“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.”


We gather together, this morning, to worship God, and to give solemn remembrance to the terrible costs that war exerts upon our world.


We remember the conflicts of the past, and particularly those of the 20th century which, by all accounts, was the bloodiest century in the recorded history of our world.  Tens of millions of people died as a direct result of war, and tens of millions more died as a result of the destruction, famines, and disease which were a direct result of the wars that we fought.

Sadly, this new century has also seen its share of violent conflict.  The attacks of September 11, the seemingly unceasing conflicts in the Middle East and in parts of Africa, the horrific events in Syria, are only a few of the ways that we are continuing to witness our inability to find new and less violent ways to address situations of suffering, of conflict and of animosity.  And even when those conflicts are not outright wars between nations, we tend to gravitate towards the vocabulary of war in seeking to solve other complex problems.  The “war on drugs” which has shown few signs of success, yet has cost billions of dollars and contributed to the displacement of thousands in Central and South America; now, increasingly, we hear people speak of “war on climate change” which seems a strange way to solve a problem in light of the fact that wars usually cause untold damage and rarely seem to lead to the solutions to the problems that they first set out to address.


As we remember the terrible reality of violence and of war in our world, we cannot help but ask important questions – particularly as a people of the spirit, as a people of faith – about what it is that leads to such awful tensions and hostilities between us, as human beings.


As we all know, there are different answers to such questions.  Some suggest that the presence of injustice is at the heart of conflict; others suggest that hatred and animosity are a seemingly universal dimension of the human condition; others suggest that unchecked rivalries and unexamined jealousies have a seemingly inevitable tendency to escalate to the point of violence; still others suggest that the presence of class divisions, or racialized tensions, or the insatiability of human greed, or competition for scarce resources, are what leads us to violent conflict.


And there is, in all likelihood, a lot of truth in those suggestions.

But there is, in the biblical imagination, another underlying human emotion that so often mitigates against the presence of peace in our lives and in our world.


And it is an emotion that is present within every one of us, whether we like to face it or not.


And it is the presence of fear.


The writers of the Bible knew how pervasive fear was in the human condition.  Consider, after all, how often the presence of fear is addressed in the biblical texts.  So often, the first words that are placed on the lips of God, or of angels, or of prophets, or of Jesus, or of any of the other messengers seeking to convey some divine message, are the same words.


Do not be afraid.


Do not be afraid.


When we read those words, we often find ourselves imagining that the reasons why this invitation to “not be afraid” needed to be voiced was because the people who were addressed were confronted by some terrifying vision.  And there may be good reason to read the texts that way.

But there can be another way to read them – that is, that the storytellers and authors of these ancient texts knew that to be ready to see the presence of the divine in the midst of human life, to be ready to hear a transforming word of hope or love, to be ready to experience the comforting presence of the mystery of God, to be ready to find the way to peace, one first needed to let go of fear.


It is this very sentiment that is conveyed in Jesus’ words to his disciples in today’s reading from the Gospel of John.  Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, knowing that the fate that awaited him there was not an easy one.  He had told his friends that he would not be with them much longer, and he knew that they were troubled, confused and even frightened by his words.

His words to them, promising a Spirit that would bring them a peace that the world could not give to them, a peace that passed all human understanding, were comforting words, to be sure.  But they were also challenging words, because he was inviting them to rise above their confusion, to let go of their sense of dread and anxiety, to release their troubled hearts and minds, and let go of their fear.


“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.”


They are words that offer such a beautiful invitation to us – and yet, they are not easy words for any of us to put into practice in our lives.


And we need not be a soldier standing on some frightening battlefield to know the powerful hold that fear can place upon us.

To the contrary, each and every day, there are so many ways that we are taught and told and conditioned to fear.


We are told to be afraid of the “other” if they do not look like us, or talk like us, or believe like us.


We are told to be afraid of the rapacious intentions of that group of people, or that class in society, or that community of people whose ideology or partisan commitments we do not share.


We are told to be afraid of the type of community, or the type of society, or the type of laws, or the type of world that would emerge if “they” gained control or were able to exercise authority.


We are told to be afraid of what might happen to us, in the future, if we do not have enough money, or if our bodies do not closely conform to some unrealistic standard of beauty, or if our relationships are not intact and perfect, or if our children do not measure up to some ideal.


We fear sickness and suffering, disease and destitution, decline and death.


Such fears weigh us down and create stress and anxiety within us.


And fear is appealed to in those great issues that few of us have any significant opportunities to do anything about, which only increases our stress and anxiety.  For many of you, a great portion of your childhood and adult years were overshadowed by fears of the possibility of nuclear annihilation, which you had no power to do anything about, yet which had the potential to destroy all of life on earth, as we know it.

Such a devastating catastrophe never took place, but now, we seem to be instilling the same form of apocalyptic despair and fear in younger generations as they are told, on a daily basis, how the effects of climate change might rob us of any reason for hope.


Both in individual ways and in the communities and countries in which we live, these anxieties and fears weigh us down in countless ways.  We lose the ability to feel gratitude, we lose the ability to live with any sense of vision or optimism about the future; we lose a feeling of confidence that our lives can, in fact, make a difference, and that good, transforming, peaceful solutions can be found; we lose the ability to trust in God and in each other, and in so doing, we lose the ability to see each ourselves, and each other, as the beautiful, unique, amazing beings that we were formed and fashioned to be.


And, sadly, when such fears begin to fester and grow, the seeds of despair, and hatred and animosity begin to grow in us, and so often, we turn on each other.  A rather wise being made the observation, a long, long time ago, that when we allow fear to motivate our actions, terrible things occur.  “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”


He was right.  When we allow fear to take root in us, we become angry, we begin to see the “other” as the cause of our problems, and we begin to think that if we could triumph over them, or even get rid of them, then somehow our problems will be solved, and we will be able to return to a state of equilibrium, of harmony, of peace.  And we send beautiful, courageous young men and women into terrible places of conflict to solve problems that violence can rarely, if ever, truly resolve.


But if we follow the advice of Christ, perhaps we might find a different way.  In the face of his own death, he offered the promise of peace – as a gift, but also as something that required us to first let go of the fear that stood in the path of the embrace of that peace.


His words are not easy to live by.  None of us lives without fear, all of us can find challenge in this world, and all of us can draw inspiration from the example of Christ, who not only faced his fear, but walked with fearless confidence into the place of his own death, trusting that that death would not have the ultimate claim upon him.


But when we see people who have been set free of their fears, when we see people who respond to his invitation to live in that peace that conquers fear, it is quite amazing to see how the world can be changed.


Not only is it true – as St. Seraphim of Sarov, who is one of the most revered of Russian saints said, in describing the effect of living in that divine spirit of peace – that if you “acquire the spirit of peace…a thousand souls around you will be saved” but there is a revealing truth found in some of the last words that were ever spoken by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. about the relationship between that peace that has the power to conquer fear.


Most of us know the quote, about his vision of the promised land.  But what we sometimes overlook is that, in order to catch that vision of a time of peace, King acknowledged that he had first had to let go of fear, in order to see that divine glory.     “I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”


I’m not fearing any man.  Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.


“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.”


May it be so.