At Ease (Sermon)
By J. L. Precup
John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let you hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
At the height of WWII, Admiral Nimitz was at sea on an aircraft carrier planning for upcoming battles. It was a very intense time as victory was not all that certain, and the stress of daily operations was taking its toll on all hands. With all that was going on, the Admiral decided to take the time to attend worship on Sunday. A lot of the crew assembled in the hangar bay that day. The problem was that the chaplain was as tired and as anxious as everyone else. As a result, his sermon was insufferably bad, and long! He kept going on and on in the hope that something good might come out it. It didn’t. After worship, the chaplain greeted sailors. The Admiral came up to him, said “Good morning,” and then commented, “Chaplain, I see you’re wearing a Band-Aid on your chin.” “Yes, sir,” the chaplain replied, “While I was shaving this morning, I was thinking about my sermon and ended up cutting myself.” The Admiral nodded; turned to go; and then turned back to say: “Next time, think about your shaving and cut your sermon.”
Well, at ease! I’ve thought about my shaving and the sermon. “At ease” is what Jesus tells His disciples as well—no need to be worried or upset. Easier said than done. The disciples were preoccupied. Jesus had told them that He was leaving and going home to His Father. What could this small and vulnerable group of disciples do? In between the time of the Lord from whom we came and the Lord to whom we are going, we are called and distracted by many voices and instincts of this world. “Keep and love the Word,” Jesus told them, and He is the Word, but is that enough for us to find our way home?
What could be troubling about going home? After the first Gulf War, there were parades and banners for all the troops who came home. At least, that is what I read. I saw no parades because I was still on a ship full of Marines. We were ordered into a Turkish port to go overland into Northern Iraq to aid Kurdish refugees. By the time we got home, even the free one-day passes to Disneyland had expired. Well, it was still home, and there was my lovely wife waiting for me on the pier. Guess what her first words of endearment were? “I’m glad you’re home. The water heater is leaking…I had to buy a new wash machine…and the clutch went out on your car.” Not only the bark, but also the small bites of this world can be more than troublesome. It’s hard not to be troubled, and in the process we hear advice from so many voices that the One Word, Jesus, becomes lost in a babble of many words.
I can laugh about that homecoming now because after a few nights in my own bed, life seemed good again. There was no ship rocking around; there was no constant ship noise; and, most thankfully, there were no longer any helicopters landing on my roof while I was trying to catch a nap. Others would have thanked God for the relative luxury I was enjoying at home.
Those others were the ones who did not come back. They were killed…. three of them…and it wasn’t even because of enemy fire. Senseless deaths happened because of avoidable accidents. I conducted one of the memorial services. A Roman Catholic priest who was with us conducted the other two. You should have seen the faces of those Marines as we commended three of their own to God. I guess at twenty years old, we all think we are immortal. Now facing the reality of death, this group of warriors had tears in their eyes. Most of the time, it’s easy to know when you are around Marines. Their usual loud profanity is an advertisement of their bravado, but now there was quiet reverence. The fallen Marines’ helmet and boots were placed on a small table. These were the only tangible memories we had of them, and many came forward with dirty, calloused hands to touch those reminders gently.
I tell you this story so that you may know one untold secret of people in the military. Through shared hardships and even death, they sometimes forge a strong bond of care for one another that can best be described as love. Jesus said that no one has greater love than to lay down his life for his friends, and then He concludes: “You are my friends.” Here is the answer to death because Jesus laid down His life for us, we are welcomed into God’s family to live as His own. We are chosen to be His friends by His free gift of love. After the memorial service, a Marine asked me, “Where are the Marines who died?” “With God.” I said. “How do you know that?” he asked. I had to pause for a moment to consider the best answer for both of us before I replied: “Because Jesus promised.”
This Jesus tells us not to be troubled or afraid because He leaves us His peace. He knows what He is talking about. He speaks about peace as One who knows pain and struggle. He speaks about life as One who knows death. He lived that, and His victory over the grave means that His peace is the sure promise of liberation, freedom, and wholeness of life—our lives. His peace means that life is full once again as it was meant to be from the very beginning. The power of all that seeks to oppress us, even death, has been completely broken.
What the needs to be done today during a time of war? It is not a time to wonder about life and death. It is a time to repent. Yes, you heard me: repent. It is a time to turn toward God— a time to turn hearts and minds in God’s direction—a time to turn for the better in hearing His Good News. It is a time to share and celebrate God’s life for us. Our response to the evil, rejection, and wars of this world is to love Jesus as God’s wonderful Word for us. Keeping this precious Word, we will help one another to live for the good of all, shaped by a cross which brings the peace of being at ease with God and all creation.
Want to support people in the military today? Then pray for them. Pray for their leaders. Pray for their enemies. Pray for the innocents caught in the crossfire. Pray for yourselves. Some of us have conflicted thoughts about war. We have the luxury of time to listen to one another, to pray for peace, and, as far as we are able, to live in peace with all. Peace is God’s gift of wholeness and life. Peace comes to us in the person named, Jesus. Live in peace. At ease! Dismissed! In Jesus’ name. Amen.