Sunday, May 22, 2011

Left Behind

A sermon for Easter 5a, May 22, 2011

On the eve of his betrayal the disciples and Jesus have dinner together. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus pours water into a basin and washes the disciples' feet and dries them. It is after this ritual that Jesus begins to outline to his disciples what is to happen next and why it is happening. Bible interpreters call it the farewell discourse where Jesus is equipping the disciples with knowledge that will help them understand what has happened in the hopes they can remember it after his crucifixion and resurrection. He is helping to assuage their fears about being... left behind.

After he washes their feet he tells them he is to be betrayed. They all wonder by who and in the Gospel of John, Jesus takes a piece of bread and hands it to Judas saying, "It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread..." (13:26).

Judas takes the bread and immediately leaves.
Jesus continues to speak, Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.' (remember that) I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another (13:33-34).

Peter becomes incredulous that he cannot follow Jesus to wherever he is going and swears that he will lay down his life for Jesus to which he responds: Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.

I wonder how long the shocked silence lingered until Jesus spoke the words in today's Scripture reading, John 14:1-14:
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.
In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going."

(To which) Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do NOT know where you are going. How can we know the way?"

Jesus said to him
, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’
Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’

Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
The past few days the internet, television, the newspapers (even yesterday’s t-ball fields and scouting event) have been swirling with chatter about the rapture. I wish the plight of those in Vicksburg or Japan or Syria could get nearly as much attention and money.

It would be easier to ridicule if we didn’t have the same heritage – I flinched every time the word “Christian” was used to describe the group and the fear. But there it is and therefore crazy Uncle Harold Camping is considered part of our extended family.

As frustrated as I am by that, I found myself praying last night for those who had made life decisions based on their understanding that at 6:00pm they would no longer be here; their families and friends… left behind.

The cynics, realists, mainstreamers – whatever you want to call them – mocked them mercilessly.
Can’t think of a good rapture joke? Don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world.
Even pastors who should know better couldn’t resist the siren song of our church sign on the busy corner and named their sermon, “Left Behind”.

My own conviction is that even if the rapture calculations were Biblical (which they are not), the message surrounding it was all wrong. Words like repent and judgment are meant to stir up fear and panic. But based on the words of Jesus at the end of the Gospel of John, this is not what God has in mind.

Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid… in my Father’s house there are many dwelling places…

These are words of peace and calm,
grace and mercy,
hospitality and love.

What are the priorities of ones who trumpet doom and judgment and miss out on mercy and love? Even lifted up the concern:
If you thought you had less than three perfectly healthy months to live, what would you do? Would you travel? Spend time with loved ones? Appreciate the joy life has given you?
Or would you ditch your kids and grandkids, join strangers in a caravan of RVs and travel the country warning people about the end of the world?
Recognize instead, that on the eve of history’s most tragic hour, Jesus gathers in a room with those he trusts the most with his message. This is his moment, his time to impress upon them what the world HAS to know about… judgment? No.
Fear? No.

He tells them to trust. He tells them to love.
Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Trust me. Love one another. You know me. You know who I am. Trust me.

“Jesus is about to be betrayed, abandoned, handed over, tried, insulted, beaten, and then crucified, nailed to a cross and hung there to die.” And yet his message is not one of punishment that we deserve, nor is he appeasing the anger of a just God nor is he showcasing what real faith looks like. “Jesus goes to the cross for one reason and one reason only: to show us God, to show us God's grace and mercy, to show just how much God loves us and how far God will go to communicate that love to us that we might believe and, believing, have life in his name.” (link)

Do not let your hearts be troubled…
Trust. Love.

A colleague wrote: “You could remove every evidence of Christianity from the world— destroy the churches, burn the Bibles, and silence the ministers; but the event that took place outside the walls of Jerusalem nineteen hundred years ago will abide forever as the sure testimony of God's work of love on man's behalf. It is a clarion call, loud and clear, announcing the vast mercies of God's matchless grace.”*

In I Peter we read:
“…taste that the Lord is good…”
“…like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house…”
“…you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Those who have received mercy, are thereby charged to show mercy.
Those who have received God’s grace, are charged to show grace.
Those who have received God’s love, are charged to show love.

Do not let your hearts be troubled…
Trust God.
Love your neighbor.

Look to Jesus, “the one who preached God's mercy and taught God's love, the one who healed the sick, opened the
eyes of the blind, made the lame to walk, and then conquered death so that even the grave can no longer claim us. Because what (we) see in Jesus..., this is what God looks like, this is who and what God is: love, perfect love, for you, for them, for all of us and the whole world.” (link)

Love is what Jesus left behind.

* Ensley, Eugene C. "Eternity is now : a sermon on John 14:1-11." Interpretation 19.3 (1965): 295-298.ATLASerials, Religion Collection. EBSCO. Web. 21 May 2011. P. 297


Anonymous said...

Lovely. I mean it.


Teri said...

I wish there was a like button. :-)