This is a copy of a sermon I gave called "God's Peace Soup." I gave it on May 5th, 2013 at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and then later that day at Emmanuel Lutheran Church. It was given just a little over a month before my mother passed away this June. This was a very personal sermon and I don't typically put my sermon text on here, but if it can be of help to anybody going through rough times, then I felt I had the need to share this one.
As with all my sermons, this is just a rough outline so it didn't go exactly like this in person, but you get the gist.
At the start of the year, I was home recovering from a surgery to repair a deviated septum that I sustained after I brilliantly ran into a glass door by accident. It was an especially fun recovery time because in addition to having to sit upright on the couch to sleep because I wasn’t allowed to lay down, I was also participating in what is called the Daniel Fast, along with other members of the church I work for.
The Daniel Fast is a type of fast where you limit your food to only natural foods…no meats, no sweets and no unleavened bread. It’s based off of the food that Daniel fasted on in the Old Testament. As a man who LOVES his bacon, it was definitely a challenge! The point of the fast is to give up the food we love, make us a little hungry, and to spend lots of time in prayer to turn that hunger for food into hunger for God. So, combine this radical dietary change with me being unable to help with meals because I was unable to look down…and you end up with an unhappy wife as well as a miserable husband.
But as bad as the situation was, one of the highlights of this fast were all the different soups we could make. They were especially appealing to my wife because not only did they taste great, she could make enough to last for several meals. So, imagine yourself trying to create this soup that just looks amazing on paper. Just looking at the recipe makes you salivate. You follow the directions perfectly…and the soup is OK, but it’s just not right...something is missing. You end up trying everything you can think of to make this soup live up to the expectations you had for it. So, you add some salt and take another spoonful…better…but not quite. Pepper will surely do the trick, so you throw some in…and while you first sample bite seems somewhat better, you try it again and notice it’s still not right. Now you notice the soup is too watery, so you add some flour to change the consistency. After that you decide you need some spice, so you throw some chili powder in there and sample….and you eat a clump of flour that somehow didn’t dissolve properly and it tastes terrible. No matter what ingredient you add to this soup, it doesn’t taste the way you want it to taste.
In today’s Gospel reading from the Book of John, Jesus is with his followers at what we now call The Last Supper. Jesus, knowing exactly what is about to happen, is addressing his disciples and trying to prepare them for something none of them wanted, his immanent death on the cross. Jesus tells his disciples that even though Jesus won’t be walking on the Earth with them any longer, that they’re about to gain this amazing companion in their lives.
Jesus tells his disciples, “But, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Jesus goes on to tell his disciples to not be unhappy, because even though Jesus was about to die, great things were still to come.
This news of Jesus’ death was more than what most of them could stomach. Jesus’ apostles and disciples didn’t really understand what Jesus was talking about. I mean, try to put yourself in their place for a second. You’ve been walking along with Jesus for a few years now and have seen miracle after miracle. You’ve seen sick people healed, you’ve seen the lame walk, the blind see, water miraculously turned into wine and food just appear from nowhere. You think you’ve seen only the beginning of what is to come when all of a sudden, the source of all these miracles is telling you that he’s going to die and that part of him is coming back as a spirit…to live in you. They probably were thinking something along the lines of ‘OK Jesus…you’ve had a little too much of that miracle water. Let’s get you home to rest so you can overthrow the Roman Empire tomorrow.’
You see, Jesus’ apostles and disciples had the wrong cookbook with the wrong ingredients and they didn’t even know it. Their recipe had Jesus as the Messiah sent to deliver them from the hands of Roman tyranny and rule over all Nations, with themselves being the most favored group of all. So, when Jesus was telling them that he was about to die, they checked their ingredient list and were very confused…I envision Peter turning to Jesus and saying “Jesus, I don’t see anything about blood or a cross in this recipe…what you’re saying doesn’t make sense.”
You see, at some point or another, almost all of us try to build happiness and peace using the world’s ingredients too. The world gives us these recipes on how to find or perhaps even create peace and happiness for ourselves. So, we start living our lives with the world’s cookbook. We start assembling all the ingredients we need to try and make life perfect. Maybe in our youth we start out at the local grocery store or a McDonalds…but we quickly realize that getting yelled at by customers isn’t making us happy, so in our next job, we decide to change it up and go work for a book store…things have to be better there, I mean, smart and well civilized people like books, right? So we start helping people buy books but we don’t really feel happy there either. What we thought was the problem, the customers, turned out not be the REAL issue…the issue HAS to be…our coworkers who aren’t pulling their weight. So, we decide that in order to be happy, we’re going to have to be in charge and make sure this place is being run correctly, so we work our tails off and are eventually promoted to management, where we quickly find out that management has a whole slew of problems that are draining on our happiness levels…but the money is good, so we start taking a look at the ingredient list the world gives us in order to be happy and peaceful. We find ourselves that amazing man or woman, get married and have some kids…but life still doesn’t feel peaceful because there are problems at home. A new car will fix that surely, so let’s get ourselves something shiny with some power. The car is fun to drive, but the rest of our lives is still lacking what we’re looking for…we notice we still spend a lot of time at home, so a big gigantic TV will help make that time at home better for everybody! Those 65 inches will deliver shows like Downton Abbey that provide us with friends who sometimes seem so close that we weep with them when something terrible happens. So we get the TV and it’s great…but as soon as the TV is off and we’re left to your own devices, we get into ANOTHER fight with our spouse…what you really need is a different partner who will…and this cycle just goes on and on and on but you never find the peace and happiness you’re looking for.
This is what life looks like when we try to create happiness using recipes the world gives us. Just to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with new cars or TVs or good jobs…but when we use them as building blocks for peace and happiness, we end up with soup that doesn’t taste anywhere near as good as we think it should. Along the way, some people even end up with things in their pot that they know aren’t good ingredients, but life just seems to lack the flavor they need so they turn to dangerous things in a last ditch effort. Drugs, alcohol, affairs, pornography…all added to their lives because they don’t know any other way to feel better…to feel happy…to feel at peace.
So, as I am up here talking about soup as a metaphor for life, some of you may have been thinking something along the lines of “Well, what about when life adds some stuff to the pot that I didn’t want or had any control over?” I think we can all sympathize with that, right? We’ve all heard the adage “When Life gives you lemons, make lemonade?” But what if what you’re given is not as nice as a lemon? Life can sometimes add a lot of things to our pot that makes our lives not so great.
I’m going to get heavy on you all for a second, but bear with me. For me, life is probably going to start tasting pretty bad for a while. My mother has been battling liver cancer for years now, things have gotten worse, and the doctor’s are telling us it’s likely my mother will die in 2-6 months. It’s going to be an awful time for my family for a while. My mother isn’t that old, she’s only 64, she’s lived a good life and it just seems unfair. I worry for my Dad, he’s been with my mom since he was 15, and I worry about what life has in store for him. It’s going to be dark for a while and life isn’t going to taste good, even though God’s given me a great base. I’m going to cry out to God to take this all away…to make life taste good again…and to make the pain stop now. I have no doubt that God will do exactly that, but probably not when I want it to happen. We want the ingredients that we think are best for us now, but God gives us what’s actually best for us at the perfect time. We want immediate relief, but God knows that immediate relief now may make you worse off than some time spent in the desert. We want candy, but God gives us carrots.
People say home cooking is better than what you can get from a restaurant, because it’s made with love. It’s hard for me to find a beef stew that’s anywhere near as good as the one my mom made for me as a little boy, but our God has created something even better for us.
Because of Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins, something happened that nobody ever expected. This sacrificial death has become the core of our existence…the base of our soup…and it’s not like any ingredient you’ll ever find. It’s simultaneously overpowering but somehow still gentle. It’s radically different, but somehow familiar and unchanging. It’s turbulent, but peaceful.
And as if that wasn’t enough, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit who was there at the creation of the world is now living inside of you, reminding you how to make the soup better. The Holy Spirit will remind you to do things that flavor the soup, and less of the things that can spoil the creation. When we take a minute to stop and recognize the process that God is doing in us, it changes everything. Ingredients in our lives that we thought were good for no longer appeal to us like they used to. Instead, our lives are made heartier, richer and fuller because God’s love for us has impacted us so much that we can’t help but impact others with that same love.
When my mother passes away and life changes for my entire family, my soup is not going to taste good. Life is going to throw a lot of things in my pot that I really wish weren’t there. At times, I am even going to spit the soup out because I won’t be able to handle the taste. But throughout the whole process, I know God will be working in ways, some subtle and some anything but subtle…and at the end of the day, The peace that only Jesus can give us…God’s perfect base will overpower the bad ingredients…it will overcome whatever life has thrown at us…and it will be as if the tears that were cried and ended up in the pot hadn’t existed at all. On that day, that soup will be transformed into the most amazing and perfect thing we’ve ever tasted. God’s Peace Soup.