Yesterday’s sermon …
Started a series we’re very excited about, as it deals with depression, anxiety, and stress;
Led to a song Chris Macedo composed, not even knowing my sermon was about the same subject;
Resulted in this bottom line: We want peace as a condition of surrender to Jesus when it’s actually a consequence of it.
John 14:1, 15-27:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me ...
15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[c] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”
23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
You don’t have to be watching TV too terribly long to realize that we’ve got an issue, an overwhelming one, with mental health. With depression and anxiety in particular. Just think of the ads and te products: Abilify, Paxel, Lexapro, Luvox, and more. And I know that a lot of you are on them, for which, by and large, I am grateful. Did you know that people today are 10x as likely to have depression and anxiety as were their parents? Maybe that generation was under-diagnosed or maybe this one is over-diagnosed, but something’s happening, something’s going on.
But do you what I find fascinating about all that? Most people who are NOT on the kind of meds with the kind of diagnosis I just talked about go IMMEDIATELY to the circumstances surrounding anxiety & depression. What happened? Why? When? How is it that when your life looks put together on the outside, on the inside you’re falling apart? And those of you who know & live lives with an abundance of worry, stress, and anxiety are quick to answer: it’s NOT circumstantial. It’s not situational. It’s chemical. It’s environmental. That’s what’s baffling about it. And THAT has been my great learning on this painfully personal subject in recent years.
And add one more thing. Although these very serious conditions – and even some not as serious but still troubling – are not primarily due to circumstances, there is one thing a bit related people tend to do. And that’s CATASTROPHIZE. Worst case scenario. Your boss calls you in for meeting and you think, “Oh my gosh, I’m fired!” You get a sunburn: “It’s skin cancer. Call the mortician.” It rains on Saturday: “OMG, no one will be at church tomorrow.” We are in tune with this WCS syndrome that when I tell someone I need to see them I usually follow it quickly with “it’s for a good thing” so they won’t worry. (Poster child of it?) You know this, you do this, a lot of you are Picassos when it comes to painting Worst Case Scenarios.
Which is where Jesus finds his disciples as John 14 opens. They know he is fixing to leave because he has just told them and sealed his announcement by washing their feet. They don’t know about the cross, resurrection, and ascension yet, they just know he is giving them a long good-bye. And in the face of being leaderless, rudderless, directionless, you KNOW their anxiety grew and their worst case scenarios were vivid: He leaves. We die. No protection. No hope. No direction home. So Jesus speaks these words TO them but I believe John collected them FOR us. Look at 14:1: READ. And you KNOW they were like, you just told us you were leaving and now you tell us not to be troubled by it? Get real, will ya?
I’m sure for some of you it makes you think of the time your parents told you they were divorcing but “everything is gonna be OK.” And you were 6 or 8 or 12 and your world has just collapsed but you’re supposed to be a big boy or a big girl and not cry – because that will make your parents feel even worse. You’re commanded to be OK when you’re most definitely not OK. And the way the command conflicts with the emotion must have been what the disciples felt as well. But notice what Jesus links their untroubled hearts to in 14:1b: READ. Believe in me. As if your independence grows your insecurity but your trust empowers your triumph.
Then Jesus picks up the thread again in 14:15. And when he does so, you know the guys whom he addresses have heard the thing about “peace” and been like, “yes! Sign me up for that peace! That serenity! That’s what I want and need! If I can have that kind of blessing, I will be sure to follow you!” And then Jesus dares to keep talking and what he says puts his promise of peace in a much different light: READ 14:15, 21. Oh, Lord. Loving him means not warm feelings about him but actually surrendering to him. Following what he says not as punishment but as privilege. Apparently the blessing of Jesus can’t be separated from surrender to Jesus.
Then look at 14:22-23: READ. I love this. Jesus is asked a question by NOT THAT JUDAS ANOTHER ONE! and he doesn’t answer it! Instead, he repeats his definition of what it means to love him well. Next there is a reference to the Holy Spirit to which we will return in 14:26: READ. But all that is but prelude to the bookend on 14:27: READ. Oh, Lord! There it is again! Peace, heart. The missing piece in their lives is that they are missing peace! True for us as well. So it is real clear that in the way John writes this is a bookend, the tidy bow around this section. Beautiful, skillful writing.
But remember: CIE. And notice the promise of peace isn’t there at the beginning but instead makes the bookend that much more attractive. Yet by placing it at the end, Jesus is telling his disciples and we get to overhear: this peace promise isn’t the foundation of life with Jesus, it’s the outcome of it. It’s not the goal. It’s the result. The inner peace, tranquility, and stability that so many of us – ON MEDS OR NOT! – find so elusive comes less on the front end of life with Jesus and more on the back end of it. Here it is, here’s what the design and shape of a bookended section, combined with the beautifully thrilling promise all of us master artists of Worst Case Scenarios: We want peace as a condition of surrender to Jesus when it’s really a consequence of it.
We want the BENEFIT first and then we’ll follow (or not) second, but it doesn’t work that way. We want a ZAP breakthrough peace but it really is much more of a peace process. Whether your anxiety is situational or not, whether your despair needs meds or not, whether you suffer panic attacks or not, the real peace, the equilibrium that I AM RIGHT WITH GOD AND BECAUSE OF THAT I CAN GET THROUGH ANYTHING comes after and not before surrender to God. REFRAIN.
It makes me think of the young woman who came to one of our healing services several years ago. These are quiet and reflective. And she came up to my healing station and asked for healing for exactly this kind of subject: anxiety, depression, panic. And for some reason, I felt totally prompted to ask, “I am wondering you are asking for prayers about the SYMPTOMS when we’ve never prayed about the cause. Have you ever giving Jesus your life?” Again, it was not an in-your-face question, but it was a clear one. And she answered, “Actually, I guess you’re right. I’ve never done that.” “Would you like to do that now?” “Yes.” So we did. The angels rejoiced. Dealt with first things first and whatever peace or serenity or emotional stability came as a result of that first, foundational commitment. And you know what? In the years since, some of the SYMPTOMS still remain in her life, but they don’t reign in it because Jesus does. REF
Or it’s like the two painters who were asked to pain a scene that expressed Peace With God. And one painted exactly what you’d expect: lush grass, still water, glorious colors. The other painted something quite different: violent storm, lightning, waves crashing on rocks, dogs & cats living together, that kind of thing. And yet tucked in the corner was a bird on a rock. Safe, dry, protected. That’s what it’s like. Storms hit. Situations occur. THINGS HAPPEN! And yet it’s not peace that is absence of trouble, but inner peace that is stability and tranquility in trouble’s midst. REFRAIN.
Notice that Jesus says, “I don’t give you as the world gives you.” What kind of peace does the world give? Shiny peace. Happy peace. Flimsy peace. The kind of peace that avoids conflict and averts difficulties. Jesus’ peace could not be more different. He is giving to these guys when their circumstances are going to get real bad real fast. Not avoiding conflict but even initiating it. And yet the peace is theirs because it is not based in a subjective façade like your feelings but the objective reality of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, reign, and return. For a lot of you, since your DEPRESSION is independent of your circumstances, I want your peace to be the same way. REFRAIN
Oh and this is what I love. Look at 14:26: READ. The Holy Spirit, the power of God let loose in the world to continue the ministry of Jesus, is the advocate who brings us peace. And look how he does it: he reminds us of what Jesus has said. Remember when Jesus said if you love me you’ll have warm feelings toward me? You don’t? I don’t, either. If you love him, you obey him. If you obey him, you love him. Not especially sexy; thoroughly true. And look how the Holy Spirit accomplishes this! He reminds you, harasses you, bothers you, nags you. The HS is the divine nag! You know how this works with me? Awhile ago there were about five conversations going on on social media about the UMC. And I had about 10 ZINGERS I wanted to get in. Last words all over the place. Winning the internet! And what did the HS do? Reminded me the words of Scripture: let your speech be gentle, let your words be few. Reminded me the teaching of a mentor: when you want to get the last word in, don’t. Reminded me to shut up & guess what? Peace was the result. So much of what I do on Sunday a.m. is NOT telling you things you don’t know; it’s reminding you of things you might have forgotten. REF
Because, Jesus. Isn’t it interesting how Jesus becomes the stories he tells, how he embodies the words he uses. Because who troubled was HIS heart when he said 14:1? How much anxiety did HE have knowing the nails that were being sharpened for his wrists and his feet? How fearful was he as the tree for the cross was being felled and the torture prepared? So much apprehension and despair that what did he asked the Father? “May this cup pass from me.” ALL IN ALL, I’D PREFER NOT TO. And yet what is the next line? Not my will but yours be done. Surrender. The peace he promises becomes the peace he embraces, all as a result of a the surrender he offers. See, Good Shepherd: you can’t live this life of peace. It’s not within you to conjure up or to flesh out. But Jesus can because Jesus did. Jesus who lived into his very words wants to be the Jesus who is the Word in your life granting you peace and stability through every worst case scenario – and even a few best case ones – that you can imagine. REFRAIN.
Let’s stand and pray this at both campuses:
Lord, I am willing to receive what you give; to lack what you withhold; to relinquish what you take; to suffer what you inflict, to be what you require. And, Lord, if others are to be your messengers to me, I am willing to heed and hear what they have to say. Amen (Chuck Swindoll)