St. John’s Episcopal Church
207 Albany Avenue, Kingston, NY 12401

Sermons

  • The Peace of Christ – The Rev. Michelle Meech

    December 05, 2021

    We don’t read much from the words of Baruch. Baruch ben Neriah (which simply means “son of Neriah”) is thought to have been an assistant and scribe for the prophet Jeremiah. There is conjecture as to whether the words in this book were written in Egypt or in Babylon because some believe that Baruch was never really in Egypt.  Some scholars even wonder if the words are actually those of Baruch or whether they were compiled centuries later by someone else.

    Regardless of all of this, these words speak to us of God’s desire for us to return when we get lost.  And, therefore, they speak to us of God’s grace, which what we mean when we say “the peace of Christ.”

    Now, if Baruch was indeed an assistant of Jeremiah, it’s important to know that the prophet Jeremiah wrote during the time of the Babylonian exile.

    The Kingdom of Judah, known as the Southern Kingdom, withstood Babylonian attacks until 587 BC when Solomon’s Temple was destroyed in Jerusalem as a final act of war. Upon their defeat, many of the Jewish people were taken captive by the Babylonians who forced them into exile in Babylon to ensure division and prevent organized rebellion.

    Jeremiah wrote about his experience of being a Jewish prophet in the final days before Jerusalem’s defeat and of being in exile in Babylon.

    Now, I suspect that most of us have never been forced into political exile.  Torn away from our homeland by a hostile force.  But I do believe that all of us have experienced a form of exile and it’s why this scripture still speaks to us today. Because this theme of exile becomes, for all of us, a way to describe our spiritual and psychological experiences of pain and suffering. Experiences of feeling apart, distant from loved ones. Distant from love itself.  Due to grief or trauma. Perhaps feeling pushed aside or forgotten about. Disconnected.

    Sometimes people are quite functional but they feel a bit of this exile everyday.  Feeling as if they’re living a half-lived life. Going through the motions but never really engaging with anyone. Never really trusting, never really loving anyone. Never really loving them selves.

    Sometimes this exile comes from an external source – someone has done something to us or to people we love. And sometimes this exile comes from things that we have done or left undone.  Most often, it’s a combination of things – someone’s actions combined with our own response to them. Regardless of the circumstances, the experience is largely the same.

    Now, there’s a phrase… “regardless of the circumstances.” The circumstances.  It’s always the circumstances that trip us up, isn’t it?  We find ourselves stuck in the story, stuck in the circumstances. If only “that” hadn’t happened… if that person hadn’t done that. Then we would not feel like this.

    This is a dangerous place to live.  Because when we stay locked on the circumstances, we usually miss the invitation. The same invitation that we’re hearing in today’s scripture.

    Of course sometimes people do need to be held accountable for the things they have done things that have caused us our exile. But waiting for some kind of justice which usually amounts to vengeance… this is a kind of self-imprisonment. Because when something has happened to us, we will never completely return to our original state.  There is no turning back time. But there is always an invitation to heal, a call to return, an encouragement to be at peace.

    And we hear this invitation in the words of Baruch:
    Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God… for God will give you evermore the name, “Righteous peace, Godly Glory.”  Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height; look toward the east, and see…

    Ana and I went to Florida recently and on our 2-day drive back to NY, we decided to listen to an audio book called This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell. It’s a beautifully written story about a man named Daniel and a woman named Claudette and the people in their lives and all of the circumstances that have driven them both into exile.

    Claudette, a famous actress, has placed herself in a physical exile – apart from the media and her ex-lover. Daniel, a linguistics professor, has placed himself in a spiritual exile – apart from himself and the self-forgiveness he needed.

    Now, we haven’t finished the book yet so I can’t tell you how it ends. But I can tell you what both Daniel and Claudette are so desperate to have – is peace.  Isn’t this what we all want?  The peace of Christ.

    A return to a sense of ourselves before we judged ourselves, before we judged others. A return from the exile where we never let down our guard. A freedom from the oppression of those binding events and feelings that keep us locked in circumstances so that we may, once again, be at peace.

    The poet Rumi talks about this:
    Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field.  I will meet you there.  When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.

    Rumi is talking about this peace. The peace that comes from coming home to oneself and therefore coming home to God. A return to a state of grace, secure and fully alive in the knowledge that Love is the truth of God’s creation. That peace is our birthright and grace and mercy are ever present.

    And from this place… not from the place of exile, but from this place of Love… we know life in its exquisite beauty, in its fullness.

    From Baruch:
    For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.

    The Peace of Christ that comes is the promise that God is with us. In the exile of our pain and suffering so that in the midst of the hills and valleys – the often heartbreaking circumstances of our lives – we have the heart, the courage to move through the wilderness and know that we, ourselves, are safe on even ground.

    One Crying Out in the Wilderness, a digital work by David Leiberg

    The words from Luke’s Gospel today, these words that tell us about John the Baptist, the son of Zechariah, who proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John was a real person who believed that the Jews should be free from the oppression of Roman rule.  And he was calling people to repent so that God would bring them out of political exile. So that God would bring them peace.

    I can’t imagine that John knew his words would carry so far, across the globe, over two thousand years later, and would call so many people to return to God. I can’t imagine that he knew people would learn to interpret his words as we do but come to find the same essential meaning – that by returning from exile, we experience a freedom that is the peace God has always intended for us.

    But I am thankful for John.  I am thankful for Jeremiah and for Baruch.

    Because I am grateful for the hope that comes alive in my being when I read these words that remind me there is another way besides my limited attempts, another reality besides the thoughts that rummage around in my head.  That my suffering and my feelings of pain are not all there is.

    And that when I do something as simple as leave behind all the technology and look up at the stars, I find that my thoughts and feelings quiet down a bit and I arrive in a place that is more familiar and real, more expansive and yet closer to the home I have always known and long to return to.

    This is why we read the prophets during Advent.  In them we find words of hope and peace, promises of joy and words of love. The prophets tell us, not of an angry God, but a God of Love because they remind of the truth – that we are so much more than the circumstances of our lives and that Love is the truth of all creation. And so that we can slow down enough to hear the invitation to return from our exile and come home to the peace of Christ that is our birthright.