Take Heart!

Kelly Gissander is executed by lethal injection for a murder committed by Gregory Owen, who will be eligible for parole next year.

A two year old Syrian boy’s body washes up on the shore, a visual image of a much larger crisis.

A 30 year old mother of three (and children’s minister to hundreds more) is diagnosed with cancer. Again.

Headlines and twitter feeds are filled with crises galore, to the point we look away. It’s too much to take in, too painful to process. There is no quick fix or spiritual band-aid that can repair the mess of this world in which we live. Joining hands to sing kum ba ya around the campfire won’t bring peace or solve problems.

Consider the irony of timing when Jesus tells his disciples I have overcome the world! He is heading into Gethsemane for prayer before his trial and execution.

In retrospect, of course, we know the end of the story – his execution is the very means by which he does overcome the world. But at the time of the last supper, it must have seemed a bit premature. Reading John 16:33 without using the previous chapters for context does a disservice to his bold statement.

You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me. (12:8)

Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. (12:35)

I have washed your feet…I have set an example that you should do as I have done. (13:15)

Where I am going you cannot follow now, but you will follow later. (13:36)

Do not let your hearts be troubled. (14:1)

Peace I leave with you – my peace I give to you. (14:27)

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. (15:18)

All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. (16:1)

I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. (16:33)

In this world you will have trouble.

Trouble is here. Amen, sister!

We’ve been sold a bill of goods. A prosperity gospel that promises much and delivers little. An assumption that God sends rain on the unjust but blesses Christians with “the American dream.” Success without suffering. Satisfaction without sadness.

But we all know trouble. Whether it’s a fatal diagnosis, a financial setback, a failed marriage, or family dysfunction, trouble finds us whether or not we check that day’s Facebook news feed.

And peace seems illusive.

Maybe that’s because we think of peace as the absence of trouble.

Yet when Jesus speaks of peace, he knows the extent of trouble that lies in front of him. His peace is neither absence of trouble nor lack of conflict. His peace is found in his present circumstance.

In the presence of God.

I am not alone, for my Father is with me. (16:32)

When Jesus speaks of offering us peace, he knows the extent of trouble that lies in front of us. This peace is neither absence of trouble nor lack of conflict. This peace is found in our present circumstance. Because it is in the presence of Jesus.

Peace I leave with you…my peace I give to you.

I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.

Perhaps this is why Jesus spends so much time in John 15 reminding his disciples to remain in him, like branches remain on the vine. Our ability to experience peace in every circumstance is directly related to our remaining present with Christ.

Joyce Eiler wrote a short song that includes these lyrics:

Go ye now in peace and know that the love of God will guide you Feel his presence here beside you showing you the way.

In your time of trouble, when hurt and despair are there to grieve you Know that the Lord will never leave you, he will bring you courage…

If you often sense God’s presence through music, you won’t be surprised to know that Kelly Gissander, moments before her life was taken away by lethal injection, was calmly singing

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.”

Through her difficult years in prison, the opportunity for theological study, and even in the legal troubles of the past year, Kelly was able to find peace by remaining in Christ.

Our peace is not in the absence of trouble, but in the presence of Christ.

In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Dawn Gentry Johnson City, TN MDIV student at Emmanuel Christian Seminary Member of Grandview Christian Church