DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.
May the Spirit Speak to you!
25 May 2014 – 6th Sunday of Easter
School years are ending this week. We’re in the midst of celebrating those who have sacrificed their lives for our country through the armed forces. And tomorrow marks the official acceptable time of changing over to our summer shoes and purses and white pants, right? . . . It’s all got me thinking about a boy who I have been watching become a young man. He came out carrot-top from the beginning with a beautiful mane of red hair that clearly was inherited from his grandmother. His looks favored her when he was young so much so that you could put baby pictures of her alongside him at the same age and swear he was the spitting image. It was as if you were looking at the exact same child. . . . Over the years, it’s become evident that he’s his parent’s offspring. He likes to ask questions. And push boundaries – as does his mother. He has fallen in love with singing – almost at the same age his mom did. He’s not afraid of going out into the world to discover where he fits – as both his parents kinda did. It’s easy to see them in him. You who are parents, grandparents, aunts, or uncles certainly have observed this phenomenon up-close in your own lives. Children so often carry the characteristics of their parents. At the same time, children get into their parents. It’s been easy to see this too in the boy I’ve been watching grow. A little bit of who he is has gotten in to them. Because neither his mother or his father ever played a violin – as he does masterfully, or took up soccer, or had anything to do with Boy or Girl Scouts. This boy has expanded their world as he’s gotten them listening to symphonies, and cheering on a soccer team, and even getting into things like earning badges and completing an Eagle Scout project. It’s kinda how it happens, right? Children reflect their parents. And as they grow, parents’ lives end up shaped – whether they like it or not – by the unique being that their child is. They are in him as much as he is in them.
It’s good to ponder the process a bit because it may be one of the closest analogies to give light to the message of the gospel of John which we hear today. . . . Chapter 14 of John is just the beginning really of Jesus’ very long speech to his disciples. It may feel a little bit of a rewind as this text puts Jesus and his disciples back together at a supper right before he goes out to the garden of Gethsemane to be arrested and crucified. We’re six Sundays into the season of Easter, but the gospel of John points us back to before all that action began. The words of the gospel of John that we heard today happen at table after he’s washed every last one of their feet – including the feet of Judas who would betray him, Peter who would deny him, and the rest who would scatter and flee. Often referred to as the Farewell Discourse, this section of the gospel of John starts with a reminder that Jesus (knowing that his hour has come): Having loved his own, he loved them to the end (John 13:1). . . . Things are about to go awry. Their world is about to be destroyed; their hearts crushed as the nails are driven one by one into his hands and feet. Out of deep love for those who are about to feel 100% abandoned – alone, Jesus speaks. Such beautiful words like: “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1). And “I will not leave you orphaned” (John 14:18). He knows this horrific night will shatter them. Like an emergency room chaplain trying to comfort the bereaved who just heard their loved one didn’t make it; Jesus is trying to tell them it’s all going to be all right.
Of course, just telling them it’s all going to be all right would have gotten him an F in seminary Pastoral Care class. Because you’re not supposed to say it’s all ok when the worst tragedy hits! You’re not supposed to reach for empty platitudes about tomorrow is another day. All the pastoral care gurus tell you, you’re just supposed to be. With one in their grief. Alongside. A presence that can sit together with another in their pain so that they do not feel alone. That’s about all we can offer in such moments of the most intense grief – and it’s really all that’s needed: being with. Because as a person has to walk through that dark valley, the presence of another can be their strength. Their comfort. The light that can shine for them until their own world turns from grey into color again. All the casseroles in the world won’t do it – though the casseroles might be one way of enacting what Jesus ends up promising here.
He takes out what always have seemed to me to be mind-boggling words. On and on he goes about loving him and keeping commands and another Advocate and living and finally: “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:20). If we had to draw it out, like in a game of Pictionary, it might look something like Russian nesting dolls – each one being in the next and all of them being one together. Or maybe even the fish that is in the water, but the water’s in the fish too through its gills and the composition of its body. . . . What Jesus’ is trying to say to those about to be adrift in a turbulent sea of grief is that, look: can you see the parents in the boy? Can you see the boy in the parents? . . . We’re in a relationship here. That’s the promise he gives to those who love him. Those who feel like he’s abandoning them in his death, resurrection, and eventual ascension; he wants them to know that he will be in them, just like he’s in God and they are in him. . . . We’ll be in Christ; as he’s in God and they’re in us.
It’s doubly needed, this word of presence – of Christ being in us as Christ is in God because it’s believed the gospel of John was written to Christ’s followers right around 100 A.D. About two generations after Christ’s death and resurrection, and just a couple decades or so after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Things were getting tough for the first followers of Christ around that time because Jews were trying to figure out what it meant to be Jews after their Temple was destroyed (again) in 70 A.D. And followers of Christ’s Way no longer could rest on Temple worship alongside certain practices at home, as they did after the first Easter. These two groups were deeply on the way to becoming distinct religious movements. Those first hearing the gospel of John really needed to know that before his death and resurrection Jesus promised his disciples they would not be alone. He was not leaving them orphaned as he told them to carry on in the mission he began. In fact, some of the gospel of John’s theology of the Risen Christ is coming through here. As we live in him – keeping his commandments; doing the things he did; the Risen Christ lives in us. Through us. The world can see that we’re the spitting image of him: apples that haven’t fallen far from the tree, isn’t that what is said sometimes? You can see the parents in the boy! The characteristics of Christ – which, Jesus in the Farewell Discourse wants us to know, are in fact the characteristics of the Triune God. Those traits of Christ shine through us because he’s in us; even as we’re in him. Just like he’s in God and God’s in him – does that make sense? His image is reflected in us – if we’re keeping his commandments.
The Apostle Paul’s metaphor from Colossians comes to mind. In chapter three he says that those of us who know ourselves raised with Christ are to put on certain clothes. As if each was a separate piece of our wardrobe we were putting on in the morning: a shirt of compassion, socks of kindness, trousers of humility, shoes of meekness, and spruce it all up with the accessory of patience. We put on each garment of the characteristics of Christ as we ready ourselves to head out the door for our daily walk. Of course, the difference here in the gospel of John, is that it’s not like clothes on the outside. It’s Christ in us – from the inside out and us in him. The parents in the boy as much as the boy is in the parents. Which is not to say that Christ changes because of who we are; but more to say that because of the unique skin of who each of us is, Christ takes on all sorts of wonderful forms in this world. He lives through so many more amazing gifts and abilities each one of us is and has. It’s kinda beautiful that he and his ways get lived out through children and youth and adults alike. That those things of compassion and kindness and humility take form through those of us who are right-brained and those of us who are left-brained. Through the feminine and the masculine. Through those who connect well with younger people and those who tend the aging best. He lives in us; and we live in him!
How can that not spur us on in good days and in darkest valleys? How can we not be motivated to live out his commands – knowing that we’re not alone in that process. It’s not on our own efforts; Christ is in us. We’re in him; just like he’s in God and God is in him. They’re in us. Just get out of their way and let those traits – the characteristics of Christ that are in us come pouring out. Which might be something we have to grow into; something that unfolds deeper and deeper through the years so that those around us recognize Christ in us a little bit more day by day just as we see those parents in that boy as he grows.
What good news. A gift from our God! The Risen Christ in us and we in him!
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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