This past Sunday I led the church service at an assisted living facility. We had a good turn-out which was at least 18 residents. It was a slightly more confused or less alert group than usual. One woman made a sing-song sound most of the service. I’ve led this service on occasion for the last year, and sadly this woman is in decline mentally and physically. Sometimes a resident that you think is not able to grasp anything in the service will surprise you. For example, the song leader accidentally gave out a hymn number that we had already sung, and a couple residents immediately let him know it. Since I was a nurse for 18 years, I feel at complete ease in an assisted living facility, and glad to serve in this way.

The Scripture readings were: Psalm 34:1-8; Colossians 3:15-17; John 20:19-21.

For my message, being the Sunday after Thanksgiving but before the Advent season officially starts, I tried to do “a bridge” between these two times. Here is my transcript:

Update: I chose the Scripture passages independently for the assisted living facility in November. I was then scheduled to preach Dec. 30th at 2 churches, and I was surprised to see the Colossians passage in the lectionary for that Sunday! At first I thought it would be lazy to re-use the same sermon, but I also thought it could be a God thing! I did edit/update my sermon a bit, primarily at the end. I have updated the transcript accordingly. And I also got an audio recording this time.

Audio is HERE if you’d like to listen to it. There is a mild microphone issue, but I think it is okay.

The Peace of Christ

As you heard today’s Scripture readings, you may have noticed a theme of peace and thankfulness. We will begin with peace.

What is peace? We tend to think of peace in a passive sense, as in, peace is the absence of something. For example, Webster’s dictionary defines peace as:  the absence of mental conflict, freedom from war, freedom from disagreements or quarrels.

In other words, something breaks the peace.
But there is never complete peace in this world, is there?
One city may have peace, while another city has riots and disturbance.
One family may be at peace, while another family is filled with strife and conflict. And there is just about always a war going on somewhere in this world.

Did you know that there was once complete peace in this world?
Yes, there was. We can read in Genesis 1 and 2 that God created this world and it was good. There was peace and harmony in all creation. God would walk in the Garden of Eden and talk with Adam and Eve. There was actually more than peace in Genesis 1 and 2.

Our word peace corresponds to the Old Testament Hebrew word shalom.
Maybe you have heard this word? Shalom is a way that Jews can greet each other. Peace is the word we use instead of shalom, but shalom has a broader meaning.
It is not just the absence of conflict, but it means wholeness or to be complete. It refers to universal flourishing. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to have lived in the Garden of Eden?

But then something happened. Adam and Eve sinned, and the peace was broken. The shalom was violated. Sin was like vandalism – it spoiled and corrupted God’s good earth.
Sin also disrupted the relationship between God and humanity. Romans 3:23 says “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Because of the chaos in the world due to sin, the Jews looked for a Messiah – a king who would one day come and restore peace or shalom. There was a prophetic expectation or hope in the Old Testament for this future time of peace.  Isaiah 9:6 in the OT says:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

You likely recognized that verse. It is often quoted at Christmas time. The New Testament shows us the fulfillment of this expectation or hope. In Jesus Christ, peace has come.

A few moments ago I read from John 20, where Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection from the dead.  Jesus said to them:
“Peace be with you” and after Jesus said this, he showed them his hands and side. Jesus showed them the evidence of his crucifixion.
And then Jesus said again: “Peace be with you!”

Remember that peace or shalom was a greeting, but the words now had a deeper and fuller meaning because Christ made peace by the blood of his cross. Jesus pointed to his wounds.

When I began this message, I asked: what is peace?  Jesus is our peace. The basis of all our peace is the person and work of Christ.

Colossians 1:20-21 says that Jesus made peace through his blood, shed on the cross. We were alienated from God because of our sin, but through Christ we are reconciled to God.
Our basic human need is to be reconciled to God through Christ.
When we look to Jesus, and place our faith or trust in his life, death, and resurrection – we are reconciled to God. Jesus becomes our peace.

If you don’t have peace with God, that means you are…
alienated from God, you are far away from Him, you are God’s enemy.
That is not a good place to be.

Have you been reconciled to God? Is Jesus your peace? If you are not sure about this, please come talk to me after the service.

If we have personally trusted Christ as our Savior from sin, Colossians 3:15 says “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.”
Peace is not simply to be in our hearts, but to rule in our hearts.
The Christian message should be so deeply rooted in our life that it governs our thinking, that it is the lens through which we view life.

As if we are wearing glasses where the lenses are infused with the peace of Christ.
Colossians 3:15 which begins “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” ends with this statement: “And be thankful.”

(In case my message is making you sleepy, let’s say out loud together: Be thankful.  x 2 )

Colossians 3:15-17 was read for us earlier, and being thankful or grateful is mentioned 3 times in these 3 verses. The book of Colossians is 4 chapters long and is all about Christ, and how Christ is to be supreme in our life. Thankfulness is mentioned in each chapter. Colossians 2:7 says we should overflow with thankfulness.

I think there is a connection or relationship between peace and thankfulness. An attitude of gratitude contributes to our spiritual peace. Grumbling and complaining does not make us peaceful. But I think the relationship between peace and thankfulness is reciprocal.

When we think of the peace we have through Christ, it should make us thankful. And when we are thankful, it helps the peace of Christ rule in our hearts.

We can think of thankfulness as being determined by our circumstances. But a Scripture verse in First Thessalonians says: “give thanks in all circumstances.”  – All.  Thankfulness should not be determined by our circumstances.

But note that it says to give thanks IN all circumstances, not FOR all circumstances. I do not think God expects us to be thankful for bad things that happen to us. However, even in a bad situation, there are things to be thankful for.

Matthew Henry was a 17th century Puritan preacher, and he was once attacked by thieves and robbed of his money. He wrote these words in his diary afterwards:

“Let me be thankful. First, I was never robbed before. Second, although they took my money, they didn’t take my life. Third, although they took my all, it was not much. Fourth, let me be thankful because it was I who was robbed and not I who did the robbing.”

Life can be tough. I’m a realist. We may sometimes have a hard time finding an aspect of our situation for which to be thankful.
But God is great and greatly to be praised. When this world fell into sin, God already had a plan to redeem it. God didn’t abandon us, but in his great love sent Jesus into this world. We can always be thankful for that.

Something interesting about the Psalms is that you will see praise along with an acknowledgment of difficulty and hardship – in the same Psalm. These 2 things are not mutually exclusive. They are compatible.
I’ll read Psalm 34:1-3.
“I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.
I will glory in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.”

I think there is a significant difference between complaining (which is not good) and simply acknowledging the reality of a tough situation. God doesn’t expect us to pretend that a problem doesn’t exist. The Psalmists sometimes said “woe is me.”
But remember that reciprocal relationship between peace and thanks. When we thank and praise God, that helps the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, even if we are afflicted with hard circumstances.

To keep moving…

Christ came to be our Savior from sin and reconcile us to God. Spiritual peace has been accomplished for all who believe.

But Christ also came to bring peace on earth, and the earth is still filled with strife. In the passage read earlier from John 20, Jesus said:
“Peace be with you! As the Father sent me, I am sending you.”

We are not to enjoy our peace selfishly or only privately, but we should share it with others. We are sent by Jesus. We need to be agents of peace and hope in this world. We all have different life circumstances and capabilities, but we can share Jesus wherever it is we find ourselves.

But what about this earth? It still doesn’t seem very peaceful.
Jesus came, but he is also coming again. Titus 2:13 says that the return of Jesus is our blessed hope.

Jesus came the first time as a humble servant to give his life for us.
But when Jesus comes the second time it will be in power and glory as a conquering King. Jesus will administer justice, and righteousness will reign. The world will finally be at perfect peace and shalom.

It will be like it was in the Garden of Eden. Revelation chapter 22, the very last chapter of the Bible can be entitled “Eden Restored.”
At the end, it will be like it was at the beginning.
But it is not actually the end, but the beginning of eternity. God’s plan for our current world will be complete, and there will be a new heaven and new earth where we will live for forever.

I’ll read some parts of Revelation 22:

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb…
On each side of the river stood the tree of life…
And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
No longer will there be any curse…
There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.
And they will reign for ever and ever.”

Did you hear that? The curse of sin will be gone, and the nations will be healed. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, will rule on a new and glorious earth. Jesus is our peace, both now and in the future.

In closing, I want to read the words of a song for you – that I thought summarized or highlighted themes from the message today.

How can I keep from singing? – Audrey Assad, album Inheritance

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation,
I hear the sweet, though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation.

Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?

What though my joys and comforts die?
I know my Savior liveth.
What though the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.

No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?

I lift my eyes, the cloud grows thin
I see the blue above it
And day by day this pathway smooths,
Since first I learned to love it,

The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart
A fountain ever springing!
For all things are mine since I am his!
How can I keep from singing?