Friday, May 27, 2011

We Are the World

Sixth Sunday of Easter A
John 14:15-21

15”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This 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.

When you read this passage, it's easy to think that Jesus is talking about those special people in his life. Jesus is talking to his disciples, continuing this long farewell speech that started in John 13. In this passage, he tells the disciples that they will recieve the Spirit, something the world can't recieve because they don't know Jesus.

It's easy to hear this passage and think not just think Jesus is speaking to his disciples, but that he is speaking to us, the present-day disciples who want to follow Jesus. It's also easy to think that we have some special knowledge that the rest of the world doesn't have. We have access to the Spirit, something the rest of those poor suckers don't have.

Only, the disciples didn't quite get it, did they? Peter denied Jesus, Judas betrayed him and the rest basically took off at the very moment Jesus needed them. Even as Jesus is speaking to them about being given the Spirit, they were like the rest of the world in not knowing who Jesus was.

What should dawn on us is that the disciples, both then and now are also part of the world, the world that denies and ignores Jesus. We are the world.

This passage reveals that those who profess to follow Jesus can be just as blind as everyone else. It reminds us that we are as the old saying goes, simply "sinners by grace."

As we stand in our pulpits or sit in the pews this Sunday, we should remember that we don't always "get Jesus." Like the disciples of old, we can be see Jesus right in front of us and yet not see Jesus- choosing to live as if God didn't exist.

But while that is part of the message here this week, thank God it isn't the whole message. Jesus starts this passage by saying that if we love him we will keep his commandments. It all goes back to relationship. We place our trust in Jesus. We love Jesus and we show our love by keeping his commandments- even though we will mess up.

Maybe it's not accidental that we have this text on Memorial Day weekend, a time when we remember those who gave their lives serving their country. These folks showed their love of country by serving and giving the ultimate sacrifice. The servicemen and women who died serving showed fidelity- an ongoing relationship with their nation. Likewise, we are called to fidelity with Christ, an ongoing relationship where we show our love in keeping his commandments- loving our neighbor, welcoming the outcast and loving even the enemy. We do this as imperfect disciples who sometimes don't understand Jesus, but still going on serving in Jesus name.

Go and be church.

Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

For You, But Not About You

Fifth Sunday of Easter A
John 14:1-14

The gospel for this coming Sunday is not the easiest to understand. This part of Christ's farewell discourse, which spans four chapters in John; chapters 13 through 17. In chapter 14 he talks about mansions and being the way. None of it makes a lot of sense to his disciples. The first three verses are truly opaque but at the same time familiar:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

The verses are used a lot during funerals. They sense a future hope, a sense that God in Christ is creating a place for us- heaven. Could this passage give us some comfort, that no matter how hard life might be, we have this dream of being with God in every sense imaginable?

But as Rick Morley notes this passage can bother folks because it seems too much about us:
I have to say though, that this is not one of the passages of Jesus' teachings that speaks readily to me. Not because I'm uncomfortable with Jesus' sentiments here, but because I'm uncomfortable with the all-too-typical-take on them.

 I get uncomfortable with any version of our faith which turns Christianity into something that's all about us. There are far too many teachings on Jesus, salvation, and Heaven, which remake Christianity into a narcissistic cult. And that's the very opposite of the kind of faith that Jesus presents and compels us to follow.

The faith, as Jesus taught it, is all about us loving God and our neighbor. It's an outwardly focused faith, which pushes us to look around and find people to love, and a God to adore.

If we stopped at the first three verses, I would totally agree with Rick. But there is much more to this passage. Yes, we are promised a future with God, but there is work to do now. Look at verse twelve:

12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.

The one who believes...a moment here. What does the word "believe" mean. Well, you should know that it doesn't mean following certain dogma. No, the greek word for "believe" is pistis, which is also the word for faith and trust. So, the one who places their trust, their faith in Jesus will also do what Jesus did, preach the Word of God, heal the sick and feed the hungry. Chapter 14 is for you and for me, but it surely is NOT about us. We are assured to be with God now and in the future, but we are also called to do God's work in the world. Tripp Hudgins has some great thoughts about how this passage, this talk of mansions is a now and not yet kind of deal:

when we read Revelation and take Jesus’ worldly ministry seriously, I see that the Kingdom of God is here, now, with us, always lighting the way to God. It’s not some netherworld that we cannot reach without magical map making from the Messiah. Jesus is the map. His life, his very fleshy and challenging life is the way to the dwelling that we each have in God’s house, in this City of God.

House. City. Land. Kingdom. No matter what the metaphor, we know it’s a place, a recognizable place. The trouble is that our relationships with these places are often so polluted that, like Thomas, we cannot even begin to imagine that God’s dwelling might actually be a house, a city, a land, or a kingdom. And most of us cannot imagine that there’s room for everyone.

The thing is, Jesus is the dwelling place, Jesus is our home and in Jesus there is room enough for everyone.

Thanks be to God.

Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.