxieties and allays our fears, allowing us to deeply rest in ultimate safety. That kind of peace only comes from Jesus, and the peace that Jesus offers actually has nothing to do with what is going on in the world.
I experienced this peace in a fuller way after the pandemic began. I have never experienced anxiety before—but when it came time to have my annual tests for breast cancer tumor markers, during the pandemic, I began to experience real anxiety. I did not feel safe anywhere. I had so many complications when I had treatment for cancer, and some damage to my lungs from radiation, I thought, if I get Covid, I am just not going to survive it. I also knew a few people choosing not to be vaccinated because they felt it needed more research and this compounded my anxiety. I felt so fragile, vulnerable to everyone else’s choices, out of control of my sense of safety and survival, and almost always on the verge of tears. As much as my family loves me, they do not know what it feels like to be at higher risk in a pandemic.
One Sunday I was driving to church to lead outdoor worship and I was not sure I could get through it—I had never felt that way before. I had to call a friend to pray with me, and that enabled me to go ahead with worship. After that, I knew I needed to do something. I was going to start with prayer and my next step would be to call my doctor. So that afternoon I spent some time alone and I just put it all before the Lord—all my fear and anxiety and feeling unsafe everywhere.
And while I was praying, a Bible verse came to me, “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. - Romans 14:8. And I thought, well that’s true: If I stay healthy, I have Jesus. If I get Covid, I have Jesus. If I die of Covid, I still have Jesus. If I get Covid and have complications like I did with cancer—I still have Jesus—just like I do now! And I am just fine! No matter what—I always have Jesus. My safety is in Jesus—not in who has a vaccine or who wears a mask or even in my own health history—my safety, my life, my death, my everything is in Jesus, and that’s mine no matter what!
A peace came over me and the anxiety was completely gone. It has never come back.
“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.”
Now it would have been fine to go on anti-anxiety medicine, so please do not hear me saying that we should be able to pray away every issue. I still take medicine for migraines and still need annual cancer check-ups and none of that is changed. The point is that Jesus gives us the peace that passes all understanding—a calm and centered heart that knows where our life begins, belongs, and ends so that the troubles of the world do not throw us into turmoil. And is it this peace that enables us to live with well-being even in a pandemic, even with health issues, even with many societal issues that need our advocacy and Jesus’ love; it is this peace that gives us the power to witness to the love and light of Jesus Christ who is the author and finisher of our life and of the whole world. Sin and death will not win in the end, and Jesus give us the peace of this truth.
And even more than that, Jesus does not leave us alone –he is not a “peace -out” kind of bro, but he and the Father send the Holy Spirit, the Advocate to be our constant companion, our source of spiritual sustenance, our power-pack who can provide all that we need to live with peace and hope amid the vicissitudes of life: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”
The Advocate the Holy Spirit is literally the one who is “called alongside you”—it is Jesus in the Spirit who is present in all times and places at once—Jesus the person was bound physically in one time and place in history, but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit now is unbound—and called alongside all of us in all times and places—with each one of us to accompany us in love and strength.
When Jesus appeared to the disciples after the resurrection, he breathed on them his Holy Spirit and power. They too, went from fear to faith, from troubled hearts to peaceful presence, from confusion to courageous action. They proclaimed the Gospel in the midst of Roman oppression, violence and uncertainty, but they knew that their safety, their life, their death, their everything was in Jesus. It is believed that Peter went to Rome, Andrew to Greece, Philip and Nathanael to Asia Minor, Thomas to India, Matthew to Ethiopia, and Thaddeus to Persia. They grew the church and accomplished great things because the peace of Christ ruled their hearts and the presence of the Holy Spirit called alongside and within them, gave them what they needed each day to share his love in a hurting world.
The Holy Spirit is sent alongside you to give you whatever you need –the Spirit is sent to be your guide, helper, intercessor, advocate, companion, comforter, counselor, aid, reminder, encourager—You can ask the Holy Spirit for what you need –and it may be different tomorrow from what it is today. The day I was praying about anxiety, the Spirit came to me exactly as Jesus promised—reminding me what Jesus said—that I belonged to him—and bringing me back to the words of Scripture.
What do you need from the Holy Spirit today? Do you need a comforter? A reminder? A companion? A guide? Do you need power? Courage? Freedom from anxiety? Deeper peace? The Holy Spirit is always alongside you as the Father and Jesus have promised and you can be bold in your prayers--daily and often--asking the Spirit for the guidance, the help, the comfort, the encouragement you need for this day, this moment, for whatever challenge is at hand.
I am going to pause for you to ask the Holy Spirit what you need from her today.
I invite you to make it a practice every day this week and as often as you think of it throughout your day, to ask the Holy Spirit, the Advocate for what you need. With the peace of Christ dwelling in our hearts, and with the Holy Spirit, our Advocate helper, intercessor, companion, comforter, counselor, aid, reminder, and encourager by our side, there is nothing in this world that can steal our peace, take away our Jesus, or separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.