Jim Zazzera, Faith Presbyterian Church
In the autobiography of his early years writer C.S. Lewis makes this comment about his family:
The two families from which I spring were as different in temperament as in origin. My father’s people were true Welshmen, sentimental, passionate, and rhetorical, easily moved both to anger and to tenderness; men who laughed and cried a great deal and who had not much of a talent for happiness. The Hamiltons were a cooler race. Their minds were critical and ironic and they had the talent for happiness to a high degree—went straight for it as experienced travelers go for the best seat in a train. From my earliest years I was aware of the vivid contrast between my mother’s cheerful and tranquil affection and the ups and downs of my father’s emotional life, and this bred in me long before I was old enough to give it a name a certain distrust or dislike of emotion as something uncomfortable and embarrassing and even dangerous.
C.S. Lewis could look back on his life and see the clear and definite influence of his family on the kind of person he was.
I suspect we can all do the same thing. We can all see how our family history impacts us today. We all live with a legacy left to us by people from our past. We have been given many “gifts” by others – some positive, some negative. There is the love you learned from watching how affectionate your father and mother were to each other. There is the fear planted inside you after the break-in that occurred in your childhood home. There is the racism you learned from the divided culture of your high school. There is the hospitality you experienced in your grandmother’s welcome of so many to her Sunday dinner table. There is the shame you were taught by a father who was not comfortable with his own body. There is the celebration you took in at every holiday and family birthday. People leave us a legacy in our lives.
Jesus left a legacy to his disciples as well. Today’s passage tells part of that story. Jesus left those who followed him in his earthly life with what we might call “parting gifts.” And perhaps as his contemporary disciples those “parting gifts” are passed on to us as well.
This morning, we are back in the gospel of John once more, and as you will remember, Jesus is offering his final words to his disciples before his arrest & death. Knowing that he will be leaving them, he is quite intentional about his words in this moment. In fact, the verses read today could be said to be his final words in the gospel of John spoken directly to his disciples. These verses are all about his “parting gifts.”
Let me break the suspense for your before we examine the story more closely. Jesus leaves his friends with two gifts, two realities. The first is the reality of joy. The second is the reality of peace. Jesus’ parting gifts are joy and peace. Jesus’ last words to his followers point to experiences that most of us yearn for. The experience of joy. The experience of peace.
Now before you check out and write off “joy” and “peace’ as simple Christmas card platitudes, I encourage you to listen to what Jesus has to say about each. Because the truth is that “joy” and “peace,” as Jesus describes them, may not be exactly what you think.
The story begins almost comically. Jesus’ disciples wonder what Jesus means by “a little while you will no longer see me, a little while you will?” Jesus then asks them, do you wonder what I mean by “a little while?” Five times this phrase, “a little while” is mentioned. Back & forth they go. Jesus is leaving—they don’t understand that. Jesus is leaving—and it is not clear why and for how long. The disciples are understandably confused…about this “little while…”
Jesus’ answer to their questions is not a direct one. But Jesus’ response, as is so often the case, opens up some new thinking for them. “Here is the deal,” he says. “You will weep and mourn because I am leaving.
The world will rejoice, because there are many who will be glad to get rid of me. You will have pain, because I am gone, but your pain will turn into joy, because I will return.”
Think about dropping off a spouse, a friend, a parent, a child, or a grandchild at the airport
for a long trip. The only way you can bear the pain of his or her leaving is knowing that your loved one will return. It’s like that here with Jesus.
In fact, he makes it even more concrete. Jesus says, “you know what it is like with a woman in childbirth,
The intense but necessary pain—that ultimately brings the greatest joy—a new child into your world? It will be like that with my leaving. I will be gone, you will long for me, and then I will return.”
For the followers he was addressing, Jesus was trying to prepare them for his death that would ultimately be overcome in his resurrection. For us who are his followers today, he is preparing us for a lifetime of longing that ultimately resolves in the fullness of God’s presence in Jesus’ return. “On the day of my return,” says Jesus, “your pain will be released, your heart will rejoice, and no one will be able to take your joy from you.”
Then Jesus describes three characteristics of the joy he gives. The first characteristic he has already shared.
There is a pain that is intense and necessary. There is pain that stands as a doorway to my joy. It is as if Jesus is reminding us that joy is not an escape from life—with all its suffering, confusion and challenges.
Joy does not come when we deny reality, but Jesus’ joy only comes as we take on life with honesty and openness.
The second characteristic is that when we experience real joy, we have no need for questions. In verse 23 Jesus says “on that day you will ask nothing of me.” Real joy is so powerful, we have no need for questions, no need for grasping, no need for desperate wondering. One writer puts it this way, “…it is the nature of joy that all questioning grows silent, and nothing needs explaining.” There really is nothing left to ask,
because real joy is a gift that comes unbidden.
The third characteristic of joy appears in verse 23 and 24. Jesus says, “if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” In true joy, we ask for and receive the fulfillment of our deepest longings
The psalmist says, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Note here, the promise is not simply “anything” you want, but “anything in my name.” What Jesus says is that you can ask and receive “anything” that is part of Jesus’ mission to and love for this world. That’s a pretty big anything!
So the joy Jesus gives is quite specific. It comes to us in the midst of our pain. It is so full there is no need for questions. It is so confident it can ask God for anything. What an amazing parting gift!
In verses 25-28 Jesus goes on to talk about a number of things. He tells his disciples he will now speak more plainly to them. He tells them about the Father’s love for them. He reminds them of their own direct access to God. He clarifies his purpose in coming his purpose in coming.
Yet despites the wealth of good news in these verses, the disciples spend little time listening and taking all this in before they jump ahead. And here we get another somewhat comical moment with the disciples. If you read over verse 29 too quickly you might miss it. Let me paraphrase the disciples, “Oh now we get it! Now we really understand! Now you are speaking plainly!”
These disciples, so confused a few moments ago, are all but certain they understood now what Jesus was trying to explain. And I find myself wondering, how often do I think I really “get it” in life, yet within a millisecond I trip over the next mystery or problem that comes my way? I usually don’t really “get it” at all.
Now don’t miss Jesus response to their certainty, a response that is undoubtedly spoken with a bit of an ironic tone: “Do you NOW believe? So you think you really understand? If you are so sure of that, let me give you a peek into the immediate future. The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone.”
Jesus publically predicts that his disciples will desert him, much like he does in other places in scripture.
You may be my closest friends, my confidants, my disciples, but you will run away, you will deny me, you will betray me, you will abandon me.
Sadly, I must acknowledge that I too have stood in the place of these disciples. I have faced challenges and forgotten about Jesus’ power. I have found myself in trouble, and relied only on my own strength. I have deserted my Savior, Lord and Friend. Maybe you have too.
Yet right after Jesus tells his friends that they will abandon him, he does something funny. You would think Jesus would launch into some parental lecture about faithfulness, but that is not what he does. Immediately after predicting his betrayal by them, Jesus says this, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”
I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. It is as if Jesus is saying, I know things are bad, But when you realize your own weakness you are now ready for my second gift. As soon as your recognize your own brokenness, you are ready for my peace. Odd, isn’t it?
Jesus’ disciples had much to fear during his last hours. They knew that if they were seen as aligned with him they too might see suffering and death. Later disciples, living long after these words were spoken,
at times have also had much to fear. But the nature of Jesus’ peace is that it comes precisely in the admission of our weakness. The first characteristic of Jesus’ peace is that it comes to us just when we find ourselves in the midst of pain & persecution.
On this Peacemaking Sunday, it is also good to remind ourselves that Jesus’ peace is so different from the world’s peace. Remember Jesus’ words in this same gospel, near the beginning of these words of assurance to his 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.”
These words are strikingly similar to what he says in this passage. My peace is not at all what you expect. A second characteristic of Jesus’ peace is that it is not like the world’s peace.
Finally, Jesus underlines this thought about peace with these words: “Take courage, for I have conquered the world!” Notice he doesn’t say WE have conquered the world, as if to imply that we can do what only he can accomplish. As if to suggest that our own power is enough. For you see, a third characteristic of Jesus’ peace is that it is not something we create but only comes as a gift from him.
“Nothing can stand in the way of my peace,” Jesus tell us—not government shutdowns or relationship breakdowns, not evil calculations or cultural chaos, not manic days or depressed nights, not lack of wealth or poverty of spirit, not hatred that destroys, or desire that imprisons. Nothing can stand in the way of my peace, take courage, I have conquered the world!
So, to conclude, we remember that Jesus has given us a legacy. He has given us two gifts, two treasures. He gives us his joy—precisely in the midst of our despair. He gives us peace—even when we wallow in betrayal.
Joy and peace. You could easily say that is what this meal, this communion table, is about. Do this and remember me, Jesus tells us. Eat this bread, drink this cup. Do this, because in this moment you will glimpse my joy and my peace. As you break bread, you open yourself to the joy of my presence. When you drink the cup, you do so with those from all time and from all space who have sought to follow me. My gift to those gathered around this table is a peace with each other, reconciliation with the world, and deep relationship with the Father through me.
Joy and peace—that is what is served here today. Joy and peace,—these are the gifts that are offered to all who come to Jesus. Joy and peace—not just words, but very real gifts from the one we call Savior and Lord.
Next Step Questions
Read John 16:17-33. What makes you wonder? What would you like to have clarified? What stirs you in some particular way?
Is there some person’s influence or a particular happening in your early life that affects you to this day? Has that legacy been a “gift” or a “curse?”
Jesus told his disciples that he would grant them “joy.” How do you define “joy?” Is joy in Jesus different from the way we usually think of joy? If so, in what way?
Jesus reminds his followers that after “a little while” of suffering his absence they would experience the joy of his presence. Have you ever experienced God’s presence after a period of abandonment and pain? What was that like?
Jesus told his disciples that he would also grant them “peace.” How do you define “peace?” Is peace in Jesus different from the way we usually think of peace? If so, in what way?
Though Jesus’ disciples say, “now we know all things” and imply that they have his message figured out, he reminds them that they will still desert him. Why was it important for him to say that to them? In what way might it be good news?
What does it mean for Jesus to say he has “conquered” the world? Is his conquering already complete or still in process?
If you knew you were facing death and were leaving your family and friends, what would your final words to them be?
How does the Lord’s Supper (sometimes called “communion” or “Eucharist”) demonstrate the reality of the “joy” and “peace” offered by Jesus?
 Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis, pp. 3-4.
 See John 16:20.
 See John 16:21.
 Quoted from Rudolf Bultmann in The Gospel of Matthew, Dale Bruner, p. 780.
 Psalm 37:4, NRSV.
 John 16:32, NRSV.
 Remember Peter in Matthew 26:34?
 John 16:33, NRSV.
 John 14:27, NRSV.
 John 16:33, NRSV.