The Peace of God

Sermon for Third Sunday of Advent
Sunday, December 16, 2012
Philippians 4:4-7 (Click for link) 

“The Peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Following Friday’s massacre, I can think of no words more suitable than this blessing. Stunned by the slaughter of such innocents, we are left speechless. We are probably either numb to the violence, or we simply cannot comprehend what has happened. And because we are speechless, we come to the Church, looking for comfort, solace, reason. We come looking for love in the midst of such hate and perversion.

And I too am speechless. Putting words to such madness and hate only cheapens the vileness of Friday’s massacre. So what I can say is this:

“The Peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Our words fail, our hearts crumble, our emotions collapse in the face of hell on earth. And when that happens, we must allow the words of scripture to fill the void. And Paul’s words today, from his letter to the Philippians, step into the madness of our world. A world in which the slaughter of innocents is all too real, all too frequent, all too easy.

As I listened to the news from Friday morning and I as read reports of what took place, I was tempted. I was tempted to lash out in fear and in hate. I was tempted to write a sermon full of power and prophecy and condemnation. This temptation was great. But the words of Paul were stronger.

“The Peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”

When hell breaks out upon earth, as we saw on Friday morning, we must listen to the words of Paul. We must allow the Holy Spirit to keep our hearts and minds. Because others are jockeying for our hearts and minds. They are the pundits and the talking heads and the politicians. They will lead you astray. Liberal or conservative, the political commentators and the talk show hosts and the newspaper columnists will teach us to do the very opposite of what the peace of God would have us do. They will fill your hearts and minds with fear and misunderstanding and hate.

We must be on guard, because our hearts will be filled with something. That void in our hearts that is called Sandy Hook Elementary School will be filled. That void in our hearts will either be filled with the peace of God, or with the hate of the world. So I urge you,

“Keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The first thing I want everybody in this church to do is to go home with your Book of Common Prayer, and read the burial liturgy. Read it for those children and parents and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary. Read the burial liturgy for all of Newtown as they move forward into this dark and cold world. Read the burial liturgy for the sad, twisted man who committed this slaughter. I’m serious. Say this service together as a family. Say it alone. Let those beautiful and terrible words in the Book of Common Prayer fill the void in your hearts. Pray for the dead. Pray for those who grieve. Pray for those whose hearts are bent toward such evil. And I’m serious, if you don’t have a Prayer Book, take one home. I would rather you be filled with prayer than filled with fear.

And tonight, at our Advent Evening Worship, we will have special prayers for Sandy Hook Elementary School. And I will be available, as I am always available, to pray with you, to listen to you, and to grieve with you.

“The Peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Parents – say those words over your children every day. Acknowledge the fear, acknowledge the voice in the back of your head when you drop your kids off at school, or when you’re in a public place. But don’t let that voice have power over you. Remember the words of Jesus in the gospel of Luke. “Those who try to make their life secure will lose it.” Jesus knows that security and safety is just an illusion, but that the love of God is real. Keep your minds fixed on that love. A love which extends beyond the grave. A love from God that is stronger than death, a love that cannot be extinguished by a gun, a love that never fails, never ceases.

And when you lie awake at night, fretting with anxiety and worry, say these words of Paul. Say them over and over and over again. Let your hearts and minds dwell in the knowledge and love of God. Remember that just as hell can break out upon the earth as it did on Friday, so too can heaven break out upon this earth. Heaven will break out upon this earth as we grieve for those children. Heaven will break out upon this earth when we forgive such madmen. Heaven will break out upon this earth when we let the knowledge and love of God guard our hearts and minds.

Being speechless in a time like this is to be expected. Indeed, I am highly suspicious of anyone who lashes out with an immediate answer, or who pretends to know the right way forward. I ask you to sit with your speechlessness, and pray, and be quiet. Listen for the Holy Spirit. Let the words of the Book of Common Prayer, let the words of Paul, let the love of our Lord Jesus Christ first wash over you. Open up your heart, before you open your mouth. Let the tears roll before you become entrenched in an ideology.

Every tragedy and atrocity will create a new void in our hearts. The list is too long and horrible to even fathom – Darfur, Rwanda, Auschwitz, September 11th, Columbine, Virginia Tech, Newtown, Connecticut. It is tempting to lash out, and to fill the world with the pain that is in our hearts. But this will do no good. Words of our own genesis will never really heal the pain. There are no words of our own that can fill the void, or show us love, or give us hope for the future. The only words in which we can trust in times like this come from God. Words of hope, comfort, solace, love:

“The Peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”

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