This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah. The texts are John 14: 23-39 and Revelation 21: 10, 22-22:5.
Children’s sermon: Have the children meet you at the font. We are going to play a game! You are going to each bless five people by making the sign of the cross on their hand and tell them that Jesus loves them. But between each person, you have to go back to font to get your finger wet again. Ok? Come back here when you are done! Go! (When they are done.) How did that feel? Did you like coming back to the font or was that kinda annoying? Yeah, I can see both sides of that. In our bible stories the last few weeks we have been hearing stories about the night before Jesus died on the cross-which seems kind of out of order since we just had Easter! But I think the point is this: the night before Jesus died, he wanted his disciples and us to know that he will always be there to return to for love, grace and hope. Just as you returned to the font between blessing each person, so we return to the truth that Jesus’ love is always with us no matter how scared we might be, where we might be or whatever is going on in our lives. Because of this, we are free to be bold and to tell everyone we know that Jesus’ love is true for them too! No matter what! We want to flood the world with that good news! Besides offering a blessing, which you can do to anyone, how else can you share Jesus’ love with people? Yes! Those are all great ways! Let’s pray:
This weekend I went to Fort Collins for my best friend’s daughter’s high school graduation and I also attended her International Baccalaureate celebration. We listened to speeches from the principal, teachers, counselors, mentors and the students themselves. As most graduates are, they were a jumble of gratitude for what had been, a twinge of melancholy for the relationships that will now be altered and a sense of hopeful anticipation, mixed with a healthy dose of fear for what the future might hold. As these young people enter a new phase, all of this particular group going on for higher education, they would speak with excitement about the future and then circle back to how great the past four years with their friends had been, even if the work load from IB seemed from time to time too overwhelming, too hard and too much. It was a dance of stepping forward to the unknown and simultaneously stepping back to what they knew, what was certain and what they could depend upon. Mixed into this drama are the hopes and dreams of their parents who have a different sense of what the future will bring for their children. Their role will now shift from hands on day to day to one of a place where these young adults can circle back to when they need guidance. The love for their children will not change, but how it is expressed will. Graduation celebrations hold the tension of all the joy of what was, what has been accomplished and the anxiety of a now palpable change. Everyday life will not be the same. But some pieces from this time of high school will remain in their grasp as they spring forward to a new future. Some deep truths of who they are will remain in spite the new adventures.
As we look at the scripture texts that we have been assigned for these seven weeks after Easter, it might seem as if we can’t quite move forward. As one colleague on an ELCA clergy FB site pointed out this week, these chosen texts for the seven Sundays after Easter are a hot mess! I mean it’s Easter! Shouldn’t it be all joy, lilies, chocolate, colorful easter eggs, Alleluias and we love you always Jesus, right?! Like those high school grads rotating from party to party, we want to remain in the celebration, to focus on what’s easy, comfortable and seemingly joyful and we want to stay there forever. Like every other Mainline Protestant Church just a scant six Sundays ago, OSLC was decked out to celebrate Easter-the resurrection of Jesus. The pinnacle of the Church year and a cornerstone of our faith. Jesus is Risen! He is risen indeed! Oh there were lilies, and eggs, and candy, and a brunch, and family and new worshipers and the full choir and extra music and….oh it was glorious! And somehow each year, every congregation thinks: this is the year that all these new worshipers will start attending every week! Everything will be different; it will feel like Easter celebration every Sunday! And then the reality that the Sunday after Easter is one of the lowest attended Sundays in the year for every congregation, sinks in. The lilies and other flowers fade, the chocolate runs out, the eggs are turned into sandwiches, and we are left with this yearning for something that perhaps never existed, with a feeling of inadequacy, and maybe a touch of existential crisis-just to keep it real. Why can’t we stay with the joy of the empty tomb and the beauty of a picturesque spring morning forever? Why do we have to be a hot, disjointed, mess wondering what is next?
Sometimes in the midst of such wondering, we need a touchstone-something that we can return to when nothing else makes sense, when life isn’t quite going how we had planned, when celebrations end, and the challenges, questions, and uncertainties drip back into our lives like slow leak from a faucet.
Jesus is well aware of how quickly shouts of “Hosanna” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” shift to “Crucify him”! Jesus knows that his followers will need something to return to in the coming weeks, months, years, and really, until the Kingdom of God is fulfilled. These passages that we have been reading from the gospel of John have pulled us back to the night that Jesus was betrayed, the night before Jesus was killed, three days before the tomb was empty and a new future emerged. This was the night that things were about to change for the disciples and for the world. The relationship between Jesus and the disciples would forever be altered. They would no longer be with Jesus physically day to day, which seemed unfathomable to them. How would they know what to do?
Jesus offers them and us a touchstone to keep returning to when we are stepping out into an uncertain future. When we know that the next faithful step isn’t to stay where we are, but to go out and risk. Jesus tells us that the love that we have from God will never change, that love is unconditional and always with us, but our experience of God will be different. It won’t be physical, hands on. The Holy Spirit will come and keep teaching, sustaining and prodding us on. We will have the peace from Jesus to calm our troubled hearts, not peace that world tries to lure us with, but the peace of knowing that in the midst of life, with the Holy Spirit, we can return again and again to the word of God made flesh, Jesus, the living water, the bread of life, the good shepherd, the vine, the true source of our lives when everything else seems fleeting.
Jesus is also clear that God as our truth and touchstone, isn’t to keep us comfortable but to keep us going. Jesus knows that as God’s Church on earth we always live on that precipice, on the eve, of what is about to come. We live lives that reveal the love and truth of God, and that isn’t simple, easy or without risk, but we live them anyway, for as we read in Revelation, God’s concern is for all people, for all nations, to draw on God as their source and truth. This doesn’t mean that there is only one way to experience the truth of God. Cities (such as the one named in Revelation) are diverse and rich with multiplicity. Even the tree of life produces 12 different kinds of fruit and leaves that heal all manner of ills. God’s truth is most richly expressed in diversity such as all the gifts gathered here in this sanctuary, the gifts in the community around us waiting to be discovered and in the world. What’s universal, what is the constant is God’s promise of abundant life and love for us all and for the entire world. With water, word, bread and wine, we are sustained with the truth of God’s mercy, love and grace that then we carry with us to a world that indeed needs this healing. Nations are healed with the peace of Christ that puts others first and doesn’t fear diversity and what we don’t understand.
So we go out, into a future that is unknown, yet filled with promise, where there will be risk, and meaningful opportunities, where we might feel inadequate and we will have the Holy Spirit to keep teaching us new things, where chaos may surround us, and Jesus’ peace will pervade all of creation. Life will not be the same, but the deep truth of belonging to God and God’s presence with us remains. Thanks be to God. Amen.