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                     of Almelund, Minnesota

 

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Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit – Peace

Pastor Marla Amborn

Immanuel Lutheran Church

June 24, 2018

Isaiah 43: 1-7 and John 14:25-27

 

Who is the most peace-filled person you know? A friend? A relative? Your dog?

 

As we continue our sermon series on the Fruit of the Spirit, today’s fruit is peace. It got me thinking about people who embody peace, people whose lives show that “peace that passes all understanding,” people who can be truly “at peace” regardless of what life sends their way.

 

A person that comes to mind is Pat Katz. Many of you have known Pat, a lovely woman who was part of this congregation for many years and died in 2015. For those who never got to know her, you missed out. She was a special person. She loved squirrels, and Johnny Cash, and Jesus, and she had unusually close relationships with all of them.

 

I first met Pat, shortly after I started serving here as pastor. She had been diagnosed with cancer a few months before, so I went to pay her a pastoral visit. It was the first of many, which I grew to look forward to. Over the two-and-a-half years that I visited her, as she went through many ups and downs in her health situation, she shared her life story with me. It was not a peaceful life. There were many difficult twists and turns.

 

As a young child she was born into a home that was anything but peaceful. It was a place of abuse and neglect where violence and anger ruled. It was a place where a hungry little Pat asking for more food at the dinner table was hit so hard by her father that her chair flew back and she banged her head so hard on the floor that she was knocked out. It was a place where alerting the parents that there was a tarantula in the baby’s crib resulted in Pat’s little sister, Peggy, being hit so hard by their father that her arm was broken. It was a place where two of the seven children born into that household didn’t survive to adulthood. When the older brother died from drowning no one got too suspicious, even though the parents had no idea he was gone or what he was doing. But when the baby sister died from pure abuse and neglect, social service agencies got involved and removed the remaining children from the home.

 

The kids were split up. Pat and Peggy came to Almelund to live together with the Wenell family where they were well cared for. They experienced being loved for the first time by their adoptive parents. They felt safe and wanted in their new home. What a joy that was! They were brought to church, here at Immanuel, where they came to know God’s love. They were welcomed into this community that embraced them in love and care.

 

As a young woman Pat married George Carolly. Together they had a son, Daryl. When Daryl was only 6 months old Pat was widowed. Later in life she was remarried Leo Katz, a man who treated her very well. They were happy together. They traveled and enjoyed being together. But that marriage only lasted 8 years and Pat found herself widowed again.

 

What a difficult life! It’s not a life that you would think of as “peaceful.” But as I said at the beginning, Pat embodied peacefulness. Despite all of the life challenges and health challenges that she lived through, Pat exuded an inner peace.

 

Where did that peace come from? What allowed her to be calm –  and even joyous – in the midst of serious life challenges?    

 

Her faith. Pat was a woman of deep faith. Pat trusted that God was with her through it all, working for her good. Pat knew that ultimately, whatever happened, she could count on a joyous future sharing eternity with Jesus. That gave her real peace, the peace that passes understanding.

 

As Christians, each one of us can experience that peace. We have no guarantees that there won’t be troubles, but we are promised that God will be with us through whatever comes our way, and we are promised that we will spend eternity with him.

 

This morning we baptized Rose. Our banner says “Rose, child of God, I have called you by name and you are mine!” What a special day! Today God has named and claimed Rose for all eternity as his own beloved child. She has entered into the peace that only God can bring.

 

Those words on the banner may sound familiar. They are taken from Isaiah 43:1 – the start of our first lesson for today. This passage is written to the people of Israel who were in exile. Jerusalem had been overtaken by the Babylonians. The city and the temple were destroyed and many of the people were taken into captivity. At the time of this writing, it has been 60 to 70 years since they had seen their homeland and there was fear that God had abandoned them. But through the prophet Isaiah, God spoke to them a message of love that rings down through the millennia to God’s people today.

 

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.” (Isaiah 43: 1-4)

 

This is the only time in the Bible that God directly says “I love you.” How sweet those words sound! How powerful to know that the God of the universe loves us – each one of us. He loves us so much that he makes sacrifices for us. In this passage he speaks of giving people in exchange for them as a ransom. In the New Testament we know he gives his own beloved son, Jesus, as a ransom for our sin so that we might be saved.

 

This text tells us that you matter to God. God values you for who you are. God honors his relationship with you. And God promises to be with you no matter what. He never promises to spare you from all difficulty, but he does promise to walk with you through whatever comes your way and be with you in the midst of the toughest of times.

 

As God’s people, at the time of our baptism we are called by name, we marked by the sign of the cross, and sealed in God’s love forever. Just like little Rose was today! Therefore, we can have confidence to face life’s challenges. We can know that nothing will be too much for us, because God is at our side and nothing is too much for God. As baptized believers, we know that even now Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us and one day he will bring us to his father’s house to be with him. There is nothing on earth that can separate us from God’s love. There is nothing on earth that can keep us from God’s care. So, we need not fear. We need not worry. We can live in peace.

 

We can experience that peace that was so evident in Pat Katz’ life, that peace that passes all understanding. We can experience the promise of eternal life that was just made to Rose as she was baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. We can experience God’s peace for ourselves.  

 

The news reminds us how much conflict and strife surround us. Wars without end in the Middle East. Mass shootings in our schools and public places. A refugee crisis around the world the scale of which we haven’t seen since World War II and Children separated from their parents at our Southern border. A civic dialogue that grows angrier and more divisive by the day. Yet in the midst of it all, God calls us to be instruments of peace and God invites us into the peace that only he can give.

 

There is a lot of heartache in the world. Many of us face challenges of our own – health problems for ourselves or loved ones, financial difficulties, marriage struggles, employment challenges… the list of worries goes on. Oh, how we long for the gift of God’s peace.

 

We don’t have to passively wait and hope that we will suddenly have the gift of peace. We can actively seek God’s peace. We can invite Holy Spirit to cultivate the fruit of peace in our lives. As we act as instruments of peace, God fills us with his peace. As we become the means of peace for others, that peace comes back to us.

 

I have long loved the prayer for peace that we call the “Prayer of St. Francis.” It captures that desire to have God work in and through us to be his instruments of peace in the world. It reminds us that we don’t have to wait as silent observers, we can be active participants with God in bringing about a more peaceful world.

 

As I did a little research into this prayer I was surprised to find that though it is called the “Prayer of St. Francis,” it wasn’t written by St. Francis. The first time it was published was in France in 1912. St. Francis lived 700 years earlier in the late 1100s and early 1200s in Italy. This prayer wasn’t included with St. Francis’ writings. During WWII an American Archbishop had it translated into English and printed it on cards with a picture of St. Francis on the other side. Millions of these cards were distributed to soldiers and it became known as the Prayer of St. Francis. Though the prayer expresses the values St. Francis held dear, the actual author is not known.

 

In a way, that is an invitation to make it our own. As we invite the Holy Spirit to cultivate the fruit of peace in our lives, it is a prayer for peace that we can adopt as our own.

 

As I pray this beloved prayer for peace, I invite you to silently pray along with me, making it your prayer for peace.

 

Prayer of St. Francis – Prayer for Peace

Lord make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred let me sow love.

Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is doubt, faith.

Where there is despair, hope.

Where there is darkness, light.

And where there is sadness, joy.

 

O divine master grant that I may

not so much seek to be consoled as to console,

to be understood as to understand,

to be loved as to love.

 

For it is in giving that we receive

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned

and it's in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen

 

May we all experience God’s perfect peace in our lives, and may God work through us to be instruments of his peace for others. Amen!