The Who, The What, and The How of Discipleship in Jesus' Reign of Justice and Love

The Who The What and The How of DiscipleshipMessage for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost on Luke 9:51-62, 1 Kings 19:15-16,19-21, and Galatians 5:1,13-25 on June 30, 2019 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

Usually loving and wise, today we hear an incongruous, harsh, non sequitur Jesus. With his face set toward the cross in Jerusalem, Jesus’ strange responses to three would-be disciples offer the Who, the What and the How of discipleship in his reign of justice and love.

First, the Who. To this would-be disciple Jesus says, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."

Comfort is important to us—we like clothes of soft fabrics, leather couches, TV screens bigger than my first car, and deep recliners. We like our beer cold, our wine smooth, and our AC on high in the Texas heat.

When it comes to where we lay our head at night—we can have beds that recline, foam toppers, down comforters, orthopedic, egg crate, or neck support pillows; we can choose from Sealy, Simmons, Serta, Sterns and Foster, and Sleep Number beds. But Jesus says, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head—following me will be uncomfortable, life will be uncertain, and events will be unpredictable. You are taking a risk, plans will change; you cannot sit in your La-Z-Boy and pretend to be in charge.”

Jesus asks, “Who are going to trust when discipleship gets really uncomfortable? You must trust God enough to be comfortable inside even when you are miserable on the outside. You have to be ready to let go and let God, even in the face of death, trusting that God is control and up to something even bigger.”

I had an experience this past week of how hard it is to REALLY trust God. Dan left on Tuesday to visit his brother Ben in Phoenix and then drive to Utah to climb its highest mountain, King’s Peak. Dan has done a fair amount of hiking, but his would be his biggest climb. Dan promised he would be smart and stay safe, but he would be out of cell-range from Friday lunch to this afternoon until around 4. I have an average amount of worry, as wives and moms go, except when I was in chemo for breast cancer eleven years ago. Back then, I had high anxiety about the safety of my family because I experienced that bad things really do happen, and can happen to the people I love.

When one of us flies without the other, Dan and I have no drama good-byes at the airport drop-off. But this past Tuesday, fresh scars across my chest (from the recent removal of my implants), a 13,527’ mountain in his near-future with no cell contact for 2 ½ days, I jumped out of the car, ran up, grabbed Dan by the collar and with tears streaming down my face, said, “promise you’ll come back to me, I can’t live without you!”

He promised again to be safe, hugged me and off he went, but then I had to deal with my triggered anxiety. This is what Jesus is really getting at—Who am I going to trust?

I have a comfy couch, a new TV, smooth wine, a foam topper on my bed and lots of pillows, but none of that really helps me with this anxiety. Peace is available to me, but am I available for the peace that Jesus is ready to give me? Am I available for the comfort that comes only from trusting God and following Jesus even when it’s hard? Can I be comfortable on the inside when I am uncomfortable on the outside?

I prayed and have prayed every day. I asked God for help, I did the deep breath prayers I have taught you and tried to focus on doing just one thing at a time. When Friday came, and we talked the last time, I was able to tell Dan to have a great time and to enjoy God’s creation.

The only true comfort we have is in WHO we trust—God in Jesus Christ, no matter where we lay our head and whether our loved ones are home with us or not. “Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8). The prophet Isaiah says it this way: “Thou dost keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee.” (Isaiah 26:3 RSV)

As it turns out that the top of the King’s Peak has too much snow so they could not attempt the summit. Dan was back in cell range yesterday! I said, “Awesome! I mean, oh, I’m so sorry that did not work out for you!”

Second, the What: To another would-be disciples who wanted to first bury his father, Jesus sounds particularly harsh, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Certainly Jesus, who wept at the death of his friend Lazarus and raised him from the dead, is not devoid of compassion when it comes to experiencing grief. He is not suggesting that we give up our practices of burial.

There were specific rituals of burial, however, required by the Temple, and it was so important that they were done properly and completely that those involved were relieved of daily morning and evening prayers. Until completed, the one responsible for burial was considered ritually unclean. If this man followed Jesus without burying his father, he would forever be unclean, that is, never be able to enter the Temple, nor participate in its worship life. He would be like a tax collector, a sinner and a leper, and forced to stand outside the gate, excluded from the religious community.

And that is the very point Jesus is making. The ministry of the Temple should be focused on including the tax collector, the sinner and the leper. When Jesus says, “Let the dead bury their own dead” he is pushing his followers to ask the question of their Temple, “What? What are you focused on? What are the priorities of this religious institution and are they fulfilling God priorities of justice for the poor, healing for sick, care for the widows, welcome for the stranger, and love for the outcast?”

Jesus judges the religious institution for allowing ritual regulations to replace real righteousness. If the worship inside the temple does not lead you into that kind of mission outside the temple, then what are you focused on? You are not serving the God of Israel that Jesus embodies; instead, you have made an idol of worship, rules and the institution itself.

What matters is that our rituals, our prayers, our songs, our worship, energize us to follow Jesus out the door, to carry on the work of the kingdom of God. Galatians tells us that “for freedom Christ has set us free”—free to love and serve our neighbor.

Three, the How: Another would-be follower wanted to say farewell to his family and to him Jesus said, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." This disciple not only sounds like a good son, we hear Elisha do this very thing in our first reading from 1 Kings. We have all heard “hindsight is 20/20” and "those who cannot remember the past are condemned …to repeat it." So, what’s up?

Jesus uses a farming metaphor—a plow in Jesus’ time was most likely made of a single blade that cut into the ground that was attached to a T-handle that the farmer would hold. This blade was strapped to mule or ox and the farmer would both steer the animal and cut the furrow holding the handle attached to the blade of the plow.

In order to cut a straight furrow, the farmer must keep his eyes straight ahead, exactly on the edge of the field where he wants to end up. The second the farmer looks back, looks away, gets distracted or does not have his undivided attention on his destination across the field, the animal walks whichever way he looks, and he ends up with a wavy, crooked furrow. Wavy, crooked furrows make for bad farming and a poor harvest because patches of land go unused, watering is difficult, and the results not as fruitful. But with straight furrows, everything else that you do becomes easier—watering, irrigation, drainage, and harvesting.

The most successful farmer always keeps her eyes on the future—her eyes are always locked on her destination on edge of the field when she plows—and that future arrival is what determines her plowing in the present moment---not the past, not the last harvest, not how much debt she carries, not whether she feels worthy to be a farmer. She keeps her eyes on the future point across the field, and the more focused she is on that point while plowing, the straighter the furrows, the more abundant the harvest.

Jesus knows the problem with looking back is that we use the past to limit us and shut down possibilities. “If only I hadn’t done that. What are they going to think of me now?” We turn one mistake or rejection into a personal belief— “I don’t deserve to be loved,” or “God couldn’t possibly use me” or whatever story you are living inside your head. That plows a crooked self-identity that does not bear as rich a harvest.

Jesus is defining HOW we go about following him as disciples—we are defined not by our past, but by our future—a future that is secured beyond the cross, in his resurrection!

In the kingdom, we don’t live from the past forward, BUT, like someone holding a plow, we live from the future point, back to the present. Jesus invites us to keep our eyes always focused on the future destination God has for us—resurrection with Christ—which determines the straight path we walk today, risen with Christ, beloved child of God, disciple of Jesus, the Savior of the World.

Today, our enigmatic Jesus gives us: Who we trust—not our comforts, but God alone; What we do—our rituals always energize our kingdom work in serving others with love; And How we do it—keeping our eyes on Jesus and our future in the risen Christ, so we can bear the fruit of justice and love as disciples in the present! 

Write comment (0 Comments)

Healing is Social and Political: The Gerasene Demoniac and Justice Issues Today

Healing is Social and Political The Gerasene Demoniac and Justice Issues TodayA Sermon for the Second Sunday After Pentecost on Luke 8:26-39 preached on June 23, 2019 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

Our story of the Gerasene demoniac sounds like another great healing by Jesus. But this text comes with a warning: do not be lulled into thinking we have a simple healing story today.

There are a lot of things that can distract us from this passage’s real message. If you have a heart for animals, or you love bacon, you might be distraught about the pigs. If you are a businessperson or grew up on a farm, you might wonder about the pig-owner’s losses. But let us set aside these questions for another time. I want you to dig deeply into this healing story to grasp Jesus’ power and authority, and what it means to follow this Jesus who heals a tormented man with a legion of demons in the Gentile (non-Jewish) region of Gerasa.

We need to remember what first century people, including Jesus, lived every day: they suffered under the oppression of the Roman Empire. The Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in the year 70 CE, thousands were killed, others enslaved, and still others were scattered into diaspora. To the early Christian communities in the late first century, a demon named, “Legion” meant only one thing: a unit of 5,600 Roman soldiers of the occupying army that destroyed Jerusalem, its Temple, its faith, and its people.*

We do not hear it in the English, but the language used when the demons “confront’ Jesus, is one of battle; the man is “seized” by demons, as if he were being arrested like the apostles were later in the book of Acts. The words for “chains” and “shackles” used to restrain the man, are the same words used in Acts when the apostles were imprisoned. All of this language evokes images of a brutal occupying power. Historical records show that in this region of Gerasa, Roman soldiers killed young men, imprisoned their families, and attacked and burned their cities and villages. Many of those buried in the Gerasene tombs, the home of this tormented and demon-possessed man, had been slaughtered by Roman legions.*

So, what first appears like a simple healing story takes on social and political implications that reach far beyond the healing of one man. With first-century ears then, we hear the contrast between the destructive power of an oppressive empire next to its devasting effects in this man, the epitome of human brokenness. He is so possessed, so out of his mind, we cannot tell when he talks, if it is the man who speaks or the demons—perhaps he himself has lost the ability to tell where his identity ends, and his occupying demons begin.

He lives in the tombs, among the dead, murdered by a legion of Roman soldiers who now demonize him from the inside—this is a description of first century PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) in the extreme. He lives away from his community, naked, shackled with chains, guarded, and even THAT cannot keep him contained. It is the most inhumane of treatment. We cannot imagine anything worse. Or can we?

The inhumane treatment of the demon-possessed man is as real as the incarceration rates in this country. The US makes up 5% of the world’s population yet we hold 21% of the world’s prisoners. Jim Crow laws ended in 1965 and the mass of incarceration of Black men took its place: African Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates, but the imprisonment rate of African Americans for drug crimes is almost six times that of whites. Though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately 32% of the US population, they comprise 56% of all incarcerated people. If African Americans and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates as whites, prison and jail populations would decline by almost 40%. Yes, healing is social and political.

The inhumane treatment of the demon-possessed man is as real as the over half a million homeless people we have in the land of the free and the home of the brave. The saddest thing is that over 40,000 of them are veterans who have served our country. They have done what Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one's friends"—they have been willing to lay down their life, and we have abandoned them. They have issues not unlike in our text today—mental illness, addiction, untreated PTSD. We know how to treat these issues and how to help people; the issue is, do we have the collective will do it? Yes, healing is social and political.

The inhumane treatment of the demon-possessed man is as real as a woman with two small children walking from Honduras to the US to escape living in a city with one of the highest murder rates in the world. It’s a long wait to see an immigration judge—809,041 cases are pending before her case will be heard. It’s as real as a child separated from her father and put in a holding pen. Children are dying at our borders! It’s as real as an Arizona teacher going to trial for giving food and water to migrants crossing the dessert—a humanitarian effort to prevent even more death. I do not care what your politics are, but death is not a Jesus-approved immigration strategy! Yes, healing is social and political.

The healing of the Gerasene demoniac is social and political.

But the most amazing thing about his story is the Legion of demons knew immediately Who Jesus was and when they came face to face with the Son of God, they knew they were in trouble! The powers of this world, no matter how strong, no matter how evil, no matter how difficult to overcome, are no match for the living God incarnate in Jesus the Christ! The legion of demons begged Jesus not to send them into the abyss, and so Jesus did as they asked and sent them into the pigs, who headed off the cliff—and into the abyss, anyway—where demons belong!

Jesus has authority over everything! He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. God is always victorious in the end! So, this healing conveys hope to people who need to persevere in their faith and the fight for justice during a time of oppression.

God calls us to bring hope and healing to the oppressed. We take up this call not because it’s easy, not because it’s convenient, not because it earns us grace which is a free gift, but because it sets God’s people free. We can’t do it without God and God won’t do it without us!

We follow this Jesus so we can participate with God in the kingdom work of justice and wholeness for those who are living in the tombs of oppression and need the Christian church to stand up and say to the demons, “Come out of this man. Come out of this woman. Come out of this child. Come out of this system!” Jesus does not stand for the inhumane treatment of people God created and for whom he died!

How strange that the Gerasenes responded to Jesus’ healing act with fear rather than excitement. The man was healed, clothed, in his right mind, sitting in front of Jesus and having a normal conversation, and it scared them so much that they asked Jesus to leave. Their fear of Rome was greater than their desire for more healing and wholeness.

But perhaps their reaction isn’t so strange. A God who takes on not only illness and demons, but also the oppressive powers of the world, requires total allegiance on our part…allegiance above all else…above family, above possessions, above politics, above patriotism, above prejudice, above theological differences. God requires our whole heart.

We can give our whole heart to God because Jesus gave his whole heart—body and soul—to us. Jesus took on the power of Rome and they killed him, but not even death itself can stop God—who raised Jesus on the 3rd day to life everlasting, and us with him! So, while incarceration, homelessness, immigration, and other oppressions of our day may seem daunting, we are filled with the power of Jesus, the Christ who is more powerful than evil itself.

Jesus’s power gives us the ability to confront the demons and legions of our day, to bring hope and healing to people who live among the tombs.

• Imagine all of the drug-offending African American and Latino men out of prison, rehabilitated, educated and sitting at Jesus feet, contributing to their communities and families, being valued and treasured as God’s children for whom Christ died.
• Imagine all of the homeless people, including our veterans, in homes of some kind, sitting at Jesus feet, in their right mind, healed and whole being valued and treasured as God’s children for whom Christ died.
• Imagine all of the migrant families brought together, sitting at the feet of Jesus, whole, healed and safe in a world of nations, led by people of faith, working together to deal with a global migration crisis, being valued and treasured as God’s children for whom Christ died.

We can imagine this because we follow the most powerful being in all of Creation, and Jesus gives us all the strength we need to build the kingdom with him.

We can’t do it without God and God won’t do it without us, so Rise up, O Saints of God!

*I am grateful for the commentary on this passage by Vicar Judith Jones at Working Preacher.org; the structure of this sermon and story of the Honduran woman was inspired by a sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Barbara Lundblad at the Festival of Homiletics in May, 2019 on Luke 18:1-8.

*Image from a slide presentation by Dr. John Dominic Crossan on Jesus: Social Reformer (I found it after I wrote this sermon!)

 

Write comment (0 Comments)

The Holy Trinity and Father's Day

The Holy Trinity and Fathers DayA message for Holy Trinity Sunday and Father's Day on Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8, and Romans 5:1-5, given on June 16, 2019 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas.

When my husband, Dan was 10 years old, he was in New Mexico for the first time, spending a week at Ghost Ranch, a Presbyterian camp and conference center for families. One evening, he was babysitting a few small kids so the parents could visit with friends after dinner. There is not much electricity at the ranch—we have taken our children there many times—so you always bring your flashlight to guide your way to your room or your campsite after dark.

Ghost Ranch sits at about 6500 feet elevation, but it’s also high red rock desert, so there’s not a lot, other than cloud cover, to block your view of the night sky. The parents came back from their evening of socializing, so Dan pocketed his two bucks for babysitting and walked out onto the dirt path, flashlight in hand, to head back to his family’s lodging. He paused to look up at the cloudless sky and for the first time in his life, he saw billions of stars like a white band painted across the distant, black velvet canvass. Dan was filled with awe, his first awareness of a spiritual experience, and he whispered to himself, “that’s why they call it the Milky Way!”

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?... O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:3-4,9)

Connie had a hard life. She was a member of St. Mark’s, the church I served in Kansas City, Missouri in the 90’s. Her husband, Robert had a massive stroke in his late 40’s, just a couple of years after they had adopted a child. Right before Christmas, Connie had to make the painful decision to take him off life support. Her mother had died a few years earlier, and this grief was also intensified. Connie did not know how she would go on and raise a child alone.

But something happened the following Easter. St. Mark’s was an old gothic style church that would seat six hundred, although we were an inner-city church of about fifty. In the chancel, there were choir pews facing each other and a big, ornate wooden altar was built against the back wall that reached up at least two stories. The chancel was so covered with the Easter lilies, you could smell their fragrance down in the congregation. During the Easter Communion service Connie had her eyes on the altar, praying with the liturgy, grieving her losses, holding her child, and the Spirit gave her vision of her mother among the lilies. Connie told me after the service, “she was there, clear as day, as if to say, it will be alright; Easter is real, Robert is with her, and then she was gone. The Spirit sent her to comfort and strengthen me.”

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

Joe Yannnessa of Solutions Automotive is our amazing car mechanic in Frisco. His Christian faith means so much to him that the sign above his business has a big cross in the center of it. His father taught him the importance of paying forward the blessings of his life, and having survived a heart attack, this is one of the highest values Joe lives by with “pay-it-forward Friday.” Joe finds a way to help somebody every single Friday. Sometimes it’s a free repair at the car shop. Sometimes he picks up the tab for a single mom at a restaurant. Joe keeps his eyes open, listening to people and to God to discover where he can help someone in need.

Joe has another company called Cannons for a Cause. He supplies compressed air cannons that shoot golf balls 300 yards which companies use at fund-raisers. Joe donates all the money he raises with Cannons for Cause to Folds of Honor, providing college scholarships for the children of fallen or wounded soldiers. This past Friday (two days before Father's Day), Joe went to the shop where he always goes to get oxygen tanks for the canons. The man who exchanges the bottles has an intellectual disability; when they were done, he smiled at Joe and wished him a Happy Father’s Day. Joe had forgotten it was Father’s Day this weekend and his heart clutched. His father-in-law, with whom he was very close, died just last month; his own father, also one of Joe’s heroes, is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Joe wished the employee a nice Father’s Day, too, and the man said, “I am not a father; I never got married because of my disability.”

Joe got into his truck, and surprised by grief, and the prospect of Father’s Day, sat and cried his heart out. Then he looked at the bottle exchange man working away, and it was “Pay-it-forward-Friday,” and he thought: “He has been here for at least 16 years--rain or shine, boiling hot or freezing cold--he is always at work. Joe took all the cash he had out of his wallet, walked back over and handed it to him and said, “I would like you to take whoever you want, out to dinner on Sunday on us.” The man responded, “We are not allowed to take money.”Joe said, “I am going to leave this cash in the wedge of the fence over there, and you can walk away and come back and say that you found it. That way you can take whomever you want out to lunch or dinner on Sunday and know that we consider you a Dad. You are always here, working tirelessly, taking care of us, and I want to thank you.” The man started to cry.

Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; The Lord created me at the beginning of his work….I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race. (Proverbs 8:1-2, 22, 30b-31)

Maybe you hear a little piece of your own experience in these stories. Or maybe these stories prompt your mind to wander and remember all of the awe-filled moments you have had in nature. Or perhaps you recall a time when something unexpected happen at a moment when you felt so lost, discouraged, or racked with grief, you thought you could not go one more day–maybe not a vision, but you heard a piece of music, you saw someone who gave you new perspective, a bird landed on your window sill, you heard a baby cry, something shifted your attention toward life. Maybe these stories call to mind the moments you felt loved and encouraged by another person, had someone notice you, offered you a shoulder to cry on, given a hug or pat on the back at just the right moment, or had someone text you when you were feeling down.

Why does God come to us as the Creator of a incredible expanding universe and this earth that sustains us? Why does this vast God compress down into human DNA, confined in flesh and bone in Jesus the Christ, who lives and weeps, suffers and dies as we do, and then comes back to prove that not even death is our enemy? Why does God come as Wisdom, as Holy Spirit that dwells within, and around and through all of us and all of creation? Why does this one-in-three and three-in-one “doctrine” of God matter at all?  

It matters because this God will use any means necessary to reach your heart with love. It matters because this God will use any means necessary to reach the hearts of all people to have a relationship rooted and grounded in love!

  • Because only a God of love using any means necessary can create billions of galaxies and with trillions of stars only one of which is The Milky Way!
  • Because only a God of love using any means necessary can find a way for Spirit to dwell in every creature of every time and space, knock on the door of your soul, and wait patiently for an opening to give a new vision, to warm the heart, to give strength and peace beyond your capacity.
  • Because only a God of love using any means necessary, can use even a stranger to be Jesus for you, and show that we are Christ to each other, always reminding us that the marginalized, the unnoticed, and the beggar at the corner are also and always, Christ to us.
  • Because only a God of love using any means necessary can be so concerned about the minute details of the number of hairs on your head, and that bread broken and wine poured means forgiveness and freedom over and over and over again, every week of your life, and beyond your dying breath.

God has already used whatever means necessary to touch your heart, to bring you here, to this moment, and to invite you into love not just today, but forever and ever, amen.

And the real miracle is that when you leave here, YOU are one of the “any means necessary” God is using to reach someone else’s heart tomorrow, and the next day, and next week, and the week after that, and so on for the rest of your earthly life.

You may not even know when it happens and sometimes, like Joe, you will do on purpose out of gratitude and because you, too, have chosen to live out “pay-it-forward Friday.” Sometimes you will be Christ to your own family members, and sometimes you will be Christ to a stranger without knowing it.

Sometimes it will be obvious like a prayer or a gift, and sometimes you will have no idea how God has used you, but every day, remember that this Triune God—who comes as Creator, Christ and Spirit has made you, claims you, and flows through you in every second of the day, and calls you to help reach into the hearts of those who need a loving God, by any means necessary!

 

Write comment (0 Comments)

The Indwelling Trinity

The Indwelling TrinityA Message for Easter 6 on John 14:23-29 and Acts 16:9-15 on Sunday, May 26, 2019 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

Jesus sounds a little confused in our Gospel reading. He says, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” Then he says, “If you love me, you should rejoice that I am leaving you.”

If I were a disciple listening to this good-bye speech, I would be very confused, pressing him by asking,

“What’s up Jesus? Are you coming or are you going? And if you plan to leave, why should I be happy about it? Haven’t we stuck with you? Haven’t we traveled all over the area, healing people, feeding them, teaching, forgiving them, and changing people’s lives for the better? Why are you going to leave now? We are just getting the kingdom rolling. And since I left my livelihood for you, why am I going to do a happy dance now that you have decided to split?”

If you knew Jesus personally, walked this earth beside him, ate with him, got to be part of his A-team, would you not want him to stick around? Would you not be happier if he stayed and kept this good news-movement going?

Or put another way, if you had the chance, would you not choose to have Jesus physically next to you helping you with a problem at work, making hard choices as a parent, during a health crisis, helping you through grief, or accompanying you into old age? Then we could really trust we are not alone. It is hard as Christians not to feel cheated out of the chance to have walked this earth when Jesus did. Thirty-three years is a pretty narrow window—not that many people got the chance, and we are pretty far removed from those who did.

So why does Jesus ask the disciples to rejoice and be happy that he will be leaving soon to join the Creator? Jesus must know this causes heartbreak and fear in the disciples, in spite of the fact that he gives them peace and admonishes them not to be afraid.

Later in this same speech, Jesus tells them they will be better off if he leaves: “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7)

“Rejoice, be happy, it’s to your advantage that I go away.” It’s so counter-intuitive, so against what the disciples and we, naturally believe, it’s almost impossible to comprehend that life would be better with Jesus gone—but that is what he says. “I am going away SO THAT the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, the Helper, will come and fill you, teach you, bless you, and help you remember everything I have taught you.”

Unless Jesus leaves his earthly flesh, his disciples cannot experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit. While bound by the limits of a human body, Jesus is contained, as we are, to a single time and space. But when he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, the Advocate, the Helper, the Spirit, could be present in all disciples, at all times and in all places, empowering all followers of Jesus with his love, with his presence and with his comfort.

Jesus 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." “WE will come to make our home with them.” The Advocate, the Holy Spirit enables us to have communion with the Father and the Son—the Creator and the Christ—who comes to make a home in the disciples—in YOU—in me—in all believers who love the Lord and seek to keep his Word. The whole Trinitarian God is making our own hearts a dwelling place!

That is pretty awesome! It turns out Jesus is not confused at all. He is going and he is coming. He leaves through the door of death and comes back through the gateway of resurrection. He leaves as he ascends to the Creator and he comes back through the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who dwells inside the disciples of all times and all places SO THAT he can multiply the kingdom with much greater love, through a greater number of people, in a greater number of places, through greater means!

The disciples were much better off with Jesus’ Spirit living inside them than they were with Jesus’ body walking beside them. When Jesus was with them, they could heal some people and bring peace, but they did not really understand nor grasp the power of God that was among them. It was hard for them to believe that THEY were able to do in Jesus’ name what Jesus himself could do. With Jesus there, they stayed on the side-lines and said, “don’t look at me, he’s the man.”

But once the Holy Spirit, the Advocate came, the kingdom broke loose in the world. In Acts, we hear what becomes possible when Jesus physically leaves SO THAT he and the Father can commune with the Spirit and take up residence inside each, and every one of the believers!

Nine times Acts refers to the “many signs and wonders,” “miracles,” and “healings” that were done at the hands of the apostles like Peter, Stephen, Philip, Paul and Barnabas and others. The disciples, who had trouble casting out demons when Jesus was beside them, were casting out demons, making the crippled walk, and raising people from the dead when Jesus was inside them. People heard them preach, and they were converted, they received the gift of the Holy Spirit, joined the community of believers, and held all their possessions in common—that’s a miracle in itself! Jesus had to leave, SO THAT he could come back in Spirit-form and give them some real-Jesus-power to get the kingdom of God really moving. With the Holy Spirit inside, Jesus is looking at them and saying, “now, you the man!”

It makes me wonder if Jesus would go so far as to say that we are better off today never having met him in his earthly form. We have never lived in the shadow of Jesus beside us—so we are free to embrace the fullness of the Spirit inside us. There’s nothing to hold us back from believing that the Creator of the Universe and Jesus Christ himself having come to make their home within us, so that we might know that we are never alone. The Spirit of Jesus is with you, to help you with a problem at work, when you make hard choices as a parent, during a health crisis, when you suffer through death and grief, and the Spirit does accompany you into old age.

And even more than that, the Holy Spirit abides in us with the Creator and the Christ, so that through God's endless power and love, we can bring such love to others who hurting. Jesus works through us to bring healing to those who need new life and hope, community and purpose. With the Spirit, Jesus dwells inside each one of us and he’s looking at us saying, “you the man” “you the woman” “you the teen” “you the kid” “you are the church where Spirits come alive!” (we do have a pretty awesome tag-line because we are church Where Spirits Come Alive!)

Embrace the fullness of who you are as the very dwelling place of God’s Creative, Redeeming, Holy Spirit and fulfill your part in the good-news-movement of God’s unfathomable love, freedom and healing for all. Miracles still happen today. God calls us to be vehicles of the miracle of love, acceptance and grace for all people.

Maybe like Lydia, your gift is to provide hospitality and support. Maybe your gift is to pray. Maybe your gift is music or teaching or working with children or youth. Maybe it is art, or landscaping, or financial management, or playing with grandchildren. Maybe it is retail or computer programming or cooking—whatever your gifts and talents, the Holy Spirit works through you, where you are, to be a vehicle of help or healing or hope to those around you.

Jesus says, "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.” (John 14:23) “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Cor. 6:19) So, “do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27b) Jesus is in you, loving you, and loving others through you, now and always. That’s a miracle!

Image

 

 

 

Write comment (0 Comments)

Publications

Follow My Blog!

Enter your email address:

Welcome to my website!

linda anderson little
Linda Anderson-Little

Quotation of the Week

The church does not have a mission in the world, God's mission has a church in the world.

 

Login