Sunday, May 21, 2017

Not Orphaned - Luke 14:15-21

John 14:15-21

Belief is a key part of what we understand about being a follower of Jesus. Jesus himself, throughout the Gospel of John, speaks again and again of the importance of our belief in Jesus Christ and in who her is when it comes to being a person who is a disciple of Christ. In the first half of this chapter Jesus tell his disciples that they should believe in him; that the way to the father is through believe in him.
This is something that we know; something we have heard and have learned about since we were children. In order to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, a disciple, we must first believe in Jesus, believe he is the way, the truth and the life. We know that it is our belief, our faith which gains us relationship with God. To have faith in Jesus Christ means that we believe in his teachings, believe that God was at work in him throughout his lifetime, believe that he was the son of God and believe that it is through his, life, death and Resurrection that humanity's relationship with God is able to be restored. Belief in Jesus Christ is key to how we understand our relationship with God.
Then just as we get comfortable with the idea of belief, Jesus throws us a curve ball. And tells us, a person's belief in Jesus Christ will be seen in their works. At hearing this, something inside us wants to stomp our foot and shout, “Hey, this is is not what we learned in Sunday school.” We learned that God does not love us because of the things we do. We know, as good protestants, we do not believe that there is anything we can DO to earn the good graces of God. We know that it is by faith we are saved and not because of anything we have done.
But then Jesus tells us right here in John 14, that we will do works, that show we are his. That our actions will tell of our faith. That belief will be acted out in our lives. Our faith and belief in Jesus can be seen in the things we do, heard in the things we say and exhibited in the over arching path of our lives. The evidence of faith, the proof of belief is in our actions.
This is not exactly the same as saying that we earn our way to God through our actions; doing and saying the right things to make God love us. There is a difference in saying that we act a certain way to make God love and accept us than it is to say we believe in God's salvific work in this world through Jesus Christ and this causes us to act differently. Our faith in Jesus causes us to act differently, to live differently, to respond differently to the world around us.
As if that is not enough Jesus then quickly equates belief with love. That is, to live a life exhibiting the works of Jesus Christ, to believe, have faith in Jesus, is to love him. Our faith in Jesus is our love for him. To put a cherry on this already toppling cake of our understanding of what it means to be followers of Jesus, Jesus then says that IF we love him, then we will keep his commandments. This throws a monkey wrench in our commonly understood protestant faith because we have all learned that Jesus came to free us from the law, which is just another way of saying the Old Testament commands. So what is Jesus doing here conflating our love for him to our obedience to commandments?
We know, we do not earn our way to God by following the commandments of the Old Testament. We know, it is futile to gain God's favor by following the law. This is protestant 101. Being good protestants, which I assume most of us are, we need to ask ourselves, “What does Jesus mean here?” The idea he seems to be presenting is inconceivable. Jesus keeps using these words, and he does not mean what we think he means.
Jesus tells us quite clearly, “IF you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Instead of seeing the word “commandments” and playing a word association game and just assuming that Jesus must mean the Old Testament Commandments, the 600 some odd stipulations found in the Law, or even the Ten Commandments (which is a little easier to swallow because although we are not so keen on following all the OT commands, we are totally OK with the ten), let us instead actually pay attention to what it is Jesus is actually saying here.
He says, “my commandments.” This is important because, although Jesus does not change the law, add to it or take anything away, he sums it up and says that they all boil down to two commandments, that all the others are extrapolations, spin offs and further clarification of just two commandments and these are the commandments that he gave to his disciples. “Love the Lord your God . . . and love your neighbor.”
He then goes on to explain that your neighbors are not just the people who live in your neighborhood, the people that you meet each day, but they are anyone and everyone who is in need, who is suffering, or struggling; which let's face it is most everyone in this world. I have yet to meet someone who would not do better if they were treated with a little more love and care. Jesus is simply calling us to love God and to love the people in our world. So loving Jesus results in not only loving Jesus, and therefore loving God, but it also results in us loving the people around us.
And although Jesus speaks of commandments, this is not a time when Jesus is teaching us about what it is he is commanding of his disciples. He has already done this, over and over throughout his life time. Here at the end, on the night before his crucifixion, he is assuming they love him. We know this because the “if” here is a certain kind of Greek “if”, which means, “if” which of course you do. Jesus assumes we, as his disciples love him and that because we love him we will keep his commands. He just assumes that we, who call ourselves by his name, who have faith and belief in him will also be living lives that exhibit his love in all we do. These are the assumptions this passage is based on, because in this passage he is giving a promise to all of us who love, him and therefore keep his commands, to love all whom we encounter in this world. The promise Jesus is about to give is one of the most important he makes in his lifetime.
You see Jesus has just told his disciples something which has shook their world to the core, something which does not make any sense to them what so ever. He told them that he must suffer and die. That he was leaving them, that there would be a time when he would not long be with them. He has alluded to his resurrection as well, but he has let it be known, there will be a time when they would need to carry on the work, he began, without his presence. This has not only shocked them, but has deeply dismayed them. How can Jesus just leave them? Surely they can not carry on his work with out him.
But in this passage not only does he assure them that they can carry on his work without him, but that he will not leave them alone. He tells them that he will not leave them orphaned. They will not be parent-less children lost in this world with out anyone to guide them, direct them, protect them and care for them. They will not be alone, he will send to them, the Paraclete; the advocate, the comforter, the provider, the counselor; a helper, a guide, some one who will tell them the way to go. All of these are good translations of the Greek word here and the word means them all. And the Paraclete does all these things. The One who comes to Christ's disciples, to the Church, is One who, at different points in our lives, does all these things for us. We are truly never alone, when we have One who is journeying with us, who will be all these things for us and more.
Jesus tells us the “Paraclete”is the Spirit of Truth. Jesus has just told his disciples, in the first half of this chapter, that he is “the way, the truth and the light.” This One whom Jesus sends is not just anyone, it is not even just any spirit, Jesus is sending us his own Spirit. The Spirit who was, and is, and is to come. Jesus is not sending just any spirit, or angel, or guide us, to journey with us, when he is not able to physically be here. He sends his own Spirit, the one who hovered over the deep before the creation of time. The who was there when the Father, through the Word spoke all things into existence. This is the Spirit who was with Moses and the prophets, the one who was in pillar of cloud in the desert and who inhabited the Holy of Hollies in the temple. This is the Spirit of God, the third member of the Trinity.
Whenever a prophet said, “The Spirit of God was upon me.” Whenever a King was anointed of God, it was the Spirit who was with them, who guided their words and their actions. Jesus is telling his disciples that they will all be prophets of God, speaking the words of the Lord to the peoples. They will all be anointed kings, whose actions and lives reflect the very nature of God. But unlike a prophet or a king of old, this would not be a temporary thing. The Spirit would not come and go. The Spirit would not come upon them so they could momentarily speak the words of God and reflect the true nature of God in specific moments and at specific times. Jesus tells his disciples that the spirit who resides in him, even as he resides in the Father, will also reside, dwell, in those who love him, his disciples, his followers.
The Spirit was not coming for a visit, during which his followers will know Christ's presence temporarily and then go away, as had happened every time before. As Christ himself must do. The Spirit was going to set up house. The Spirit will stay, will dwell with them, in them. Christ's disciples, all those who follow him, are known by his name, will never be left alone. The Paraclete will come and will always be with them, something the Spirit of God had never done before.
The idea Spirit residing among us and in us, dwelling in the Church, guiding and directing us is something we take for granted, but this was radical, this was new. Jesus was sending his Spirit to be with them and in them forever! And we are a part of that. We live in a world where the Spirit is in the Church and has been our guide, our counselor, our comforter for nearly two thousand years. But the Spirit residing among, with and in believers is actually an amazing thing.
It is the last and most influential promise Jesus made to believers everywhere. We will never be alone, we are not orphaned we are not left to muddle through. We have the Spirit of God with us. We do not need to guess what life as follower of Jesus looks like, we do not need to speculate as to who we are called to be. We know because Jesus told us, if we love him we will also love the world and we are given all the tools we need to do this, we have his spirit, the spirit of Truth, the Spirit of God residing within us. The Spirit of the Lord is upon us!
When I was a child in Sunday School, I can remember being in awe of the prophets of old, who could say such things with boldness. Who could live their lives so committed, and so given over to God. They were amazing, how did they do it? I always felt like their type of excellence of faith was unobtainable for one such as me. But Jesus is telling me, telling all of us here that it is obtainable. It is not only obtainable, but it can be expected. He will send his Spirit to those who love him, that means he is, he has, sent his Spirit to come to us, to live with us, to walk with us. As followers of Christ we have the excellence of faith, the assurance of our lives, which belongs to the prophets. The Spirit of God who guides and directs the prophets is upon us. The Spirit of God is not exclusively for them, it is for all believers, all followers, all lovers of Christ. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me! The Spirit of the Lord is upon you! The Spirit of the Lord is upon us!
The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, empowering us, enabling us, giving us the nature of Christ, so that we can love as Jesus loved. Jesus says that they will know that we are his followers by our love; in the way we love each other, the way we love each person we encounter, the people around us will know we are his followers. This is what it means for us, as Nazarene to say we are sanctified. We mean that we believe we are followers, whose lives are marked by the indwelling of the Spirit of God. And because the Spirit of God is living within us, our lives are different, we act differently, we speak differently. Our lives reflect the holy love of God.
As people who believe in the indwelling of the Spirit,we speak of our lives as holy. We believe that God's holiness, the nature of God can be seen in the lives of Christ's followers. We believe that those who love Jesus, who truly love Jesus, will be filled with the very Spirit Jesus speaks of here and that changes who we are. The Spirit transforms us from within throughout our lives, daily helping us, guiding us, so that we become more and more like Christ each day, so that our lives become better and better reflections of the nature of God. We become clearer and more pristine mirrors, showing the world who Jesus is, in our lives, in all we do, in all we say, in our actions and our interactions, each and every day.
The Spirit within us, is upon us so that we can love as Christ loved. So that each person we meet will be treated with the kindness, the caring, the respect, the love Jesus showed throughout his life on earth. Everyone we meet is in need of a loving word, for an act of kindness, an attitude of grace and care, that can only be given to them by one who filled with the Spirit of God. We love not because it gains us something, or earns us something, but we love because as people upon whom the Spirit of God is, it is simply what we do. Loving is what it means to be a holy person. Loving is the mark of the Spirit filled life.
When I was 10, I took a bus to a vacation Bible School at a Church different than mine and sung, for the first time, the hymn, "They will know we are Christians by our Love." I was struck by the song then and it has followed me throughout my life. It is the basis for the questions I am continually asking myself about our faith, "Will they know we are Christians by our Love?" "Is the "love" which we are showing speaking of our faith?" "Is this love we are showing, or something else?" "If what they see in us is not Love, what ARE we showing through our words and our actions?" "Is what we are showing through our words and actions lying about who we are as Christians and the Christ we are to be reflecting?" Being known as Christians by our Love is the mark of holiness, it is what it means to be sanctified. We love because the Spirit within us is teaching, us guiding us, counseling us in the ways of Love.
If we, truly believe that we are the Spirit filled Church, believers of Jesus Christ; if we truly believe that we are saved and sanctified, that we are living holy lives, and reflecting the the God whom we serve, then we will also be people whose attitudes, actions, person and communal beliefs will show the love of God to each and every person in our world. We will always extend the hand of kindness to those who are in need. When we see someone struggling we will work to help them. When we encounter someone who does not treat us with love and respect, or whose lives does not in anyway reflect the love of God, we will work to respond to them with love and kindness, grace and forgiveness, just as Christ did when he encountered people throughout his lifetime. Jesus responded with love and kindness, grace and forgiveness when encountered tax collectors and sinners alike. We can see this in the love and understanding Jesus showed to Zacchaeus, or the woman caught in adultery. When we see someone who is being, or has been mistreated, broken and abused, we turn to them with in love and care, as Jesus called us to in the story of the Good Samaritan.
Whoever Jesus encountered no matter who they were, he responded to them with love and care, generosity and respect. And all of us who love Jesus, all of us who are fill with the Spirit, will also, because we love Jesus, because we are filled with the Spirit. They will know we are Christians by our love because that IS the mark of what it means to be Spirit-filled followers of Christ.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Two More Easter Revelations

Luke 24:13-35

In our text this morning we walk with a couple of disciples as they are wrestling and struggling. Wrestling with their sorrow over the death of their friend, their teacher, the one in whom they felt the hope of all Israel, perhaps the world resided. They loved him, they trusted him, they had put all of their confidence in the future in him. Now he is gone, and they are lost.
Struggling with this strange news brought to them by the women. The women went to the tomb early that morning to assure that the body was properly buried and they came back saying that he was alive, saying that tomb was empty and they had seen him, had spoken to them and he was alive. What was wrong with these women? Why would they say such a thing? Why would they come back with such a ridiculous story? Had they gone completely and absolutely mad? Did they really expect them to believe this untenable tale?
The answers to these questions really did not matter, because this tale now haunted them, bringing memories of the last days they spent with him forward in their minds’ eye. It reminded them of his glorious entry into Jerusalem, the meal they shared with him. Reminded them of the last words he spoke to them, of how he looked helpless and hopeless dying like a treasonous criminal, of his limp body, taken down from the cross. It brought to mind his mother’s anguish cries as she held him before he was taken to the garden tomb. It tortured them with hope, what would it mean if the women’s tale was true? What would it mean if he lived once dead? The idea was too far beyond reality to truly think about.
They walked slowly that day, their steps heavy with grief, their gait weighed down with the enormity of all that had happened. As they walked, they talked; as they talked they mourned; as they mourned they questioned, and as they questioned, they wondered at all these things which had so recently occurred. It was all too much. Jesus was the messiah; they had thought they were sure of this fact. But, he was not. They were wrong. They had been duped. Many false messiah’s had come and gone before Jesus of Nazareth and all them had gone the same way. They had all died.
The way you knew a false messiah was false, was that he died. But, they had been so sure. They had seen the miracles, they had heard his teachings. Everything about him seemed so right, so real. How could he have not been the messiah? How could things have gone so wrong? How could they have been wrong? How did this happen? And the women, what is up with the women? Why would they say such things? None of it made sense. It was all wrong. Everything was wrong.
So here they were, on this same day, when the women had come back with their fanciful tale of Angels and living dead Savior. And they have decided to head to Emmaus that day. It seems odd to me that they were on this journey and not gathered with the others for comfort, solace and company in their grief and confusion. But for reason at which can only be speculated and will forever remain their own, they were journeying toward Emmaus that day, and as they journeyed, they mourned, as they mourned they questioned, and as they did these things, a stranger began to journey. They don’t seem to be alarmed or disturbed by his presence, they just keep talking. And at some point the stranger asks for clarification about what it is exactly they are speaking.
The men are dumbfounded. They stand stock still and stare at him for a minute. They thought everyone knew what had transpired these last few days. It was all over Jerusalem, it was the biggest thing on their minds. He seemed to have been coming from Jerusalem. How could he not know? It was the most significant thing that had happened in their lifetime. The whole world had been turned upside down and ripped to pieces and here this man did not even know what was going on.
So as they begin walking again, they told him. They tell him everything. They even tell him a little about their hopes concerning Jesus. As well as telling him about the women and their story. Then it is this stranger’s turned to be shocked, but he does not seem to be shocked in the manner which they expected. He is shocked that they do not understand. And he begins to speak to them of scriptures. He talks to them about the prophets and opens up the scriptures to allow them to understand that all that had happened in Jerusalem these last few days had been laid out in scripture. They should not be shocked or amazed that these things had occurred. In fact these events were exactly what God had told them, through the prophets, would happen to the messiah. He would suffer and then he would die, and he would rise again.
As he finishes saying all theses things, they have just arrived at their destination. He seems to be going on further but they invite him in, to eat with them, to stay the night with them. They did not want to part with this man and his wisdom. They couldn’t let him go on, he must join them. They wantto hear more. They want to know more. He acquiesces and comes in with them.
Once they are there, they prepare a meal and sit down to eat. Once they have all arranged themselves and are comfortable, he takes the bread, he blesses it and beaks it and gives it to them. This seemed surprisingly familiar, at that moment they look up and see him, really see him for the first time. It is HIM, it is Jesus. He had been with them all afternoon. He had journeyed with them. He had been with them all this time. The women’s tale was true, it was all true! And then . . . then he was gone. They stare at each other, amazed, dumbfounded once more. They try to speak. They start sentences, but can’t finish them. When they do manage to speak they speak over top of one another. What they have to say comes tumbling out. “Didn’t, didn’t our heart burn within us?” “How could we not know?” “We must go back!” “We must tell the others.” “Right now.” “Yes, now.” They grabbed their cloaks and their staffs and hurry out the door.
Dusk is upon them but they walk quickly. The world does not seem to be darkening, everything seems to be getting lighter and brighter. The journey which had taken them all day when they were heavy with grief, trudging along slowly in their pain, takes not even half they time. They run up to the door of the place where they know the others to be. They pound on the door in anticipation, the person coming down the steps, moves so slow. The door is opened, they push past the one who opened it and hurry up to the room. They begin talking. They talk over each other, interrupting each other, finishing each others’ sentences. The story comes tumbling out, excitedly. They stop. They look at those who have gathered, not sure what to expect from them. Will they believe their story? Will they laugh at them, but instead of doing any of these things, they stare back at them just as excited just as filled with hope. Those gathered begin to tell their story, just as amazing, just as unbelievable. Jesus was busy today. Peter had also seen him. Just as they finished saying all this Jesus appeared among them. And all of them get so see him, touch him and know for sure that he was really and truly alive (save Thomas of course).
What an amazing day! Not only is Jesus alive but Jesus reveals himself to them, first over the breaking of the bread and then as they had gathered together just as those who had seen him bear witness to this.
These two men have had a truly remarkable day. Jesus walks with them, talks with them, teaches them and brings them to a new understanding, revealing to them the truths that can be found in scripture and then in a recreation of their last supper, he reveals himself to them. These two men receive an amazing Easter revelation. An amazing revelation indeed, Jesus was with them.
They were broken hearted, they were confused, they were sorrowing, they did not know what to do and Christ came along and walked with them, talked with them, gave them hope, gave them understanding. He had journeyed with them down their darkest road, on their darkest day. They did not know it, they did not realize it at the time. Although they wondered after how they could not have known, but even if they did not recognize him, he was there with them the whole time, guiding them, comforting them, being with them, speaking truth into their lives.
We walk down some pretty dark roads sometimes. There are times in our lives when we do not know how we are going to make it through. Our hearts are heavy. Our spirits are crushed. Our hopes and dreams have been dashed to the ground. We look around and there seems to be no way out. We are walking through a long dark tunnel and there is no light in sight. We are at the bottom of deep, deep hole and there is no way out. We struggle. We mourn. We hurt. We ache. We feel as if we are alone. We feel as if we will never be “alright” again. Nothing can be done. Our lives will never be the same again. We do not know if the pain and the sadness, the crushing feeling in our chest, the weight with which we walk through this world, will ever go away.
We have all been there. We all know what it is to walk the kind of road these two disciples were walking down that day. We have all been on this kind of journey, had these kind of conversations. We have all been there. There seems to be no hope on these roads, they seem to be leading no where good. Emmaus was no where special, it was just where they needed to be that day and they headed out because there was nothing else to do but trudge forward, fumble their way through the day, through the rest of their life.
But the road did not take them merely to Emmaus. The journey was not as bleak and gray as they had expected. A stranger met them that day. A man drew up alongside them, walk with them. Gave them hope, gave them truth, bore their burden journeyed with them, in their pain, and sorrow; journeyed with them through their grief and along that long road that day. And at the end of the day when they had learned what they needed to learn they saw what their pain and grief would not allow them to see, over the table, through the breaking of the bread, they saw that Christ was with them, had been with them all along the way.
When we are journeying it is hard to see the truth. When we are walking through the pain, in the moment of grief, when we are full of sorrow it is easy to believe that we are alone, that our burden is too great, that God has abandoned us, left us alone to muddle through these horrible things we are going through. But this is simply not true. Jesus was there with those men as they journeyed through that dark day. Jesus walked beside, them taught them and guided them, even when they did not see that it was him.
We may not see the hand of God in our lives; we may not feel the presence of Christ as he walks with us, but that does not mean that we are alone. Feeling alone and abandoned does not mean that we are alone and abandoned. Sometimes (more often and we would like to admit), our feelings lie. we are never alone. Even in our darkest days, no, especially on our darkest days, when the road seems too long, the skies too dark and our burden unbearable, our Savior is with us. In fact our savior is walking with us, journeying with us, right there with us, even if our eyes are clouded and we can not see.
When we are hurting, when our lives are thrown into chaos, when it seems as if there is no hope or light in our future, it is easy to cry out, wondering why God is not there. It is easy to not see. Some days are the kind of days when we are acutely reminded of what we have lost, reminded of what we never had, but wish we had had, reminded that thing were not, have not been, are not how they “should” be, and that loss opens up a deep dark hole in the fabric of who we are. Some days there seems to be no end to the pain, to the sorrow. We hurt, we cry out. Our journeys seem too long, our burdens too hard to bear. And there will be days that feel like this. Days that show us all to clearly how broken these lives which we live here on this earth truly are. But even on these dark days, our Lord is with us. We may not see him. We may not even realize Jesus is there, but he is. And there is hope. There is life where there once was death. There is light where there once was darkness. There is Heaven where there once was nothing but Hell. We may not see it now, but Jesus is with us, walking with us, talking with us, guiding us, directing us, teaching us, bringing us comfort and speaking truth into our lives. We may not see him now, but someday, sometime in the future, we will be communing with him, drawing close to him, and he will be revealed to us. His hand on our lives will be seen and we will turn to those around us and say, “How did we not know? Did not our hearts burn with in us? How could we not see?”
But the hope does not end there, we can’t hold this truth and this hope inside us, let it warm our heart and bring joy to us alone. We must be willing, as these two disciples did, to go, run even and tell others. Share with them what has been revealed to us. Share with them the one whom has been revealed to us. There are two Easter revelations that occur in this story. Christ is revealed the first time at the breaking of the bread, in the shared meal with the Lord, Jesus is revealed again at the sharing of that which was witnessed. The truth of the resurrected Lord comes when we draw close to God and to one another at the Lord’s table, and Jesus himself reveals that he is with us along our journey. But Jesus also reveals himself at the sharing of the truth of the gospel. Christ is revealed when we speak the truth of who he is, and what he has done. We come to see Jesus journeying alongside of us as we join him here at the table, but Jesus also reveals himself when we go out and speak the truth of his resurrection, when we get up from this table, go out from this place and take the truth of the gospel back to those whom we love, back to those with whom we share our lives. The truth of Jesus Christ, his assurance, his love, his comfort, his peace is given to us when we gather here and it revealed to us, but it is also revealed when we then get up from here and go out there and take what we know, and the one whom we know with us.