Sunday, May 01, 2016

Sermon; Easter 6C; John 14:23-29

Today's gospel passage comes from what is known as the Farewell Discourse that runs from the last quarter of Chapter 13 (after Jesus washes the feet of his disciples and Judas leaves to betray him) through the end of Chapter 17.  This section of John is referred to as the Farewell Discourse because of its similarity to other final speeches, such as Moses' farewell speech of Deuteronomy, in which the leader is about to be separated from his followers.  Among other things, he reminds them of who they are as God's chosen apostles and that he will send the Holy Spirit to comfort them in their loss.  It is, in effect, Jesus' “Win one for the Gipper” speech.

The section we heard in today's gospel takes place early in that speech and it is particularly apt for today, mainly because this coming Thursday is the Feast of the Ascension.  This Thursday is, in the tradition of the Acts of the Apostles, 40 days after Easter and the day when Jesus ascended to the Father.  It's the day when we have been left behind to run the store.  And so we get this part of the Farewell Discourse today to prepare us for Jesus' departure and our greater role in his mission.

What is Jesus telling us as we prepare for that departure?  The first thing we are told is that, although Jesus is leaving us, he is not abandoning us.  The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will be sent in his name.  Additionally, the Holy Spirit will teach us and remind us of all that Jesus said.  That's the good news.

The bad news, if you can call it that, is with Jesus gone we can no longer talk with him.  Oh, I know, people say they talk with Jesus all the time, and we even have songs about it – “Aaaannnd he walks with me and he talks with me . . .”  But the reality is that for us, and for the post-Ascension apostles, Jesus isn't here.

What is here is the Holy Spirit, his own first gift for those who believe.  This gift ensures that we have not been abandoned, nor are we alone.  This gift will teach us everything and remind us of all that Jesus said to us.  But there's a catch:  since we can't actually talk with the Holy Spirit, we need to spend our time listening.  We need to listen for guidance.  We need to listen for love.  We need to listen to where God might be calling us.

Another really important thing Jesus tells us is do not let your hearts be afraid.  That is a hard thing to do when we find ourselves alone for the first time.  At the crucifixion, death, and burial of Christ, the disciples were alone.  But that was sudden and, for them, somewhat unexpected.  They have now had forty days with Jesus getting used to the idea of his permanent departure.  And on Thursday they will once again be on their own.

In Old Testament terms, it's time for them to gird up their loins.  In current terms, it's time for them to put on their big boy pants.  Be not afraid.

But I think there is something else beyond Jesus leaving us behind that causes us to be afraid.  Beyond the fear of being left behind is the fear, I think, that this mission of Christ now rests on our shoulders.  It is now up to us to proclaim the gospel to the people with whom we come into contact.  It is now up to us to pray, study, and teach people about our faith.

The pray and study part may not cause us to be afraid.  We all pray at various times and in various manners.  But I would be willing to bet that most, if not all, of us could stand to make prayer a more intentional part of our lives.  The same can probably be said about studying.  While not afraid of studying, we could all benefit from more intentionally reading and studying scripture, as well as attending the Sunday morning study between services.

This leaves us, then, with teach.  You might think that teaching requires a degree or certificate or a classroom.  While that's the traditional understanding of teach, there can be a lot more to it.  Teach is also synonymous with inform and share.  And those can be synonymous with – and here's where it gets scary – evangelism.

This Thursday is the Day of Ascension.  On that day the disciples witnessed Jesus disappearing into heaven on a cloud.  On that day they stood gazing up into heaven wondering what they might do next.  And on that day a couple of angels asked them, “Why are you standing here looking up to heaven?”  From that moment on the apostles spent their time praying and teaching.  Well, to be fair, the teaching part didn't come until Pentecost; but from that day forward they stopped looking to heaven and got busy.

We are pretty much in the same place.  The Feast of the Ascension is this Thursday, and Pentecost is two weeks away (don't forget to wear red).  We can spend our time looking up to heaven wondering what to do next, or we can follow the apostles and get to work.  If we choose to get to work, then we begin by spending our time in prayer, study, and evangelism – teaching or sharing if you prefer.

The more we pray, the more we learn to listen to the whisperings and callings of the Holy Spirit.  The more we study, the more we become familiar with God's curriculum.  The more we study together, the more comfortable we become in openly discussing our thoughts about God.  The more comfortable we become in discussing our thoughts, then the more comfortable we become in telling and teaching others about our faith.

The Feast of the Ascension is coming up, and Pentecost is two weeks away.  As we move from Easter to Pentecost we would do well to remember three things:

1. We have been gifted with the Holy Spirit.
2. We have no reason to be fearful.
3. It's time to quit gawking and get moving.



spookyrach | 9:32 PM, May 04, 2016  

Did you sing the "Annnnnnnnd he" line? That made me laugh.

We seem to be having a lot of trouble with that 'do not be afraid' part lately. We're not trusting the gift we've been given, I guess.

Reverend Ref + | 10:01 PM, May 04, 2016  

As a matter of fact, yes, I did sing that line.

As for not being afraid, there are a lot of people who are (check out the Republicans). But somebody once said, "You don't move forward until the fear of moving becomes more tolerable than the fear of remaining in place."

spookyrach | 11:17 AM, May 09, 2016  

Oh great, now you've done quit preachin' and gone to toe stompin'. (Always hated that line, but it fits here. ha!)

Reverend Ref + | 11:22 AM, May 09, 2016  

Nope . . . just didn't get around to posting the sermon for Easter 7. Which is going up right about . . . now.

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