Sunday, May 21, 2017

Reveal Christ to the World around us John 14:15-21

Fred Craddock was Bandy Distinguished Professor of Preaching and New Testament Emeritus in the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He was an ordained minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) from rural Tennessee.  He was what one may call a preacher’s preacher, as a matter of fact, his book Preaching was required when I was in seminary.  I am not sure which he was more famous for his preaching or his stories.

A Fred Craddock story;

MY mother took us to church and Sunday school; my father didn't go. He complained about Sunday dinner being late when she came home. Sometimes the preacher would call, and my father would say, "I know what the church wants. Church doesn't care about me. Church wants another name, another pledge, another name, another pledge. Right? Isn't that the name of it? Another name, another pledge. "That's what he always said. Sometimes we'd have a revival. Pastor would bring the evangelist and say to the evangelist, "There's one now sic him, get him, get him," and my father would say the same thing. Every time, my mother in the kitchen, always nervous, in fear of flaring tempers, of somebody being hurt. And always my father said, "The church doesn't care about me. The church wants another name and another pledge!' I guess I heard it a thousand times. One time he didn't say it. He was in the veteran's hospital, and he was down to seventy-three pounds. They'd taken out his throat, and said, "It's too late." They put in a metal tube, and X rays burned him to pieces. I flew in to see him. He couldn't speak, couldn't eat. I looked around the room, potted plants and cut flowers on all the windowsills, a stack of cards twenty inches deep beside his bed. And even that tray where they put food, if you can eat, on that was a flower. And all the flowers beside the bed, every card, every blossom, were from persons or groups from the church. He saw me read a card. He could not speak, so he took a Kleenex box and wrote on the side of it a line from Shakespeare. If he had not written this line, I would not tell you this story. He wrote: "In this harsh world, draw your breath in pain to tell my story!' I said, "What is your story, Daddy?" And he wrote, "I was wrong.[1]

“Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.’ (John 14:23) If God and Christ have made their home with us (recall 1:14), how can we imagine there to be any distance between us and God?[2] The spirit, the Paraclete, the comforter, the advocate, the one promised to come moves, moves, moves in us and around us.

I used Fred Craddock’s story here because this is a story of redemption.  It’s not a bedside conversion, nor is it a miraculous healing.  But it is a miracle. The miracle here is that the spirit of the Church, the church that is the community of God, the church that is the body of Christ, reached out to offer comfort.  Reached out because they were moved, they were moved, they were moved by the spirit in them and around them.

Professor Stoles of Perkins school of theology says;
The passage begins and ends with love. In v. 15 Jesus declares that if his disciples love him, they will keep his commandments. The reader may ask, "What commandments?" Unlike, say, Matthew, nowhere in John does Jesus command us to go the second mile, turn the other cheek, render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's. Famously, Jesus gives only a single commandment in John and it occurs in the chapter just before ours: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (13.34-35). He reiterates this in the chapter just after ours: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. (John 15:12-13). We see, then, the overwhelming, repetitive, circular emphasis on love.[3]

Love is the commandment given to us , love is the comforter, love is the nature of God , Love is Christ. Love is what Moves us, moves us, moves us, Love in us and around us. Love is what compels us in ministry, in life, in relation to one another and in relation to the creator.  It was through Jesus that this nature of love, that goes beyond human comprehension, was revealed and that is what we are being called into.

The professor goes onto remind us that;
It's worth noting that love is tied to John's realized eschatology. (John’s Mystic vision of when we are all one in Christ) Jesus gives one commandment: to love. Therefore, judgment and eternal life begin now. At the end of each day, and during each moment of each day, for John, there's only one question to ask yourself: "In what ways did I or did I not love today?" As you reflect upon that, judgment happens. Where you did not love, there lies judgment. But understand that for John judgment is merely diagnostic, not retributive. Jesus constantly asks the characters questions that help them understand their lives and motives more clearly. To the sick man in ch. 5:6: "Do you wish to be made well?"; to Martha in 11:26: "Do you believe this?". He asks questions not because he doesn't know the answers (since John 2:24-25 assures us that Jesus already knew everything); rather, he asks so that we might know, and therefore move forward with clear vision into the truth, light, glory, love, abundant for which God has created us. It's all of a piece.[4]

WE are called to love and we are called to examine when we might have missed the mark.  What would our lives look like if we honestly look at our day, every day and ask how have I loved to day? Did I start this day in love?  Did I wake up grateful for a peace filled night?  Did I wake with joy in my heart?  The Joy of a new day ?  The joy of a chance that maybe I will get it right and I know I am going to try?

How did I love today?  When I saw the homeless kid asking for money did I ignore him and walk on by?  Did I look away and choose to be blind?  Or did I open my eyes , maybe apologize cause I have no change today?  Maybe today is the day I have abundance and offer a sandwich or even offer a simple blessing?

As we live in love, everyday calls us a bit further and deeper in our path.  You see in today’s Gospel Jesus is again trying to comfort the disciples though it is bad news that he will be departing it becomes Good news to them and us for he is sending “another advocate” you see Jesus was the first advocate but he is trapped in one local and time.  But when he leaves his disciples are given the spirit.  This spirit is such a strong Loving movement that the disciples move from mere followers to proclaimers, revelers, pouring out Gods message and love to all.” And this happens not just to the first disciples, but all those who would come later, those who never saw the historical Jesus. You see, the evangelist insists that present believers have no disadvantage in comparison to the first believers. Everything they were taught and they experienced is available to the same degree and with equally rich texture to us.”[5]

It is through this dance of Father, Son and spirit that swirls around us and we get swept up in, that we have the power to move beyond our limitations, our fears, our humanity and love, and act in ways that as mere people we would not be able too. This revelatory comforter, empowers us not only to reach out but to reach within and search for ways that we can be better.  That we can manifest God’s love here today and every day.

You see,
In John, Jesus insists that the intimate relationship that exists between him, God, and the Spirit also includes believers. The believer does not stand close by admiring the majesty of the Trinity; rather, she is an equal part of it. John tries to push at this by grabbing hold of a number of terms and repeating them: abide, love, the language of being "in" (14:17 and 20), and later in the Discourse, an emphasis on "one-ness" (cf. 17:21-23). Johannine believers don't "imitate" Jesus; they participate in him wholly.[6]

This whole participation is not just for the disciples.  This is what we are called into as Christians. “Those who love me will keep my word, and my father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”(John 14:23) We are the home of Christ and God the creator and made possible through the spirit.  We are part of a divine dance. We are called into a sacred way of living.

This is our faith.  Right?  We proclaim we believe in and have a relationship with a living God, the living Christ. “The Easter message is that life rather than death has the final word, and this is crucial for faith. In John's gospel, faith is a relationship with a living being. For there to be authentic faith in Jesus, people must be able to relate to the living Jesus--a Jesus who is not absent but present. Otherwise faith is reduced to the memory of a Jesus who died long ago.”[7]

Of course, we are human why would anyone believe in a man who was punished as a criminal, tortured and died?  Why, or how could any rational person believe that a man, a carpenter with little or, more likely, no education, was killed and rose from the dead? We can’t, we didn’t see it, we have no proof, it is impossible to believe. It is only through the miracle of the holy spirit that we come to know Jesu and the creator.  It is through this comforter this poured out living love that we can have faith.

Craig Koester from Luther seminary puts it this way; “Coming to faith is analogous (akin) to falling in love. One cannot fall in love in the abstract. Love comes through an encounter with another person. The same is true of faith. If faith is a relationship with the living Christ and the living God who sent him, then faith can only come through an encounter with them. And the Spirit is the one who makes this presence known.”[8] The spirit is truly Love in action that empowers us to be people of faith. He goes on to explain;

John's gospel calls the Spirit the paraklētos or Advocate, a term for someone who is called to one's side as a source of help. In modern contexts someone may serve as an advocate in the court system, in the health care network, or in an educational institution, while other advocates may press the legislature to act on behalf of a certain cause. A quick reading of John may give the impression that the Spirit is the Advocate who brings our case up before God in the hope that God will do something merciful for us. But here the direction is the opposite. God has already given the gift of love unstintingly through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and such love is what creates genuine life. The Spirit is the Advocate who brings the truth of that love and life to people in this time after Easter, which makes faith possible.[9]

But now that we have this faith, now that we have this relationship that moves us, that moves us , that moves us, that calls us to be revelators of the Gospel ourselves.  That calls us into to love where we do not judge others, but judge ourselves in such a way that we better ourselves and try again the next day.  This faith, what do we do with it now?  What are called to do and how are we to do that?

This faith should be so powerful that we do not want to keep it a secret.  This faith should be so empowering that we can easily talk about it with our friends and neighbors.  That we should be posting it on Facebook, twitter and shouting it out on snapchat. We should be reaching out to our community around us as a community of faith and reminding them that there are true alternative ways of being in this world.  The way of being an all loving welcoming presence of faith that operates and reveals Christ to the world around us.

There is a video on you tube called eating Twinkies with God.  I hope it is on our facebook page but you can look it up.  A young boy is preparing a lunch and putting it in his backpack.  As soon as he is bundle his mom walks in and asks where are you off too?  He proudly proclaims I am off to find God. His mother says okay dinner is at six and off he goes.  He walks the street looking about but he doesn’t find God.  He is down in the subway waiting for the train but doesn’t find God.  He arises from the subway and walks around again no God.  He walks into a park and sees a bench and has a seat.  As he looks over on the other side of the bench is a woman with two bags full of clothes looking tired and depressed. He looks at her opens his bag pulls out a Twinkie package and opens it he starts to eat as she just watches.  But he hesitates and offers her the Twinkie.  Her eyes grow wide and a smile comes across her face. They proceed to laugh and giggle and share a apple juice and then he announces he has got to go gives her a hug and leaves. He arrives home and mom asks did you find him?  He announces “God is a woman mom, and she has the most beautiful smile I have ever seen!” we see the homeless woman walking along with a smile and still giggling she sits next to another woman who has a sign asking for money who asks “why are you in such a good mood?”  She answers “ I was just eating Twinkies with God” she giggles and adds “he  is much younger than I expected!”

Our faith and the spirit of love calls us as a community to seek out God and well, share a Twinkie, share a smile, and share some laughter we have to remember to laugh.  We have to examine ourselves and seek out and recognize where we remembered to Love and where we need to better ourselves and try to be a loving presence of God more often.

In conclusion I would like to offer this prayer form the book A Child Laughs …

Holy God, parent and child,
We seek a new view
Immersed in your presence,
Open us to our neighbors.
We admit that we don’t know where to start
And that our neighbor sometimes
Seems mysterious and unknowable.

Help us to see and appreciate diversity
In our community.
Break our stubborn hearts.
Open our minds to recognize the daily challenge of others.
Rather than provide answers
Or try to fix situations we may not understand,
Fill us with child like curiosity so we can explore life together.

Bring an awareness of young voices into our lives.
Renew in us the promise of possibilities.
And keep us honest, God.
Let our efforts be unsullied like ulterior motives like
Increased membership or maintenance of the status quo.

We seek a new vision and renewed spirit
For the pure joy of learning and being in relationship. Amen.[10]

[1] Fred B. Craddock, Craddock Stories (St. Louis, Mo: Chalice Press, 2001).
[2] Jamie Clark-Soles, Commentary on John 14:15-21, April 27, 2017, accessed May 12, 2017,
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Maria Mankin and Maren C. Trabassi, A Child Laughs: Prayers of Justice and Hope (Cleavland: Pilgrim Press, 2017).

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