The following was the core of the sermon text for Sunday, May 9, 2010. It is a sermon of assurance that God will walk with us on our path of faith.
We spent 40 days moving toward Easter, preparing ourselves for a fresh walk through the streets of Jerusalem, our journey to the cross and the empty tomb. We are an Easter people, forever shaped by the story of the crucifixion and defined by the resurrection. But these weeks after find us living in the shadows of the tomb. The echo of “He is risen!” still rings in the air, but we have slowly but surely begun to find our way back to the regular routine of church life – and our faith life. “Easter is not the end after all. Easter is not the final destination for the disciples, and not the final destination of the soul. Nor is Easter the final destination of the church. Easter begins the transition between one reality and another. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit cannot take place in that outer garden where Jesus has not yet ascended to the Father, where he has presence and voice, wounds open to the touch, where he is the risen Lord of a hot breakfast and a marvelous catch of fish. The disciples must once more taste emptiness and detachment, and open again the once-broken heart yet to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Only then will they go to ‘the ends of the earth.’” (1)
But before we move from the shadows of the empty tomb there is a word we need to hear that will give us strength and power for the journey that await us. It is no secret that the walk of faith can be difficult. There are moments when we are uncertain what lies ahead; when we feel under stress; when we wonder if we can make it on our own. Jesus knew that his disciples would face these same kinds of feelings. He knew the challenges and the persecution that they would face. He knew that the Church would be born in a cauldron of conflict and pain. He knew that they – and we – need to know that while the path may twist and turn, they – and we - are not alone. They could be confident in their relationship with God and empowered by God for the journey that awaited them.
Our scripture for the morning draws us back to the table at the Last Supper. Jesus had washed the disciples feet and had offered them the bread and wine, and claimed them as symbols of the sacrifice he was about to become for the sake of the world. After he spent time at the table with them; teaching them, encouraging them, and preparing for what lie ahead. In the midst of the moment the disciples continued to struggle to understand what was happening around them. 22Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, "But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?"
It is clear that those gathered in the Upper Room continued to be so focused on their own journey that they could not fathom that the promises of Jesus were not just for them, but for everyone. It was clear that they continued to struggle to grasp what kind of Messiah Jesus was called to be. They continued to expect Jesus to walk with them, to lead them, and to guide them each step of the way. One more time Jesus speaks to them. 23Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
Jesus heard Judas’ question and as he did so often, turned the question toward a vital moment of instruction. Jesus begins, “if anyone loves me” – did you hear that Judas – anyone – not just those in this room, but anyone – if anyone obey my teaching the Father will love him and WE – yes, Judas, we – the Father and me as One – will come and make our home with you and anyone who obeys my teaching. The journey from here – just like the journey to here – is based in our relationship. Judas, hear me, these words are not just mine – they also belong to the Father who sent me. Do you get it?
Jesus continued; 25"All this I have spoken while still with you. 26But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Jesus tells them that, “I am telling you this while I am still with you – there will be a time when I am not – but the Father will send you the Holy Spirit in my name – did you get this, though I am not in the room with you, through the Holy Spirit, the Father and I are still with you and in you to remind you of all of the things that I have done – and said – and promised. You will not be alone. You will never be alone in this journey. The Father and I are at home with you and the Spirit will be there to guide you.
I can imagine Jesus sweeping the room with his eyes, making sure that everyone in the room was hearing him. He wanted to make sure that none of them – and none of us – missed this. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. It is not the temporary fading kind of peace the world can give you – this is different. It is the same peace that the Father has given the Son. It can sustain you in good days and difficult ones. I think that these are words that are heard for you and me to hear because it is so easy to get caught up in the stress of expectations, family demands, and economic uncertainty. I do not think we claim a peace that can relieve our stress and release us into the arms of God. This is more than the bumper sticker, “Let Go and Let God.” It is a let go because we live in the midst of God. Jesus reinforces this; Don’t let your heart be troubled….Do not be afraid.
Do you worry about that as a kid? Was it monsters in the closet or what might happen in the dark? How about now? Does the mere mention of spiders or snakes make you squirm? Our world can be a scary place. Jesus understood that it would be very scary for those who would go out in His name. One of the realities is that any time a church or even a person is doing great things for God there is almost the certainty that spiritual opposition will emerge. For many in our world persecution is still very much a reality. In fact, there were more people martyred for their faith in the last 100 years than the previous 1900 years combined. (2)Jesus wanted his disciples then – and now – to understand that even though they would face difficulty, they did not have to be afraid. God was with them regardless of the outcome.
28"You heard me say, 'I am going away and I am coming back to you.' If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. The tension of the promise of Jesus is that we are to claim unapologetically life now…..and life eternal. We live in the promise that God is at home with us now, comforting and encouraging us. But we also hear with equal passion that God is preparing a place for us….a place in the eternal presence of God. It seems that in our current religious climate that is less conversation on the promise of Christ’s return and eternity. I think that this is contributing factor to why we have moved from a medical mantra of “do no harm” to “extend life as long as you can -seize every moment of breath medically possible” There seems to be a pervasive fear of what comes next, even from the bounds of the Christian community. We need to be clear that for those who claim faith in Christ the same God who promises us life now in Him, also promises eternity with Him. Just as we need not fear what we will encounter on the other side of this minute or the other side of grave.
Don’t let your heart be troubled….Do not be afraid, God is with us for our journey of life and faith, in good days and in difficult ones. Don’t let your heart be troubled….Do not be afraid, God is with us in life now and we will be with God for eternity. We do not need to fear the path that lies ahead us nor languish in the stress of our lives. God is with us and is will be there to comfort and guide us. We also do not need to fear what happens when the world around us seems uncertain or when our life moves toward its end. We are not alone. We will never be alone. God is with us and we will be with God. The Jesus who came that we might see God face-to-face, will come again to claim us forever….just as he said.
(1) Guthrie, Suzanne, “The Turn in the Path,”The Christian Century, 2001. Religion Online, available at http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=2125 on May 5, 2010.
(2) McAtee, Brian. Based in research from the World Christian Database