The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s164g16  Sixth Sunday of Easter 1/5/16

‘my peace I give to you. .. not .. as the world gives’  John 14:27

Mary and I moved to Waimari Beach about four years ago.   We had been in a rental for 12 months following the earthquake 5 years ago when the vicarage became uninhabitable.   We needed to buy a house to live in in retirement, so we can only claim to have been inconvenienced.   We think of those most recently affected in Myanmar, Japan, Ecuador and Indonesia with considerable sympathy - as well as those living in the still damaged houses in the eastern suburbs of Christchurch.

But during those four years I have been saying that in retirement I would walk to the New Brighton Pier where there is a lovely library, with lounge chairs overlooking the sea, with my laptop, to do my writing.   Well, I haven’t retired, but I have done it for the first time today! :-)   It’s a 3.6km walk (2.25 miles) which is a lovely time to meditate and reflect.  I attach some pictures on my Facebook page.  (1)   One visitor recently commented that his walking was his prayer time - and I can but heartily agree.   There is also a cafe where I can lunch before doing the return journey home.   My doctor will be pleased, as well as my body! 

All this is to say that the peace which Jesus gives is actually intimately connected to the world.   One of the staff of the hospital where I work commented that a walk along the beach is as good as a holiday.   The sea air, the waves, the sand, the absence of the hustle and bustle of ‘normal’ life is invigorating.   The freedom to think laterally is precious.   The library, pier and cafe are their for the enjoyment of the whole community and me as part of it.   I did not contribute to their existence.   Neither the quiet hum of the other people in the library, the sight of the waves gently rolling in nor the distraction of people walking along the boardwalk commands my attention.

But this appreciation of my surroundings is accompanied by a sense that I have a part to play in this world.   I have sometimes reflected that I can but hope that I have caused one or two people to have a less fraught existence, particularly for me, as a pastor, when that anxiety has been caused by the church.

But this sense of having a part to play is not unique.   Doctors have a role in making the lives of people less fraught by their ministrations.   Teachers have a part to play in making the lives of people less fraught as they help others develop the ability to communicate and live in the real world.   Recently I met an old friend from high school days who has spent his life in the finance and tax arenas.   And I reflected that stable society actually depends on a fair and equitable taxation system.   When people realise that the demands of government are not fair, revolution is around the corner!   Parents strive to make sure that their children don’t have the difficulties they had in their childhood, that their upbringing is a little less fraught.   The library, the pier and the cafe are here through a combination of entrepreneurship, vision, capital, community involvement and the hard work of a multitude of workers who made the materials and assembled them here.   Each of them, in their own way has contributed to providing for others, to make their lives a little less fraught.

As I write a family goes past, on their way to fish off the end of the pier, probably to catch their dinner for tonight.

Last Saturday evening we thoroughly enjoyed the play ‘Matthew, Mark, Luke and Joanne’ at the local ‘Court Theatre’ (2) and I reflect again, how much our lives are enriched by the arts, theatre and acting.   They have a way of making lives a little less fraught.

So if the world does give us peace, Jesus must be referring to some other world, some other illusory peace.

And perhaps this is best defined by a peace achieved by conquest, subjugation and compliance.   The worldly peace is that absence of fear through the stockpile of weapons.   It is important to note that it doesn’t matter if the stockpile of weapons are physical or spiritual - for the church and religion can easily (and frequently) become a force for repression.   It doesn’t matter if the stockpile of weapons are intercontinental ballistic missiles or scripture, tradition or morality.   Indeed the Cross is the ultimate symbol of religious oppression.

Life and spirituality is not meant to be a competition.   Happiness comes not when we win or be found to be right all the time - or (for males) perhaps less frequently wrong :-)   And for all this is personal, on the corporate level competition leads to some other group of persons being less than happy on a community, society and global level.

And the name for this is incarnation, the opposite of competition and conquest.   The kingdom is like a seed planted. (3)   I find it interesting that always it is the religious who confront Jesus, and the paradigm hasn’t changed since.   ‘Blessed are the poor’ (4) - they don’t even try to win!   It is the religious who Jesus has to win over, not the unchurched.   The religious are affronted that he associates with others; they wonder why he bothers.   God is not interested in THEM!

And of course much of what passes for ‘evangelism’ is actually about converting and teaching others to become spiritually rich in order to make the church more successful and less vulnerable; when Jesus calls us to incarnation, to the appreciation of others and the world in which we live - to become MORE vulnerable.

For while we seek to convert and teach we are actually implying that others are less acceptable, that they actually need to measure up, that they have to leave the common existence of the ordinary and aspire to our status.   We want others to perpetuate the perception of our exalted status, to save ‘our’ church, to recruit others to join the throng who are only allowed to admire what is.  This is repression rather than liberation.

The law of the jungle - the survival of the fittest - are real.  The truth of the Genesis story is not about how long it took God to create the universe (for there are two time frames written there not one) but the special dignity of all humanity, to stand before the Almighty and to think, to reason and to choose - a message completely lost to those who insist on creation rather than evolution.

It is this desire that perhaps a few others might live a life less fraught is what makes us distinctly human too, a little more like the divine.   And being able to have choices and the freedom to choose between them is surely linked to a life somewhat less fraught.

And my suspicion is that this is an expression of secular spirituality, which seems awfully close to the spirituality of Jesus ..

But perhaps I’ve become a bit polemical ..

3.  John 12:24
4.  Matthew 5:3 // Luke 6:20