Words of Peace
Text: John 14:23-31
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” So goes the playground rhyme. But as we grow up, we find that’s simply not true. In fact, I would wager that words have the ability to hurt in a way that nothing physical ever could. Words have a peculiar kind of power. Philosophers, especially in recent centuries, have been fascinated by this power of words and have argued that words give structure and meaning to the world we live in. Words do have something remarkable about them. Think about watching a child learn to read. Squiggles of ink on a page are suddenly able to create an idea in the mind of that child, who not that long ago wouldn’t have seen any meaning in those ink smudges. That power stays with us. Words have the power to change thoughts, to change lives, ideas explained by words have the power to change the course of history.
For those of us who know the Lord, it’s no surprise really. Words are how God created the world. God spoke and what He spoke came into existence out of nothing. This morning we witnessed God’s Word combining with water in Baptism to give the promise of eternal life to little Emilia, words making her a daughter of God.
Words have power. And tragically, so does the abuse or neglect of words. We’ve seen how serious a neglect of words can be in our own lives. Their power can be used to destructive ends: gossip, slander, lies, bent truth, or truth told in broken little pieces. Trust is lost through an abuse of words. Faith is damaged when God’s Word is mingled with falsehood. Because these are serious, this morning we confessed that we’ve sinned against God in thought, word, and deed. Wrongly used words, like the tempter’s lying words in the Garden of Eden, can separate from God. They can build false idols, like the golden calf, and say that is your god. They can deceive and lead away from God and the life He has for us.
So it happened with the Tower of Babel. Genesis tells us that after Noah and his family resettled after the Flood, the whole earth had one language and the same words. And in their pride, a group of people living in the plains of Shinar said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” These arrogant words of mortals, seeking a name for themselves to protect them and unite them, rather than trusting in the name of the Lord to defend them, these words quickly turned into actions, as words have the power to do. And so they began their siege on heaven, seeking their own glory, seeking their own power, rather than resting in the promises and protection of God and His name. So God put a stop to their arrogant prideful words and deeds by confusing their speech. Languages multiplied and the men of Shinar were no longer able to communicate, no longer able to build the tower. They had to leave and do what they were afraid to do, going out into the world, needing to learn how to trust God rather than their cities of brick and mortar.
So it goes. God speaks, and human might listen…for a while. But they stop. We all have our excuses: busyness, boredom, other priorities, or just laziness. So God sends messengers, prophets and the like, and they might be listened to for a while, but then we start building that Tower of Babel again, either figuratively in our heart, or through some cultural emblem or icon. God sends His Son, the Word made flesh. Mortal men crucify Him. Then God raises that Word from the dead on Easter, raises Jesus on the third day, who then sends His Apostles to speak His Word to the world.
Some believe. Others don’t. Even we don’t, sometimes. God says something that we don’t like, or don’t want to hear, or don’t understand, and rather than diving deeper into it or swallowing our pride, we decide to do the opposite—to build that Tower, to do what He’s said not to, to embrace what He’s said isn’t best, to think we know best, to make a name for ourselves, rather than trust in His name. A war of words begins, between the words of God and the words of the world, the words of our Lord and the words of our fallen hearts and minds.
But God is not done with us yet. So we reach Pentecost, the day in the Church year celebrating God pouring out the Holy Spirit, that mysterious Third Person of the Trinity. And what is it that the Holy Spirit does? He speaks. He creates a miracle in Jerusalem that Pentecost, where people from every corner of the world, all speaking different languages from Babel, are now able to hear the same words. And what are those unifying words that they can all hear and understand? It’s the story of Jesus. It’s the message of forgiveness, of being saved by His crucifixion, death, and resurrection. It’s the words of Christ calling all to receive the benefits of His sacrifice, to receive them through faith. The Holy Spirit speaks. He is all about words.
Jesus told us this would be the Holy Spirit’s work: “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name”—in Jesus’ name, not the name mortals build for themselves—“He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit speaks. He will always speak. But not just any words. He speaks Jesus’ words. He calls to remembrance all that Jesus spoke and taught, all that Jesus brought to light for us. The Holy Spirit reminds us that Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life. He reminds us that we don’t need to build our own way into heaven, like a personal Tower of Babel. That bridge is already there. It’s the bridge of the cross. It’s the bridge of Jesus’ name, not our own, not the names and groups and tribes and labels of the world, not the promises of things that will fade in a few days or months or years or decades. It’s the promise of eternity. It’s the promise of certainty. When we’re surrounded by so many words from inside and out, when we’re deafened by our own racing thoughts and words, the world’s opinions and plans and agendas, then the Holy Spirit speaks Jesus’ words again. He gives us peace in that whirlwind. “Peace I leave with you,” Jesus said, “My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Not conditional, or only if you agree to my terms, or surrender to ever-changing whims and definitions. Not as the world gives do I give to you. I give you peace that lasts forever, even in trouble, even in strife, even in pain. Peace that passes all understanding.”
That kind of peace comes only from knowing that sins are forgiven, that now there’s nothing standing between you and God. You don’t need excuses, you don’t need rationales or explanations. You just need forgiveness, and so that’s what Jesus gives you. It’s what He gives Emilia this morning, and it will last her for her entire life. Your Baptism lasts you for your entire life. God is perfectly pleased with you because of the peace Jesus won on the cross. You have peace that lasts forever because Jesus is risen and lives forever. You have peace in His words.
So listen for those words. They’re clear as day in the Scripture, in the liturgy, the service, the prayers, the language of the Church. They’re echoing in Baptism and at the Communion rail. Hear the Holy Spirit’s words, hear Jesus’ words, hear your heavenly Father’s words, for they are all saying the same thing: “Peace. You are forgiven. You are my child forever. Peace.” In the name of Jesus, the Word made flesh. Amen.