Summary: Peace is not the product of circumstances, but the promise of God's ever-present help.
I found this joke in Reader’s Digest a few months ago. Avocado: “I’m not ripe yet. I’m still not ripe. Nope, not yet. Whoops. I spoiled while you stepped out to use the washroom.”
If you don’t eat fresh avocado you might not get the joke, but avocado is a fruit that has a notoriously short window for being ripe and ready to eat. If you cut it open too soon, the green pulp inside is woody and hard to dig out. But if you wait too long, the inside turns into a nasty brown mush. Since the window for a ripe, ready to eat avocado is so short one can hardly say that it is a fruit that is always in season.
And you might feel that way about the fruit of the Spirit that we’re going to study today: peace. Just think of your week. How often did you enjoy peace? Perhaps when you finally sat down to have a nice calming cup of tea, the phone rang shattering the silence and bringing you news that was upsetting. Or even though you were able to take a nice long walk to enjoy the beauty of spring, peace was still elusive because your mind kept filling with the challenges you’re facing right now. So how can we say that peace is a fruit that is always in season? Because like all the other fruit that we are studying, peace is not produced by circumstance, but by the constant calming presence of God. Our text this morning makes that clear even though it never uses the word peace.
Listen again to the opening words of Psalm 46. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging” (Psalm 46:1-3).
What I like about Psalm 46 is how contemporary it feels. What I mean is that it doesn’t describe some fairy-tale sort of world where everything is perfect and nice. It describes a world that is not just turning but churning! Earthquakes. Tsunamis. Tornados. Hurricanes. Famine. These natural disasters continually shake our planet and often our lives. So where is God when those things are happening? Well, according to Psalm 46, he’s right there. He’s an ever-present help in trouble. Your God is not a God who is far off. He is a God who is in your midst. The psalmist went on to write: “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. 5 God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day” (Psalm 46:4, 5).
The city of God that the psalmist speaks about is not Jerusalem. There is no river that runs through that city. What he’s talking about is the Church, the gathering of God’s people. God is in our midst. He will help us at break of day. Think of what that means. It means that he is with you through the darkest parts of the night. And he’s also there right from the beginning. God is not like that co-worker who has a knack of showing up for the group project when everything is just about finished.
But how do we know that God is really here with us? As far as I know, Christians face the same financial challenges that non-Christians do. They get sick as non-Christians do. They even die at the same rate: one death per person. How then can we say that God is in our midst? Well our psalmist never said that God would keep away the natural disasters. It says that we do not have to fear those disasters. We can have peace even when we are being strangled to death by them. Here’s why, says the prophet Isaiah in one of my favorite passages in the Bible: “The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. 2 Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death” (Isaiah 57:1, 2).