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.
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