Editor’s note: I normally don’t post my sermons on this site anymore due to the length, but have relocated them almost exclusively it to the church’s website. However, with the chaotic nature of our world and nation and New York’s sobering laws over the past couple of weeks, I thought it appropriate to post this here.
It was a few weeks ago that it was announced. In a way, I was surprised, and in another way, I was not surprised. But it’s still hard to believe that in just a few short months, tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people will come to this small town for a three-day festival of peace and love. You know the one I mean?
It almost seems like a dream. Not that I’m all for everything that’s going to happen over those three days, but the magnitude of what will happen here both in the size and scope, as well as historically seems like it’s not even real. Hopefully, it will live up to its name of peace and love.
Now, I was born a few short years after the original Woodstock. But I remember the 25th anniversary of Woodstock back in ‘94. No, I didn’t go to it. I had a cousin that did, and he was so disappointed at how commercial it was. Product placement and sponsorships everywhere, paying way too much money for food and water. He said that even though the concerts were good–if you could see them through the heads–it didn’t live up to the original spirit of peace and love.
I also remember it being all over TV. I remember I was able to stay up late at night during that time because it was summer vacation, so I watched David Letterman’s mom be the show’s on-location correspondent. She must have been about 70 years old, and it was quite cute.
And since the 25th-anniversary reunion was such a success, a few short years later, they had the 30th anniversary at Griffiss Air Force Base, but that turned into a disaster. In fact, Rolling Stone Magazine had an article that listed 19 worst things about that festival. Here’s what it said:
“Woodstock ’99 was supposed to celebrate the 30th anniversary of “peace, love and happiness.” Instead, the Rome, New York festival earned the infamous distinction of “the day the Nineties died.” There were tons of contributing factors that made the fest the anti-Woodstock: Organizers trying to wring every last dollar from festival-goers from exorbitant ticket prices to costly water bottles, a festival site built atop hot tarmac in late-July heat, a poorly curated and scheduled lineup and an angry, aggressive crowd that left a charred festival site and sexual assaults in its wake.”
So why did something that was supposed to have been in the spirit of peace end up 30 years later so disastrous? Let me put it to you this way:
Now, I can cook enough to get by. I’ll make something now and then, but it’s usually meat and potatoes or spaghetti or breakfast or something with easy directions on the box where I can’t go too wrong. Now, I mentioned breakfast. I can make cereal. I can make toast usually without burning it. I can usually make eggs–fried, scrambled, even an omelet. But don’t ask me to make waffles unless it’s the kind that you put in the toaster. I can do that. Just ‘Leggo my Eggo’ and we’ll be fine.
But in my house, my wife doesn’t let me get away with that. She has to have homemade waffles. That’s all well and good. But getting the ingredients for that put together first thing in the morning is just too much for me. Even after I’ve had a shower and a cup of joe.
There has been and will be some ingredient that’ll be messed up or missing. I can pour the waffles in the iron once the mix is made. But making the mix–forgettabout it.
How does this go along with what I started out with today? Like my attempt at making waffles and other things that require ingredients, we know that as much of an honest attempt and good intentions at peace that our society tries to have, it falls short because it is missing one single ingredient, in fact, it was missing the most important ingredient of all: God.
In Romans, 2 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians, Paul calls God “the God of Peace.”
In the Old Testament, in the Book of Isaiah, the prophet says: “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.”
Even though our society may try with all good intentions to have peace without God, peace Biblically is not something that comes to us naturally. It is something that God has to provide. And He promises to provide it because He knows it’s something that we need that we cannot provide for ourselves.
Going back to Woodstock and the hippie movement again, like I said, they had good intentions. But let’s think about society at that time. I missed it by about five years, so I can’t say that I remember it. Here’s one thing I know about our society 50 years ago. Let’s see if I get it right: it wasn’t perfect back then either. There, did I get it right?
It still had problems, it still had issues, the 60s were turbulent times, times of great change–some change for the better, some for the worse.
Today, 50 years later, we still have people trying to instill peace in our society without God. How’s that working out for ya? Especially when our society has intentionally drifted further away from God. How is that working? Have you seen the headlines the past couple of weeks? It’s chaotic. Our society is spinning out of control. And if it’s not bad enough on the national level, how many of you don’t know whether to stay in New York or leave now because of the state’s latest string of legislations? How can we live under that?
It seems like we’ve traded one societal ill for another. Going back to the 60s, we succeeded in one area like civil rights, but we’ve drifted in another, like free love and drug use. Look at how that has expanded over the course of the past 50 years.
We are not any more at peace, we’re less at peace.
You know why?
Because peace comes from God.
We’ve sought to try to live in peace, but because we can’t naturally live in peace, we’ve regulated ourselves to living on eggshells. We’re politically correct–but not peaceful. We’re living in a form of slavery for the sake of living in peace. Does that sound right? I’m calling political correctness slavery from the pulpit. Why? Political correctness is a form of control as far as I’m concerned. When people are under control, they’re not acting from the heart–they’re acting out of fear. Is true peace and love something that comes out of fear? I can’t find that in the Bible. Nor have I found it through experience.
They say that art imitates life. 50 years ago, our art imitated an innocence and a sense of joy and peace. It was in our music, it was in our movies, it was on our TV. There’s very little of that now. Not all, but many of today’s entertainers are filled with lust, snideness or just plain drabness. Why? It’s a reflection of the heart (Matt. 12:33-35).
Going back to Psalms again–Psalm 33 says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” Blessed. What does that word mean? In the Hebrew, it means “happy.” Is our nation happy today? It was at one time. It was when we made God our Lord. Now, we make ourselves our Lord. Are we any happier?
Like I said, turn on the news. Turn on talk radio. We have 24/7 “news” but it’s mostly pundits and analysts. It seems we’re in a state of constant inner turmoil. It seems like everything has become controversial. We’re always bickering about everything. We’re getting preached at from all sides. But it’s not the gospel being preached. It’s constant polarization. I just saw an article not too long ago about the rise of the religious left. Now we’re going to see more polarization within the Christian community rise up because of a great divide among us–which I thought was narrowing, is suddenly getting wider. At some point in the near future, churches are going to come to a head with each other, and it’s not going to be pretty.
Now more than any other time in my life, our society is spinning into chaos and disorder. And the correlation between our society’s turn from God to the flesh, and our lack of blessing of peace and stability is evident.
So if there is no peace in the world around us, then how can we have peace within us? If peace doesn’t come through our efforts of societal change, or modified behavior through political correctness or Washington D.C. or Hollywood’s constant preaching, then where does it come from? Does it come to us when we have our lives all put together just right–when we finally have the right spouse, the right job in the right city that has the right schools, and having the right house and right car and the right friends and our children finally being perfectly clean and behaving just like they do on a Disney movie?
Besides pastoring, I also drive a medical shuttle during the week for people who need to get to medical appointments. I was picking up a passenger in the Rochester area about a week and a half ago, and it was at a facility that had to do with special education and special needs, and there were buses parked at the loop directly in front of the building, so I parked in the parking lot across from the loop–not in a parking space, but I stopped in the drive area between the parking spaces just long enough so the passenger could see me from inside the door and then come out of the building to the van. Wouldn’t you know in that short amount of time, someone drove up behind me and I could see the irritation in that driver’s face in my rearview mirror? I mean I can still picture it in my mind, it was something so simple that we, here in Watkins Glen wouldn’t even think of. We can wait a minute or two, no problem. But in this person, the irritation in her face was so intense it bothered me the whole ride. She shook her head and threw her hands in the air and honked her horn.
Now, I’m assuming a lot, but from the car she was driving to the way she was groomed to the neighborhood we were in, she seemed to be someone who might have worked there and probably had everything–except peace.
Why did I relay to you this story? Because peace is not something that comes to us naturally or by our wealth or job or neighborhood we live in. It’s something that God has to provide no matter what our circumstance, no matter who we are. You can be right in a financial bind and experience greater peace than anyone who has a million dollars.
Here are some more verses on that subject.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus said:
John 14:27 “27 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.”
A few chapters later in the same book, Jesus said,
John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Another couple of passages from Paul:
Phil 6:6-7 “6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Rom. 15:13 “13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
A couple more from The Old Testament. I was struck by this verse from Job
Job 22:21 “Submit to God and be at peace with him; in this way prosperity (or peace) will come to you.”
Once again, the prophet Isaiah:
Isaiah 26:12 “Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us.”
Now, once we have the peace of God, then it’s something that we can to some degree share with other people. We are not sharing with them our peace, but the peace that we have been given from Christ. We can even change the atmosphere of our surroundings and change people’s moods by our peace and our presence and the personality that we have in Christ. Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians. This is how we live now that we are in Christ:
Galatians 5:22-23 “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.”
Notice ‘peace’ is a component of the fruit of the Spirit. To the Christian, the fruit of the Spirit becomes the fruit of our Spirit. When we enter a room, there should be a difference. What if you began to intentionally share that peace? You could change the atmosphere around you.
So as we go about our week, we should seek from God the peace that we so deeply need. We should be willing to receive from God the peace that he so freely offers. Let us be the conduit of the peace of God to everyone around us. How can you be peace to those around you this week? How can you change the atmosphere around you this week?
Going back to The Old Testament again:
Psalm 29:11 “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.”
Proverbs 16:7 “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.”
Let me leave you with this, a blessing from The Book of Numbers:
24 “‘“The Lord bless you
and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”’