Ground Zero Revival - Peace of Mind
I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us be on our way. - John chapter 14, verses 30 to 31, NRSV
Did you notice the very end of this passage? Right there at the end. It seems innocuous enough. Rise, let us be on our way. Three words in Greek. "Let's go." "Let's get this show on the road." Read in a greater context, John's narrative didn't immediately have them going anywhere, as they were sitting around the Passover table. Jesus didn't go anywhere until Chapter 18 when they went across the Kidron Valley to Gethsemane. Chapter 13 reads right into 14 reads right into 15 all the way to 18. But Jesus wanted them to rise and be on their way, traveling the same path that his ancestor David did in his flight from Absalom. Think about it. If you're a disciple, your feet are clean, your belly is full, and you're comfortable. It's a feast time celebrating the freedom of the enslaved Hebrew nation from Egypt. It's easy to see the disciples as comfortable and at peace. For some strange reason, though, Jesus wanted them to move. Let's put a pin into that idea and come back to it in a bit.
Instead, let's talk about peace for a moment. I have a pretty full schedule as a pastor who also works a full-time job. I really look forward to my sabbath, and sometimes it doesn't end up as being much of a sabbath because life and obligations get in the way. As it sits, I might seek serenity, but it feels like I'm always in motion. Busy is as busy does, as they say. Sometimes I would prefer not to know how busy does, but that's not the way things work out all the time. This isn't uncommon, either. In fact, it's pretty widespread.
Take a stereotyped example. Have you ever sat down to dinner, and then the phone rings, you get a text message, or you hear someone at the door? Sometimes that dinner is a moment you have looked forward to all day long. It's like an escape, in a manner of speaking. Or what about being at the dinner table, and someone pulls out their cell phone? While we consider that rude, what if that person is a doctor, or like me, a pastor, and they have someone they're trying to help who is messaging or calling them? In general, we find this kind of thing unacceptable, but in specific circumstances, we understand and excuse it. The reason is that we, as beings who are driven towards a relationship, understand and accept the need for relational interaction to interrupt our rest. Remember the tension I talked about? This is a big part of it.
Then there are those times where we want to peacefully relate to people at a time when they don't want to peacefully relate to us. In Matthew 10, Jesus said he didn't come to bring peace, but rather to bring a sword, so it shouldn't surprise us. We live in a society that seems bent on chasing one side of an issue or the other, exclusively. We don't often take a peace-loving approach to our fellow man, let alone our fellow Christian. It seems that the only thing that changes more than the tack of political sails is the weather in Illinois.
To make it more difficult, we bounce back and forth like a yo-yo between the two pursuits of peace and accomplishment. You're either working hard at crushing it, or you're not. There's little to no in-between. We drive ourselves to be overworked and then crash not out of choice but out of necessity. Alternatively, we don't engage ourselves much, and then we suffer from Proverbs' conclusion for the lazy, which is poverty. That poverty comes on us in a lot of different shapes and sizes, and it just spirals the whole chase further out of control.
We need to love justice, but we need to love mercy as well. In times as divisive as the one we are currently living in, we are often told ad nauseum that we can have one, but not the other. I recently read an online exchange between two ordained elders who were going at each other over doctrine and doing it in a demonstratively negative fashion. They weren't trying to find each other's heart in the matter, they were trying to find a way to assert dominance or pre-eminence over one another. That's not Christ's love guiding them, that's the ruler of this world, and we are all capable of falling prey to him. All the more reason to cling to Jesus.
At some point in time, we'll disagree on things. Nevertheless, we shouldn't let those disagreements overshadow the presence of Christ in our relationships. At times we'll feel torn between our need for a night off and the needs of those around us, but we shouldn't let that overshadow the peace of mind that Christ brings us. The world might say we have to have one or the other, but frankly, the world is wrong. We have to find justice and love mercy all at the same time. It's intense doing this, and it's problematic if we don't focus on Christ in our attempts to balance life.
The Bible tells us to go after both justice and mercy not as some good idea, but as an expectation that comes straight from God. Seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God. That last part is where we find Christ, by the way, humbly walking with our God.
In this passage from John, that humble walk is displayed in Jesus obeying the commandment he received from God. When Jesus says that God commanded him to do something, the language used doesn't mean Jesus is someone who has been ordered to do something via a command. It means he was commanded by God because Jesus first asked God for a commandment. Jesus asked for God's commandment, was granted it by God, and then Jesus carried it out. That all happened through this crazy big love relationship he had with God. Sometimes I've been guilty of sitting around saying, "Well, God will give me a chore when He's good and ready." Maybe I should be asking Him for this crazy big, loving honor of receiving His commandments instead of waiting like a bump on a log. Perhaps we all should be more proactive like that.
We can get so charged up over an idea, though. It then becomes challenging to do all three parts of that passage from Micah. We put a check beside one of the first two, but our hubris gets in the way. As Richard Rohr so brilliantly stated, "The ego hates losing - even to God."
If we don't stay repentantly humble, we can easily be swayed to one side or the other and taken entirely out of balance. When that happens, any thought of peace we seek in Christ goes right out the window, and we're lost. There's only one way we can succeed in doing all three of those things. Live in a crazy big, genuinely loving relationship with God through Jesus Christ. And why not? Jesus lived in a crazy big, genuine love of God. We can too, and so we should!
When we struggle with tension in this world, we can turn to this little, tiny passage out of John and Jesus lays almost the entire motivation of his ministry out here. Reclining at the Passover table, Jesus' ministry is still wildly in motion here. This tiny little passage is powerful. We see determination, obstruction, truth. We have motivation, and we have action. Without action, that last small part to which I pointed earlier, none of the rest of means anything. You may as well stick them all in a box, toss them in your hall closet and go on your merry little way in life. Without action, you're standing still on the path of peace instead of moving along it.
Remember me telling you about my Mustang? One of the things I wanted to do to it in pumping up the performance was to change the intake manifold out. The primary function of the intake manifold is to evenly distribute the combustion mixture to each intake port in the cylinder heads. So, the air flows into the carburetor, gets mixed with fuel, and is distributed to the cylinder heads. Via combustion, it's converted to kinetic energy, transferred to gears and drivelines, and finally into the motion of the tire against the pavement. With all this happening, the car still goes nowhere if the wheels don't turn. I may as well have left the manifold in the box. Motor sounds great, but if it doesn't move an inch, toss the whole thing in a scrap pile because you have a 5.0-shaped paperweight.
This is an awful lot like the breath of God coming into your heart and being mixed with His in-birthed persuasion, our faith inside us, catching fire, and converting into faith in action. Your faith is your fuel, and as God breathes life via His word into your motor, it mixes with the faith he put there, and it creates the force that moves you wherever you need to go. This is how we find peace when we get that call at the table and we have to go. This is how we find love for people with a difference of opinion. The fire created by God's word mixed with His faith in your life has to be set in motion. We as the church need to put ourselves in gear, though, otherwise we'll never get where we need to go. That's why our spiritual disciplines, acts of mercy and acts of piety are so important. Without them, we don't go past our perceptions to God's purpose by way of His promise. Toss us in a scrap pile. We're just a church-shaped paperweight unless we are in motion. This is how Jesus lived his life.
Jesus really loved God. I mean, he really loved God. God was important to him because God loved him first, but more notable than that, Jesus felt it crucial to be active in loving God back. He did this through obedience to him, and for a particular reason - so that the world would know that Jesus loved God. When we see Jesus as a model for the reason behind showing God our love, we open up to all the ways that he showed us how to love God. Most importantly, we see how we can show our love to God through our love for others.
There's a song by country star Tim McGraw called, "How Bad Do You Want It?" It asks, "Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? Is it a fire that burns you up inside? How bad do you want it? How bad do you need it? Are you eating, sleeping, dreaming with that one thing on your mind? 'Cause if you want it all, you've got to lay it all out on the line." To me, that sounds exactly like Jesus in action. He laid it all out on the line. If we're like most people, we've asked ourselves that question about something. Work. A marriage or a relationship. How bad do we want that grade point average in school, or a promotion. A retirement goal or a raise. Maybe someone else asked you that question. But here is a gut check for us all, myself included.
What if God asked us how bad we want it? How badly do we want His kingdom? His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven? If God looked us in the eye and asked us how much we love Him, how would we respond?
First, realize that God is the ultimate lawyer because He never asks a question to which He does not already know the answer. He already knows how bad you and I want it. We don't. But He does. Are you and I willing to recognize where we might be coming up short and turn that over to God so that He can show us how to fill the gap that exists? Can we be truthful with ourselves where we have to be? Because to follow Jesus, we will travel grave lengths to show the world how important God is to us. This is a call to own where we are, and then move on from there.
As Christians, many of us are in a stable position. Our salvation is guaranteed in our repentance through Christ alone by grace alone and faith alone. We're totally good right there at that exact point. It's a beautiful place to be when you're reconciled to God. Think of the time that you really and truly came to the realization that you were saved and justified by God through Christ as your savior. That hope. That peace. That indescribable joy. All realized through an act of love. Your heart as full as the bellies of the disciples that night Jesus spoke to them.
But we cannot stop at this peaceful place of rest.
Look, as the star rested over Bethlehem, it was undoubtedly peaceful. A long journey was over for Mary, Joseph, and newborn baby Jesus, but also for all of humankind. Glory shone at that moment. Brilliant light cascaded across the hills and hit the faces of shepherds as God's angel proclaimed that Jesus was born. But the story wasn't over, as it didn't stop there. The war had only just begun.
At some point, Joseph was told he had to rise up. When the angel commanded Joseph to rise up, John's gospel has him using the same word as Jesus did here. Joseph's journey didn't end at Bethlehem. King David's kingship didn't conclude during his flight from Absalom through the Kidron Valley centuries before Jesus crossed it to go to Gethsemane. Joseph, David, and Jesus pushed on. Jesus pushed on because, in his active obedience to God, the world would see his love for God.
At the Passover table, we have twelve men who are basking in the love of God and the presence of Jesus. They have a close and intimate relationship with him and have for many years. But their work isn't over. There's a ruler of this world coming, according to Jesus. This "archon" is someone with absolute power over this "kosmos," - this world - but only over this world and definitively not Jesus.
Jesus preceded this statement by saying that he's not going to speak to them much longer. A few chapters later he was taken captive, and his trial, death, and burial would come. This merits more than a cursory wave-off as a chronological sequence of events. It's more than a cessation of discussion on the way to his crucifixion. This is Jesus saying it's not time to sit back and chat, it's time to rise up and act.
Now, they may have very well concluded the discourse of John 16 and 17 while putting on their coats, but let's go back to the end of this passage where Jesus said, "Rise, let us be on our way." Let's really dig into what is going on here. Here, Jesus uses a word that is translated in the literal sense as someone who is reclining to get up, as the angel used. But it also means figuratively to wake up and come to life after dormancy. Rise up, be incited to action, get stirred up, awaken from death or sleep. Joseph had to snap to and hustle his family off to Egypt. Jesus' talk of rising up is a precursor to the resurrection that would take place shortly. Jesus isn't just saying rise up from the table, he's saying rise up from this state of death in which you've been languishing.
The word for rise comes from "agora," which is a place in a town where people would gather. Hence the idea of "gathering one's faculties" when you rise. I think Jesus meant more than just, "Hey, let's stop laying here and stand up now." This is a call to action, and it starts with getting ourselves together and waking up. It mirrors what we need to do with our salvation. You and I have been brought back from death under the law, now we need to do something about it.
Right now, the church as a whole and far beyond the United Methodist denomination has been asleep at the wheel. There's a lot of people running around saying, "Wake up," but we seem to be hitting the spiritual snooze button. We're wanting just 5 more minutes of this blissful rest. We can do better, and we were called to do better.
It may seem odd to preach on the Passover discussion on the last day of Advent, which is traditionally about love. Still, in reality, it shouldn't be. As much hope, peace, joy, and love as we have, we can't just sit on it. After all, we're an Easter people. There's always something we need to do, because the ruler of this world is here, right now.
We have to continue practicing our spiritual disciplines. Be in prayer, fasting, bible study, worship, communion. Go play bumper cars with grace and run into it as many times as you can. Roll yourself up in grace like a giant grace burrito and tell the world to take a bite. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Stand under the waterfall of grace and then splash and spray everyone you possibly can with the grace that has run all over you. Deliberately and purposefully seek out and befriend people who are NOT Christians, and love them actively as Christ loved them. Love them fiercely and love them well.
Find the elements of our faith so we can take the church past the idea of renewal, rejoicing, revelation, reaffirmation, return, rebuilding, re-emergence, and reignition. Find your mountaintop. Figure out what happened to your voice, so you can stake your claim. Speak life to death, and when you're done, repeat the second verse, which is the same as the first. Keep on repeating it until we are called to our spot by the King of the hill. This holy fight we face needs saints like you and me to put our skin in the game, wrestle with the word, and bravely go over the top and into No Man's Land after our brothers and sisters. They need hope against hope, unexpected love, a joy to come home to, and peace of mind. That is how we find spiritual renewal detonated at the real Ground Zero of revival, our hearts. That is where the revival of the church will begin. But like Jesus showed us, that's not where it ends. The Bible is not an evacuation plan. It's an invitation to a revolution in our time unfolding throughout the world around us.
Church, rise and let us be on our way.
Roland Millington is a United Methodist Church pastor serving Brimfield United Methodist Church in Brimfield, IL. He's the author of two books available digitally through our store, or as hard copies through LuLu Publishing.