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His Peace Comes from Our Obedience

John 14:23-29 

Advice columnist Ann Landers receives something like 10,000 letters a month. When asked what seems to be the most common topic, she answered that most people seem to be afraid of something. They are afraid of losing their health, their job, or their family. They are afraid of upsetting their neighbor, alienating a friend, or committing a social faux pas. Many are even afraid when there is no reason to be afraid. Ours is a world of fearful people. We are a people in search of inner peace.1

There once was a time when pilgrims who sought for inner peace would separate themselves from the material world. They fled to the desert or monastery to seek the solitude of the monastic life. According to tradition, when the famed author and philosopher Dante knocked at the door of a Franciscan monastery at Lunigiana he was asked, "What do you want?" He replied, "Peace!"2 The cloistered life has indeed become attractive. If you scan the best sellers list, you will find several books describing the serenity of monastery. However, spirituality in the 21st Century demands a blend of both the spiritual and the material world. One magazine ad captured it all. The picture had a young man, a Gen-Xer, sitting with his legs crossed, his arms extended, his eyes shut and a quite look of tranquility and peace upon his face. He was surround by the latest high tech gear-ropes, tents, boots, 'beeniers,' ice axes, sleeping bags, form pads, socks-everything necessary for his next outdoor adventure. He lacked only one item, the SUV large enough, strong enough and powerful enough to carry him to that deserted wilderness solitude where he could become one with Nature.

That SUV ad did an excellent job of connecting with our society's quest for inner peace through deeper spiritual experiences and our passion for the material world. This contrasts to the disciplined ascetic living that requires the denial of the good things in life. The abandonment of earthly comforts is considered an inconvenient and excessive sacrifice. Today our society searches for inner contentment while still enjoying earthly pleasures. Madison Avenue tries to convince us that we will enjoy peace by purchasing their product. Jesus offered another approach.

On the night of his betrayal and arrest, he was alone in the Upper Room with his disciples. It was a momentous occasion. They were celebrating Passover, the festival that commemorated the Jews deliverance from Egypt. But the disciples knew that the Jews wanted to arrest him. Everyone who ate at the table on that Thursday evening could feel the tension. He began the evening, by washing their feet. They were stunned. Only servants wash feet. He was their Rabbi, their Teacher, how could he even think to wash their feet. Peter then shot his mouth off again by boasting about how he would never leave Jesus even if all the other disciples deserted him. The Master's response predicting Peter's denial pierced the heart of the fisherman and silenced the other disciples. 

Jesus then talked about going away. The disciples wanted to know where. They wanted to know the details. They wanted the specifics but only offered evasive responses. Then he began to talk to them about sending someone else; a counselor, an advocate, teacher, someone who would stand alongside them. This only added to their confusion. They did not want a substitute teacher. They did not need someone else. They had him.

Throughout the discourse Jesus' thoughts meander. His wandering speech reveals the stress he felt during those final hours. Judas asks a question but Jesus does not answer the question. His thoughts are elsewhere. Judas wants to know the why's. Why did you show yourself to us and not anyone else? Why are you so secretive? Why not announce your identity to the world? Jesus response reveals that he is not concerned about the why's of theology but the what's? What will the disciples do with all that they have heard? What difference will his friendship make on their lives? What will be their response to his message?

His words are clear. If anyone loves me, if my friendship means anything to you than do something about. 

Obedience had been a constant theme of his ministry. From his opening call to repent, Jesus often played the role of the OT prophet calling God's people back to the covenant. The nation stood in disobedience to Torah, the Law. Jesus called them break the enslaving bonds of their petty legalism and allow the spirit and power of the Law to transform their lives. He called them to allow the empowering freedom of the law of love to transform their lives. He announced that the power of the Kingdom of God would liberate them from the greed of their material possessions so that they could generously share with others. He proclaimed a message that would free them to love those who hurt them. 

This message often gets lost in the feel-good religion of the 21st Century. People want a god who will relieve their anxiety and reduce their stress so that they can put unrealistic demands on themselves. They want a god who heals them when they are sick even if they abuse their body. They want a god who will accept them even if they say derogatory comments about others. They want a god who will protect them from accidents even when they live with a reckless abandon. They want a god who will forgive them even when they are unforgiving of others. People want a religion that has great benefits but with few demands. They want a god who is always available but expects nothing in return. In essence, they want a god of their own creation because the God of both the Old and the New Testament calls his people to a live of obedience.

Obedience takes many forms. Sometimes it requires us to say no to things that are enticing but spiritual destructive. Other times it requires a response that says 'Yes.' However, even those yes-responses are not always easy. There are times when we do not feel good and people are asking us to help. There are times when people ask us to help out with a project but we do not feel competent. Former Giants pitcher Dave Dravecky discovered the importance of faithful obedience even when he did not feel like it.

Dave had been asked to speak at a church but he really did not want to do it. He still had not accepted the amputation of his left arm and the end of his major league career. "I felt lousy that night," he recalled. But he went anyway. "I felt so unworthy to be standing there in front of all those people who looked up to me," he wrote. "If they just knew what I was really like, what thoughts went through my head, what words came out of my mouth, they'd get up and walk out the door."

Much to Dave's surprise, not one person walked out that night. In fact, one man came forward. He was a 34-year-old welder whose life was a mess. He wanted to change his life but wasn't sure where to start. This welder had been having an affair with another woman but was in the process of trying to put his marriage back together. There was something in Dave's message that night that spoke to this man. He wanted Christ to come into his heart and change his life.

Faith stirred in that man as he went home to his wife. In the weeks that followed, everyone around him noticed the change -- people in the neighborhood, people he worked with. No one noticed more than his wife.

Five weeks later, that man went to get a tool from the toolbox on his flatbed truck when another truck backed into him, crushing his chest. He died instantly.

A few months later, Dave Dravecky was speaking on a nationally broadcast radio program. During the call-in segment of the show, this man's wife called in. She said that those five weeks were the best days of their marriage. "Choking back the tears," Dave writes, "she thanked me." 3 

And to think he did not want to go that night because he did not think that he had anything to offer anyone else. But because Dravecky was obedient, a marriage was restored and one man found peace with his God. Dave Dravecky's arm will never grow back. He will never again pitch in the major leagues but he knows the peace of God. The welder only enjoyed five weeks of his new life in Christ and the joy of a renewed marriage. His conversion did not protect him from the careless acts of someone else but it did bring him peace of mind. His wife still grieved for her husband. She would have much preferred five years instead of five weeks but she also knew the peace of God in the midst of her tragedy.

The world is powerless to give this peace. Hidden within the human psych are latent feelings of envy that demand prosperity; selfishness that insists on pleasure; anxiety that requires desire. These emotions necessitate immediate gratification. They cannot fathom the transcendent peace that Jesus offers. It appears useless. The world prefers the peace that our young Gen-Xer feels surrounded by all that high tech gear and sitting in blissful meditation. That type of peace makes far less demands and offers far greater pleasure. But it does not enable a person to endure personal tragedy. It will never empower someone to resist evil. It will enable someone to withstand suffering.

What peace do you seek?

His peace only comes through our obedience

1 Lee Griess, Sermons For Lent/Easter, CSS Publishing Company, 1997 quoted by Brett Blair, Sermon Illustrations email
2 Traditional quoted by Brett Blair, Online:
3 Dave and Jan Dravecky, When You Can't Come Back  (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House, 1992), 101-102 quoted by "The S-Factor," Homiletics, May 21, 1995.

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