The Gospel: John 14:1-14
Jesus said, “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.” 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.”
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation, and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: So, In my opinion, one of the great gifts to the Episcopal Church is the current Presiding Bishop. The Rt Rev. Bishop Michael Bruce Curry is an outstandingly gifted preacher. He has the ability to present, with candor and a disarming smile, what others would find themselves challenged and vilified for.
I had the opportunity last Friday to hear him share his wisdom with the clergy of the Diocese. We gathered at Trinity Cathedral as part of the events celebrating the Ordination and Consecration of our new Bishop, The Rev. Anne Jolly.
Bishop Curry spoke about the challenge of being in ministry in the world we live in today. He talked about how many people are experiencing some despair or perhaps despondency over the state of the church.
He said that we hear so much about decline, decline in numbers, decline in influence, decline in financial assurance, decline in interest on the part of young people. He went on to say he often hears people in the church say: we are either in decline or..... Then he smiled and he said: we just don't know what that or is. It feels like "decline" but we are not sure how to define it or reconcile what it is exactly.
Then he became very winsome and he appealed to all of us to allow him to share what he seemed to be indicating was a not fully formed notion. He said something to the effect: I think I see it a different way. He suggested that perhaps rather than it being that black and white that it might be more: both and. It is both things - we are in decline or we are experiencing something that feels like decline, but at the same time, we are experiencing something different, or something else. So it is both and.
Then he said something I thought was remarkable, he said we may be in decline but we have every reason to hope and to have expectation.
He spoke about the idea that we are living, as the church has lived throughout its history, in a different kind of both and. He described it as a Good Friday and Easter/Resurrection Sunday world. A Christian understanding of the world and our life - a Christian understanding of both and.
He said that in many ways, historically, the church has always been in decline. He stopped himself and said: Well there have been times when we have been in favor, in political influence, and have been able to bring that influence to bear. But more often than not we have been on the outside, we have been looked down upon, we have been out of favor, we have been the minority, struggling to be heard and understood. But all the time there have been reasons for hope and expectation.
There have been signs of decline - the Good Friday events of life - but always there have been signs of something new and different and seemingly impossible happening - the Easter/Resurrection Sunday events of our life. And all this is happening at the same time. Both and.
Perhaps I can illustrate the Bishop's thoughts by referring to last week's Gospel and this week's readings.
Does anyone remember how the Gospel for last week ended? Let's look back and consider what we might discern from the last few verses of our Gospel for last week.
OK, so John 10: 9 and 10 says: "I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."
I have heard many sermons preached, at various times, and in various places on the second part of verse 10: "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."
The message was usually linked to the second half of verse 9 and many times it was preached as "a promise of the prosperity of the Christian life." Often, it was also tied to "The Protestant Work ethic." It came out sounding something like this: We will be safe, we will find pasture, and we will have abundance. We just need to buckle down and work hard, care for our family, and be nice enough to everyone else and we will be rewarded.
The Christian life was framed as enjoying the abundance of life. Being blessed and secure in the faith.
Now if we look at the Psalm for today you will see some of those same themes. The Psalmist is proclaiming his security and trust in the Lord. The unfailing provision of God for his people.
There is a great deal of evidence for having confidence in the Scripture and how it will play out in our lives. But we all know it is not that simple, don't we?
It would be easy to read our Gospel for this morning through that lens as well. If you only concentrate on verses 11-14.
"Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, but if you do not, then believe 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."
One could believe, reading these words, that coming into a relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit, which leads us to understand and recognize who God the Father is, would lead to a life free of challenges and a life of free of the demands of the world in which we live.
If we read the scriptures that way we will skip over a very important part of what Jesus says. "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." What are the works that he does? Well, there are the miraculous events of his healings, and there are those wonderous opportunities that he had to speak and teach those who followed him, there are the many opportunities where he adroitly handled the Scribes and the Pharisees. Many of us would love to be able to do those kinds of "works." To be able to emulate Jesus in his exercising his gifts and living freely as the son of God.
But central to who Jesus was, is, and will be is his ultimate act of laying down his life for those he loved. The commentators, I read or listened to this week, pointed out that we are in the period when Jesus is preparing his disciples for his crucifixion. Then for his resurrection and his ascension. We, as part of the ongoing family of Christ, as "Children of God" get to live powerful, exciting, fulfilled lives, but we also understand the expectation of the cross is a part of that life.
To understand what Jesus is talking about in these verses we need to reference our reading from Acts this morning:
"Filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. Acts 7:55-60
Here is a deeply powerful example of the "both and" of life that Bishop Curry was speaking of. Stephen brings attention to himself by doing the "works" that Jesus has spoken of, we read about him in Acts 6: "Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people." Later after he is arrested and brought before the Council Stephen is filled with the Holy Spirit, he testifies to this indwelling and then is stoned. Then in an ultimate act of imitating Christ, he uses words very similar to Christ on the cross as he died: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Now if that isn't an example of "both and" I am not sure what is. The glorious infilling of the Holy Spirit and miraculous wonders in ministry brings the ultimate sacrifice. A true Good Friday and Easter/Resurrection Sunday world. A Christian understanding of the world and our life - a Christian understanding of both and.
Or as our Collect says this morning: "Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life"
Bishops & Father Mike