SERMON FOR MAY 18, 2014
EASTER 5, YEAR A
Nativity, Bloomfield Township
READINGS: Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
MAY THE WORDS OF OUR SACRED WRITINGS BE A LAMP UNTO OUR FEET, AND LEAD US ONTO PATHS OF JUSTICE, LOVE, AND MERCY. AMEN.
Today our gospel focus changes from the resurrection appearances of Jesus to what is called his Farewell Discourse which is covered in John’s gospel beginning with Chapter 13 through Chapter 17. These words are some of the most comforting and yet most challenging in all the gospels. These are the words we hear today, next Sunday, and the first Sunday of June.
The setting is the evening of the Last Supper. Jesus has washed his disciples’ feet (13:3-17), and Judas has left on his mission of betrayal (13:18-30). As Jesus speaks to those who remain, he tells them, “I am with you only a little longer” (13:33); and where He is going, his disciples cannot follow (13:36b). Through this discourse, Jesus is preparing his believers to consider not only his journey through death to life, but their own… our own.
Examples of farewell biddings of leaders were not unknown. Plato wrote an account of Socrates’ farewell to his disciples. The Hebrew book of Deuteronomy tells us of Moses’ farewell to his people. The Christian book of Acts contains Paul’s farewell to the elders at Ephesus (Acts 20:17-38). Now we have Jesus’ farewell, one that is causing his listeners deep grief.
Their hearts are heavy. They are not yet ready or able to comprehend that their theology, their understanding about Jesus is about to radically change. They have been looking for a Messiah and believe they have found him. They believe the Messiah to be immortal, but he is about to be executed. They have a vision of a messianic strongman who will liberate the people from Roman occupation, but he is about to seemingly be defeated by civil and religious oppression. They believe that the Messiah will usher in an eternal kingdom of peace, but they are about to experience horror beyond their most terrified imaginations. They are filled with feelings of disappointment and defeat.
Jesus’ death will mean the death of all they believed and hoped for throughout their lives. It will be a long time before they realize that the messianic message is eternal, even if the Messiah is not immortal. Death will have neither the last nor the lasting word!
Today’s reading began with the words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” Some translations say, “Trust in God; trust also in me. Believe. Trust.
Today’s psalm was written during a time of great and personal need. It’s a cry for help and guidance and the recognition that God hears the writer’s plea. The psalmist does not promise to work harder. He doesn’t promise to be more careful or brave. He doesn’t scheme or complain that God is unfair. Instead, the psalmist turns to and asks God for help.
He doesn’t claim that God causes or controls every single event in life, but the psalmist does trust that in every moment of life, from disappointment to success, from sorrow to joy, from birth to death, God mysteriously, powerfully, and fully walks beside him through his life and times. Believe. Trust.
This psalm makes us aware of the connection between total submission and redemption. It is as if we must first die to self before we can be opened up to the possibilities of grace and life available within God. In other words, it is God’s faithfulness, not our acts of faith, that reigns supreme. The psalmist wrote in verse 5: Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.” The psalmist believes; the psalmist trusts.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. Trust in God. Trust also in me.”
Jesus knew he was to die. Yet he urged his followers to trust that he was going ahead into a future they could not see, but they would be empowered to follow. Their identities would be secure beyond death. There was hope for the future as well as after death. Hope. Trust. Believe.
During the time of the Maccabean revolt that began180 years before Jesus was born, a theology of resurrection developed as a response to the question, “What will God do for those who die for a righteous cause?” The hope of resurrection was articulated by one of the martyred brothers as he was being tortured and said to King Antiochus IV: “You dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws” (2 Macc 7:9). At the end of the first century after Jesus’ birth, the writer of John’s gospel reflects a more refined theology; that is, that persons will die and rise in Christ (John 12:23-25).
All this takes belief, trust. It takes a complete surrender to God through Jesus. When we truly let go of those selfish motives and concerns that can hold us back, the wonders of God can be experienced and help us flourish. That’s hard for all of us to accept because we’ve been shaped by our culture’s call for individual independence and individual reliance on our own thinking and our own abilities. Yet Jesus calls us to hang our hearts on God and him in whom we believe and trust rather than hang our hearts on all the things our culture peddles to soothe a troubled heart.
Back in April of 2009, our interim Bishop’s Committee met for the first time. Anxiety was high; so was fear. Everyone had an idea of what we should do to quickly “move on.” When I got home after that meeting, I told Karen it felt like I was driving a team of seven wild horses wanting to go in seven different directions. I didn’t hear much trust in God or trust in Jesus. I heard and saw anxiety and fear.
So, over these years, you’ve been encouraged to develop your relationship with God through Jesus. You’ve been encouraged to deepen your spirituality. You’ve been encouraged to pray contemplatively so that your ears and eyes and hearts would be open. You’ve been encouraged to use our sacred spaces to connect with God. You’ve been encouraged and empowered to use your gifts in God’s service. You’ve been encouraged to believe… to trust… to not let your hearts be troubled.
In January of 2013, I said I felt 2013 was the year that God would speak to us, that 2013 was the year God would help us find our mission and our path as a community. W-e-l-l-l-l, I was a little ahead of myself… and ahead of God. Yes, we did have Deon Johnson come help us discern how to do things that would make our worship [more welcoming, more relevant, more reverent. We learned how to make Nativity more visible: trim some trees, fix our sign. We learned we should make our website appealing and easy to read. But we still don’t have a mission about which we are passionate. We still don’t know the path to take in being an obedient faith community.
However, I think we’re moving along. Last week Michelle Meech preached the best sermon I’ve ever heard about hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd. That sermon wasn’t just for us as individuals. It also was for us as a community. Michelle urged us to hear the voice of God’s unconditional love, not the voices of thieves and bandits.
I quote: “They (the thieves and bandits) take and they scatter and they divide. They tear down and steal the very life from you. They fragment the whole. They whisper fear and offer illusions of scarcity. Yet, those are the voices we are prone to listen to the most. Those are the voices that we tend to believe. And why is that?….because we can’t quite believe in the goodness of the Good Shepherd… in the comfort that comes with risk and change. We can’t completely trust in the abundance of God’s love. We aren’t willing to give ourselves over to the Reign of God and surrender our world.”
Michelle works for the Diocese and will be helping us over this next year to find that mission about which we are passionate and to begin walking God’s path. She will help us learn about various models of doing church. For over 50 years Nativity had a traditional model of a full-time priest who was pretty much in charge of everything with help from members. That model had to fall by the wayside, not just for Nativity but for hundreds and hundreds of churches throughout the country.
Last week, Dr. Reed, the youngest member of the investigative team BAU on the TV program Criminal Minds quoted Joseph Campbell, well-known folklorist and expert on mythology. “We must be willing to get rid of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.” When I heard that, I had an aha moment and said to myself: “That applies to Nativity: ‘We must be willing to get rid of our old model of doing church so as to have the new model that is waiting for us. The old model has to be shed before the new model can come.’”
Since I came to Nativity we’ve been following a shared-ministry model of part-time priest with empowerment of the baptized laity to lead and participate by using the spiritual gifts they received at baptism. Even this model as it’s practiced now may not be financially possible in the future. Michelle will meet with the BC and all interested persons to explore options at least once a month. Her next time with us is Sunday, June 15.
In the meantime, let’s concentrate on total surrender of our lives to Jesus. Let’s also concentrate on what Jesus is saying to us in today’s gospel: “Do not let your hearts be troubled; trust in God; trust also in me.”
The Rev. Diane E. Morgan
Resources used for this sermon:
Campbell, Joseph as quoted on Criminal Minds, Season 9, at end of episode two of two-part season finale on Tuesday, May 13, 2014.
Dark, David J. “Theological Perspective: Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16.” From Feasting on the Word, edited by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY. 2010.
Hunt, Alice W. “Exegetical Perspective: Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16.” From Feasting on the Word, edited by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville,
Jarvis, Cynthia. “Homiletical Perspective: John 14:1-14.” From Feasting on the Word, edited by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville,
Marshall, Molly T. “Theological Perspective: John 14:1-14.” From Feasting on the Word, edited by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville,
Paschal, Jeff. “Pastoral Perspective: Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16.” From Feasting on the Word, edited by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY. 2010.
Pater, Shannon Michael. “Pastoral Perspective: John 14:1-14.” From Feasting on the Word, edited by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville,
Senior, Donald. “Exegetical Perspective: John 14:1-14.” From Feasting on the Word, edited by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville,
“The Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Synthesis.PNMSI Publishing Co., Inc., Boyds, MD 20841-0335. May 18, 2014.
White, John E. “Homiletical Perspective: Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16.” From Feasting on the Word, edited by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY. 2010.