Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sunday's Sermon: My Peace I Leave With You

My Peace I Leave With You
John Shuck
September 23, 2007

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee
John 14:1-30


I am doing a series of sermons on the essence of faith. I have preached already on awe and gratitude. Today, I am going to speak of justice-making as an essence of faith. That phrase “justice-making” comes from Matthew Fox and Creation Spirituality.

Fox, in his work, details four spiritual paths that correspond to the four seasons. Today, the first day of Fall, we celebrate and honor the spiritual path of making justice. It is also known as the spiritual path of transformation. We are in awe of creation and grateful for life. We are also participating in the transformation of creation and of humankind toward more spiritual depth, more equality, more peace, more restorative justice for Creation.

When we speak about justice, we often think of retributive justice. This is punishment for wrongdoing. We think of the justice department or the penal system. Justice is retribution for wrong.

In theological terms, when God is seen as retributive justice, God is the punisher for wrongdoing. God punishes us for our sins. In its most common understanding, we deserve condemnation and punishment and Jesus is substituted for us, taking the penalty we deserve and Divine retributive justice is restored.

Distributive justice or restorative justice is not about punishment, but transformation and reconciliation. Restorative or distributive justice is about making

  • that which is broken, whole,
  • that which is sick, well,
  • that which is blind, sight,
  • that which is estranged, reunited,
  • that which is hungry, fed,
  • that which is sorrowful, filled with laughter,
  • that which is suffering, peace.

In theological terms, when God is seen as restorative justice, God is the healer of our suffering. God heals us from our wounds. Rather than being sinful or bad, we are not well. We are estranged from one another, from Creation, from God. Jesus is seen as the restorer of right-relationship which includes equality, dignity, and a sharing of the bounty of Earth. Jesus, then, is the healer who brings us to wholeness.

As we read in John 14:27: “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.”

Peace is not simply absence of conflict or the absence of violence. Peace is wholeness. We can only be whole when all have their needs met. Those needs include food, shelter, healthcare, safety, education, socialization, value, love. The task of distributive or restorative justice is to work for those needs for all people. There will be no peace until there is justice.

Last night I was watching a CNN special on the case of the tensions in Jena, Louisiana. I am assuming you know the story as it is been all over the news. The question that is presented is this: what is justice in this case? What is the correct punishment for the crimes? The outcry has been that justice has been uneven. Justice in its purest form is blind to our ethnicity, to our background, or whatever our situation in life. Although in practice, not always is justice blind.

The issue in Jena, Louisiana, focuses for the most part on retributive justice. Who should get punished and what to degree? That is the most our court system can usually attempt.

But, what would restorative or distributive justice look like? Restorative or distributive justice is not satisfied with the punishment that fits the crime, although that is part of justice. Restorative and distributive justice would require us to look deeper at the issues that divide this small town and the rest of America for that matter.

Why are we still so segregated along racial lines and afraid of one another? What will it take for generations of bitterness to find forgiveness? What will it take for brokenness to find healing? When will we finally be freed from the sins of our fathers? How can we participate in wholeness? How can we open ourselves to transformation?

There is a truth known to those who have gone through recovery from addiction.

We can only change when the pain of not changing is finally greater than the pain of change.

The little community of Jena is going through a great deal of pain right now. The people are embarrassed to be on the national news everyday. It is shaming for them and it is painful. Yet it might be the pain that leads to transformation. It might not. It isn’t a guarantee. But it might. The pain of remaining the same may be greater than the pain of change.

It will depend a great deal on the wisdom of the leaders of that small town, both in the black and in the white communities. It will require of them to do some soul-searching, to ask questions that they had long buried. It will require of them to move through the pain of injustice and to move toward restorative justice.

I mention this example of Jena, Louisiana as it is in the news. But I am speaking of Jena as illustration. Jena is a microcosm of what happens and is happening all over the world. Justice-making is a spiritual path, because none of us can truly be whole or at peace until all of us are.

I used the text of John 14. I read the entire chapter for a reason. It is likely that most people have heard one of those verses quite often. In fact, if you watch football games, you might see “John 14:6” written on a sign and held up in the end zone.

The text of John 14:6 is this:

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

It is a verse that has been interpreted to foster Christian exclusivism. Unless you are a Christian, down the chute to the fire with you. I suppose if we keep interpreting one verse the same way long enough, folks will believe that is what it is about.

I don’t think that is what this long speech by Jesus is about. It is one verse in a long speech. It has been taken out of its literary context. It has also been taken out of its first century context. There wasn’t any Christianity when this Gospel was written. There were Jews and there were Jews for Jesus, but there was no Christianity as such. At best there a number ways of trying to understand and follow Jesus. These ways were in competition.

Chapter 14 of John is really a beautiful chapter. It is a deeply spiritual chapter. It is a speech in which Jesus comforts his disciples with a powerful message of God’s presence. It is a passage of assurance. The way of Jesus, the way of peace, the way of restoration reflects the way of the Father. Those works of peace, he tells his disciples, are yours to do. And you can do them because the spirit is in you. When this life is over, there is a dwelling place for you.

I think Jesus was telling them, and us: "I have shown you the way of authentic life—the way of the Father—the way of peace. The way of peace is really the only way."

It is the way of love. It is the way of restoring that which is broken. It is the way sharing the bounty of Earth with all. It is the spiritual path of transformation.

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