What do we normally do when we’re afraid? Normally we try to protect ourselves.
This protection may take the form of putting up some kind of barrier, such as a wall, closing a door, or securing something with locks. For example, we might lock our precious belongings away because we’re afraid of losing them. We might lock our houses and cars. We may shut doors to strangers. We might slam doors to create a barrier between ourselves and the person we’re angry with, out of fear we’re not in control of the situation or our emotions.
We also protect ourselves by increasing our distance from danger. This might include avoidance, We might avoid going to the doctor because we’re afraid of the results. We might steer clear of people because we’re afraid of their anger, abuse, lies, or manipulation. We might stop our children from participating in certain activities or interacting with certain people because we’re afraid they might get hurt. If we’ve been hurt by a broken relationship in the past, we might avoid any new relationships because we’re afraid of more pain.
Another form of protection is attack. Because we’re afraid, we might yell at, abuse, insult, and hit out at those around us, and not always at the people who are the cause of our fears. For example, we might be angry with developers or mining or resource exploration companies because we’re afraid they’ll take away our land, our livelihood, our lifestyle or our home. Or, a church might be afraid for the future of their congregation: that they might not get a new pastor, or if they do get one, he might not live up to their expectations. Because of our fears – fears of being left out, forgotten, or of not being in control – we might be tempted to lash out at the leadership of our congregation, our previous pastors, our district, or the LCA.
Fears can control us and our actions. We build physical and emotional barriers around ourselves. We might hide behind jokes and safe conversational topics. We protect ourselves from probing questions or from revealing secrets about ourselves. We might build a wall of anger and punishment around us to protect ourselves from the things and people we’re scared of.
Many times, people won’t admit to their fears, but secretly everybody’s afraid of something. We’re afraid of losing loved ones through sickness or accident, losing respect, losing dignity through aging, losing farms and homes, losing our mind, our health, our faith, or our life.
Sometimes we may even be afraid of God. Maybe we’re afraid he won’t like us, so we might try to make him like us by doing all the right things. Maybe we’re afraid of what he says because it’ll affect the way we live, so we might try to ignore, “dumb down” or modify what he says. Maybe we’re afraid to admit we’re wrong, so we may try to disregard his words and his people.
Our fears constrict us, burden us, trap us and bind us. Our fears cripple us and make us sick with worry. Our fears control us and make us do all types of silly, irrational things. We can be ‘locked up’ by our fears, and we ‘lock’ others up because of our fears.
Then Jesus comes among us and says ‘Peace to you’. Peace?
Even though we long for peace, we can also be afraid of it. We would rather manufacture a false peace – a peace which involves barriers and distance: a peace which involves anger and punishment. Yet we also know our barriers and bravado offer no peace, just isolation with our fears.
Yet Jesus somehow gets past those barriers to offer us peace. He comes to bring us peace this morning. But this peace might scare us. This peace tells us to step out from our locked room, get out from behind our barriers, and go out again into the troubled and fearful world. This peace challenges us to trust him more than we trust our fears.
The peace Jesus offers us today, challenges and authorises us to forgive others. But we can also be afraid to forgive. When we forgive someone, we can’t hold them to ransom for the pain they’ve caused us anymore. But who are we really hurting by not forgiving? We lock up ourselves in chains just as much as the other person by withholding forgiveness. Yet by forgiving someone, we not only free them from their chains of sin, but we’re also freed from our fears. Of course, that forgiven person might hurt us again: that’s what we’re afraid of. Fears trap us: forgiveness frees us.
Jesus offers us peace even though our relationships might be breaking down, our loved ones are dying, our property is being taken from us, and our health declines. Jesus says, “Peace to you.”
Our idea of peace might be when God takes away everything we’re afraid of. We may think peace is when God gets rid of our enemies, gets rid of our sickness, gets rid of those who pick on the little guys, and makes us feel successful, whole and happy. We might think peace is when things go our way. We might think peace is where we’re free, but everyone else is restrained and kept ‘locked up’.
God’s peace isn’t like that. God doesn’t always take away all our troubles, but he still says ‘Peace to you’. God seems to let people get away with their hurtful crimes, but he still says ‘Peace to you’. God doesn’t always heal our sickness and won’t stop our loved ones from dying, but he still says ‘Peace to you’. God may delay things for us, yet he still says ‘Peace to you’. God is willing to forgive those we fear and don’t and he still says ‘Peace to you’.
God’s peace is different from what the world offers. God’s peace is different from the peace locks, barriers and distance offer. God’s peace somehow comes to us even if all the safety barriers and security blankets are taken away. God’s peace comes even when we’re terrified.
God’s peace isn’t necessarily when God takes away the people or situations we’re afraid of, but rather, God’s peace comes when he takes away our fear of them.
But how does God’s peace come to us and how does he drive out our fears
God’s peace comes to us through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
That can sound a bit ‘airy fairy’ ,vague and elusive until we get a bit more specific.
For instance, God’s peace washed over us when we were baptised. If we were scared of God beforehand, we have no reason to fear him now because we’re safe in Jesus. Our sins were washed away and our name is written in the book of heaven. We’re at peace with God for the sake of Jesus. Of course, baptism doesn’t guarantee we’ll live happily ever after in this life on earth, although in one sense it does. It means that whenever we’re afraid or troubled, we can shout like Martin Luther used to, saying ‘I am baptised!’ Baptism assures us that we are God’s forgiven and saved children. Nothing in all of creation can separate us from God’s love, or from God’s peace through faith in Jesus.
We also eat and drink God’s peace in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus comes to us to give us a real and certain assurance that we’re at peace with God through Christ’s willing sacrifice for us. Just like we invite friends and loved ones to our dinner table, Jesus invites us to come to his banquet table as his honoured guests to receive an assurance of his forgiveness and peace. We’re not enemies, but dearly loved people who are at peace with God through Christ’s death and resurrection. Anything we’ve thought, said or done that might create barriers between us and God or between ourselves and those around us, are forgiven and taken away by eating and drinking in faith. In this sense, we come in peace to receive peace by eating and drinking. We then go out from this meal in peace in order to bring God’s peace to all those around us.
The forgiveness of sins is closely connected to God’s peace. God’s forgiveness drives away our fear.
When our sins are forgiven, locks are opened that even the best locksmiths in the world can’t unlock. It’s like Jesus has handed sinful human beings the keys to his own house. The heavenly house, or more so, heavenly home.
Through the forgiveness of sins, the gates of heaven are unlocked and swung open for us.
These are the tools, the instruments, or the means of grace and peace that Jesus gives his people: the Word of God, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the authority to forgive people their sins. These tools, these keys, unlock heaven for us. These are the tools through which the Holy Spirit comes and comforts his people. These are the instruments which drive out fear and replace it with peace. These are the keys to peace on earth.
Then, as God’s peace has driven away our fears and brought down the barriers of protection, we go out from this place to become peacemakers in this fear-filled world. We go out from this place with a message of peace through the forgiveness of sins. We’re led by the Holy Spirit to forgive others in order to bring God’s peace to a troubled and fearful world. Forgiveness is the key to unlocking us from fear. Forgiveness is the key to bringing a glimpse of heaven on earth. Forgiveness is the key to true peace on earth that drives out our fears.
When we go home today, it may be tempting fate if we don’t keep your belongings secure and lock them up and so still will be. It would be silly not to. But also don’t be afraid to live in the freedom of Christ. Don’t be afraid to let some of those barriers come down and those distances reduce as Jesus takes away our fears and replaces them with his peace – peace knowing we’re a loved child of God who lives under the care of Christ. Go out from here as forgiven people who are at peace with God and at peace with each other and likewise let us be prepared to unburden and release others through your forgiveness so they too may experience the peace of God as we do.
In this way, may……the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.