Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Easter 2017

Peace in thinking those things that are good. We prayed this line in the Collect, which speaks to an issue we often neglect, causing us to lose our sense of peace. Looking at all the various manners Jesus instills His peace this Easter Season, they all entail thinking upon them. From our status in Jesus Christ as the children of God to His Holy Word, thinking upon these things aids in reviving and maintaining our peace in Christ. We live in a world that is not at peace. War abounds whether between nations and groups or through crime and discord. We see the absence of peace in all relationships due to the rebellious nature of sin. Even as Christians, we lose our peace through sin, through caving into the temptation to face the sin and problems of this world through focusing our thoughts on those things that are sinful rather than good. This morning, let us see how our lessons help us in honing our thoughts upon Christ and His goodness for our sakes to bring us renewed peace.

And they shall know that I am the Lord their God

            First, in our lesson in Ezekiel 34:30, we read, “And they shall know that I am the LORD their God with them, and they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Lord God.” Here we have the idea of thinking of the things that are good. In reference to knowing that God is our God and that we are His people, our lesson provides three compelling areas to dwell upon that provide assurance and peace as we live life.

            First, as we read in verse 25, “I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods.” The point of this in historical context is that in the removal of the leadership all at once from Judah with the Babylonian conquest, one of the subsequent curses was wild and dangerous animals would move in, making the once peaceful countryside dangerous. Not only did judgment hit Judah for her sins by a conquering army, the remnant in Judah also lost the sense of safety even in moving about their land. Jesus brings us perfect peace as the fulfillment of the Law, of establishing the covenant of peace in His blood at the Cross. His Word and Covenant, His promise to protect us as His own, forever thwart all the attacks of our enemies against us. Thinking of these things brings great peace, knowing that He initiated and ratified the covenant, a covenant that we could not initiate or ratify.

            Second, we read in verse 26, “And I will make them and the places all around my hill a blessing …” In Christ, we are blessed as His. This is why the aspect of Christian worship of “blessing” is so important. Dwelling upon the point that we are blessed in Jesus Christ brings great peace within, regardless of our outward circumstances. This is why the end of all services of worship contains a benediction or final blessing, sending us out from the place of worship to love and serve the Lord under His blessing and grace. We leave under the promise of His peace that passes understanding, which is needed in this fallen world. In such, the blessing points us in the right direction of thinking upon the many good things we have in Christ.

            Lastly, we read this in verse 31, “And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord God.” We are cared for personally. Thinking of this good thing is most helpful in calming us when we face dangers. The Lord cares for us as His people. He does not leave us to fend for ourselves. No, He seeks us and sustains us. He calls us to repent and forgive us to live in His Word by His grace. It is very peaceful to know we are cared for in life. This is what Christ does for us continually.

            The Lord as we read in Psalm 98:2 has made known His salvation. This knowing secures our minds to focus on Christ as we face the challenges of this world. It is to know that we need Christ and that we cannot save ourselves. There is great peace in giving up our pride and hypocrisy through repentance and resting in our Shepherd’s care and provision.

Remembering Leads to Doing

            Second, as we read in our passage from James 1, the aspect of remembering for Christians leads to doing as called. As verse 22 states, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Thinking upon all that Jesus has done for us through all the means of grace He provides aids us in living godly lives. There is a danger as we read further in James 1 of just hearing without letting what we heard sink in and take hold. In this laziness, we may even like what we hear, but it never amounts to anything meaningful.

            There is also a danger in thinking of false good or upon wrong things. As James 1:26 states, “If anyone THINKS he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is useless.” In other words, we can turn our thoughts inward to how well we think we are doing. We can make the common mistake when exhorted in the Communion service to examine ourselves before coming to partake. Often, thinking on the wrong things leads to using the time to examine ourselves as an excuse to think of how good we perceive ourselves. In doing this, we often drift to thoughts of how bad others are to make ourselves feel better about our own sins. In this, we ignore the fact that self-examination implies thinking upon where we need Christ and His goodness to forgive our sins. When we dwell on how good we are in terms of “look at all I do” in a religious sense to cover up or gloss over our sins, we, in fact, are saying we do not need Christ, that we are good. Such causes us to use our tongues as instruments of destroying others rather than humbly loving and seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. As Galatians 6:3 humbles us, “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” As human beings, we all fit this category. 

            The only way out of our propensity toward thinking upon bad things such as pride or how good we are compared to others is repentance and clinging to Christ and His peace that enables us to be content in the fact that He is everything and all we need. We do not need to be right. We do not need to be perceived as “good” to others when it is always false and hollow. As I Peter 3:8 states, “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” When we are thinking upon prideful things, all we will seek is division instead of unity, disdain instead of sympathy, loving only those that make us comfortable rather than true brotherly love, coldness rather than a tender heart, and pride instead of a humble mind. We must repent of these sins. True peace is in Christ alone.  Peace is absent when we promote self.

            Thinking of good things as we prayed in the Collect comes by God’s Holy Inspiration. In such love and grace, we have peace and the inspiration to seek His good. Philippians 4:8-9 is crucial in understanding placing our thoughts towards Christ and His goodness over all sin. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” These are found in Jesus Christ alone. When we live our lives, all that glorifies Christ is in mind with this passage and thinking upon good things. If we are drifting toward self-promotion, we will shy from the admonition of this passage. When we are all about promoting self through dwelling on vengeance, list keeping, and a general attitude of only forgiving those we feel like forgiving out of pride; we will be miserable and lacking in peace. Thinking upon good things is to place ourselves last and others first. 

Take Heart, I have overcome the world

            Lastly, in our Gospel lesson, Jesus provides us with the peaceful calm of His Word that takes away our need for revenge or to try to create peace through sin. In verse 33, He closed this passage with the following, “But take heart; I have overcome the world.” All our failures in terms of seeking peace in our own way stem through trying to overcome the world by our merits, by our strength, and by our ill-perceived goodness.

            True and everlasting peace is the continual reminders of God’s love that we have been looking at in Ezekiel and James this morning. The way of continually remembering this peace is through prayer. As Jesus said in John 16:24, “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” We ask according to His will, according to His Word. Prayer unto the Lord is one powerful means whereby we recall and think upon the good things of God by His holy inspiration. We are called to pray without ceasing. We are called to pray for people, even our governing authorities whether we like them or not. It is a command. It is not optional. Our prayers on the behalf of others must seek the very best for the people we are praying for, peace through His goodness.

            We have His peace when we pray for His goodness upon others. In prayer, we seek God alone for our help and the help of others. In prayer, we think upon His good things. In such, we have peace. When we pray either alone or with others, it is a moment of peace. Whether we are in worship in the sanctuary or in the Parish Hall to pray over a meal we are about to eat, prayer is a time we all agree upon to listen and agree with the person praying. When we hear the words, “The Lord be with you,” we instinctively know it is time to pray and to be silent and peaceful to stop long enough for the prayer. In prayer, we submit to the peace of Christ in His good things done for us.

            As we live life and encounter things that seek to destroy our peace in Christ, let us think upon the good He has done for us through remembrance that inspires us to do, as we ought. Let us take heart in the fact that Jesus has overcome the world for us, leaving us free to love, no longer worrying about how to overcome the world ourselves.

Let us pray.

O Lord, from whom all good things do come; Grant to us thy humble servants, that by thy holy inspiration we may think those things that are good, and by thy merciful guiding may perform the same; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.