Editorial Note: This is the edited transcript of Pastor Roberts' sermon presented at the recent Ministry uplink seminar, beamed from Pacific Union College on April 1. The theme of the seminar was "Rumors of Peace." I've got a problem.
I've been asked to speak on "a person of peace."* As a Christian, I'm called to be a person of peace. As a preacher, I'm asked to speak on peace. As a Christian, I'm called to live in peace. But my life is anything but peaceful.
The reason I struggle with peace is quite simple. It can be summed up in two words: hurry and worry.
I'm called to be a person of peace, and I'm in such a hurry that life will not slow down and give me some peace. Richard Swenson, author of books such as The Overload Syndrome: Learning to Live Within Your Limits, quotes one person: "It's like somebody took the lid off the blender of my life, and the stuff on the walls is not a mirage!" Another quote says: "I quit my job when I started screaming at the microwave because it took 60 seconds to heat my coffee!" I've got a problem. I'm called to be a per son of peace and the lid is off the blender and the microwave's too slow.
Now, I'm not the only one with the problem. One statistic tells us that 36 percent of Americans say they are rushed all the time. Can you imagine? Over one-third of Americans say that, for them, life is constantly defined by being "in a hurry to get things done." One writer says that this is historically unprecedented, anytime, anywhere. I wonder how many of those 36 percent are pastors . . . Do you wonder if you're one of them? Then take this little test:
You have pulled up to a stoplight. Now let me ask you, What happened immediately before and while you were there at the stoplight waiting? You just may be one of that one third of people who are rushed all the time if this is what happened: First, as you were approaching the stoplight, you raced another car to get to the stoplight just so you could be first in line when the light turned green! Then, if you lost that race, while you sat there fuming, you surveyed the car in front of you. Who is the driver? How old is the driver? Is the driver male or female? What kind of car is it? What are the chances that the driver is going to take two extra seconds to put the pedal to the metal when the light turns green?
Have you ever done that? Join the one-third! And I'm happy to welcome you, because that means I'm not the only one with a problem!
But it's not just the word hurry that threat ens to define our lives and rob our peace. It is also the word worry. There is just so much to do! Will it never end? Will the phone never stop ringing? Is there no end to the list of demands?
There is just so much to do and so many people for whom to do it. Did you know that the average desk worker in this country has 36 hours of work on his or her desk at any given time? That means that at any given time, you are approximately one week behind just in terms of desk work!
And rest doesn't always help. In fact, the average American gets 2.5 hours less sleep now than 100 years ago.
Several years ago, my wife's niece from Bolivia came to live with us for a while. She had been most eager to come to this country, anticipating what it would be like. She had heard so many things about it.
One day, after she had been here for a while, I asked her, "Silvia, what do you think of los estados unidos, these United States?"
She was pensive for a couple of moments, and then she said: "La vida aqui es muy agitada." Life here is very and this is the word she chose agitated.
I immediately thought of our washing machine. If you open it up during the wash cycle you can see it right there the agitator. It is thrusting the clothes back and forth, agitating and pounding the clothing against itself, against the sides of the machine, and against the other clothing. It's constantly moving pounding, thrusting, agitating.
And that, said Silvia, is life here in these United States. Agitated.
So there's my problem. I am to be a person of peace. I am to speak on peace. And yet, the two words that frequently crowd to the forefront of my life are hurry and worry.
A person of peace: challenge to the pastor
Now, it would be nice if we as a gathering of the clergy could say, "True enough. That is life. But that is life out there. In here in the parson age life is different. It is quiet, tranquil, serene."
Well, that would be nice, but it's not what happens. No, a glimpse of life in the parsonage suggests that it simply reflects the world around us.
I recently attended the National Pastors Convention. At the second plenary session, the conference organizer introduced a pastor who had been given by surprise tickets to come to the meeting. He had been a pastor at the same church for 44 years! When he was introduced that evening, that congregation of pastors gave him a standing ovation. Why? Well, there were different reasons, I'm sure, but I suspect that chief among them was the fact that we as a congregation of pastors recognized just how difficult ministry is. We knew of the challenges that come into the pastor's life. We realized the difficulties that pastors face. We knew the turbulence of the pastoral world. And when we were suddenly in the presence of one who had pastored for 44 years at the same place, we were deeply moved. The hurry and the worry had not deterred him from a life of service in one place. But that's my challenge, and it just may be yours. I've got a problem. I'm called to be a person of peace, yet my life is often hunted and haunted by hurry and worry.
Now, please don't misunderstand. It's not that I don't want peace. I very much do. I am deeply drawn to it.
My life may be filled with hustle and bustle, hurry and worry, but I want peace. The question is, How do I get it? It's very difficult to find such peace, especially in the pastoral world. Things just don't go the way we wish they would. It is a job that is never finished.
Have you heard Chuck Swindoll tell the story? It seems that a pastor left the pastorate after 20 years. He decided to become a funeral director. Somebody asked him, "Why did you do that?"
"Well," he said, "the answer is pretty simple. You see, in the pastorate, I spent about twelve years trying to straighten out John, and I never did get him straightened out. And then I spent about fourteen months trying to straighten out the marriage of the Smiths, and I couldn't get it straightened out. And then I spent three years trying to straighten out Susan, and she never did get straightened out. But now? Let me tell you something now when I straighten them out, they stay straight!"
I suppose that's one of the problems of working with the living they just won't stay straight! And since they won't, being a person of peace is a challenge.
So how can we become persons of peace?
A person of peace: how?
Well, one way our culture tells us to do it is to escape. You know, escape to the islands. Escape to the movies. Escape with a good book. Escape, because in escape there is peace.
Escape is certainly one option, though, quite frankly, it's not a very good one, because as soon as the escape is over, all life's problems are still sitting right there.
Well, another option is to depend on the circumstances around us to provide us with peace. If the circumstances are right, then we can be at peace, right?
There was a time when, if you were dependent on circumstances to make you into a person of peace, it might have worked and even worked reasonably well. But such times have long since disappeared from the rear view mirror.
So how do we become persons of peace?
Would you open your Bibles to John 16?' Keep your finger there, and then turn back to John 14. I want to read two verses together, one from each of these two chapters. Jesus is speaking the night before His crucifixion. The cross looms right ahead. Life has grown dangerous, deadly. In fact, it would be hard to imagine a more turbulent time. The storm is preparing to unleash its fury upon Him. Even now, the thunder rolls. The emotional climate is heavy. Trouble is on its way. It's a good time for hurry and worry "Let's hurry up and get out of here because there are plenty of reasons to worry."
And yet, it is in the midst of this turbulent time that Jesus talks about peace. Can you imagine? Could there be a worse time to be talking about peace? And yet listen to what He says. Read John 14:27 and 16:33.
This is a new promise. John 14:27 is the first time the word eirene— peace occurs in the fourth Gospel. It's a strange time to start talking about peace right when the storm gathers, before the conflict sets in. I don't know what you make of that, but at least one thing must be clear the peace of which Jesus here speaks cannot mean the absence of conflict. After all, He is merely hours away from crucifixion. He has just recently just a couple of chapters before this said that He is "troubled" 0ohn 12:27) by what lies ahead of Him. And yet He speaks of peace.
So there you are: The peace that Jesus offers us does not come from the cessation of stress, trouble, or difficulty. One New Testament theologian states it in a very simple way: "The peace that Jesus gives is grounded in God and not in circumstances."
If we draw together these two verses we can make two simple statements about Jesus' brand of peace. First, we can say this: In the world, trouble. And yet, that certainty, that promise on the part of Jesus, is oddly comforting, for it tells us that when we do face trouble in the world, it doesn't mean that some thing has gone wrong. In fact, it may mean that something has gone right.
Back in the early 1990s in the United States, large numbers of upscale professional people began moving from the cities to the country. Well, when wealthy people, accustomed to all the conveniences of suburban and city living, arrived in rural areas, you can imagine what happened! Patrick O'Driscoll, writing in USA Today, said, "Your neighbor's cattle may stink. . . .You may have to haul your own trash to the dump. The mail carrier might not deliver daily, or perhaps not at all. Power or phone lines may not reach your property. The fire department or ambulance may not come quickly enough in an emergency. And, yes, your remote mountain road may not get plowed or paved, for that matter."
Apparently many were not ready for such realities, so they called to complain. Well, their complaining didn't go down too well. In fact, one county commissioner, John Clarke of Larimer County, Colorado, got so many cranky calls that he finally wrote a 13-page booklet entitled, "The Code of the West: The Realities of Rural Living." He warned people thinking about moving to the country about what they should expect. Listen to some of his warnings:
"Animals and their manure can cause objectionable odors. What else can we say?"
"If your road is gravel, it is highly unlikely that Larimer County will pave it in the foreseeable future. . . . Gravel roads generate dust. . . . Dust is still a fact of life for most rural residents."
"The topography of the land can tell you where the water will go in case of heavy precipitation. When property owners fill in ravines, they have found that the water that drained through that ravine now drains through their house."
Clarke wasn't trying to keep new comers away, "We just want them to know what to expect," he said.
And just so, Jesus. He says to hurried and worried people who want peace, "In the world, trouble." But that reality need not deter us from the reality of His second statement, which is this: In Jesus, peace. Though you can count on the fact this "world [is] with devils filled," those who are in Jesus are with peace filled. They are given the grace to rise above the fray to a place of serenity.
Eugene Peterson, author of the book, The Contemplative Pastor, writes about a scene in Herman Melville's classic book, Moby Dick. The scene presents a whaleboat thudding across the frothing, turbulent ocean in pursuit of that great, white whale, Moby Dick. The sailors labor intensely, with every muscle taut, focusing all their attention and energy on the task at hand. It is the cosmic conflict we see, the battle between good and evil. There is the chaotic sea and the demonic sea monster versus Captain Ahab, the morally outraged man.
But what catches our eye is that in this boat there is one man who does nothing. He is not holding an oar; he isn't sweating; he doesn't shout. He is deliberate and languid amidst all the crashing and the cursing. Who is he? He is the harpooner the one who will launch the harpoon toward the whale. And as the harpooner, he waits quiet and poised. And then, in Moby Dick, comes this sentence: "To ensure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooners of this world must start to their feet out of idleness, and not out of toil."
Did you catch that? Now listen to what Eugene Peterson has to say about Melville's images and words: "Melville's sentence is a text to set alongside the psalmist's 'Be still, and know that I am God' (Ps. 46:10), and alongside Isaiah's 'In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength' (Isa. 30:15)."
Peterson continues: "Pastors know there is something radically wrong with the world. . . . The white whale, symbol of evil, and the crippled captain, personification of violated righteousness, are joined in battle. ... In such a world, noise is inevitable, and immense energy is expended. But if there is no harpooner in the boat, there will be no proper finish to the chase. Or if the harpooner is exhaust ed, having abandoned his assignment and become an oarsman, he will not be ready and accurate when it is time to throw his javelin.
"Somehow it always seems more compelling to assume the work of the oarsman, laboring mightily in a moral cause, throwing our energy into a fray we know has immortal consequence. And it always seems more dramatic to take on the outrage of a Captain Ahab, obsessed with a vision of vengeance and retaliation, brooding over the ancient injury done by the Enemy. There is, though, important work to do. Someone must throw the dart. Some must be harpooners."
It is so tempting to allow the hurry and worry of life to crowd out that for which every Christian and, more closely, every pastor has been appoint ed the duty of simply being with Jesus. When the storm of life's demands, schedules, expectations, and appointments pounds into the boat in which we ride, we are tempted to abandon the harpooner's post and throw our weight into rowing. But it is then that we must remember that every Christian, but more specifically, every pastor, is called, first of all, to simply be with Jesus.
That's what He says here in John: "In me you will have peace." In the world, trouble, but in Me, peace.
In Jesus, peace
We must be with Jesus. We mustabide—as He says in these closing chapters of John's Gospel in Him.
When was the last time you were with Him? When was the last time you lingered long in His presence? When was the last time you huddled in the eye of the storm, huddled in that one still, silent pocket of peace while the fury raged around you, huddled alone with Him?
In the world, peace too often depends upon what happens out there. The world's gift of peace is often dependent upon outward things. But Jesus says, "That is not my kind of peace. My peace," he says, "depends on what's in here (the heart), not on what's out there."
During World War II, when London was being bombed, an elderly woman seemed strangely at peace. "How can you be at peace?" her friends asked. "How can you rest when it seems the city will be blown apart?"
"Well," she said, "it's like this: Every night before I go to bed, I kneel and ask God to be with me through the night. And then I figure there's no point in both of us staying up, so I go to sleep."
God's peace doesn't deny danger. But God's peace does allow us to rest even in the face of danger. Why? Because being a person of peace depends on what's in here, not on what's out there.
And so I've got a problem. My life is filled with hurry and worry. But you know, the real problem is not hurry and worry. No, the real problem is whether I dwell mainly in the world or mainly in Jesus.
* This article is a condensed version of a sermon. The original preaching format is retained.
t Unless otherwise noted, all Bible texts are taken from the New Revised Standard Version.