Sermon – May 26, 2019 – Sixth Week in Eastertide
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield

Icon from the Coptic Church

Scripture: John 14:23-29

May God be merciful to us and bless us, show us the light of God’s countenance and come to us.

This season of Eastertide, these 50 days after Easter, is supposed to be a party. We set aside this time to celebrate the resurrection, Jesus’ victory over death and suffering. We bring out the alleluias, which means Praise God!, after putting them away for the 40 solemn days of Lent. We wear white, the color of the burial garments the women found in the tomb where Jesus was no longer, the light of joy after a long night.

But this Eastertide hasn’t gone that way for a lot of us here in this community. We’ve heard it in our community prayers these past few Sundays. We have lost people we love. There have been hard diagnoses and long hospital stays. There have been what psychologists would call “episodes”, but that word is far too neat and sterile to describe when a brain doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to and therapy and medication have not helped.

If some of us are being really honest, these weeks have not felt like a time of hope or celebration, whatever our church calendar might say.

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

I might argue that peace is the whole reason we’re here today. The reason we believe in God, the reason we take time on a Sunday to gather and sing and pray, the reason we give time and resources to this community.

Particularly now, with so many heavy hearts among us this season.

I might even argue that peace is all we’re ever seeking. The jobs we do, the people we choose, the family we surround ourselves with, just might all be efforts to create peace in our lives. The peace of stability, of support, of love, of care.

But do all those things add up to peace? I mean, yes, I think so. But what does peace even really mean?

Well, Jesus makes a distinction here. There is the peace he gives and the peace the world gives.

Let’s talk a little about the peace the world gives. So often, I think the peace the world has to give is about avoidance. Doing whatever we can to avoid conflict or suffering. The world tries to convince us that peace is the absence of those things. We humans are remarkably resourceful when it comes to avoidance. To closing our eyes and plugging our ears when hard things come along. Avoiding conflict, avoiding suffering, is at the heart of addiction. To drugs, to alcohol, to things, to food, to sex, to the television. Whatever we turn to in order to numb ourselves, to pretend that the conflict or suffering doesn’t exist.

Another way we avoid is by framing ourselves as right and someone else as wrong, by making ourselves the insiders and others the outsiders. As if by walling ourselves off from those who we think are causing the conflict we create peace. Sometimes literally, like what our government is doing at our southern border. Sometimes less consciously, like dismissing those people who have different political views as “ignorant” and then unfollowing them on Facebook.

And let it be known that I am always preaching to myself.

But the thing is, whether I choose to see it or not, conflict just exists. Suffering just exists. Sometimes people cause it. And sometimes it comes out of nowhere and makes no sense. This community knows that as much as anyone. Covering it up or walling ourselves off from it is not real peace.

But Jesus said, I do not give to you as the world gives.

The peace Jesus gives isn’t centered on conflict or suffering. The peace he gives isn’t the absence of something negative. The peace he gives is about wholeness, grace, love. The peace he gives is about belonging.

Jesus’ whole mission on this earth was to bring those who were separated, who were marginalized, into the fold of God’s love. He didn’t ask questions of worthiness or test anyone’s belief, he didn’t ask people to change who they are before he healed, before he forgave, before he invited others to his table. He just kept drawing the circle wider and wider to include more and more people.

Peace comes when you know that you belong. Not in spite of who you are or what you’re going through, but because of who you are and what you’re going through.

It’s the experience of not belonging that causes conflict and suffering.

As Laurel preached last week, our African American siblings are very familiar with this.

As a queer person who first came out 20 years ago, I’m pretty familiar with this—in a different way. I say “first,” because a queer person is always coming out—to new employers, to neighbors, to a doctor—always bracing ourselves for a bad reaction. Things have changed some in those 20 years, that’s true. But when we were planning our wedding in rural California last year, Rachel and I still wondered if we should mention to the hotel we were trying to block off that we were two brides. It was a tiny town, and we just weren’t sure if we belonged.

And I know the process of belonging has been even slower for my transgender siblings, some of whom wonder if they’ll be acosted when they walk into a public bathroom, who are prevented from serving in the military because of who they are, and whose access to healthcare is now being threatened because of who they are. These children of God often experience hostility even within the LGBTQ community.

Even those of us who ourselves have been marginalized draw our own lines to indicate who belongs and who doesn’t. We take the peace the world gives.

Jesus himself was crucified because people in power needed to define their “peace” by who was in and who was out. Jesus didn’t belong. Not with the religious authorities. Not with the Romans. So they walled themselves off from that tension, that conflict in the most definitive way they could: they killed him.

In this way, Jesus didn’t die for humanity’s sin, he died because of humanity’s sin. But this is where Jesus turned everything upside down and drew the circle of belonging infinitely wide: he rose again. He came back. He said I am with you always, to the end of the age. Nothing we could do could keep us from his love, from God’s love.

We belong no matter what we do, no matter who might try to tell us we don’t. There’s no limit to who God includes.

When we are experiencing conflict, we belong to God.
When we are suffering, we belong to God.

That belonging is what we practice every Sunday at this table and at this rail. Christ’s body broken which brings us all into God’s love. We take the bread and the wine, and we become the Body of Christ. Where no one is excluded. Where we all belong.

Knowing that, feeling that, well, that is the peace Jesus gives.

The mission of Christ’s church is to create belonging. And I hope that is why each of us are here this morning. Because you know that whatever conflict or suffering you’re going through, whoever you love, whoever you are, you belong to God. And you are not alone.