Do you remember this photo? I shared the story three years ago. Her name was Hudea, a four year old Syrian girl, in a refugee camp. She lost her father in a bombing in her hometown. When a photographer pointed his camera at her, she mistook it for a gun that she raised tiny two hands over her head, which saddened my heart. Can you find fear in her eyes and on her lips pursed? She is now three year older than she was. I do not know where she is and how she is doing. But I pray that God keep and bless her and her family and that the Syrian Civil War come to an end.
Looking at the photo, a thought flashed across my mind. I am not in the midst of war and I do not mistake a photographer’s camera for a gun. But, am I free of fear? Have I overcome it? Is there anyone among us, who is totally liberated from a feeling of fear? I guess not.
We wish our minds could be as calm and peaceful as a mirror lake. But our lives are constantly disrupted and our hearts are incessantly disturbed by life issues such as finance, housing, property, friendship, marriage, children, education, future planning, business, workplace, health, retirement, and ultimately death. No wonder, we often find ourselves caught in anxiety. Not often, but all the time, actually. It seems to be so difficult to keep our hearts peaceful even for a moment. Here we encounter a question: Any way to make our hearts at peace with our lives?
I am going to introduce two perspectives in the hope to find a way to be free from fear. Here is a man who believes that peace is one’s birth-right. When he feel peaceful, he takes it for granted because, he believes, it is his birth-right. Now when the situation turns out to be disrupting, he feels a sense of deprivation and asks himself “What is it that has taken away my peace?” Having found the one that robbed him of peace, his heart gets filled with hatred. E.g. If the robber is a financial issue, he becomes attached to economic issues or sceptical of money, jealous of other’s wealth or hostile toward the rich, and he ends up with no peace at all.
Here is another person who believes that peace is not of her own but God’s gift. When she feels peaceful, she feels thanks to God for such a precious gift. When the situation turns out to be disrupting, she does not feel deprived because it was not of her own. Instead, she asks, “What pushed peace out of my mind?” Soon she realizes that the robber is herself, her greed sitting deep down in her heart. Then she kneels down and repents, and eventually finds herself re-filled with deeper and greater peace.
I have just compared two worldviews. The one is a self-centred worldview which claims that everything good belongs to oneself. And the other is a God-centred worldview which admits that all good things are freely given from God of Grace. I hope and pray that all of us may thank God for all the precious gifts that we enjoy at the moment such as life, family, friendship, peace, joy and love.
A Divine Gift
Todays’ reading from John 20 tells us of peace that the resurrected Jesus brings. The story goes like this: The disciples gathered in a room with the door locked for fear that they should be captured and killed like their Teacher whom they had thought the Messiah. Then, all of sudden, Jesus appeared among them in the room where the doors were locked, and said to them “Peace be with you.” His abrupt appearance scared them away from Him because they thought it was the ghost of their Teacher.
So it was a very thoughtful response that Jesus showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were convinced that He was not a ghost but a real person who had risen from the dead. And the outcome was great joy among them. Dreadful fear turned into great joy and their hearts were filled with peace. We know the stories of the disciples that follows. They became so courageous as to risk their lives in proclaiming the gospel. Peace that the risen Jesus brought transformed the disciples so that they became a group of people “of whom the world was not worthy”(Heb 11:38).
From the story we can see that peace Jesus brings is not the same as that which we can make for ourselves: Firstly, our peace is something that we just enjoy whereas Jesus’ peace transforms us. Secondly, our peace is transient whereas Jesus’ peace is as ever-lasting as His kingdom. Thirdly, our peace is dependent on money and power whereas Jesus’ peace transcends worldly and material things.
Some years ago I shared these words: “If you want to be happy for a day, take a hot bath. If you want to be happy for a week, have your hair cut. If you want to be happy for a month, purchase a house. If you want to be happy for a year, marry to a beautiful girl.” It is implied that there are some ways to keep ourselves happy for a day, for a week, for a month, or for a year. Our problem is that we live much longer than a year.
When it comes to peace, we find it more problematic. What can I do to make myself peaceful for a day? What can you do to make yourself peaceful for a week? What can we do to make ourselves peaceful for a month? Let alone for a year. Any idea? Isn’t it almost impossible to keep ourselves peaceful even for a moment? That is true. All sorts of issues constantly disrupt our lives and incessantly disturb our hearts.
Peace that we are able to make is enjoyable but so quickly passing that it does not help us to grow and mature. Some people assume that a lot of money makes them peaceful, but they are wrong because a lot of money makes them crave for more money. Some other people think that popularity, fame, honour, or power may bring them peace, but they are wrong because, immediately after they reach the top, they become anxious and afraid of losing what they have already achieved.
Only peace that Jesus brings goes everlasting, transforms us to be a better person, and helps us to look out beyond the worldly matters. Ultimately, it makes us stand firm against the storms of life. Then, how can we get Jesus’ peace? This story presents us the answer to the question. Jesus came to the place where His disciples were sitting hopelessly. The disciples were not doing anything but trembling when Jesus appeared and turned their fear into joy
and filled their hearts with His peace. It was simply given to them as a gift. We call it grace, which is a divine gift.
The Precious Oil
Today’s reading from Psalm well describes God’s grace in a poetic way. Psalm 133:2 reads, “It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes.” It says “The precious oil running down on the beard of Aaron,” which is a description of the scene that Aaron was consecrated as the High Priest (Leviticus 8). While the ordination of Aaron is a historical fact, Psalm 133 takes it as a metaphor for God’s grace running down upon His people. (In this metaphor, the person Aaron could be interpreted as an individual or a group of people that Aaron represents.)
When the precious oil running down from the head, it emits a precious fragrance which not only surrounds Aaron’s body but also fills the whole space where he stands. Likewise, when grace is poured upon us, its spiritual fragrance wrap us up and fill the place where we are. “Spiritual fragrance” is my poetic expression which may be interpreted as “mysterious warmth” that surrounds us as we gather in the name of Jesus.
I found an expression in Psalm 133 interesting: “the precious oil … running down upon the beard of Aaron.” When the oil touches the beard, it soaks into the beard. Likewise, when God’s grace has been poured upon us and running down from head to feet, it soaks into the very inner being of ourselves. Of course, along with its fragrance. Can you imagine what kind of being it makes us to be? A being of body, mind and spirit, filled with the precious and gracious fragrance. The Bible says, it is a gift, which means it is free.
The Dew of Hermon
The third verse of Psalm 133 views God’s grace from a different perspective, yet still in a poetic way: “It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life forevermore” (Psalm 133:3). “The dew of Hermon” and “the mountain of Zion” are metaphors respectively for God’s grace from above and the Kingdom of God proclaimed. Therefore, we can put it this way: “God’s grace keeps falling on the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed on earth.”
We remember the Lord’s Prayer, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” So we pray that God’s grace fall on the mountain of Zion and cover the entire land of the world so that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Hermon is a very lofty peak, about 9,200 feet above the Mediterranean, which marks the north boundary of Palestine. It is one of the most conspicuous mountains in Palestine or Syria. When all the surrounding country is parched, the refreshing dew descends upon the mountains of Zion. So “the dew of Hermon” portrays God’s grace upon us standing in the barren land. The dewdrops of grace never stop falling upon the dry, parched land so as to turn it into a green pasture where life grows and flourishes.
I personally love the expression of “the dew of Hermon.” Dew symbolizes freshness, clarity, purity, authenticity, and integrity. God’s grace refreshes us, brings us clarity about life, cleanses our soul, and forms each of us to be the one God wants us to be.
No Grace Only for ME
The first verse in Psalm 133 presents one of the main themes in Christianity: Life together in unity: “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” (Ps. 133:1) The theme is particularly significant as our lives are under the influence of the contemporary culture that values individualism and nurtures a self-centred worldview: the egocentric worldview, in other words. Now we live in the world dominated by selfish materialism, where people seek individual prosperity and success by all means.
We are Christians who were called to live in unity, love one another, and build up each other. Therefore, if we pray only for my success, my well-being, my prosperity, and my health, it is not Christian, not biblical either. Of course, God is not pleased with it because God is love (1 John 4:8). By nature love is relational. If you are the only person in the world, love has no ground to stand. Hereby we understand why God revealed Himself as God of Trinity and as love. Likewise, grace is also relational. There is no grace only for me because grace flows through “life together in unity.” If someone seeks grace only for himself, what he will find in himself is not grace but greed.
When God called Abraham and blessed him, God did see Abraham not as a person but as the community of all believers. God looked out all nations through the window of Abraham. So he was called “father of nations.” God’s grace upon Abraham was not only for him but also for all the believers who would come through him, which includes all of us. No wonder, in His last prayer for the disciples, Jesus prayed, “they may be one, as we are one” (John 17:22). Grace flows through “life together in unity,” which is nothing but “life of love.” In Christianity, there is no love only for me, and no grace only for me, either.
Peace be with You
Jesus says to us “Peace be with you.” It does not necessarily mean that He will make change in our life circumstances in order to make us peaceful. He rather means, “You will experience my peace, no matter what circumstances it may be.” Just as the disciples in the room experienced joy, our fear can be turned into joy without any change in our life circumstances. That’s the point for today. Jesus changes us, not circumstances.
When we meet the resurrected Jesus, we experience change in us, which eventually opens our eyes to see God’s grace, the precious oil, already running down from our head to feet, soaking into our body, mind and spirit. When we trust in the resurrected Jesus, we are transformed to see God’s grace, the dew of Hermon, already falling on the people of God and covering all the land of the world.
We watch Music Video “It is well” together in silence, which replaces my prayer.
Readings: Psalm 133; John 20:19-3. “Peace be with you”. 8 April 2018. Rev Joohong Kim. Crossway Community Church