5/10/2015 8:56:16 PM
Still Speaking [Sermon Manuscript]
Jesus said: "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. “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. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another."
Pastor Marc's sermon on the Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 10, 2015) on John 15:9-17. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below.
Three weeks ago - there was a cartoon in the New Yorker that caught my eye. Two kids have lemonade stands. And they have all the things they need - pitchers, cups, a little sign advertising what they’re selling. One sign says “Lemonade - 20 cents a glass.” But there’s no one buying. He’s all by himself. But the other kid, his business is booming. He can’t keep his lemonade in stock. There’s a huge line - a line that extends past his yard...and into the yard of the other kid with the no one there. And this guy - everything looks exactly the same as the other kid - except his sign. It says “Lemonade Cleanse - $20 dollars a glass.”
Now, cleanses are pretty popular. We can’t open up a fashion magazine, read something on Buzzfeed, or binge watch something on Netflix without seeing someone talking, or doing, a cleanse. There are a million different kinds of cleanses out there - but the idea behind each is the same. For a few days, we limit what we eat to only a select few items - usually some kind of juice or smoothie or something with lemon in it. And that’s all we eat - for a week. The idea is that this forces our body to restart - and pushes chemicals and other “toxins” out of our system. By following a few simple rules and committing to it for a short time - we’ll end up thinner - healthier - and happier. The science behind whether cleanses actually work is pretty thin. There’s no solid definition of what a toxin even is and whether starving ourselves in this way actually helps. But cleanses can make us feel better, at least temporarily. After a cleanse, we might feel we look better in the mirror. We might actually love our body for a minute or two. And that can feel pretty good. Really good. But it doesn’t last. What’s rooted in the idea of a cleanse is a promise. A promise that if we follow a simple set of rules, and commit ourselves to something for only a week, we can take what’s negative in us - and push it out. And this is more than just wanting to look good for, say, a high school reunion or a wedding. The big promise - the big hope - is that well be able to take what what we don’t like about ourselves and change it. We can take what’s inside us - our troubles - our failures - our mistakes - and just restart who we are. We can be better - by pushing out our bad stuff - our toxins - and it only takes drinking bitter juice for a few days to make it work. But our words from Jesus today hint at something a little different. Jesus isn’t telling his disciples about what we need to push out. He isn’t telling us what we need to get rid of. Instead, he’s telling us what we have: and that’s Jesus.
Today’s text from the gospel according to John is a continuation of what we heard last week. We’re in the middle of Jesus’ final pre-resurrection teaching of his disciples. They’re sharing the last supper, enjoying each other’s company, and then he let’s them know that he’s about to leave. Jesus knows that the Cross is coming. And after the resurrection, after Jesus’ ascension into heaven - the disciples will still be here. They’ll have some living left to do. So Jesus is preparing them, saying goodbye, and offering words of comfort and hope, to challenge what they’re about to see.
And this goodbye - it’s more than just a “hey, seeya later after the Resurrection” kind of thing. Reading his entire discourse - which lasts four chapters - is like watching a Jesus waterfall. Words and images and metaphors just keep coming out - over and over again. Mansions and Vines, Love and Commandments - the words spill out - hitting the disciples on the head over and over again. He’s about to be betrayed. He’s about to be arrested. He’s about to hang on a Cross. And the disciples are about to lose him - Jesus presence with them is about to change - it’s about to feel very different. And the disciples have no idea that this is about to happen. But Jesus does. And in his words, Jesus can’t stop sharing with them, what even death can’t cause them to lose: and that’s him. We have Jesus - always. And this is something that we need to be reminded about over and over and over again.
Today, we’re going to celebrate and share in part 2 of our First Communions this year. Just a couple weeks ago, we joined with five young people as they received Holy Communion for the first time [at 10:30]. And today, the good times keep rolling as we celebrate with Ava and Caroline and receive Jesus at His table. So as I prepared for today - holding Jesus’ words next to what we experienced in our classes together - from reading the Last Supper over and over, to picturing what Jesus’ table actually looked like - to even making chef hats and having to mix the dough for communion bread by hand after the mixer almost caught on fire...what I’m taking out of our time together - is a set of words that Caroline, Ava, and the other students really bought into. It became like a motto for our class. Jesus, in Holy Communion, is all about giving a little piece of himself to us. In fact, Jesus is in the business of giving a little piece of himself to us. That’s just what Jesus does. In today’s text, he could have called the disciples out. He could have dismissed them for their failures, their betrayals, their running away when Jesus is on trial. But, at this meal, Jesus isn’t focused on their failures. He’s not telling them to take a cleanse, to push out their toxins - the toxins that will try to separate them from Jesus once the Roman Empire’s executioners start their work. No, Jesus does something very different. He reminds them, over and over, about what they will be given and what they’ll get - and that’s Jesus.
That’s his promise. That’s what Jesus gives us. He promises, right now, to give a little bit of himself to us. And this is pretty amazing. It’s surprising too because this promise isn’t made true through our experiences. It doesn’t matter if we’ve had a religious experience this week or if we walked into church this morning with some doubt, some questions, and maybe a ton of unbelief. Jesus’ presence here doesn’t depend on us. It depends on Him. And Holy Communion is Jesus shouting as loud as he can that he is here for you.
That kind of giving is just what Jesus does.
And Jesus gives so that we can give just like him.
There’s an invitation inherent in this communion that we all share - an invitation that will be strengthened for Caroline and Ava today. As Jesus gives us a little bit of himself - a little bit of his body - his sweat - his tears - his joy - and his love - giving becomes our job too. That person sitting next to us - they’re suppose to get a little bit of us too. The person outside - the person down the road - the person in the next state, the next country, the next continent over - as Jesus gives to us, so we’re called to give to them as well. As we’re fed, they’re to be fed. As we have a place to live, so are they to have a safe home too. As we live - so should everyone else too. And we don’t do this because our fears, troubles, failures, and sins have somehow been cleansed from deep inside of us. We’re still going to mess up. We’re still going to miss not seeing our neighbor in need or we’ll let our own fears stop us from giving what we can so that our neighbor no longer worries where their next meal is coming from. But our failures don’t stop God’s promises and our sins don’t overcome Jesus’ love. He comes to us over and over again because, like those early disciples, we need it. We need to be reminded over and over again what we have and what we keep being given. We have Jesus. We are his. And he’s in the business of giving a bit of himself to us no matter where we are or how far we try to run from him - because Jesus’ promise, Jesus’ hope, Jesus’ love - well - that trumps our toxins any day of the week.