“Famous Last Words” John 14:24-39
Delivered to Church for the Highlands John Henson
Sunday, May 1, 2016
Although a bit morbid, the last words of the famous before they die are interesting to read. Here are some for example: “I should never have switched from Scotch to martinis” is what Humphrey Bogart said when he died of esophageal cancer in 1957; Joan Crawford said to her housekeeper as she prayed for her, “Don’t you dare ask God to help me”; Charlie Chaplin said to the priest who was praying “May the Lord have mercy on your soul”: “Why not? After all, it belongs to him.” Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603, saying these words: “All my possessions for a moment of time.” A few more. Leonardo Da Vinci said these surprising words: “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.” “Swing low, sweet chariot” is the last thing Harriet Tubman said before dying.
The words this morning from John’s gospel are some of the last words that Jesus would say to the disciples, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. This (verse 27) is a very familiar text, especially one that we here often at funeral services. It is also one that is used to comfort those who are grieving at a graveside service. Jesus says them to comfort the disciples at that moment but even more so in the days to come as they would look back on the death of Jesus and remember that he had talked to them about peace in the midst of their troubles. He also would want them to remember what he had to say about an Advocate that was coming to help them in his absence. The word Jesus used refers to the Holy Spirit as Helper. The Holy Spirit would come to them after he left them and help them in every way, and, especially, to remember everything he had taught them.
CNN recently aired the HBO documentary “Nothing Left Unsaid” about Gloria Vanderbilt and her son Anderson Cooper. It described her life as a Vanderbilt, “the poor little rich girl” as she was described as news would reveal the turmoil in her family after her father died when she was young, how she would not know the love of her mother, and how she was taken from her nanny, the one person she knew cared for her. The documentary shows how troubled her life has been throughout her 94 years and the struggle she has had to find peace; to be settled with who she is, with several tragedies, and with what she has lost in this life. As I watched, I wondered if she has experienced the kind of peace Jesus gives.
As we continue this week in the Easter season, moving closer to Pentecost Sunday, we can reflect on the comforting words of Jesus as we continue in this world, as we extend the work he began so long ago. What great words to hear as we recognize how messed up our world still is. What great consolation they bring to our hearts so frequently troubled with anxiety about the things of life. What hope they provide for us when life doesn’t work out for us the way we thought it would; when we are grieving what might have been; when life isn’t fair and just doesn’t make sense; and when we look ahead and see what we fear the most. It is in times like these that we need to hear–really lean in to listen to–Jesus as he says, Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
As you hear those words and let them sink in a bit, what becomes apparent is the expectation Jesus has of your involvement in experiencing real peace. The disciples were to do their part of not letting their fears and worries trouble their hearts. I ask you this morning: Are you doing your part of peace? Are you letting the troubles of this world keep you from living in the peace God intends for you? Are you keeping a close watch on your heart, doing all you can do to protect it from the damage of your fears and anxieties? If you are like me and like everyone sitting on your pew here this morning, you know this is a daily battle. You get through and past one time of trouble, able to catch your breath and experience peace, only to find another challenge popping up and shaking you to your core. “Such is life” you may say to yourself, or you may hear from other people. You may agree and go no further than that. I believe that’s what Jesus means when he spoke of the peace that he has and gives, I do not give to you as the world gives. Maybe the reason we are so anxious is that we have settled for what the world gives when what we really need is his peace for our troubled hearts.
As we have Communion this morning, may this be a time for you to allow God to give peace to your heart.
[Audio of the sermon is here}