One with God


Sermon for May 29th, 2022


I want you to think back to Christmas for a minute. Think back to the gospel reading at Christmas. Now, I’m not talking about the gospel reading you always hear on Christmas Eve, the one where “…it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.” That’s the gospel that Linus recites holding up his blanket in the Charlie Brown Christmas special, that is from Luke’s gospel, and although Luke is my favorite gospel, that’s not what we are talking about today. Today, I want to talk about how John tells the story of Jesus’s beginning, and that is in the gospel we hear on Christmas Day, and on the Sunday after Christmas, and in this parish at least, we hear it at the end of mass on Christmas Eve as the Last Gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John’s gospel wants to make something clear right out of the gate: this man Jesus that we are going to be talking about, is ONE with God. This is not just a prophet, or a good teacher, or a really nice guy. No. In John’s gospel to have an encounter with Jesus is to have an encounter with God, that is setup right from the beginning with the prologue: “the Word was with God and the Word was God. All things came into being through Him.”

Throughout this gospel we get little reminders of just who exactly we are dealing with when we are dealing with Jesus. This is God. And then we get to the gospel passage that you just heard, when Jesus himself makes it very clear. Let me set the scene for you: It is Maundy Thursday. Jesus has just finished his Last Supper. He has washed his disciples’ feet; he knows that he has been betrayed and that his hour has come. In the morning he will be tried and put to death. Now Jesus is divine, but you wouldn’t have to be God in this moment to see the handwriting on the wall: the end is near. Jesus only has a few friends left in this world, and they have already proven that they aren’t good for much.  Jesus knows what’s coming, but before he walks off to the Garden of Gethsemane, he offers a prayer. 

He begins right before this passage by saying: “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.” Jesus was one with God before the world ever existed, just like the prologue says “the Word was with God and the Word was God,” and that is the glory that he is returning to: the glory of being one with God in God’s presence. But this prayer of Jesus’s isn’t going to be just about the love and unity that exists between him and God; No! Watch what Jesus does in our gospel passage today: 

Jesus prayed for his disciples. 

Which disciples? Who is Jesus praying for?

That useless bunch of friends of his who can’t ever seem to figure anything out? 

Well, yes, but not just them. Jesus prays for everyone who will ever believe in him through their witness. All of his future disciples too. They are on Jesus’s mind as he is about to go to the cross.

Jesus was just looking back to being in God’s glory at the beginning of creation, and now Jesus is looking forward to being in God’s glory again, only in that future glory that Jesus sees, he’s not alone. Jesus doesn’t want to be alone when he returns to God’s glory, he wants to bring folks with him. He wants his disciples to be there, and he wants everyone they preach to to be there, and everyone they preach to, and on and on. That means that Jesus is praying for people like Paul, who probably never heard Jesus preach in person, and for people that would come to believe in him through Paul, like that Roman Jailer in our passage from Acts. You know, let’s think about that jailer for a second. It is astounding to me, and it should be astounding to you to that Paul cared at all about that Roman. He was his jailer and his oppressor. Most of us would probably have just run off not cared at all about what happened to that Roman. But not Paul. This man’s life still matters to Paul. What is this Stockholm syndrome? No. It’s Christianity. This is what Christianity looks like: recognizing that Jesus died for your enemies too. Sharing his love with them. Forgiving folks, Inviting them into the Kingdom. That’s what Paul did, he recognized that this man who was his oppressor had a place in the kingdom too. And that Roman Jailer, he brought his family with him, so I guess Jesus was praying for them too.  Who else was Jesus praying for? Was he praying for you and me? Was he praying for people whose lives may be transformed by our witness to Jesus? 

As I said, Jesus was one with God at the beginning of this gospel, and Jesus is going to be one with God at the end of it. Jesus was in God’s glory at the beginning of this gospel and Jesus is going to be in God’s glory at the end of it. But the difference between the beginning and the end, is that in the end, Jesus is bringing a whole lotta folks into God’s glory with him. This oneness that exists between God and Jesus, Jesus wants others to be a part of that; we are invited to be a part of that. 

 “As you Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.”

“The glory that you have given me, I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one.” 

“Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”

“You loved me before the foundation of the world.” That relationship that God and Jesus had in the beginning, when the “Word was with God and the Word was God,” we are invited to be a part of that relationship. We are invited to share in that glory. But we aren’t coming into that glory alone. We aren’t just sharing it with God and Jesus. We are invited to be one with them, but that means being one with everyone else that is being drawn into this relationship. Hold up! You mean, it’s not just me and Jesus? Nope. There is a great Tom T Hall country song called “Me and Jesus.” I’ve mentioned it before, and I actually like the song a lot; it’s catchy, and I think it is important for folks to have a strong personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But I also think that it is important for us to remind ourselves that it’s not JUST me and Jesus. Jesus is praying for more than just you in this prayer he is praying today. He’s praying for more than everyone in this room or in this church. There are other people that he wants to be united with. He might even be praying for people you don’t like. We love to split ourselves up into little parties and denominations and factions and cliques, but that is our own sinfulness at work. We aren’t seeing ourselves the way Jesus sees us when we do that. We often have a hard time looking at another human being and seeing them as a part of Christ’s life or a potential part of Christ’s life, but that’s really what they are. Maybe someone isn’t a part of Christ’s body now, maybe they aren’t a Christian or don’t believe in God, but they could. Jesus is still praying for them and loves them; was willing to die for them. We see people as right-minded or ignorant, Catholic or Protestant, Liberal or Conservative, Rich or Poor, Black or White. When we look at other people, we don’t always see someone who is called to share in God’s glory, but that is what Jesus sees. That is the challenge of this gospel passage: learning to see others as people that Jesus is praying for; learning to see people the way Jesus sees people. 

John’s gospel makes it very clear that you can’t split up God and Jesus, but he also makes it clear that you can’t split up Jesus and his followers. We may have remembered Jesus ascending into heaven on Thursday night, the Feast of the Ascension, but that doesn’t mean that Jesus is now absent from us. No. It means that we are now present with him in the Glory of God the Father. You can’t split up Jesus and God, and you can’t split up Jesus and his followers. If Jesus is present with God, then so are we. We are a part of that relationship now. All of us who are believers in Christ. All of us.

John began his gospel with this majestic description of Jesus’s relationship with the Father, but he also added there that “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” In Jesus’s final prayer, he makes it clear that this glory that God has given him, is not something he covets, it’s something he shares. This relationship that Jesus has with the Father, this oneness, is a relationship that we are invited to be a part of too. We are invited to share in it, AND we are invited to share it. Jesus isn’t going back to God empty-handed; he’s bringing folks with him. Well, who are you bringing with you? Who are you inviting into this relationship? I don’t just want to make it into God’s kingdom by the skin of my teeth and alone; I want to bring folks with me. There is a hurting world out there that needs to hear Jesus’s invitation to be a part of God’s glory. Are we showing them what that grace and joy looks like? On Thursday night I talked about Ascension Joy and how important it is to share that with a world that seems to be overcome by death and evil. Now as I said, it’s not up to us to save the world, Jesus did that on the cross, but what we can do, what we must do, is share with others the love that God has shared with us. In your words and in your actions, how are you showing other people God’s glory? Are you showing them grace? What about those people you don’t agree with and don’t like? Jesus is praying for them too you know.

A strange sort of joy


Sermon for Ascension Thursday, May 26th, 2022


You know, I find it so odd, that after Jesus ascends into heaven his disciples return to Jerusalem with great joy. Joy. They just spend hours in the temple in joy, blessing God. 

It’s odd to me that they are so filled with joy, because Jesus just left them…again. Now, the last time Jesus left them he was dead. A little more than forty days before he disappeared into the cloud he had been crucified and buried. He had been brutally murdered. And when he rose from the dead and returned to them, well it just turned their entire world upside down. Their loved one, their friend, their teacher, their master, he had died and come back to life, so of course the disciples were joyful on Easter Sunday, when Jesus came back to them. That joy makes sense to me. That is a joy that I think most of us long to experience ourselves. We long to see loved ones again. That is Easter joy and Easter joy makes sense to me. Easter joy is about seeing and touching, someone or something that you thought was lost. Easter joy is about hope fulfilled.

But in our gospel passage today, Luke isn’t talking about that kind of joy. He isn’t talking about Easter joy. Luke is talking about Ascension joy. Ascension joy is very different. It’s a little harder to understand. It’s still joy, but it is a joy that walks hand in hand with a huge measure of faith. It is a joy that forces us to look beyond this world. It is a joy that requires patience. It is a joy that requires humility. 

Once Jesus disappeared from their sight, the disciples couldn’t touch him anymore, they couldn’t see his body. They knew that he had been resurrected, they had witnessed it, but now the physical evidence, his body, wasn’t standing in front of them anymore. But still they have joy. They have joy that Jesus has gone to the Father. The world that Jesus leaves behind is still broken. There is still brutality and murder and sin and darkness. There is still pain and suffering, but they have joy. They have joy that there is a presence at the right hand of God that knows all about that pain and suffering. They have joy that they have an advocate in God’s kingdom. They have joy that Jesus has entered into the heavenly realm. They don’t necessarily understand what that realm is any more than we do. They see Jesus disappear, but they know that he isn’t just floating around on a cloud somewhere; he is in God’s realm, God’s kingdom that exists outside our understanding of time and place. But the disciples don’t walk away feeling abandoned. As hard as it was, I am sure, for them to see Jesus disappear, they still recognize that it is a good thing. It is still good news. It is still reason for joy, even though it now has to be joy coupled with faith. 

The disciples rush to the temple to bless God when Jesus ascends into heaven, because that event confirms for them something that Jesus had told them on many occasions: that his life and ministry was about more than this world. It didn’t begin here. It doesn’t end here. Jesus is still alive. Jesus is still hard at work, but his work isn’t just about fixing this broken old world of ours; it is about making us a part of something new. It is about more than this world. There is joy in knowing that this broken, horrible world is not the end of God’s plan and our final destiny, but there is also joy in knowing that even in this horrible, broken world God has mighty power. God is at work. And God can change people, and transform lives. Ascension joy, is about living in the knowledge and faith that there is a link between the world we are living in and God’s eternal kingdom. There is a link between heaven and earth and that link is Jesus Christ. The Ascension isn’t about being abandoned or left to our own devices to figure out how to fix the world that Christ left behind, oh no. It is about being eternally linked to God through the grace that comes from the risen and ascended Jesus. It is about knowing that Jesus is at work in us AND Jesus is at work for us. It isn’t one or the other, it is both, and that is reason for joy. Ascension joy.

You know, I think what a lot of Christians really want is for God to either teach us to fix this world or to snatch us out of it. So some folks want Jesus to just be a good teacher who tells us to be nice to one another and share and do nice things, and heal the world, make it a better place, for you and for me and the entire human race…that’s what some people think this is all about. An eternity of social work. The salvation of the world waiting on us. These people are exhausting for the record. I’m too tired to save the world most days. But then other folks really want to lean into Jesus as a saviour who wants us to give him lip service but not much else. Sign on the dotted line, call me Lord and saviour, and when the going gets ugly I will helicopter in and snatch you out of this ugly world, no personal transformation required. No change of heart. Nothing you do really matters. These people are exhausting too, but in a different way. I mean, what’s the point of having faith if you are the same miserable person you were before? I know plenty of Christians who are on one side or another of this divide, and they all have a few scriptures to back up their position, but in order to be on one side or another you have to leave plenty of scriptures out. But we have to look at the whole Jesus. 

Because Jesus does heal folks in this world, and he does instruct us to care for others, and to share and to love, and to be compassionate, and yes, I’m going to say it, to sin no more. The Jesus who teaches us to do nice things to others, also teaches us, first and foremost, to address our own sinfulness. Not just the sins of society, or the sins of history, or the sins of the system, or “the man” but our own personal sinfulness that is our own fault and no one else’s. Jesus does teach us and his teachings aren’t always simple and easy. But Jesus does more than teach us. What is happening on the cross isn’t just God teaching us a lesson. The resurrection isn’t something that we can achieve on our own through good works and right opinions. And the Ascension should remind us that there are things that Jesus does for us that we cannot do for ourselves. Jesus goes someplace that we cannot go on our own. There is no stairway to heaven that we can just climb up by being better people. We need Jesus. We need a saviour. We have a saviour. But it just so happens that the saviour we have is a saviour who also teaches us. Jesus is both of these things, there’s no getting around it.

It strikes me that Ascension joy, the joy that the disciples experienced on this day, comes from the realization that while I am standing here on this earth, trying to do what my Jesus has commanded me to do, that even now (right now) a part of me stands before the heavenly throne. Jesus is my teacher, yes, but he is also my Lord and saviour. He is my advocate. He pleads for me. My pains are his pains, and his joy is my joy. There is work for us to do in this world, but this world is not the end of the story. Thank God this world is not the end of the story. Thank God there is a link between this world and the world to come. Like the disciples on Ascension Day, it is right that we should come to the temple and bless God for that living connection between these two worlds, it is right that it should bring us joy, because if the Jesus who died on the cross in this world wasn’t seated on the throne I would despair. I would despair. 

Maybe it seems odd to spend so much time talking about joy at a time like this. How dare we talk about joy when we have had yet another mass shooting of children? And cue the stock responses from everybody (and they are stock responses now because at this point they have been used so many times). The liberals say this, the conservatives say that. And nothing really happens. Joy? How can we talk about joy, when one half of the country hates the other half of the country? How can we talk about joy when human lives, which scripture tells us means so much to God, means so little to us? Oh yeah and there’s also all that other stuff: inflation and covid and war. How dare we talk about joy? How dare we not!

I promise you, people in the world are well acquainted with suffering and sorrow. We need to talk to them about joy. People need to hear about Easter joy, the joy of knowing that death doesn’t have the final word; that we have hope of reunion with those we love, but they also need to hear about Ascension joy. People need to know that right here, right now there is a power in heaven that knows their name. Knows their sorrows; knows their pain; knows their struggles. I promise you, people already know about death, and darkness and evil. But do they know about grace? Do they know that the Jesus who taught us about living in this world, do they know that that same Jesus lives to intercede for us even now? There is joy in that knowledge. People know about the power of death, but do they know about the power of God? How can we not talk about God’s power at a time like this? 

So many people right now have no hope for heaven and no fear of hell, just a lot of pain and no place to put it. People are angry at everything and at nothing. Let’s find someone to blame. Let’s project our anger onto everything and to hell with anyone that wants to find joy, and goodness, and happiness and innocence in the world. 

If I thought that it was up to the politicians to fix this, I would despair. Man, I would despair if I thought the solution was waiting on us. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to have sensible laws in this country, but in order to get sensible laws, you have to have sensible politicians. In order to have sensible politicians you have to have sensible voters and in order to have sensible voters you have to raise up people whose primary motivation in everything they do isn’t anger. You need people who still believe in the power of joy and goodness even in the midst of pain and suffering. That power is a grace that comes from God, it isn’t something that comes from us.

That is the power of Ascension joy. It is joy that is in this world, but not of this world. It is a joy that gives us the courage to try and follow Jesus even when we know that it is only by his grace that we will be saved. It is an odd, peculiar joy that can only come from knowing that the Jesus who sits on the throne in the next world is the same Jesus who hung on the cross in this one. It is a strange sort of joy, but it is a joy that the world very much needs right now.

The Tree of Life


Sermon for May 22, 2022

First Communion Sunday


You know, when you wake up from a dream or a vision, it is often very difficult to explain to others what you saw or what you experienced, because dreams are full of images and symbols and they don’t always make sense. That is part of the struggle that people have with the book of Revelation. John has a miraculous vision, and in that vision God speaks to John about some things that are going on in his own day, so many of the symbols have to do with the persecution that Christians were experiencing in the Roman empire, but God also speaks to John and shows him visions of the distant future, so we get these glimpses of the heavenly kingdom.

You know, the Bible doesn’t give us a detailed explanation of heaven. What we get are images here and there that reveal little bits of heaven to us. I guess God knows that we could never comprehend or appreciate the true beauty of God’s kingdom, so what we get are postcards from the other side. Maybe postcards isn’t the best analogy, since I’m not sure people actually send postcards anymore. Maybe we will call them Instagram shots. Pictures that are sent to us from someone far away. But pictures, no matter how good, never fully capture just how beautiful something is in real life. So while the images in John’s book about his vision do reveal glimpses of heaven to us, that’s why we call his book the book of Revelation, it doesn’t show us everything; heaven will always be more glorious than we can imagine and we won’t truly know it until we see it ourselves.

But John’s vision is very important, not just because of what it reveals about heaven, but because of what it reveals about the God of heaven. We are going to be giving the kids that are graduating from their communion class today a Bible later. Now kids, you might think: “well, why is this old book important? What difference is this going to make to my life?” Here is why it is important: because the God of this book is still God. The God who interacts with people in all of the stories in this book is the God that is still alive and active in the world today. So if we want to understand the God who is at work in our lives right now, it helps to understand who God is, and how God acts, and the best way to do that is to study the record of how God has revealed himself to people in history. That is why studying the bible is so important to us. It doesn’t just tell us what God did in the past; it helps us to understand what God is doing now. 

This morning we just heard a reading from the Book of Revelation; John’s vision that I was just talking about. In that reading John talks about the heavenly Jerusalem, the Holy City. And what does he see? Well, he sees a river that flows from the throne where people can drink from the water of life; God quenches their thirst. What else does John see? He sees a tree of life that produces fruit that feeds people. Right in the middle of heaven people eat and drink; they are given food from God. There is another place in the Bible where we find a tree of life. It is all the way on the other end. Revelation is the last book in the Bible, but all the way back in Genesis, in the first book of the Bible, in the Garden of Eden when God first created the world there was another tree of life. God always planned to feed us. But in Genesis we learn that humans, boys and girls, men and women just like us, we disobeyed God, we turned away from God, we hid ourselves from God, so we couldn’t eat from the tree of life anymore. But God still wants to feed us. So God sends us his son, who is a human who does not disobey God, that’s Jesus. And he invites us to be a part of his life, first by being baptized like he was, and then he feeds us by offering us his body and blood, his life, in Holy Communion. 

In John’s vision of heaven, what is one of the most prominent images that he sees in the middle of the city? It is a tree that feeds people AND that offers them healing. John says that the leaves of this tree heal people’s wounds and hurts. I want you all to take a moment and look around this church. Symbols are very important in scripture, and symbols are very important in church as well. Symbols tell us things about God. What is everything in this church directed towards? What is right in the center? Some might say this big candle, which we call a paschal candle, but this is only here during Easter season. What is always the highest place and most prominent symbol in the church? It isn’t this pulpit, I’m tucked off to the side over here. The most important thing in this church is the altar. Where we celebrate Holy Communion. We remember Jesus’s last supper there and we pray special prayers over the bread and the wine. Then what happens? People come forward and eat. People are fed, and you know what, people are also healed.

That is what you will do today. You will come forward and you will be fed, not by me, but by God. I will hand you a little wafer of bread, but it isn’t really me that gives it to you; it is God. Holy Communion is NOT just about remembering something that God did a long time ago. I will say that again: Holy Communion is NOT just about remembering something that God did a long time ago. It is about what God is doing for us now. He feeds us, and he heals us. Likewise, the Bible is NOT just about what God did for people a long time ago. It helps us to see what God is doing for us now. John saw a glimpse of heaven and what he saw was God feeding his children. When you come to church what you see is God feeding his children. This is a glimpse of heaven too. This is a vision and it is a vision that you are invited to share in and to participate in. Remember that. Every time you come forward for communion, I want you to remember that what we are doing around the altar is never as important as what God is doing. God feeds us here and now with spiritual food. God is present with us, and offers us his life in the bread and the wine. Even when we have turned away from God, even when we have disobeyed him, God keeps feeding us.

You will see this throughout the Bible and you will see it again when you come into church: we worship a God who feeds us…not just in the past, not just now, but forever.