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Accept His Peace / Third Sunday in Lent

Romans 5:1-8

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

It was the final round of the 1983 U.S. Open golf tournament. A player named Larry Nelson was tied for first place. But then his approach shot to the sixteenth green left him sixty-two feet from the hole. His fans groaned. In the world of golf, sinking a sixty-two-foot putt is about as likely as a hole-in-one.

Larry Nelson paused for a long moment. Then he raised his head, sized up the terrain, and stroked his ball. It rolled downhill, then up an incline, then down another slope, and up another, and finally it curved, and then Ker plunk! into the hole it went. Some called it the shot of the year.

Encouraged by this magnificent putt, Larry Nelson went on to win the tournament, his first victory following a two-year slump. One of the reporters who assembled to get his comments after the tournament asked him if he had been praying during the match, especially before that fateful putt. Yes, he answered. The reporter then asked, were you praying you’d make the shot? No, Nelson said. Well, then, what were you praying for? asked the reporter. Larry Nelson’s answer should help all of us. He replied simply, Peace.

Is there anyone in this room who is not, one way or another, seeking peace, peace in our hearts, peace in our marriages, peace in our relationships with other family members, peace in our work? Of course, some of us seek peace from some unusual sources. One woman said her therapist told her the way to achieve true inner peace was to finish what she started. She took the advice to heart. She said, so far today, I have finished 2 bags of chips and a chocolate cake . . . I feel better already. Well, they don’t call it “comfort food” for nothing. However, there are better ways to find peace.

The good news for the third Sunday in Lent comes from Paul. He says in Romans 5: Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul goes on to say to us that even with our suffering and misfortune we can have this peace. Even though we don’t undeserve any of it, we can have this peace because of what Christ has done on the cross of Calvary.

Now at this point, I want to offer a warning. The peace that Christ gives is not a passive peace. That is, some people are at peace because they ignore the needs of those around them, as well as the needs of their community and world. Their attitude is, what, me worry? That’s not the peace that Christ is talking about.

But there are some things that we should worry about. Jesus saw the money changers in the temple taking advantage of worshippers, and He worried about it to the point of driving them out into the streets. Jesus worried about people who were lost in their sins, and He gave His life on our behalf.

Still the desire for peace is one that God has planted in our hearts. Jesus said on one occasion, 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 (John 14:27).

Peace is one of Christ’s great gifts to us. In fact, a strong sense of inner peace is what allows us to make a positive difference in the world. Sure, we’re called to rid the world of wrong-doing and there are tragic things happening in our world that should trouble us deeply and that we should do something about.

The ironic thing, however, is that these are not the things that generally rob us of our peace. The things that rob us of our peace are often superficial things. Things like our appearance or whether we’re keeping up with our neighbors.

In our lesson from Exodus, the children of Israel are wandering in the wilderness on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. They’re out of water. They’re thirsty so they complain to Moses, why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?

That’s a legitimate complaint, don’t you think? If you’re faced with a problem that severe, it’s perfectly all right to complain to the Lord. If you’re dying of thirst. If your children are in danger of starving. If you have a terminal illness, you have a right to ask, where are you, God?

The children of Israel are in the desert they’re thirsty and quite naturally, they complain to Moses. Moses cries to the Lord, what am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.

Now it’s Moses who’s worried. No leader wants his people to turn against him. The Lord tells Moses to go to a place called Horeb and strike a rock and water would come out and the people can have all they wanted to drink. Afterwards Moses names the place Massah and Meribah because the peeps put the Lord to a test by asking, is the Lord among us or not?

Obviously, the children of Israel aren’t the only persons who have asked that question. is the Lord among us or not?  It’s so difficult to trust in God sometimes. It’s difficult to hear Jesus’ words in Matthew 6: don’t be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on . . . your heavenly Father knows you need them all.

Jesus is answering that question posed to Moses: Is the Lord with us or not? And the answer is a resounding, YES, God is with us. God will provide for us, just as He provided for the children of Israel.

Moses struck a rock and water came out, enough to provide for everyone. I don’t know how striking a rock produces water. I’ve never seen such a rock. I suspect that is the point, however. It wasn’t the rock that met Israel’s needs, it was God. God provides for those who love Him. Some of our anxiety comes from concern about our daily needs.

Benjamin Franklin listed his major faults and resolved to battle one fault each week. One of the faults he knew he must defeat was wasting time and energy worrying. Have you ever done that, wasted time and energy worrying?

Peanuts cartoon once showed Linus dragging his blanket and saying to Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown, you look kind of depressed. Charlie Brown replies, I worry about school a lot. Then he adds, I worry about my worrying about school. Then he concludes, even my anxieties have anxieties.

Many of us can sympathize with Charlie Brown. Even our anxieties have anxieties. We all know that needless worry is destructive. We know that God loves us and will provide for us. But it’s so hard to maintain a peaceful heart and mind.

I’ve read somewhere that when Rossini’s opera, The Barber of Seville, was first performed, it was booed off of the stage. Afterwards the cast was nearly hysterical. There’s a lot of pain in being in a theatrical production that bombs. The cast was consoling with one another, when they noticed that Rossini wasn’t there. Fearing that he might have done something desperate, they rushed to his house. They found him asleep.

Maestro are you all right? He said I was until you woke me. But what about the opera? Quietly Rossini answered, So, it’s not good enough. I will have to compose something better . . . that’s all. But please, let us discuss that in the morning. I would like to go to sleep now.

Many of us need to pray for such an attitude as that. Many of us are not as effective in our service to God because we’re not trusting that God will meet our needs.

Others of us have troubled minds because of guilt over some past deed or even an involvement in an unhealthy situation right now.

In our lesson from John’s Gospel a Samaritan woman comes to the well at Sychar to draw water. She had come in the heat of the day. Why then? She’ll be carrying back a heavy jug back to her home. Heat makes carrying a heavy vessel much more difficult. Why come in the heat of the day? It was probably because she was trying to avoid the other women in her village, worried about what they thought of her. After all, her life was a mess. She’d been married five times and now she was living with a man without being married, a common practice today, perhaps, but not 2,000 years ago.

Today we’d say that this woman had a serious problem with her relationships, particularly with men. Maybe she had a poor relationship with her father. We don’t know her situation, of course, but we do know that in order to give love you must have experienced love. Chances are this woman had such a low opinion of herself that she couldn’t relate to a man as an equal but only as an object which he might use and cast away at his pleasure. Now she was looked down on by her community because, in their eyes, she was living in sin.

It was amazing that this Jewish Rabbi would show some interest in her. She didn’t know that there would come a time when He would show much more interest in that He would die on a cruel cross in order to bring her and others like her into a right relationship with God. Paul writes incredulously in our lesson for today, why, one will hardly die for a righteous man, though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Has your life gotten out of control because you’ve never truly accepted God’s forgiveness and grace? Do you somehow feel that you don’t measure up, you’re unacceptable, unworthy, unloved? There’s a man on a cross who says something quite remarkable. He says that you’re worth dying for.

Paul writes, therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Which is good news that is. If we don’t have that peace, we lose energy worrying about the wrong things. If we don’t have that peace, we may carry a life-long burden of feelings of unworthiness. No wonder that before he sank that sixty-two-foot putt, Larry Nelson prayed for peace. Peace really is one of the most precious gifts that Christ offers us.

One elderly gentleman found that peace even though he was confined to a bed for forty years because of a fall that left him with a broken neck. His back was broken but not his cheerful spirit. A friend once asked him if he were not tempted at times to be bitter toward God.

The old man answered, oh, there are times when I have been tempted. It’s difficult to look out my window and see my friends’ doing things that I will never be able to do. At such times questions have come to me about the goodness of God. His friend asked earnestly, what do you do at such times? The old man answered, in my mind I go to Calvary and think about Christ and the wounds that He bore in His body in my behalf. As I think about the cross and the great love God must have for me, doubt and bitterness melt away. I know He loves me. The cross says it all.

The cross does say it all. Do you have a troubled spirit? Do you waste valuable hours worrying about things beyond your control? Are there things in your past or even in your present that rob you of your peace because you know that they are outside the will of God for you?

I invite you to go to the foot of the cross and see just how much God loves you.