Sermon for Sunday, April 8, 2018 || Easter 2B || John 20:19-31
“Peace” is one of my favorite words. It has a bit of onomatopoeia to it – you know, a word that sounds likes its meaning, like “buzz” or “hiss.” When I say the word “peace” I become more peaceful. I take a deep breath and exhale on the first sound of the word, and the sibilant at the end takes the rest of my breath. “Peace.”
I imagine Jesus doing this with his fearful disciples in the upper room. Of course, he wasn’t speaking the English word “peace,” but he does breathe on them. If they’re anything like me, then their anxiety would have stolen their breath from their lungs. But Jesus gives it back to them when he twice says, “Peace be with you.” And then a third time when Thomas rejoins the group: “Peace be with you.”
“Peace.” This word and the state of being it engenders defined my Lenten practice this year. After forty days waking with this word on my lips, I’m hoping and praying and striving to continue doing so for the rest of my life. I stumbled upon my Lenten discipline this year when Stacey and I put together the list of Quotations for the Journey that inspired our parish’s Lenten meditations. One came from The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, which I read last year and which gave me so much new fodder for spiritual growth. I commend it to you.
The quotation we chose from the Dalai Lama goes like this: “I set my intention for the day: that this day should be meaningful. Meaningful means, if possible, serve and help others. If not possible, then at least not to harm others. That’s a meaningful day.”
The idea of setting an intention for the day struck me. We can make all the long term plans and goals we want, but in the end, we have to live day by day by day. One step at a time. One decision at a time. Long term goals give us vision and hope, yes, but they remain long term without daily intention. You know the old joke: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Practice.
With the Dalai Lama’s instruction planted in my heart and mind, I started wondering what my intention might be. For a while now, I have been trying hard not to describe myself as busy, even when I am. In our day and age, busy-ness has become something of a status symbol: the busier you are, the better. How many of us have described ourselves as “crazy busy?” One of my roles as a clergy person is to model the kind of life God calls us to live, and here I was jumping aboard the crazy busy train that’s hurtling down a track to who knows where.
Not once in the Bible does God call us to be crazy busy. In fact, God set up a guardrail to keep us from that very state of being. It’s called Sabbath. Even when Jesus was being set upon on all sides by people seeking healing and wisdom, he still escaped for quiet alone time. Jesus doesn’t call people to be busy. He calls them to be peaceful. “Peace be with you.”
I found my intention in a combination of the Dalai Lama’s practice, Jesus’ words, and my desire not to be crazy busy all the time. Here’s what I have prayed before opening my eyes each morning since the start of Lent. “Dear God, I set my intention for this day: that I may be at peace with all creatures, including myself.”
I try to make this prayer my first fully conscious thought upon waking. Later in the day when I start slipping back into crazy busy, I reorient myself by praying the intention again: “Dear God, I set my intention for this day: that I may be at peace with all creatures, including myself.”
There are two parts to this intention, the outward and the inward. The external intention invites me to cultivate peace in all my relationships. Peace here is best defined as a state of balance and equilibrium. Peace seeks reconciliation in times of conflict. Peace maintains the strength of serenity in the midst of chaos.
And I must take the time to note the equilibrium I’m talking about is not necessarily the status quo, for the status quo is quite often out of balance. For example, the nonviolent protests of the Civil Rights Movement used peace as their most potent weapon specifically because the status quo was so far from the promise of freedom and equality. In our own time, much remains in disequilibrium. The peaceful response is not apathy, but purpose – intentional activity to reshape the status quo into a state of greater harmony.
The second part of this intention is internal. I’m not just asking God to help me be at peace with others, but with myself as well, which is often the taller order. The inward intention of peace keeps me from boarding the crazy busy train. Inward peace also helps me accept myself for who I am, which in turn allows me to rejoice with others when good things happen to them. (Isn’t it just the best feeling when you can be genuinely happy for someone else’s good fortune?)
The intention to inward peace also wards off the opposite of crazy busy, which you might call “crazy lazy.” Cultivating inward peace is a practice in and of itself, and therefore it prevents laziness. The truly lazy do not try to be peaceful. They meander through life simply reacting to stimuli as they come along. But the peaceful person lives with intention each day; indeed, the peaceful person can be more while doing less.
Three times in today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” In a few minutes we will practice sharing Peace with one another. We will shake hands or hug or kiss and offer one another the peace of the Lord. Think about that for a second: what a beautiful gift to share with each other. We share this peace with each other as practice for sharing the gift out in the world of crazy busy and the world of disequilibrium. That moment in the service isn’t just a stretch break, my friends. The Peace is the hinge on which the service turns. As we move from the nourishment of the Word to the nourishment of the Sacrament, we pause for Peace. We breathe out peace. We breathe in peace. We ready ourselves for the presence of the Prince of Peace.
I invite you this week to try on the intention God has placed in my heart, especially if you are prone to crazy busy or need to find your path through this unbalanced world. When you wake up and whenever you need to during the day, pray this: “Dear God, I set my intention for this day: that I may be at peace with all creatures, including myself.”