A Sermon for 21 May 2017 – 6th Sunday of Easter
A reading from the gospel of John 14:15-21 (NRSV). We continue to hear portions of Jesus’ words to his disciples at their last supper together the night before his death. Listen for God’s word to us in this message recorded on Jesus’ lips:
“’If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
Have you ever taken on a project that ended up being too big for you to accomplish alone? Maybe you’ve gotten yourself in over your head on a project at work and needed to call upon a few colleagues to help. I’ve heard some of you speak of enlisting help to clean out your parent’s home after their passing – a difficult task made a little easer with the help of friends. If being honest, I’m pretty sure anyone who ever has attempted to raise a child has said: “Help!” . . . One spring a few years back when I was serving in a specialized ministry to children and their families; we came up with the idea to take old crayons, melt them down, then make new big crayons for the preschool children at the Martha O’Bryan Center. This was a project intended for the fifteen or so first through sixth graders who attended the church’s Wednesday Night missions ministry. The kids were all about hands-on projects to serve others. The plan was to do a crayon drive opened to the whole 1,400 member congregation. After about three weeks of that, the Wednesday Night kids would sort the crayons into like colors, then unwrap ones still rolled in that crayon paper. As the project progressed, the children would be assisted by an adult experienced in such crayon-making who had some sort of hot plate for melting the wax and cute molds of letters, animals, and fun little shapes just right for the hands of pre-school colorers. Perhaps you see where this is going. . . . The children of Wednesday Night made posters to put all over the church facility: “COLOR DRIVE FOR MARTHA O’BRYAN PRE-SCHOOLERS! Bring in your old ones; we’ll make them into new!” We set out a small box beside my office door. Sunday morning when I arrived, I already had to push through bags of crayons overflowing from the small collection box we had prepared. And the crayons just kept coming. Week one, week two, week three. Even though we hadn’t seen 1,400 people in a week for ages, I think every last member of that church dug out the old crayons tucked back in their cupboards used by children who since had had children and some even grandchildren too! By the time we called a halt to the crayon drive, I had like three large storage tubs filled to the brim of old crayons eager to be made into new! After about a month of Wednesday nights, we finally had them all sorted, much to the exhaustion of the children who were excited to work on the project the first week, but pretty tired of it all by the end of week two! And that was just the sorting. Peeling off that tight paper glued by like super-glue around each crayon took forever! We finally enlisted all the children’s Sunday School Teachers to make crayon peeling a project in the church’s ten children’s classrooms for a few weeks later that summer. The adult assistant for the project and I each spent hours late at night at home for weeks trying to get at least a reasonable amount of crayons ready to take to Martha O’Bryan. I still remember someone a year after when they were bored to tears recovering from surgery at home asking if I had any little project they might be able to do while they were laid up at home. I returned the next week to their house with two huge plastic bags full of sorted crayons still needing to be peeled! Eventually we gave up trying to complete the project – which is why I still have a two gallon plastic bag full of unpeeled crayons – which I could have brought to give out to you all today to enlist your help in the effort too! . . . Needless to say, the project ended up being WAY bigger than anyone anticipated and even WAY bigger than a small group of children and two overly-optimistic adults could accomplish! It happens sometimes that we take on projects that are way too much for us to handle on our own.
Whether they realized it or not, Jesus knew. Mid-way through the gospel of John, as Jesus gathers with his friends for that final meal; he gives them a project he knows will be way too much for them to handle on their own. We heard it last week, and Thursday night of Holy Week too: “a new command I give unto you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. It’s how the whole world will know you follow my way!” (paraphrase John 13:34-35). This is the way the gospel of John tells of Jesus instructing his friends to make an impact in the world: being like a light that shines for others to see as the diverse group of folks he’s pulled together show his kind of love to one another. Imagine what it was like for Peter, who history tells us perpetually was jealous of Mary Magdalene. Imagine what it must have been like for him to show self-giving love for her. How would it have been for someone like James or John who once worked really hard for a living as fishermen now asked by Jesus to extend the genuine hand of brotherhood to someone like Matthew, a tax collector who likely had cheated his fellow neighbors out of their hard-earned money as he lined his own pockets in an endeavor for the Romans. And that was just in the inner circle. What was going to happen when once this movement spread to those like Saul who used to hunt Jesus’ followers for the religious leaders, and those like the eunuch of Ethiopia who wanted to know about the One who freely gave his life, and even those like Lydia whose business in purple cloth far exceeded any wealth the rest would ever know. They were going to need help, all right. They would need the Spirit of God living in them if they were going to follow Christ’s command to make an impact in the world by loving one another.
In the past few weeks, I’ve enjoyed hearing from many of you in our Listening Sessions. We’ve still got lots of decisions to make as we navigate the way forward into this congregation’s future. But I heard so many of you tell stories of your most meaningful ministry experiences in loving others. In serving for God as you did everything from take care of homeless strangers, to be with children in need in short-term mission either as a counselor for the summer or as those ensuring they’d get clean water. Some of you spoke of sitting with those of a different race as early as the 1960s to hear what life was like for those long-considered second class citizens in this nation. Others of you told of ways you really want to make an impact in the lives of families who bring their children downstairs each week – whether or not those families ever end up upstairs in this sanctuary with us. And still others want to ensure the needs of the surrounding community’s older adults are met – not necessarily the financial needs, but needs for human connection – breaking the isolation that aging alone at home too often brings. It’s been wonderful to hear the passion you all really do have for the mission of this congregation: for Serving God by Serving Others! Someone even brought up the idea in a recent meeting of thinking about this congregation’s ministry as a concentric circle. Like a pebble dropped into water having an outward ripple effect, it’s as if caring for the members of this congregation is the first ring of the mission, making a positive impact in the lives of the families and staff of the pre-school downstairs is the second ring, making a positive impact in the 1-5 mile radius of the local community is the next ring of mission, and making an impact in the word internationally through the mission of Living Waters for the World is the fourth ripple of impact in the mission of this congregation’s expression of Serving God by Serving Others. It’s an interesting way to think about it, which certainly needs additional refinement as it rolls around in your thoughts and hearts. And one thing’s for sure: if this congregation is going to fulfill Christ’s command to make an impact in this world through love, then the Spirit of God surely will be needed among us. The Spirit that guides into a new future. The Spirit that revives when we’re weary. The Spirit that persists in pushing us forward when we’re afraid or overwhelmed or just not wanting to go. The Spirit of God is needed to fulfill the mission of Serving God by Serving Others!
The good news we hear from the gospel of John today is that Jesus has promised that this Spirit will be with us. Wherever his people love one another, there God’s Spirit dwells! We’re not quite to Pentecost Sunday yet, just six weeks into the season of Eastertide; but the gospel of John assigned in the lectionary for this Sunday wants it to be known that the church of Jesus Christ has not been abandoned. We may be aging and this building may need a little repair – like a new HVAC. We may not yet know exactly how to make a positive impact in the community living a stone’s throw from this sanctuary. But we are not alone in this project Christ has given of Serving God by Serving Others. The Spirit of God is with us. And if it feels like the Spirit is missing then we better get busy loving one another to re-experience the Spirit with us all over again. It’s a high calling but we do not undertake this endeavor alone. The Holy Spirit of God abides with us. Together, a little blood and sweat from us, a dash more reviving Spirit from God; together the Way will be made. Trust the words of our Lord: “I will not leave your orphaned.” The Spirit of God abides with us today and evermore!
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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