Sermons

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Sixth Sunday of Easter Cycle C (1)

 

I am always astonished when a famous person dies, especially an entertainer.  I am amazed at the tributes that people are pouring forth for Prince, the singer who suddenly died at the relatively young age of 57.  Everywhere I look I see the color purple, discussion about what was his greatest song, and what his long-lasting influence will be.  People flock to his house and studio outside Minneapolis and, as they frequently do, leave flowers and candles and dolls.  We see this happen again and again when a famous person dies.  It’s so strange that, when trying to preserve the memory of someone, we use things that vanish so quickly: notes, flowers, and candles.

 

Because we are humans, we have to deal with absence; because we are human, we are in this world only so long.  We know the cost of absence: a father deserting his family, a mother dying at a young age, a child who dies at three, a president shot in his prime.  So we try to hold on: some item, some prayer card, some picture that keeps the person in our lives.  Yet is not one of the major themes of the Easter season this: we cannot hold on the same way.  We have to grow to something else.  This is why Jesus tells Mary on Easter morning: do not cling to me!  I must ascend to my Father.

 

And why does Jesus ascend?  This is an imaginative way to talk about what Jesus does in his resurrection.  He rises in the power of the Father so that he can give that power to his followers through the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the way Jesus continues to live among us, bringing us his life in many ways, and empowering us with his actions.  Remember Jesus’ words: As the Father has sent me, so I send you.

 

The Spirit brings about Jesus Easter life in us; and it has both the form of continuity and the form of innovation.  We see the continuity in the Gospel when Jesus tells his followers that they will share his eternal life, his Spirit, when they love each other just as he has loved them.  It is by the very authentic love we have for each other in Christ Jesus that the Father dwells in us, and we abide in God.  Our life, in the Risen Christ, can never vanish because we are made one with Christ, and his love, through the Spirit.

 

But the Spirit also brings innovation, something new, because the Spirit helps us to see the implications of God’s love in Jesus as we grow.  In the early Church, it was not clear that Christ’s life was meant for all the world.  People thought it was basically a Jewish thing, and mainly Jews would be saved in Jesus.  But the Spirit teaches the early Church something revolutionary: God’s love cannot be limited or restricted.  It always expands.  See, non-Jews are experiencing the risen Jesus just like us!  So we see the disciples deciding to accept Gentiles, pagans, into the community of Christ.

 

What a lesson to learn in our own lives, because we always feel comfortable among our own and want to limit our lives to our own groups.  So we see through history this group against that group, the Western Church against the Eastern Church, Protestants against Catholics, rich against poor, this race against that race.  The Spirit of God says: tear down those walls!  You cannot put borders around the love of God.

 

Because we are all headed to the same place: the heavenly Jerusalem, the city built on the apostles’ message of God’s unlimited love, a city where God is our temple, our sun, our moon, our life, a city where we have finally come to see that the love that we have now is only a shadow of the fullness of love that God is bringing to us and to everyone who accepts it.  There is no absence in that heavenly city: only the presence of God’s love, now realized in all of us through Jesus and his Spirit.

 

One of the most bizarre true stories to hit the news media in the 1990s was that of Tracy Lippard, a contestant destined for the Miss Virginia beauty pageant after winning the title of Miss Williamsburg, VA. Unfortunately, Tracy never made it to the Miss Virginia pageant. Instead, after crowning her successor as Miss Williamsburg, Tracy got in her car and drove 275 miles to Lewisburg, W.Va. Her goal was to seek revenge against her boy friend who had jilted her for another woman. Reportedly she carried with her a 9-mm semiautomatic pistol, a butcher knife, a pair of rubber gloves, a bottle of lighter fluid and a claw hammer.

When she arrived at the home of her rival, she rang the doorbell. Her rival’s father answered the door. Tracy told him that her car had broken down and she asked to use the phone. It was a ruse of course. Once inside the house, she struck her rival’s father with the hammer. It stunned him, but didn’t knock him out. She then pulled the gun and attempted to shoot him. Little did she know that he was an ex-secret service agent. At this point his wife, her rival’s mother, joined the skirmish and the parents held the distraught Tracy until the police arrived.

After being arrested, the police questioned her as to why she would do such a terrible thing?  Tracy Lippard said that she was motivated to seek revenge because she needed “inner peace.” (1)

          I suspect that most of us long for some form of inner peace, but we don’t go to such desperate lengths to gain it.  Still, we long for it. That’s why John 14:27 is a favorite verse for so many people. Jesus says to his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

          Let me begin by asking an important question: do you have a peaceful mind? Well, of course, you say. Really? Let me ask a second question: Is there anyone in this room who is a worrier? Is anyone in this room married to a worrier?

One woman wrote to a national magazine to say that every year, it seemed, her family would get on a highway a few miles out of the city, and her mom would wail, “Oh my goodness! I think left the iron on.” And almost every year they would turn around and go back. But as far as she could recall, not once was the iron ever plugged in. It seems her mom was dominated by the fear that all their earthly possessions would disappear in a fire caused by her forgetfulness.

That was a family ritual, she says, until she was about 14 years old. On that occasion they were headed out of Chicago for Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and, sure enough, her mom gasped, “I just know I left the iron on.”

She says this time her father didn’t say a word. He just pulled over onto the shoulder of the road, got out, opened the trunk and handed his wife her iron. (2)

Can anyone relate to that? Worriers are amazing. Has anyone here ever worried about removing a tag from a mattress? Somewhere along the way, most of us have heard that we aren’t supposed to remove the tags from our mattresses because it violates some kind of law. In fact, many mattresses still have tags that say something like, “It is unlawful to remove this tag!”

Maybe you actually removed a tag from a mattress at some time in your life, and you live in fear that someday there will be a knock at your door. A stranger will flash a badge with a warrant to search your house, and he will be looking for missing mattress tags.

Let me set your mind at ease. First of all, how would anyone ever know you removed that tag? I mean anyone beside the NSA, and supposedly they’re only interested in terrorists, not missing mattress tags. And, secondly, those tags are on those mattresses for your benefit. It shows that you’re buying a new, never?been?used product and to inform you about the contents of the mattress. According to law, it is only unlawful to remove the tag prior to the sale and delivery of a mattress to the consumer. Once you have purchased the mattress, it is your right to remove the tag. (3)

I hope I’ve set your mind at ease at least about one thing-We among all people need to hear these words from our Lord, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

          Jesus was preparing his disciples for living in the world without his physical presence..  This was the night before Jesus went to the cross. In a matter of hours the disciples would have their world flipped upside down.. And he’s trying to prepare them for the kind of challenges they will have to face.

After all, these are men who are preparing to go into battle. It wouldn’t be a matter of simply remembering to unplug the iron or removing a tag from a mattress. It would be gladiator pits, lions, swords, and crosses. And thus Christ says to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

You and I may not be facing the challenges that the disciples of Jesus faced. But we walk around burdened by many issues of life: unsure about how we’re going to pay the house payment and still save for our child’s education; concerned about the possible loss of our job or whether our children or grandchildren will even be able to find a job; anxious about how we are going to make it without a loved one.  And Let us not forget our health.

Do not sink into the mire of despair. Jesus has your well-being at heart. Hope, therefore, in the Lord and trust in him. His word says that everything is working out for your wellbeing (Romans 8:28). We may not see it now but we believe that things will get better. The thing about hopelessness is that is makes us helpless because we see no way out. Abiding in Christ’s peace reminds us that there is hope, and so we can keep moving forward and refuse to give up.

In Meridan CT, one of our parishes had a furnace explosion that brought the whole Church down.  But standing with destruction all around it was a statue of Jesus.with arms outstretched and a loving demeanor. There the statue stood–all that was left of a 100-year old church. “I didn’t notice the damage, it was just so remarkable, so moving and so fitting to look up from the chaos around us and see Jesus, arms outstretched, welcoming, and loving his people.”

That is our purpose today as his church–to raise up Jesus where a fearful world can see him.

Before he left them, Jesus gave his disciples what they needed most–peace, a peace that passes understanding. It was the peace that comes from knowing that no matter how serious the situation that they found themselves in, Christ was still there with outstretched arms. not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Christ’s peace will always be with us. That is the greatest good news that we will ever hear. No matter what our circumstances, Christ will be with us.

I know that some of you are concerned about your future. With life spans being dramatically extended, will you have enough financial resources to last to the end? Will your health hold up? Some of you are concerned about your children’s future. A few of you are concerned about your parents’ future welfare. Someone has said the best thing about tomorrow is that tomorrow only comes one day at a time.

A scholar once surveyed the Scriptures to discover the most significant words in all the Bible. He wanted to find the saddest word, the happiest word, the most emotional word and so on. When he came around to the Bible’s most dangerous word, he identified it as tomorrow. The word tomorrow is a thief, he said, that robs dreamers of their dreams and the talented of their greatest achievements. It keeps men and women from coming to Christ and discovering the kind of life God longs for them to have. The secret of abundant life is to entrust the future to God and to live only for today.

          Have you read the fable of the philosophical clock which one day meditated about its future?  It had just been bought and placed on a shelf in a large farmhouse room.  As soon as it was wound up for the first time it began to worry about all the work it had to do.  It had to tick twice every second. That meant 120 ticks every minute, or 7,200 ticks every hour, or 172,800 every day.  Each year it would have to tick 63,072,000 times, and in ten years it would have to tick 630,720,000 times.  Those kinds of numbers were just too much for the clock’s nervous system, and it “passed out.”

          But when it came to again, it had a flashing insight:  it realized that it only had to tick one tick at a time.  Not 630 million, or even 63 times.  Just once!  And anyone can tick once.  This insight gave the clock a powerful injection of courage, and it went about its duty of ticking, which it has been doing for twenty-five years now. (7)

          Just one tick at a time.  Sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it?  Someone else put it this way:

                                      By the yard, life is hard;

                                      By the inch, it’s a cinch.

          All too often we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by our problems, and we lose our perspective.  We think to ourselves that it is the end of the world. But I can assure you that it is not.  Tomorrow the sun is going to rise again. Somewhere birds will be singing and flowers will be blooming.  You will still have food to eat and clothes to wear, and you will be able continue with your life.

I know that some of you will allow this message to go in one ear and out the other. I sometimes wonder if it is in the genes–the need to worry.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

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1. Adapted from http://thepreachersword.com/2013/07/29/word-of-the-week-peace/#more-4361.

2. Doc’s Daily Chuckles, http://family-safe-mail.com/.

3. How Stuff Works.com, What If . . .? 75 Fascinating Questions and Answers, (New York: Gramercy Books, 2002), pp. 122-123.

4. Mark Adams, http://www.redlandbaptist.org/sermons/sermon20010224.htm.

5. http://www.legacyumc.org/messages/2011/stafffavorites/communityhelp.pdf.

6. Tom Carter, ed., 2,200 Quotations from the Writings of Charles H. Spurgeon: Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1988), p. 67. Cited by David Jeremiah, Slaying The Giants In Your Life (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2001), pp. 153-154.

7. Walter L. Cook, Meeting the Test (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1960).