Sunday's Sermon Trinity Sunday 5-26-13
First Congregational Church
May 26, 2013
First Sunday after Pentecost, Memorial Weekend Sunday
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 and John 16:12-15
"More Than We Thought/Think/Will Think"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
I recently came across the family tree of Vincent Van Gogh, and was delighted to find that there were more people there than I thought. There is his dizzy aunti Verti - Verti Gogh. His brother who worked at a convenience store: Stoppen Gogh. His magician uncle: Where'd He Gogh. Vincent's nephew who drove a stagecoach: Wells-far Gogh. Another aunt who was a ballroom dancer: Tang. The bird lover uncle: Flamin'. His bouncy little nephew: Poe. And his niece who traveled in an RV: Winnie Bay Gogh. I'm guessing that is more of the Van Gogh family tree than any of you ever thought you might know.
The official church calendar says that today is Trinity Sunday, and the first Sunday after Pentecost, while the American calendar says it is the day before Memorial Day. Trinity Sunday is the celebration of the three persons of God: God as Father or Parent, God as Son and God as Holy Spirit.
Last Sunday, being Pentecost, we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit on the early believers in Jerusalem - the day when tongues of fire danced on the listeners' heads while they heard messages in their own languages from people who couldn't possibly have known those tongues. In last week's celebration, there was a little nod of the head to the old Abbott and Costello baseball routine, "Who's on first," as it was transformed into a who is God routine. The gist of last week's message - at least in my mind - was that the Holy Spirit is not always an easy grasp. Today's message may run in similar lanes.
Today's message is based on a couple of rather unconnected passages - at least on the front end. The first comes from the book of Proverbs - not necessarily one of the easiest books on which to preach. The subject of this Proverbs passage is wisdom, and just four verses into the passage, Wisdom speaks in her own voice. Side note: in the Bible, the written language is the indicator that Wisdom is in the feminine voice and the names for God are in the masculine voice.
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
1 Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice? 2 At the highest point along the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand; 3 beside the gate leading into the city, at the entrance, she cries aloud: 4 “To you, O people, I call out; I raise my voice to all mankind.
22 “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; 23 I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. 24 When there were no watery depths, I was given birth, when there were no springs overflowing with water; 25 before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth, 26 before he made the world or its fields or any of the dust of the earth. 27 I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, 28 when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, 29 when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. 30 Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, 31 rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.
Without a lot of thought, it is easy to see that there is a great deal of wisdom in how all of creation was constructed. If we were closer to the sun, we would burn up. If we were farther away, we would freeze. If the combination of gases in the air were much different, we wouldn't be able to live. There is a rhythm to life that we can see in waves and sand - even in the moon's path.
I wonder, tho, if sometimes we - all of us arm-chair scientists - forget to lift our heads from that which is before us, to take a step back and remember that just as much as we have been given talents and gifts for uncovering some of God's incredible design, so must we remember not to box-in God. Perhaps one of our biggest mistakes is in trying to completely understand God - to the point that we end up creating an image of God that reflects us, rather than reflecting the image of God through us.
So it is time to bring in the second of our scripture passages for today - the one that occurs after Jesus has washed the disciples' feet, but before Jesus is arrested - as documented in the book of John.
12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”
Thank you, Robin. As goofy as it sounds, this is about as clear as the Bible gets in actually mentioning the concept of a Triune God - God as Father/Parent, God as Son and God as Spirit. There is no place in the Bible that says anything so specific as: God is three persons. But from this passage, we get the idea that there are three entities that have information, revelation and truth for us. As a consolation gift for being alive, we get a three-fold God that cares and communicates to the beloved created. As a recent ___ commercial says, "boosh."
So in a moment of deep revelation, if you wish to send me into a mental mindspinning that will absolutely send me over the brink, call me - so I can't see your face - and ask if you can talk to me about something - and then hang up. I guarantee that between that phone call and the time we speak, I will try to figure out every single instance where I may have neglected, not reflected, spoken, not spoken, did, didn't do whatever possible thing that would cause you upset or calling a congregational meeting to fire me. Okay, so that is only 98% true.
But isn't that a bit like what Jesus said? "I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear." Thanks, Jesus! So glad to hear that you have so much faith in us - or even your posse of 12. Except that we have to step back from the passage a moment, to be reminded that before Jesus came, before the foundations of the world were created, God created Wisdom, and it has stuck by God's side ever since. And we must also remember that the Spirit of Truth has come, and will guide us in all the truth. When Jesus says he has more to say, we cannot jump to immediate conclusions that we will know everything - or that we know nothing - but that God a purpose behind the timing of what goes before us and under us, behind us and over us, beside us and around us.
This is the weekend that we celebrate the re-emergence of grills and colorful plastic serving bowls and the rise and fall of gas prices. But we need to step back, in our reflection of the sacrifices that have been made on our behalf, that we might be able to meet in relative safety and freedom, to make the pastor paranoid or not. We need to be reminded that this weekend is not only about those who died that we might be free, but all who have died, and about the ongoing issues that surround the families of those who have someone injured in protecting our freedoms. (By the way, don't get all excited - the paranoid pastor thing is just an example for the day - and a little needed levity. But someone will tell me if there's an uprising starting?) Irony of ironies, it is the give and take of the love and faith in you and in me that gets me off those paranoia monkey bars.)
This is the weekend that we get to remember those who have gone before us - military or not - who have passed on their sense of order or disorder, wisdom or folly, delight or exasperation, but who none-the-less deserve our respect because they were one of God beloved creations. Even for the dizzy aunt or bouncing little nephew, this is the weekend we get to give God thanks for the life that you had given them, the life that has more concern, delight, joy, disappointment than any of us will ever realize because we simply don't live in their skin.
So too, is this the weekend we get to be grateful that God comes to us in ways that are greater than we may have thought, more than we think today and more than we ever will think. We get to sit and stand and grill and plant and relax in the freedom that has cost more than we may have thought, more than we think or ever will think. And we get to pray that gratitude, as in this very moment.
Gracious God of Love, we are very conscious this day that it is a special day, as is tomorrow. As we go from this place, go with us in such a way that we are mindful of both the ways you are knowable to us, as well as the ways you are beyond us. Help us to be mindful that we not box you in, but that we can be comfortable simply being your beloved creations. Help us be mindful that ours is a very privilege life, that we can gather and worship you, contemplate you, speak of you in a freedom that is unknown to others in this world. Remind us that your ways are not arbitrary or off-the-cuff, but that you are a God who created Wisdom before you created us and the life we know. Help us to rely on that wisdom - all of us - as we freely breath the air you give us, tread on the ground you freely created and rely on your freely given Son and Holy Spirit. For all the richness of this life, all your beloved creations say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
May 19, 2013
Pentecost, Bring a Neighbor to Church and Picnic/Potluck Sunday
"Holy Spirit: So What?"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Like every good institution, the church has a birthday, and today is that day. It's OUR birthday. We don't have an exact, exact date, but we are - as a body - about 1,980 or 81 years old. It was nice that it happened on Pentecost, because it made for a good number of people to celebrate the day that the Holy Spirit came on the everyone in Jerusalem.
We modern Christians don't really appreciate the depth of Pentecost, because it was originally the Feast of Weeks, a Jewish holiday that celebrated the giving of the Law - the Ten Biggies - pitched to Moses at Mount Sinai.
And I truthfully, I didn't "get" the divine irony of the Holy Spirit coming on the folks until more recently. The Law was given so that "we" would know how to show our love back to God. If we loved and honored God, then we didn't have any other gods before God - capital G.
In Minnesota, that first commandment is, "Der's only one
God, ya know." "Don't make dat fish on yer mantle an idol.
Cussing ain't Minnesota nice.
Go to church - even when yer up nort.
Honor yer folks.
Don't kill. Catch and release.
If it ain't yer Lutefisk, don't take it.
Don't be braggin' about how much snow ya shoveled. Keep yer mind off yer neighbor's hotdish.
The Biblical Big Ten came so that people had black and white rules - so they new exactly when they stepped outside the boundaries. The problem was that people got so much more focused on the rules, they forgot about the love they were supposed to be reflecting back to God. So, to help the disciples, apostles and everyone,
1-4 When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.
5-11 There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene; Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes; Even Cretans and Arabs! “They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!”
12 Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “What’s going on here?” 13 Others joked, “They’re drunk on cheap wine.”
14-21 That’s when Peter stood up and, backed by the other eleven, spoke out with bold urgency: “Fellow Jews, all of you who are visiting Jerusalem, listen carefully and get this story straight. These people aren’t drunk as some of you suspect. They haven’t had time to get drunk—it’s only nine o’clock in the morning. This is what the prophet Joel announced would happen:
“In the Last Days,” God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people: Your sons will prophesy, also your daughters; Your young men will see visions, your old men dream dreams. When the time comes, I’ll pour out my Spirit On those who serve me, men and women both, and they’ll prophesy.
The writer of Acts - Dr. Luke - went on to include more of what Joel prophesied, but that part leads to another discussion, and I wanted to stay with the "so what" part of this Holy Spirit - coming - thing. For today, it's about relationship - and the relationship we have with an active God.
Bill: When you come to church you need to know the key players . . . you know, the ones who are worthy of honor and praise.
Ron: Honor and praise huh? Well who are they?
Bill: O.K., now listen closely. There is one God.
Ron: One God. That seems easy enough. What do you call this one God?
Bill: This one God is called, "God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit."
Ron: Now wait just a minute. You told me that there is only one God.
Bill: That's right!
Ron: So which is it?
Bill: So which is what?
Ron: Which name do you use for this one God?
Bill: The name I gave you.
Ron: But you gave me three names.
Bill: That's right.
Ron: What's right?
Bill: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
Ron: So you have three Gods?
Bill: No, one God.
Ron: So which is it?
Bill: Which is what?
Ron: Father, Son or Holy Spirit?
Ron: Yes to what?
Bill: That's God's name.
Ron: Which God?
Bill: Our one God.
Ron: Why did you give three names.
Bill: Because they aren't the same.
Ron: But you just told me there is one God. So which is it?
Bill: Which is what?
Ron: Which name is the name of your God?
Bill: I told you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Ron: But that is three.
Bill: Yes, but it's only one.
Thank you, Bill and Ron. I suppose I should say, thank you, Abbott and Costello. For those of you too young to get that reference, go home and look up Abbott, Costello and who's on first. I wouldn't mind if you looked it up while I'm still preaching, but everyone around you will want to read it with you.
The point of this little "routine" is perfect - it is hard to make sense of this Holy Spirit for some folks. But therein lies some of the beauty of God - that God having three "persons" allows for God to make more sense to more people, allowing more people the opportunity to understand and appreciate God's love, so that they can reflect back that love to God.
Some of us are wired to connect with God in terms of creation - from the multitude of galaxies to the ever revealing composition of compositions to the beauty of a spring time forest or this crazy thing we call a human body, some of us get God better that way. Some of us connect better to God understanding the sacrifice God made in giving us Jesus, a real person with skin and bones and emotions and thoughts. And some of us are wired in such a way that we get the world of spirit, the world of the unseen yet sensed.
It is so much easier to understand that which is black and white; it's clear. But no one can obey every single command from the Bible, because it simply cannot be done - which is another day. The fact is is that there are few that can make it through this life not understanding that we live in a much more grey world. Maybe it's not even grey - maybe it's a much more colored world. How much more appropriate that we commemorate this day with red - the color of the fire that danced on the heads of those that first "Christian" Pentecost.
And how much richer this day, when we realize that the Holy Spirit - relationship - came on the day of Law - to remind us of the new commandments: to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength and with all our mind, and to love our neighbor as ourself. The Holy Spirit - the Comforter - the Advocate - the Guide - the Intercessor - the Revealer of Truth - came - comes - that we are reminded that we live in a world of relationship and love - even if we don't fully understand or appreciate or get our arms around this whole God thing. That the Spirit comes is a pretty incredible and awesome thing. So let us pray.
Great God of love and relationship, we have taken some time to pay attention to the complexity of you, us and our relationship with you and each other. In our time, we have hopefully been reminded of the richness of our lives, of the life to which you have called us. As we go into this week, send an extra measure of your Holy Spirit to guide and comfort, relate and reveal. May our days this week be bright reflections of the love and grace and mercy you have so freely bestowed on us. For these requests and all your blessings, all your people say, Amen.
Sunday's Sermon May 12, 2013
First Congregational Church
May 12, 2013
Seventh Sunday after Easter & Mothers Day, Mission Month
Acts 16:16-34, The Message
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Acts 16:16-34 The Message
16-18 One day, on our way to the place of prayer, a slave girl ran into us. She was a psychic and, with her fortunetelling, made a lot of money for the people who owned her. She started following Paul around, calling everyone’s attention to us by yelling out, “These men are working for the Most High God. They’re laying out the road of salvation for you!” She did this for a number of days until Paul, finally fed up with her, turned and commanded the spirit that possessed her, “Out! In the name of Jesus Christ, get out of her!” And it was gone, just like that.
19-22 When her owners saw that their lucrative little business was suddenly bankrupt, they went after Paul and Silas, roughed them up and dragged them into the market square. Then the police arrested them and pulled them into a court with the accusation, “These men are disturbing the peace—dangerous Jewish agitators subverting our Roman law and order.” By this time the crowd had turned into a restless mob out for blood.
22-24 The judges went along with the mob, had Paul and Silas’s clothes ripped off and ordered a public beating. After beating them black-and-blue, they threw them into jail, telling the jailkeeper to put them under heavy guard so there would be no chance of escape. He did just that—threw them into the maximum security cell in the jail and clamped leg irons on them.
25-26 Along about midnight, Paul and Silas were at prayer and singing a robust hymn to God. The other prisoners couldn’t believe their ears. Then, without warning, a huge earthquake! The jailhouse tottered, every door flew open, all the prisoners were loose.
27-28 Startled from sleep, the jailer saw all the doors swinging loose on their hinges. Assuming that all the prisoners had escaped, he pulled out his sword and was about to do himself in, figuring he was as good as dead anyway, when Paul stopped him: “Don’t do that! We’re all still here! Nobody’s run away!”
29-31 The jailer got a torch and ran inside. Badly shaken, he collapsed in front of Paul and Silas. He led them out of the jail and asked, “Sirs, what do I have to do to be saved, to really live?” They said, “Put your entire trust in the Master Jesus. Then you’ll live as you were meant to live—and everyone in your house included!”
32-34 They went on to spell out in detail the story of the Master—the entire family got in on this part. They never did get to bed that night. The jailer made them feel at home, dressed their wounds, and then—he couldn’t wait till morning!—was baptized, he and everyone in his family. There in his home, he had food set out for a festive meal. It was a night to remember: He and his entire family had put their trust in God; everyone in the house was in on the celebration.
Just a minute, Harry! I'll be right there. I just wanted to take a quick peek into this quaint, little church.... Oh, my! What a delightful place! It's like a little slice of heaven, right here in little old - oh where are we today? Frankfort. That's it. Frankfort. 24 towns in 12 days; these "elder trips" are hardly for the the elderly. I should tell Harry to come up here and take a look at this - divine - delight. But there's a part of me that wants to keep this moment to myself.
What lovely instruments. I wonder if they have any one that can play them. I so wish we had someone in our church to play something other than the "play" switch on the hymn cds. I wonder if they have a church choir here. I don't know if you'd call our 3 people a choir, but Charlie, Hazel and Ethel are faithful - even if they have the same ten notes between them.
It says the pastor is a person named "Dinah Haag." I assume that's a woman. I wonder what she's like. With the shrinking pool of ministers these days, it's not easy to find a good one - much less a live one. Since no one seems to be here - I'll just take a little look-see in the pulpit. Pulpits are probably not on the top of everyone's curiosity list, but I just love to see what pastor's keep in them.
Pencils. Practical. Lighters. Sensible. Cough drops. Brilliant. Little water bottles. Sensational! A note that the clock takes a AA battery. Clever. A sermon: score!
Title: "Expectations" That's a locquacious one. The passage is from Acts - the one about Paul, Silas, the fortune-telling girl and the jailor. How on earth did she get "Expectations" from that passage? Ooo. I know the bus is to leave in a few minutes, but I can't just take the sermon, so I have to read it.
That's right - last week was Mother's Day. I wonder if she did one of those sappy, syrupy sermons that ignores the women who want a child but can't have one, the children who long for their own mothers, those whose mothers ought to be on the FBI's top ten list. Julia Ward Howe had a nice idea 145 years ago. But it's not as easy a day as Hallmark and FTD would like us to think.
She starts off with mothers who have been pivotal in shaping our modern culture. (Oh this ought to be good!) Paul Revere's mother: "I don't care where you think you have to go, young man. Midnight is past your curfew! Mona Lisa's mother: "After all that money your father and
I spent on braces, Mona, that's the biggest smile you can give us?" Humpty Dumpty's mother: "Humpty, If I've told you once, I've told you a hundred times not to sit on that wall. But would you listen to me? Noooo!" (What a sad thought if these were read in a straight voice.) Michaelangelo's mother: "Mike, can't you paint on walls like other children? Do you have any idea how hard it is to get that stuff off the ceiling?"
Well, if her sermon is less than par, at least there is a little light in the opening jokes. I wonder how many churches in this country have sermons that begin with humor. (clock) Gotta get going here.
Let's see: the fortune-telling slave girl is doubly trapped being possessed by an evil spirit and in a human cartel. A girl with no power, no status and no freedom, and Paul acknowledges her, exorcising her not only from the spirit, but probably from the humans - once they figure out she has no profit for them. I wish I had time to see if she related this part of the scripture to the current events of women - all kinds of people for that fact - that are kidnapped and sold into various kinds of slavery. And on top of the story of the three women from Ohio being freed from their physical and emotional prison. I would "expect" that link to be made, but maybe part of the sermon is about unmet expectations. I don't hurry, they will leave me behind and I will "expect" Harry to have a canary.
No, Rev. Haag, we don't "expect" people who have just been "robbed" of a trial and severely beaten to sing hymns in their jail cell. Apparently the jail keeper expected some sort of trouble, because otherwise there wouldn't be a need for Paul and Silas to be imprisoned and chained.
Yes, we would "expect" crying and wailing, moaning and complaining; feeling sorry for themselves. If we expect any singing at all, it would be of laments and dirges. It is part of the joy of this thing we call faith - when we discover our "expectations" popped. I love that she pointed out the "robust" singing of their hymn. (sag) If only my own church could get into that robust mentality when it comes to singing. And yes, dear lady, we would "expect" the other prisoners to continue their chatting, cursing or whatever else they might be doing. No, we don't "expect" them to listen to Paul and Silas' warbling.
More famous historic mothers? The bus is waiting and the clock is running. Napoleon's mother: "All right, Napoleon. If you aren't hiding your report card inside your jacket, then take your hand out of there and prove it!" Batman's mother: "It's a nice car, Bruce, but do you realize how much the insurance is going to be?" Little Miss Muffet's mother: "Well, all I've got to say is if you don't get off your tuffet and start cleaning your room, there'll be a lot more than spiders around here!" And Thomas Edison's mother: "Of course I'm proud that you invented the electric light bulb, Thomas. Now turn off that light and get to bed!" I am beginning to really like this Haag woman.
Excellent point, Rev., that the earthquake - that we would expect to crush and trap - sets all the prisoners doors' open. And yes, dear woman, we would expect the prisoners to run away.
I guess I hadn't really thought of the expectations when a person fails at their job. In this country, they may get fired, there may be an investigation, and there may be legal actions. But we don't "expect" people to kill themselves with knives of humiliation. I didn't "expect" that link between Philippi and Asian cultures where that was a long tradition. I think it's good that some "expectations" are no longer expected.
Oh dear lady, no - no one would "expect" this whole incident to be "for" the jail keeper. I think you're right - many of us would naturally assume that this jailing and earthquake event was about setting Paul and Silas free. (Good thread about freedom in connection with "expectation, Dinah.) The jail keeper was "set free" into faith - as much as his whole family. No, we don't expect Paul's compassion - or anyone else's for that matter - to be so life changing. We don't often realize the preciousness of stability and calm - the at-peace-ness with the universe - to play such a part in the life of a person we hardy know.
Oh and excellent point in bringing up the fact that the jail keeper "expected" some sort of ritual or course of action to be "saved." We are so good to jump to the "doing" because it's easy to see an accomplishment. We don't "expect" that becoming a follower of Christ is firstly about "trust," and then what we "do" comes after that. Excellent point, Ms. Haag. We "expect" to do something with the question, "What would Jesus do?" We don't think of Jesus just "being."
Nice ending, Rev. Haag. I think she must have delivered it with a smile and a twinkle in her eye. A mother serving pancakes to her two sons who began arguing about who would get the first pancakes. The mother asked the boys what they thought Jesus would do? When the boys didn't answer the mother said Jesus would have said, "Please let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait." In reply, the older brother turned to his younger brother and said, "You be Jesus."
You know, Lord, I like this gal. But I don't think this is about her expecting accolades. I think this message is a good one to remind us to think about expectations - of you, of Jesus, of your Holy Spirit, of each other. Sometimes our expectations do get out of whack, and I, for one, am greatly sorry when those times happen. Forgive me. And bless those who have been unfairly "expected" to be a certain way or to do a certain thing. When we are wrongly "expected" to do thus and such, help us to remember when we are apt to wrongly expect things of other people - that we all be gracious and compassionate and kind to those who fail our expectations.
Oh, and God, if you would especially bless this congregation and the musicians - if they have them - and the pastor. Help them to realize what a blessing their ministry is - to be a little light in a way that is quite uncommon these days. When they are apt to think too little of what they do here, remind them that theirs is a holy gift they give - to each other and to strangers. And just one more thing, God, please let that bus be there when I get there! And all the people say, Amen.
Sunday's Sermon May 05, 2013
First Congregational Church
May 5, 2013
Sixth Sunday after Easter
John 14:15-29 The Message
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
From the Church Bulletin Bloopers file - not this church, mind you: “The peace making meeting scheduled for today has been cancelled due to a conflict.”
“After a very long and boring sermon the parishioners filed out of the church saying nothing to the preacher. Toward the end of the line was a thoughtful person who always commented on the sermons.”Pastor, today your sermon reminded me of the peace and love of God!” The pastor was thrilled. “No one has ever said anything like that about my preaching before. Tell me why.” “Well – it reminded me of the Peace of God because it passed all understanding and the Love of God because it endured forever!”
So this morning's scripture passage is almost a continuation of the one from last week. Last week's stellar sermon found us in the upper room, on Jesus' last night, and Jesus had just washed the disciples' feet. Last week's passage included Jesus' command to love one another with that larger-than-life, properly self-less sort that we call agape love. Between last week and today, Jesus has comforted the disciples with the famous passage, "Do not let your hearts be troubled," and the promise of preparing a many-roomed place for us. He ends that bit by saying, "You know the place where I'm going."
But Thomas - the one I love for daring to point out the obvious - brings up the point that they "don't know" the way, to which Jesus replies, "I am the way and the truth and the life." It's at that point that our passage for today begins. As Donna makes her way up here, I want to let you know that I've asked her to read the translation by Eugene Peterson, called, "The Message."
John 14:15-29 The Message
15-17 “If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you. I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can’t take him in because it doesn’t have eyes to see him, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you!
18-20 “I will not leave you orphaned. I’m coming back. In just a little while the world will no longer see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to come alive. At that moment you will know absolutely that I’m in my Father, and you’re in me, and I’m in you.
21 “The person who knows my commandments and keeps them, that’s who loves me. And the person who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and make myself plain to him.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said, “Master, why is it that you are about to make yourself plain to us but not to the world?”
23-24 “Because a loveless world,” said Jesus, “is a sightless world. If anyone loves me, he will carefully keep my word and my Father will love him—we’ll move right into the neighborhood! Not loving me means not keeping my words. The message you are hearing isn’t mine. It’s the message of the Father who sent me.
25-27 “I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught.
28 “You’ve heard me tell you, ‘I’m going away, and I’m coming back.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I’m on my way to the Father because the Father is the goal and purpose of my life.
29-31 “I’ve told you this ahead of time, before it happens, so that when it does happen, the confirmation will deepen your belief in me. I’ll not be talking with you much more like this because the chief of this godless world is about to attack. But don’t worry—he has nothing on me, no claim on me. But so the world might know how thoroughly I love the Father, I am carrying out my Father’s instructions right down to the last detail.
“Get up. Let’s go. It’s time to leave here.”
Thank you, Donna. Part of what stood out for me in this passage was the part where Jesus says, "That's my parting gift to you." It makes me think of game shows of yore. "Johnny, tell our contestants about our parting gifts today." But it was that line, with the next - that stuck out: That's my parting gift to you. Peace."
For those wanting to do a little extra credit, you may want to read the last part of John 13 when you get home, to really catch the similarities between last week's and this week's passages. But basically, the big differences are two additional elements Jesus includes in this part of his instructions: peace and the Holy Spirit. Peace. Of all the things Jesus could have left - like love or grace or forgiveness, he leaves peace and talks about it in association with a Holy Spirit.
Try to put yourself back in that scene with the disciples, to see how you might "interpret" what was going on. The Master Rabbi - washing feet, talking about hotel or bed and breakfast lodgings, saying we know the way, but without a map or gps. And then - in the ancient Greek - he talks about a parakaleo, which is a verb meaning "to call to one's side." The noun of that word is Paraclete, and so now we're either thinking of small singing birds or shoes on a golf course.
For those out on a course or a boat on a lake, come on back, because there is a gift in this passage that may require concentration, but it is so worth it. This peace that Jesus talks about is very much like the Hebrew word, Shalom. Shalom is used much like Aloha - in greeting and sending off.
This kind of peace that Jesus is talking about is not the absence of struggle, is not self-induced, does not begin with us or end with us. It is the idea of wholeness - that doesn't come from just anyone but The One. It is the idea of being complete, accepted, forever. It is being the dwelling of God, rather than looking for the dwelling of God. It is the peace of God, with God, from God. We use this gift when we pass the peace, when we serve as greeters and ushers and welcome people into this place on behalf of the rest of the family, and when we put our coins and papers in the mission basket. It's that feeling of home, when we're safe inside and the storm rages outside and we don't have to go out into it.
Apparently there was an art contest where one painting was that of a raging storm; trees bent by lashing winds; sky dark but in the center of the fury was a bird's nest in the crutch of a gigantic tree. There a mother bird spread her wings over the young. The painting was labeled, "Peace".
But here's where Jesus' genius comes in, because I think so many of us get the idea that this peace is about things that we do. And yes, there is an element of us needing to do our job and God doing God's job. If the news is grinding on us, and that grinding is beginning to grind on other people, then maybe the best thing we can do is to turn off the news for a while. Or if we think about our conversations and we discover they have more "energy" behind them than we'd like, then perhaps we need to excuse ourselves for a while, until the temperature goes down and we can converse in a way that reflects the person we want to be - God knows us to be.
But this peace is not one-sided. God has a great piece of this peace, too. In trying to prepare the disciples for the time when Jesus was no longer with them, he was giving all of us down the centuries the same message. There is a presence that has been sent, one who has been called to our side. In ancient Greek days, it had a legal meaning, as in a "helper in court." That idea of "one beside us" has been translated into words like "counselor," "advocate," or "one who speaks for another." (I'm guessing that I'm not the only one with Law & Order series running through the brain at this moment.)
Never having been in a situation where I needed one of those kinds of 'advocates,' I can only imagine the comfort of that person in a stressful situation. But all of us have had - or will have - a situation where we need someone to be with us in a difficult time, and a person with real skin just won't be available.
King George VI, in the early days of World War II, brought this idea of peace and the Holy Spirit to the English in a poem by Minnie Louise Haskins. "I said to the man who stands at the Gate of the Year, 'Give me light that I may tread safely into the unknown.' And he replied, 'Step into the darkness, put your hand into the hand of God, and that will be to you better than a light, and safer than a known way.'" I don't know who said this line, but it is every bit as true. "We can live with this mystery of what the future holds because we trust the one who holds the future."
I don't know all the reasons, but the divisions in our country and the world seem to be getting greater and greater, spurred on by an anger that seems like it will cause some people to literally self-implode. This isn't a statement about right or wrong or freedoms or rights, and yes, sometimes we need to get angry about particular things. But I wonder if some of the anger and the inability to listen to other opinions comes in the unrest of that place that should have a Presence of Home. Perhaps it is fear of the future, fear of what will happen to us or this world, fear that life isn't ever going to be fair. But perhaps one of the best ways to lessen the heightened tension in our lives is to be reminded of the delights that are ours when God's presence gets behind us.
Pastor and author, John Ortberg gives a great analogy of the delight of God's presence and the sense of home in the difference between rowing a boat and sailing a boat. His story is about canoeing in the wilderness, and how tedious and tiresome it can be to paddle a canoe all day, hour after hour, but then how it feels, when the wind picks up, to be able to grab a poncho, tie it to your paddles and make a sail, and then go flying across the lake. I have a story about putting pants on a fishing net, after being swamped by a speed boat coming too close, but that's for another day. For this day, tho, it is time to pray.
God that is your presence in the home of our heart, we thank you for the gift of peace and of your Holy Spirit. Sometimes we are flying along in our sailboats so fast, we forget to take the time and opportunity to thank you. Sometimes we are so overwhelmed by the fatigue of paddling, we can't think of anything but wanting to stop, much less giving thanks. Help us to remember that we are all in this "life boat" together, and that when one part gets a hole or is damaged, we all need to be concerned and care and work to fix it. Thank you for not leaving us as stranded - as orphans, not knowing to whom we belong. Help us know how to help those who are upset or are distraught, and help them want to become whole again. To the last of Jesus' words this day, "“Get up. Let’s go. It’s time to leave here.” - all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.