Sunday, May 18, 2014

Of certainties and satisfactions

Friendship Presbyterian Church, Athens, GA May 18, 2014

John 14:1-12 - 5th Sunday in Easter

This morning’s sermon is about our quest for certainty and satisfaction.

There is a deep satisfaction that comes with certainty.  Because, life is full of uncertainties…
so much is out of our control. Some might say nothing in life is certain…

In the midst of uncertainty our hearts can be troubled.

Jesus begins this passage in John by saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Believe in God, Believe in me.”

Surely, someone somewhere has made a t-shirt quoting that verse.  

If only life and belief were so simple at a t-shirt or a bumper sticker.    

Jesus, taking on a pastoral role for his anxious troubled disciples, who know he won’t be with them much longer--
and, a pastoral role for the fledgling first century christian community which has already been left--
to these, Jesus, simply says, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Believe.”

And yet, my heart is troubled for many reasons.  
Troubled by the political turmoil in Ukraine and war in the Sudan.
Troubled by the pain and anguished faced by the kidnapped Nigerian girls; and those who love them.
Troubled by the pervasive violence in our society….
while at the same time guns are allowed to become more prominent parts of our everyday lives.
Troubled by raging fires in California and fearsome floods in Bosnia,
a troubled earth which will be the inheritance of all of our offspring.
Troubled by friends and family who suffer from illnesses

Do not let your hearts be troubled.

Do you have a troubled heart?
What is troubling your heart?

The evangelist John has such a way with words, don’t you think?  
He wants his readers to believe with such certainty...most likely for our own good.  
And, yet, he overtly caricatures disciples in order to express the uncertainties his followers may have generation after generation.  

Two questions--nervous questions from troubled spirits--emerge from the dialogue from two different disciples:
Interestingly, the questions come as responses to Jesus’ emphatic statements:

“You know the way I am going,” Jesus says with certainty.

To which Thomas suggests,:
“[Uh,] Lord, [actually] we don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way?”

Have any of you ever asked:
What is the direction I’m supposed to take?  
What am I supposed to be doing?

Later, Jesus definitively says, “If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Now, it’s Philip’s turn to potentially put his foot in his mouth: “Uh, Lord, [could you please] show us the Father, and [then] we will be satisfied.”
Has anyone ever wanted just a little proof?  
then, then, our belief will be strong, we will be certain and satisfied.

Thomas and Philip ask questions anyone from any religion most likely asks along life’s journey.

I ask these questions today.
I asked these questions when I was in the eighth grade.

I was 13 years old when a nearby church was trying to attract kids to attend their Sunday school.  Their enticements were spot on target. Bring 7 friends to Sunday school and you’ll have your choice of a trip six flags, a video game, or select baseball cards.  At the time, I was an avid baseball card collector, and when I saw the potential cards I would win, I was on it. I invited my friends to a sleep over, and told them they had to go to church with me the next day.
Seven committed to support my worthy cause.
I have no idea what my parents were thinking? (I should ask)
That Sunday we put on our Sunday best and the seven of us were dropped off at the church.  
The funny thing, none of us had ever attended this church before.  
I went to a Presbyterian church.  
I had just seen the promotional flier.  
And, I, the first time visitor, was one of only two kids who fulfilled the requirements to win the prize!
Since I grew up Presbyterian, I wasn’t aware of some of the things that can take place in other church Sunday school classes.
Right on script, about 15 minutes into the class we were asked to bow our heads, and raise our hands if we weren’t certain we were going to heaven.  
Was I certain I was going to heaven?
What did heaven look like anyway?
I can’t wait to get those baseball cards.

Eyes shut tight, cautiously I raised my hand.
“Now, put your hands down,” We were told.
I hadn’t heard a lot of movement.  

Yes, I was one of only two to fulfill the promotional requirements, and apparently, as I found out later, I was the only one of about 25 kids who wasn’t certain I was going to heaven….the only honest kid in the class, I guess!   
From there, I was escorted to another get my baseball cards?
To spend the rest of the hour learning what I needed to do to be certain about going to heaven.
I was even led in repeating a “sinner’s prayer.”
I was really squirmy.
All the while….I tried to assure them I was a church goer--a Presbyterian!
But, that didn’t satisfy them.  They wanted to be certain!

“We all want and need various certitudes, constants, and insurance policies at every stage of life,” writes one of my teachers, Franciscan Priest Richard Rohr.   (Falling Upward)

The disciples wanted the certainty--the security of having Jesus around--the certainty of knowing the way, the certainty of  seeing God.
And somehow with this certainty we think will come satisfaction.

The deeper mystery, the deeper spiritual truth, Jesus seems to be teaching,
“we have to be careful, or the certitudes, constants, and insurance policies totally take over and become all-controlling needs, keeping us from further growth.“ (Falling Upward)

Richard Rohr says, “If we do not move beyond our early motivations of personal security, reproduction, and survival (the fear based preoccupations of, what has been called by psychologists, the “lizard brain”), we will never proceed beyond the lower stages of human or spiritual development.”(Falling Upward)

The phrase, “Do not be afraid” occurs some 365 times in the bible.

Jesus--their certainty, their security-- must leave them,
they must grow into something more.  
And so must we: move beyond our fears, and onto a life of trust.
And, I believe a key aspect of moving onto this more mature stage of the spiritual life is found in these verses.  
Jesus promises to prepare a place for disciples where they will have communion with his Father…
a home in his Father’s house. Jesus promises to come again to take them there;

Moving past a literal attempt to understand these words,
and seeing them through a spiritual lens,
which I think is what John is constantly asking that we do…
what this says is the place where we can commune with God has been prepared for us,
has already been prepared for us...we can commune with God.
We can commune with God, here and now.  
The love of God constantly abides with us.
Fear and worry is gone.  
Emmanuel--God is present with us.
“theologically and objectively speaking, we are already in union with God.”  
God’s dwells with us and we dwell with God, in this house,
in our own homes, in our hearts, in this world

Philip said, show me, and I will be satisfied.
Jesus said, You have seen.  

Thomas wanted direction. Jesus said, I am.
the verb to be.
Be still.
Be still and know.
Be still and know I am
Be still and know I am God.

One last aspect of this passage still lingering,
and I’m moving to a close….
Even as we find our home with God and are able to live more fully in the present, the aspects of life which cause our hearts to be troubled are still a reality.  
Pain and suffering,
war and injustice,
inequality and discrimination are ever present in our world.  
Jesus reminds, assures, and emboldens disciples that just as he worked to confront and overcome so many aspects of this troubling world, disciples are called to continue this kingdom oriented work.  
Jesus goes so far to say, disciples will do even greater works than he.
This is something about which he is certain.   

Steve Hayner, President of Columbia Seminary, and the faculty and staff there, are doing great works as they train and prepare men and women for a life of ministry.  
They do this even as the church struggles at times to find its way….
Dr. Hayner, who insisted we call him Steve, was my academic advisor while I was a student, and someone I greatly admire.
Right now, he is battling pancreatic cancer.
Steve  is updating the events of his life on a website, CaringBridge, where he wrote: “So now by God’s grace I enter the next chapter of the journey over which I have very little control.
Medically I’m in great hands. And God is good!”
In one of his reflections he writes:
“Cancer can be pretty scary, but we continue to be calm and are taking one day at a time…
We’re on God’s timetable in this–clearly not ours...There are never any guarantees in this life, and this is a chance to take Jesus’ words to heart,
“And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (Mt. 6:27)
So we’ll choose the way of trust and joy instead…”
The way of trust and joy….
The way of Jesus...
Dwelling with God in deep communion in each and every moment brings certainty and satisfaction,
we begin to see with new and invigorated eyes our own needs as well as the needs of the world, and yet,
have the security and confidence to boldly continue the good works of Jesus,
to do even greater works together as Christian community.  
to bring good news to the poor.
to proclaim release to the captives
recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Let us pray:
Into your hands, O God, we commit our spirits.   Amen.

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