Week of Sunday May 25 - Easter 6
A Sermon Draft for John 14
How much do you trust God?
John 14 does not have a neat narrative thread; it doesn't read like a novel. Bits stand out and there's repetition of the important bits, but it's not easy to make a tidy five point summary. It's more like one of my wife's quilts. You look at it and begin to see patterns. There are quilts in our place that are years old, and yet I still see new patterns I have not noticed before. John 14 is a bit like that. It's for thinking and pondering. It's not a quick chapter in a novel.
At the moment, I am hearing it ask me a question. It is asking, "How much do you trust God?"
On the surface this chapter is about the impending absence of Jesus. But by the time these words were written down in Jesus' name, he is long gone, and has not come back. It's probable that in the little group of churches associated with John there was no one left who had ever actually seen Jesus! He was gone. Jerusalem was destroyed. People were on their own, and those Christians who were also Jewish seem to have been ostracised by their synagogues.
Added to that is the fact that Jesus had been murdered in the most humiliating fashion. The one who people had begun to believe was the Messiah had been murdered after a show trial by the very priests and people who had longed for centuries that he would come.
The whole movement should have faded away.
But 60 or more years later we have a group of people who think that in Jesus they had seen God. That's why John 14 says "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father." (vv 9) And as they face the difficulties of life in a hostile world, and as they take on the very difficult task of being a truly loving community, they also claim that this sense of God-ness is still with them. They have not been left alone. "17This is the Spirit of truth." it says. The Spirit of truth is so real to them that John can write these words: "You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you."
So the chapter is also about presence— and a very real presence.
He means you know him not like the bloke next door that you wave to when you walk the dog or bring the bins in. You livein him; sometimes we are not quite that close to our life partner!
So does this mean, since God is present so intimately, that everything is just fantastic? I'll bet a week's pay it doesn't. I reckon they were pretty much like us. I reckon maybe they ran a cafe. And I reckon it would have welcomed the outsiders, and been trying to love them.
And when somebody at the table, or a helper in the kitchen, was rude to our young ----, for example, I bet someone else would stick up for him, and tell people to behave appropriately. That's good. Being rude to ----- just because he's a kid, or to ---- because she looks like a slip of a girl, is straight up unchristian. We need to call people to account over that if it ever happened.
But I bet there were people at that early cafe table— they called it the agape meal, who whinged to their neighbour that there weren't enough peas, or the plates were chipped, or "That's disgusting; that woman licked her plate! She shouldn't be here." They moaned and gossiped about stuff that was inconsequential, or maybe, not even true.
And I'll bet that in the kitchen 2000 years ago there were people who got cross because the new volunteer didn't quite put the cutlery out right, and told them so in no uncertain terms. And yet in the dining room in the hall, no one noticed anything wrong with the cutlery anyway. But when you're stressed and busy, you get a bit frantic that everything should be perfect.
Now understand I'm not having a shot at our kitchen or our cafe. I'm talking about the mission of the congregation. Whinging about things that don't matter, or were not even a problem anyway, happens everywhere; ministers get antsy when the organist starts to play the fourth verse in a three verse hymn— even though the organist covered so well, half the congregation didn't notice. Nearly every time someone cooks a nice cake for morning tea, someone else complains about the waste... or something. Some of us just want to whinge. Or we complain that a visitor sat in our seat. Our seat??? Whose church is this?
I'll bet John's congregation was just like that. All congregations have this struggle. And unlike John's witness in chapter 14, the Spirit, the presence of God, often seems very far away when we are having a whinge. I suspect it felt like that for John's folks too. What's going on?
This is really important. Whinging and gossiping about things that are not important destroys the spirit of a congregation. Constant complaining that things are not just how we want them destroys the spirit of a congregation. It's often why people leave us— or come once and don't stay. One of us has a whinge about something totally inconsequential and they get the message that this is not a good place to be. It's no different to anywhere else.
And it's not the "bad" people doing this! It's us! You and me: the committed ones; the hard workers; the spiritual ones! Why?
For me, I think it comes down to trusting God— or not.
In one sense, why worry about the coffee? Or the organ? Do we really think that God needs us to make the church right? Will something happen to God if we don't do it right? Do we not trust God— is that why we need to get everything right according to us, and our way of doing things?
Or do we think, maybe somewhere in the back of our minds, that God will be cross with us if church is not perfect? Do we not trust God that God loves us, and that God loved us before we knew we were us, and that God will never stop loving us? We don't get things right to keep God happy— how could I please God?
Let me unpack this some more.
I'm going to die. I'll end up in a box in the ground. I've got no choice.
I am unlikely to have any choice about when or how.
Apart from looking to the left or right when I cross the road, I can't delay it.
It doesn't matter if I am rich or poor.
It doesn't matter if the coffee's cold,
or this church closes next week, or if it ends up having 400 members before I leave.
I'm going to die.
It doesn't matter if I lose my house or if I die in my own bed in Elizabeth aged 85.
I am going to die.
My only hope is God:
I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.
My only hope is that God loves me.
I have no choice but to trust that.
And if I don't.... big deal!! God will still love me.
If I don't trust God, God will love me anyway. The only difference will be how I enjoy my life here, and what I do to other people.
If I do not trust God, I will close myself off to the love of God which is already here.
I will walk daily in the presence of Spirit just like I walk through the air around me,
but I will have no consciousness of it.
I will shut myself off from it. I will not know its joy
All I have that counts in life is the presence of God who loves me. And what I get from this place is not coffee and food and nice worship— they help— but what I get is friendship and people who love me. That's all. I have to trust God for that; there is no way you can buy friends or manipulate people to be friends. If I do stuff to make you be my friend, you are not my friend— either I have manipulated you, or I've created cupboard love. Not one of us here, and no one ever, has ever been any different.
And it is in your friendship, and in your love, that I find God most of all. The text talks about you, you, you... all the way through John 14. It's not you=Andrew and you=Howard; it's you=the-church-being-church-together. It's plural. Where we most of all meet God is in being church together.
How does that work? Well, it's plain. We make a habit of reading this verse:
17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you... [Slide One]
but leaving out the bit before it:
‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever ... If you love me you will keep my commandments...[Slide 2]
Here it is again. He repeats it in another place in the chapter.
23Jesus [said] ‘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. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. [Slide 3]
In other words, "It's not just me saying this; this is God speaking!"
What are the commandments? It's in Chapter 13:
34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ [Slide 4]
We will know God when we keep Jesus' commandments. This place will come alive when we keep Jesus' commandments. And the commandments are not a set of rules like put the soup spoon on the outside, or only preach for ten minutes, don't choose new hymns, don't sit in anyone else's seat, and don't lick your plate in public. The commandment is only one: love each other as I have loved you.
In Ostrayan it goes like this: Don't whinge about what doesn't matter; you shut yourself off from God when you do that. Don't live to find fault; look for the best in people. Love people. Build them up. Be kind. Be generous.
What's that got to do with trusting God?
It's this: Love costs. If Wes sees I am doing something unhelpful in worship, he has to trust me enough to come and risk telling me. It's trust. I might react badly. I might hit him... or even worse. You know what ministers can be like.
If it was the other way around, why would I not trust Wes? It's because I am afraid he might hurt me too much to bear. But that, fundamentally, is saying that I do not trust God. I mean, what could Wes do that's worse than killing me? Would it matter if he did? Basically, I too often don't trust God enough to risk loving Wes. So I play it safe.
Which means I don't keep the commandment, "Love one another."
Which means I don't open myself to the presence of God who is already here.
And if I whinge at you; if I complain that you haven't read the reading right— understand me, I'm not talking about someone who never reads it right and won't practice even after we speak to them kindly— I mean the undeserved whinging. I mean someone who started the reading two verses in by mistake. Most folk won't notice. But if I whinge about that and have a go at you when, really, the only problem is me.
If I do that I drive that person away; I invite them to leave. And then, because I have not loved, there is one less person to open me to the Spirit of God and bring me consciously into the presence of God who is already here.
So here are the questions:
1. If something upsets us or isn't quite right: Does it really matter, or are we simply whinging?
2. And if we are simply whinging about what doesn't really matter, why? Tired, hungry, stressed, living in an impossible situation— there's plenty of that here... so why not trust our brother or sister enough to share our pain and struggle rather than whinge? Then they can understand and love us...
3. Or do we not trust God enough to risk that? If we won't risk it, we lock ourselves out of the experience of God, out of the experience of the Spirit who has been promised and who has come.
How much do we trust God?
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!
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