Search This Blog

Sunday, April 26, 2015


This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, April 26, 2015.  The Bible verses used are Mark 12:13-37.

We’re in the third week of our sermon series “The Paradoxical Commandments”.  We’re looking at a group of statements put together by Dr. Kent M. Keith and approved by Mother Teresa.  We have the whole list in the back of the church and it’ll be in the newsletter this month, too.  Today, we’re looking at the third of these commandments:  “If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.  Succeed anyway.”
            In looking at that statement, it seems to me that we first have to define what “success” means.  It means different things to different people.  Even the dictionary defines it in a couple of different ways.
            One definition of success is “the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.”  That’s probably the definition most of us use.  Oh, sure, we’ll pay lip service to success lying in family or friends or happiness or something, and maybe we even mean that when we say it.  But for most of us, if someone came up to us and said, “Name a successful person”, the first image that came to our minds would not be someone with a loving family, good friends, and happiness.  That might be what success ought to be, but that’s not the first definition that comes to us.  If someone came up to us and said, “Name a successful person”, the first image that came to our minds would most likely be of a wealthy man or a top business leader or a famous entertainer or athlete or a powerful politician or something.  That’s what most of us think of at first when we think of success.
            And when we succeed that way, our commandment is definitely true.  People who reach the top, people who have wealth and/or become famous, usually do win false friends.  They have all kinds of people around them, wanting some of that money and some of that reflected glory.  They usually have true enemies, too.  When someone reaches the top, there’s always someone looking for a chance to take them down.  Even if they’ve earned their success honestly and by hard work, there are still plenty of people who resent that success and start looking for ways to take them down.  That’s just how it is.
            Another definition the dictionary gives us is “the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one's goals.”  That’s maybe a little better, because it talks about achievement rather than wealth or power.  Still, it talks about a person achieving their own goals.  There’s nothing automatically wrong with having goals, of course, but when our focus is just on achieving our own goals, we can lose sight of other things.  We can lose sight of what effect the achievement of our goals has on other people.  We can lose sight of how we sometimes hurt others to achieve our goals.
            It seems to me that for us, as Christians, success should have a different meaning.  Success, for a Christian, means nothing more or nothing less than staying faithful to God. 
Now, understand, God does not say that if we stay faithful to God, we will succeed in human terms.  Staying faithful to God may mean that we gain money or fame, or it may not.  It may mean we accomplish our own goals, or it may not.  It’s not that those earthly measures of success are inherently bad or good.  But those earthly measures of success are irrelevant to whether we succeed in God’s eyes.  God does not say “stay faithful to me and I’ll guarantee you success in human terms”.  God says, “Stay faithful to me no matter what happens.  Stay faithful to me and trust that I’ll take care of the rest.”
When we do that, we’ve succeeded, no matter what the world may think.  But at the same time, when we do that, we will make some false friends.  And we will also make some true enemies.  That’s what happened to Jesus.  And that brings us to our Bible verses for today.
By this time, Jesus appeared to be successful in human terms.  He had quite a following.  This passage comes shortly after Jesus came to Jerusalem in triumph, riding on a donkey, with people waving palm branches and calling him the king, on what we now call Palm Sunday.  It looked like everyone loved him.  But of course, most of those people would turn out to be false friends.  When Jesus was arrested they all abandoned him.  In fact, a lot of them turned against him and became his true enemies.
But he also had a lot of enemies among the Jewish leaders, the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  And some of those enemies tried to pretend they were friends.  Look at how the Pharisees come up to Jesus.  They say, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity.  You are not swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.”
Think of how they’re trying to flatter Jesus, how they’re trying to butter him up, how they’re trying to pretend they think highly of him.  Talk about false friends.  I mean, if Jesus would’ve had boots instead of sandals, he’d have put them on, because it was getting really deep around there, you know?
And then, of course, they ask what they think is their gotcha question, the question about taxes.  It’s a gotcha question because they think they have Jesus either way.  What they’re trying to do is present Jesus with a false choice.  If he says to pay the taxes, they can accuse him of bowing down to an earthly king and denying the sovereignty of God.  If he says not to pay the taxes, they can accuse him of being a revolutionary who wants to overthrow the government.  Either way, they have him.  They are both Jesus’ false friends and his true enemies.
And the Sadducees do the same thing.  They skip some of the flattery, or at least it’s not mentioned that they used it, but they’re posing as people who just want information, when in fact they’re asking a gotcha question, too.  Just like the Pharisees, they’re trying to set up a scenario where Jesus cannot win no matter what he says.  They’re trying to present Jesus with a false choice.  They’re both false friends and true enemies.
But as you heard, Jesus did not fall for it.  And you know, Jesus’ answers are presented in such matter of fact terms that we sometimes don’t realize what Jesus was doing or how hard it had to be for him to do it.
Jesus knew these people were his enemies.  And Jesus knew that these people had power.  He knew that if he did not do and say what they wanted him to do and say, they could kill him.  In fact, he already knew that was what they were going to do.
If Jesus had been concerned about success in human terms, what would he have done?  He’d have found a way to compromise.  He’d have found a way to get along with the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  He’d have found a way to pacify them, to make them like him, so he could continue his earthly ministry and keep the crowds on his side.  He’d have wanted a way to keep his popularity and the power that came with it.
But Jesus was not concerned about human success.  Jesus was concerned with staying faithful to God.  And so, he answered they’re questions in such a way that he did not go along with either of the false choices he was presented with.  Instead, he gave an answer that had to do with the truth of God. 
Jesus knew that if his goal was earthly success, he would fail in God’s eyes.  The only way he could truly succeed was to stay faithful to God.  After Jesus was arrested and killed, everyone thought he’d failed.  But in fact, he had succeeded.  He stayed faithful to God.  He trusted that God would take care of the rest.  And God did.  Jesus rose from the dead, conquering death not just for himself but for us as well.
            Jesus was not successful in human terms.  He did not have wealth or position or honors.  He did not have a favorable termination of his endeavors on earth.  In fact, he was killed.  Not only that, when he died, no one thought that he’d accomplished his goals.  Rome was still in control of Israel and the Pharisees were still in charge of the Jewish religion.  Nothing much had changed.
            Nothing had changed, and yet everything had changed.  It changed, and is still changing, because Jesus did not care about succeeding in human terms.  Jesus cared only about staying faithful to God.  Jesus knew staying faithful to God was the only way his life on earth could be a success.
            It’s the only way our lives can be a success, too.  We’re all tempted to compromise.  We’re all tempted to try to find a way to avoid trouble and get along.  We’re all tempted to want wealth or power or honors or popularity.  And we’re all tempted to do what it takes to get it.
            But if our goal is earthly success, we will fail in God’s eyes.  The only way we can truly succeed is to stay faithful to God.  Again, that may mean that we gain money or fame, or it may not.  It may mean we accomplish our own goals, or it may not.  It will almost certainly mean that we gain false friends and true enemies, the way Jesus did.  But if we trust God, it will be worth it.
            If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.  Succeed anyway.  Stay faithful to God.  It won’t always be easy.  But it will be worth it.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Do Good Anyway

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, April 19, 2015.  The Bible verses used are Mark 3:1-12, 20-26.

            We’re in the second week of a sermon series called the Paradoxical Commandments.  It’s a series of ten statements put together by Dr. Kent M. Keith in 1968 to try to encourage his friends to do good even when it does not seem to change anything and even when it does not seem to be appreciated.  I’ve put the whole list in the back of the church, and we’ll put it in next month’s newsletter, too.  Here’s our statement for this week.  “If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.  Do good anyway.”
            Have you ever had that happen to you?  Have you ever been in a situation where you were just trying to help, just trying to do what’s right, just trying to do what’s best for everybody, and not only is it not appreciated, but somebody claims you’re just in it for yourself?
            It stinks, right?  I mean, when we’re in a situation like that, the chances are we did not really even want to be in the situation in the first place.  We’re doing something because, well, something needed to be done and somebody needed to do it, so we said we we’d help.  And we’re not really sure what to do, but we’re trying to make the situation fair for everyone and do whatever will make things work out for the best.  And so we do something, and everybody gets mad about it.  And they accuse of us of having favored somebody, or of just wanting to get our own way, or of just being in it for our own personal glory.  It’s not a very good feeling.
            Well, it may make you feel better to know that it happened to Jesus, too.  That was our Bible reading for today.
            The passages we read tell about times Jesus healed people.  A lot of us know that healing was a big part of Jesus’ ministry on earth.  Jesus had the power to heal people.  He could do it with a touch or even with just a word.  It was an incredible power Jesus had.
            And yet, I cannot think of a single time in the gospels where Jesus went out looking for chances to use his healing power.  In pretty much every case, it was somebody coming up to Jesus and asking to be healed.
            And when we read the gospels, we get the impression that using his healing power was not an easy thing for Jesus to do.  It took something out of him.  We read of times when, after healing a group of people, Jesus needed to go off by himself for a while and rest.  We read of a time when a woman touched Jesus and was healed and he immediately felt the power going out of him.  We really don’t understand just how Jesus’ healing power worked—after all, that’s why we call them miracles, because we don’t understand how they worked—but it was not a magical effortless thing for Jesus to do.  It took energy.  It took exertion.  It was not easy on Jesus for him to heal people.
            So in our story for today, it’s the Sabbath, and Jesus goes to the synagogue.  As far as we know, he just went there to worship God like everybody else.  There’s nothing in the story that says he went there to heal anybody or to do anything special.  He was just there because it was the Sabbath and Jewish people were supposed to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath.
            But there’s this guy there with a shriveled hand.  We don’t know anything about him than that.  Had he heard that Jesus would be there?  Was he hoping to be healed?  Or did he go to this synagogue every Sabbath and he just got lucky that Jesus came there, too?
            We don’t know.  In fact, it’s even possible that the Pharisees found out Jesus was going to be there and deliberately brought this man there, just to see what Jesus would do.  After all, we’re told that they were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus and they were all watching him closely to see if Jesus was going to break the Jewish law and heal this guy on the Sabbath.  Maybe this was a set-up, a trap by the Pharisees.  We don’t know.
            So here’s Jesus, just wanting to worship God on the Sabbath.  He’s not looking for any trouble.  He’s not trying to start an argument.  He’s not even looking to heal anybody.  He has no great desire to violate the Sabbath law.  But here’s this guy with the shriveled hand.  And Jesus knows he needs to do the right thing.  He needs to help this man, whether it’s the Sabbath or not.  So he does.
            We don’t know what the reaction of the crowd was.  But we know what the reaction of the Jewish authorities was.  The Pharisees were furious.  They met with the Herodians, the people on the side of King Herod, to figure out how to kill Jesus.  The teachers of the law were furious, too.  They accused Jesus of being possessed by Satan.
            All because he had healed a man on the Sabbath.  All because he had tried to do the right thing.  He had not done anything to help himself.  He had not done anything out of any desire for personal glory.  And yet he was accused of all these things.
            We’re not told how Jesus felt about this.  But how would you feel?  How do you feel, when something like this happens to you?  How do you feel, when you’ve tried to do the right thing, when you’ve tried to do something nice for somebody with no thought of even getting thanked for it, and then people get mad at you and accuse you of all sorts of stuff?
            Are you ever tempted to just chuck it?  Are you ever tempted to just say the heck with it and quit?  I’ll bet you are sometimes.  It is really discouraging when we do our best to do something good for someone and not only do we not get thanked for it, but instead we get criticized and called names just for trying to do the right thing.
            I wonder if Jesus was ever tempted to just chuck it.  I wonder if Jesus was ever tempted to just say the heck with it and quit.  We’re not told that he was, but I would not be surprised.  Things like what happened to him in our reading for today had to be so frustrating for him.  To have these self-righteous Pharisees and teachers of the law be so absorbed in their little rules and telling him “God said you should not do that” when Jesus knew better than anyone what God wanted him to do.  To have these little teachers of the law accuse him of being possessed by Satan when Jesus was so far above and beyond anything they could ever be that there’s not even a comparison to be made.  It had to be so tempting for Jesus to say, “You know, if you guys don’t appreciate what I do, then forget it.  I’ll just go live by myself in the desert and I’ll let you do all the healing from now on.  Let me know how it works out.”
            But of course, Jesus did not do that.  Jesus lived out Dr. Keith’s paradoxical commandment.  Jesus did good, and people accused him of having selfish ulterior motives.  And Jesus went on doing good anyway.
            How’d he do it?  Well, for one thing, Jesus stayed close to God.  Those times where Jesus went off by himself and rested, those were times Jesus spent with God.  He was praying.  Jesus knew that when he was tired, when he was frustrated, when he was falsely accused of things, he needed to get as close to God the Father as he possibly could.  And so, Jesus would go off by himself and pray, not just once in a while but fairly often.
            And then, Jesus would come back.  And Jesus would go back to doing good, doing the right thing, doing what he was supposed to do.  Jesus did that because it was what needed to be done.  He did that because he was the right thing to do.  Jesus knew, when he healed people, that there were going to be some people who would not like it.  He especially knew when he healed people on the Sabbath that there were going to be some people who would not like it.  He knew he was going to get accused of all sorts of things if he did it.  But he knew it was the right thing to do.  He knew it was what God wanted him to do.  So he did it anyway.
            You and I, if we look around, see all kinds of things that need to be done.  But sometimes, we know that if we do those things, there will be people who won’t like it.  And sometimes we know that we may get accused of all sorts of things if we do it.  But we still know those things are the right things to do.  And we still know that they’re what God wants us to do.
            So, when we get discouraged, when we get tired, when we get frustrated, when we know people may accuse us of things, let’s do what Jesus did.  Let’s go off by ourselves and rest and pray.  Let’s get as close to God the Father as we can.  Then let’s come back.  And then let’s get back to doing the right thing.  Let’s get back to doing what needs to be done.
            If we do good, people will accuse us of selfish ulterior motives.  Do good anyway.  That’s what Jesus did.  And it’s what Jesus wants us to do, too.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Brighten the Corner

So I thought things would slow down after Easter.  Boy, was I wrong!  This week after Easter was just as busy as the week before.  This week has been really busy, too.  I really haven’t even looked yet at the week after that, but I’m sure there will be plenty to do then as well.

But is that a bad thing?  No, it’s not.  I am extremely lucky.  Or blessed, depending on your point of view, but being blessed is a lucky thing too, in a way, because I certainly don’t deserve such blessings.  Nearly everything I do is something that I really enjoy.  Nearly everything I do is something that gives me satisfaction.  Every day, I have a chance to make a positive difference in people’s lives.  That’s pretty cool.

Yes, there are times when I wish things would slow down a little, but overall, I really don’t.  God did not put us on earth to take it easy.  God put us on earth to do stuff.  God especially put us on earth to do stuff that helps people.  I am really lucky to get the chance to do that every day.

And so are you.  Because even though you’re not a pastor, you also have the chance to make a positive difference in people’s lives.  You also were put on earth to do stuff that helps people.  And you also get the chance to do that, every day.

Some of you may think that’s not true.  Some of you may be in difficult situations, due to health problems or other kinds of problems.  You may think that given your situation, there’s nothing you can do to help anyone.  But it’s not true.  There is always something you can do.  As long as we’re still on this earth, there is still something God wants us to do.

Remember the old song, “Brighten the Corner Where You Are”?  That’s something each one of us can do, no matter what your situation.  We can brighten it with a smile.  We can brighten it with a kind word.  We can brighten it with a prayer.  We can brighten it with a phone call or a letter or an email or a text.  There are all kinds of ways in which each one of us, every day, can brighten the corner where we are.

And of course, most of us are in situations where we can do a lot more than that.  In fact, most of us have lots of options.  There are all kinds of ways, limited only by our imagination, that we can brighten the corner where we are.

So that’s my challenge to you this week.  And it’s my challenge to me, too.  Each day, find some way to brighten the corner where you are.  Each day, find some way to make a positive difference in someone’s life.  You know what?  I’ll bet you find that doing it makes a positive difference in your life, too.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Love Them Anyway

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish Sunday, April 12, 2015.  The Bible verses are 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.
            Today we’re starting a new sermon series called, “The Paradoxical Commandments.”  They’re not really commandments in the sense of coming from God or anything, but I do think they agree with Biblical ideas.  There’s a bulletin insert today that lists them.  They’re often attributed to Mother Teresa, but while she approved of them and even had them posted at her mission, she did not write them.
            The Paradoxical Commandments were written by a man named Kent M. Keith in 1968.  He went on to become a Rhodes Scholar and eventually got a doctorate in education, but in 1968 he was none of those things.  He was nineteen years old and was a sophomore at Harvard.  He originally wrote the Paradoxical Commandments to encourage his friends, who were becoming bitter and disillusioned over the fact that no matter how hard they tried to go out and change things for the better, things stayed pretty much the same.  Not only that, but their efforts to change things for the better were often met with negativity or even ridicule.  He wrote these to tell people that to really change the world, we need to really love people, and to let that love be enough to sustain us even though we don’t get the results we want to get.
            Our plan is to go through Dr. Keith’s Paradoxical Commandments one at a time over the next ten weeks.  As you can see, the first of them is this:  “People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.  Love them anyway.”
            And before we go any farther, let me point out that saying that people are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered is not meant as a put-down of anybody.  What it’s saying is that people are people.  All of us have times when those terms apply to us.  We all have times when we’re illogical.  We all have times when we’re unreasonable.  We all have times when we’re self-centered.  It’s part of who we are as human beings.
            But to put this first paradoxical commandment in a Biblical context, we read from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter Thirteen.  That’s one that you hear at weddings a lot.  It’s called “the love chapter”, for obvious reasons.  It emphasizes how important love is.  But it is not really talking about romantic love.  That’s included, but romantic love is really not the main point.  It’s really talking about the love you and I should have for everybody, no matter who they are and no matter how they act.
            Because when we look at what this chapter says about love, there’s one thing it does not say.  And it does not say it in big, bold capital letters.  It’s a really glaring omission, one that really jumps out at us.
            Know what it is?  What it does not say is how the people we show love to are supposed to react.  It does not say, “love people and they will love you”.  It does not say, “love people and they will be nice to you”.  It does not say, “love people and they will be there to help you”.  It does not say anything about what the people we show love to will do.  It simply says we are to love people.  Period.
            That’s the point of the passage.  And that’s the point of the paradoxical commandment, too.  The commandment does not say that our love will make people stop being illogical.  It does not say our love will make people reasonable.  It does not say our love will keep people from being self-centered.  It says that we are supposed to love people anyway.  We are supposed to love them regardless of how illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered they are.
            And you know, when you think about it, that makes perfect sense.  Because if we show love to someone with an ulterior motive, it’s not really love, is it?  If we say, “I’ll show love to someone so I can get them to change” or “I’ll show love to someone so they’ll do things for me” or “I’ll show love to someone so they’ll come to our church”, that’s not really love, right?  Love, real love, does not expect anything in return.  Real love is a gift.  It comes with no strings attached and it’s given regardless of what the result of that love is.
            Look at what Paul says about love.  He says that love is patient and kind.  He says that love always protects, always hopes, always perseveres. 
Think about that word “always”.  There are no conditions on that word, are there?  There are no exceptions to that word.  Always means constantly.  It means every single time.  Love protects, and hopes, and perseveres, no matter what else happens.
            And that’s important, because if we really take this seriously, if we really love everybody no matter how illogical and unreasonable and self-centered they are, there are going to be times when we get treated really badly by the people we’re trying to love.  As I said, that’s the point of Dr. Keith’s commandment:  that we should love people even when we get treated badly as a result.  Because that is going to happen.
            When I was a kid, I used to read these children’s stories.  And in these stories, there’d be the bad kid who was mean to everyone, what we’d call a bully now, and there’d be the good kid who tried to be nice to everyone.  And the good kid would be nice to the bad kid, and eventually the bad kid would reform and we’d find out that he wasn’t such a bad kid after all, he was just misunderstood, and they’d become good friends and everyone would be happy.
            I don’t know if they still write children’s stories like that.  But I hope not.  Because it does not work that way.  Oh, it can, I’m sure, but an awful lot of the time it does not.  And pretending that it does only gives us bogus ideas about the way the world works, and it leads to bitterness and disappointment when we find that out.
            You all know the Golden Rule, right?  It’s in two places in the Bible, Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31.  “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
            We all like the Golden Rule.  But I wonder how many of us really practice it?  Probably not very many.  I mean, we probably do sometimes, but there are a lot of times we don’t.  A lot of times we don’t do to others as we want them to do to us.  We do to others as they actually do to us.
            If you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you.  And the reverse is implied.  If you act like a jerk to me, then I have the right to act like a jerk to you.  That’s not love.  That’s bargaining.  That’s a quid pro quo.  That’s a contract.
            And that’s a temptation.  Because it’s not easy to love people who don’t love us.  It’s not easy to show patience, to show kindness, to people who act like jerks.  Paul says, “love does not dishonor others…it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs”, but when someone wrongs us, we do get angry.  We do want to dishonor them.  We do keep that record, and we want to do the same thing to them that they did to us if not worse.
            That’s why the Golden Rule is hard.  That’s why love itself is hard.  But that’s also why Paul tells us that love is the most important thing in the world.  It’s more important than hope.  It’s even more important than faith. 
Paul says, “the greatest of these is love”.  The reason for that is that without love, nothing else matters.  We can speak flowery words in every language ever created, but without love, those words are meaningless.  We can be the smartest people on the planet, but without love, all our intelligence is wasted.  We can be the most generous and sacrificial people in the world, but if our generosity and sacrifice is not done out of love, it does not accomplish anything.  None of it means anything without love.
If we cannot love people who are illogical, who are unreasonable, who are self-centered, then we cannot love people.  Because that’s who we all are.  We are all illogical, we are all unreasonable, and we are all self-centered.  And yet, we are all worthy of love.
You know who says so?  God.  Last week we celebrated Easter Sunday.  We celebrated the greatest act of love ever recorded.  We celebrated the fact that Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God, allowed himself to be arrested and tortured and killed in a very painful way.  He did that to take the punishment for our sins.  For your sins and for my sins.
If Jesus had treated us the way we treated him, we’d all be dead.  But Jesus did not do that.  Jesus did not get angry with us.  Jesus did not keep a record of our wrongs.  Instead, Jesus loved us.  Jesus Christ loved all of us illogical, unreasonable, self-centered people, all of us people who did not deserve his love and did not return his love, so much that he died on a cross to save each one of us.  To save you, and to save me.
            People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.  Love them anyway.  Not because they deserve it.  Not because it’ll change them.  But because it is what our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ did.  And because it’s what Jesus wants us to do, too.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Easter in the Rear-View Mirror

Last Sunday was Easter.  It was the end of a wonderful week in the life of the church.  We had our last Wednesday Lent service of the year in Gettysburg.  We had Maundy Thursday services in both Onida and Gettysburg.  We had Good Friday service in Gettysburg and hosted the community Good Friday service in Onida.  And then, of course, we had Easter Sunday services in all Onida, Agar, and Gettysburg, as well as providing the ecumenical service at Oahe Manor.

It was quite a week.  It was a week in which we could all spend a lot of time think about the sacrifice Jesus made for us and about the incredible gift God gave us.  It was a week in which we could really think about the love God has for each one of us, a love so great that the divine Son was sent to earth to teach us, to help us, to die for us, and then to rise again, conquering death not just for himself, but for all of us.

But now it’s over.  Easter is in our rear-view mirror.  We’ve started to think about other things.  Spring is here.  There are track meets and golf tournaments and proms.  Soon it will be time for high school and college graduation.  Then it will be summer, with all the activities summer brings.  And Lent and Easter will be in our rear-view mirror, forgotten about until next year.

That’s not how it has to be.  But that’s how it will be if we’re not careful.  It’s not that we intend to forget about God.  It’s not that we deliberately forget about Jesus’ sacrificial love for us.  It’s just that it’s really easy for us to get distracted.  It’s really easy for us to occupy ourselves with other things.  It’s really easy for God to get crowded out.  And it’s especially easy for the message of Easter to get crowded out.

But as I said, it doesn’t have to be.  If we want it not to be, though, we need to be intentional about it.  We can do that in a lot of ways.  For me, though, one of the ways is taking some time every day to thank God for the forgiveness of our sins and for the sacrifice Jesus made for us.  It doesn’t have to be a long time.  Just a moment, every day, to pray a prayer of thanks.  For me, it’s better if I do it the same time every day, because that way I’ll remember it. 

If something different works for you, that’s fine.  But do something.  Let’s not put Easter in our rear-view mirror this year.  Let’s keep that spirit of Easter going into the spring, the summer, and beyond.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Seeing Is Believing

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish on Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015.  The Bible verses used are John 19:38--20:18.

            When we look at stories from the Bible, one of the things I often ask you to do is to try to put yourself in the story.  Imagine you were there, seeing these things unfold.  I think that’s something we especially need to do when it comes to stories we’re familiar with, like the Easter story.  Because we know that Jesus rose from the dead, we miss the real impact of it.  It becomes just a story, a story we’ve heard many times and a story to which we know the ending.
            So as we look at the Easter story again today, try to imagine you’re there.  Try to imagine you’re one of the characters, or that you’re an onlooker who sees this.  Try to imagine you’re learning these things for the first time, discovering them right along with the people in the story.
            Our reading started by telling us about Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.  Those of you who came to the Good Friday service may remember that we talked about how there were probably some people who did not want Jesus killed, but who kept their opinions to themselves.  Well, these were two of those people.  You may remember that Nicodemus was the man who did not understand when Jesus said we need to be born again.  Joseph of Arimathea appears in all four gospels, but it’s all this same story.
            The two of them may not have had the courage to try to stop Jesus’ death, but they still had a role to play.  They decided that the least they could do for Jesus was give him a decent burial.  They took Jesus’ body and placed it in the tomb. 
Now, again, put yourself in the story.  When Jesus’ body was discovered to be gone, one of the first things you’d wonder about was, well, was his body ever there in the first place.  But here, we have two men were prominent among the Jewish people.  Joseph of Arimathea is described in other gospels as a rich man and a member of the council.  Nicodemus was a Pharisee who was also a member of the council.  So, when the body was missing, you had two members of the council, one a Pharisee himself, who could testify that they had put the body in that tomb.  There could be no doubt, then, that Jesus’ body had, in fact, been there.
            The day after Jesus’ death, of course, was Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.  The tomb was undisturbed on that day.  But then, early Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb.  And she saw that the stone had been rolled away.  The passage does not say whether she looked inside the tomb or not, but she either saw or assumed that Jesus was no longer there.
            Now of course, we know what happened to Jesus.  We know that he rose from the dead.  But Mary Magdalene did not know that.  She was shocked.  Maybe she thought the authorities had moved the body.  Maybe she thought someone had stolen it.  She really had no idea what had happened.  She had no idea what to do.  She probably did not dare go to the authorities and ask.  But apparently, she knew where Simon Peter and John were, so she went to them and told them what happened.
            And they apparently were shocked, too.  They went out to the tomb on a dead run.  Now, some have interpreted that as the disciples not believing Mary Magdalene because she was a woman, and that could be.  Women were not considered reliable witness at the time.  But I suspect they would not have believed anyone.  It’s kind of like if someone came in here and told you your car had been stolen.  What would you do?  You’d run out to where you’d parked it, right?  It’s not that you thought the person was lying.  It’s just that you’d have to go out and see for yourself.  That’s how the disciples felt.  It’s not so much that they did not believe Mary Magdalene.  It’s just that sometimes, you have to go and see for yourself.
            And that leads to this passage.  “Simon Peter came along…and went straight into the tomb.  He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head.  The cloth was still lying in place, separate from the linen.  Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside.  He saw and believed.  (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)”
            Think about this.  Look at the sequence here.  They went out to the tomb.  They saw what happened.  And they believed.  But they still did not understand.
            They did not understand, but they believed anyway.  They did not let the fact that they did not understand everything that had happened keep them from believing in Jesus Christ.
            The more I think about it, the more I think that this is really one of the keys to our Christian faith.  Being able to believe without understanding.  And being able to be comfortable with the fact that we can believe without understanding.
            Now, don’t get me wrong.  There’s nothing wrong with trying to understand more:  more about God, more about Jesus, more about how the world works, more about how we should live out our faith.  We should always try to understand more.  God put the desire to know, the desire to understand, into our souls.  It’s a part of our DNA to want to understand more.  Proverbs says, “Turn your ear to wisdom and apply your heart to understanding.”  Trying to understand more is a good thing to do.
            But the thing is that, no matter how much we understand, there will always be more that we don’t understand.  And that’s especially true when it comes to God.  God is so much greater and bigger and wiser than we are that it is literally impossible for us to understand God.
            There are all kinds of things that we don’t understand.  There are all kinds of things that don’t make sense to us.  We talked about some of them in the sermon series we just finished about the end of time.  Whether we’re talking about situations around the world or situations in our community or even our own families, there are all kinds of things that don’t make sense, all kinds of things that don’t seem right.  And no matter how hard we try, we cannot understand why God, who we’re always told loves us and cares about us, allows those things to happen.
            So the question, ultimately, is:  can we accept that?  Can we accept that God is there, and that God does love us and care about us, even though we don’t understand why God allows the things God allows?  Or do we decide that, because we don’t understand, because it does not make sense, then either God must not be the loving, caring God we’ve heard about or God must not exist at all?
            The idea of the Savior of the world being killed on a cross did not make much sense to the disciples.  But when they saw that he was gone from the tomb, they believed.  They still did not understand it.  It still did not make much sense to them.  But they believed it anyway.
            We see a lot of things happen that don’t make much sense to us.  And yet, if we open our eyes, we can see the glory of God all around us.  We can see the glory of sunrises and sunsets.  We can see the creative ability that is in each one of us.  We can see the willingness that people have to help each other.  We can see the love that people show for each other.  We can see God at work in a dozen ways, a hundred ways, a thousand ways every day, if we’ll just stop and open our eyes to look.
            Almost two thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
            Can we accept that?  Can we be comfortable with it?  Can we accept that God exists and that God loves us based on what we see all around us, even though there are still all kinds of things we don’t understand?  Or do we demand that God explain it all to us, and demand that the explanation meet with our approval before we’ll believe in God?
            Simon Peter and John saw what had happened.  They saw that Jesus had risen from the tomb.  They saw the glory of God in that.  They did not understand it, but they believed.  Mary Magdalene saw what had happened.  She saw that Jesus had risen from the tomb.  She saw the glory of God in that.  She did not understand it, but she believed.
            We can see the glory of God all around us.  We don’t always understand it.  Can we believe?

Who's Responsible?

This is the Good Friday message in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish.  The Bible verses used are John 19:1-30.

As I was preparing this message and looking once again at the story of Jesus’ death, I started to think about the people who were directly responsible for it.  I mean, we know it was God’s plan and it was necessary for our salvation, but still, there were people, human beings, who did things that caused Jesus to die.  And they were not serving God by doing that, at least not consciously.  They were serving themselves and their own interests. 
There was Pilate, of course.  We heard quite a bit about him in our reading for today.  Pilate gets his share of the blame for Jesus’ death, and rightly so.  But you know, Pilate had nothing in particular against Jesus.  He really did not care much about Jesus one way or the other.  Pilate was the Roman governor.  He had no reason to be concerned with this Jewish guy.  He was just trying to keep the peace.  He’d have been happy to let Jesus go if that would’ve made people happy.  In fact, he tried to do that.  And as you heard, even Jesus said there were people who were guilty of greater sins in this story than Pilate was.
There was Herod.  Herod does not appear in the gospel of John, but Luke tells us that Pilate sent Jesus to Herod, hoping Herod would take care of the situation.  Herod really did not care about Jesus one way or the other, either.  He’d heard about Jesus and was hoping to see Jesus perform some sort of sign, some sort of miracle, but when Jesus did not do that Herod lost interest and sent Jesus back to Pilate.  Herod deserves some blame, because he could’ve kept Jesus from dying and did not, but he’s really a pretty minor actor in this story.
There was Judas.  Judas, of course, betrayed Jesus.  He went and reported to the Jewish authorities where Jesus was going to be.  But Judas just helped set things in motion.  He deserves his share of the blame, too.  No doubt about it.  But he did not exactly act alone.  In fact, without the actions of lots of other people, what Judas did would’ve made no difference at all.
There was Caiaphas.  Caiaphas did not show up in our reading for today—he appears earlier.  Caiaphas was the Jewish high priest.  He definitely was one of the ones who wanted Jesus dead.  He was one of the priests plotting against Jesus.  He may have even been the one Judas reported to and the one who sent the soldiers to the Garden of Gethsemane, we don’t know.  We know Jesus was taken first to Annas and then to Caiaphas, and it was only after that, that he was taken to Pilate.  So Caiaphas certainly deserves his share of the blame, too.
But even though Caiaphas was the high priest, he could never have done it by himself.  As I said, he plotted with other priests to do this.  He had to have them on his side.  If the other priests had opposed him, Jesus would never have been arrested, much less killed.
Those are the only people who are named as having a role in Jesus death.  The rest are just named as groups.  They’re referred to as “the soldiers” or “the priests” or “the Sanhedrin” or “the crowd”.  We don’t know anything about the individuals who were part of those groups.  But each of those individuals share some blame in Jesus’ death, too.  And we have no idea who they may have been.
And maybe that’s part of the point.  Because it was not one person who was responsible for Jesus’ death.  It was everybody.  Everybody who was around there, anyway.  Every one of the soldiers.  Every one of the priests.  Every one of the Sanhedrin.  Everyone in the crowd.  Every one of those people who shouted “Crucify” deserves part of the blame for Jesus’ death.
Now, that’s not to say that each and every one of those people wanted Jesus killed.  We don’t know that.  But we have no record of anyone trying to stop it.  We have no record of anyone standing up and saying “No!  This is wrong!  We should not be doing this!”  If anyone was opposed to Jesus being killed, they either kept it to themselves or eventually decided to go along with it, just like Pilate did.  Not even the disciples would stand up and try to stop it.  Judas betrayed Jesus, Simon Peter denied knowing him, and the rest appear to have run away and hid.  No one was willing to stand with Jesus.
Maybe there was nothing they could’ve done.  Maybe if someone had stood up, it would’ve made no difference.  Some of them probably told themselves that.  And maybe it was even true.  But we’ll never know, because we have no record that anyone ever tried.  We have no record that anyone attempted to do anything for Jesus.  In the end, it was just Jesus, by himself, against the entire known world.  In the end, it was just Jesus, alone.
Would we be any different, do you think?  If you or I had been one of the soldiers, or one of the priests, or one of the crowd?  Would we have stood up and said, “No, this is wrong, we should not be doing this?”  Or would we have kept our opinions to ourselves and decided to just go along with it, to stay out of trouble?
I see no reason to think that we would’ve been better than the people in the crowd.  I certainly see no reason to think I would’ve been.  And I especially see no reason to think I’d have been better than Simon Peter or the rest of the disciples.  I’d love to think I would’ve tried to do something, but to be honest, I don’t think I probably would have.
Everybody was responsible for Jesus’ death.  But you know, it seems like maybe it could not help but be that way.  It seems like maybe that was part of God’s plan, too.  After all, Jesus died to take the punishment of the sins of all of us.  God knew all of us would be responsible for Jesus’ death.  God knew we’d all need saving, every one of us.  And so God planned for it.
And you know, if we really thought that we’d be better than the crowd, that we’d be better than the disciples, if we really thought we’d be the ones who actually would’ve stood up and done something, we might also think that we did not need saving.  We might think that Jesus did not die for us, that we were so good that we did not need forgiveness and salvation.  And we might not take advantage of the incredible gift of salvation that God gave us through Jesus’ death.
But it’s because we realize that we are no better than the disciples that we come to this Good Friday service.  I mean, it’s kind of strange thing, don’t you think?  Can you think of any other faith that looks at the death of its founder as something to celebrate?  I cannot.  And yet, as Christians, that’s exactly what we do.  We celebrate Good Friday.  We celebrate the killing of Jesus.  That must seem so odd to non-Christians, if they really think about it.  It must seem so strange to them that we would celebrate the killing of Jesus Christ, the person we claim as our Savior, the person we claim to follow, the person for who our faith is named.
But we do celebrate it.  We do celebrate Jesus being killed.  We don’t celebrate because we’re happy that Jesus was killed.  We celebrate because we’re grateful that Jesus was willing to die.  We celebrate Good Friday not because of what happened, but because of what it means.
We celebrate the death of Jesus because we know he died for us.  We celebrate the death of Jesus because we know that it was not a permanent death.  We celebrate the death of Jesus because we know that Jesus defeated death and rose again.  And we celebrate the death of Jesus because we know that Jesus did not just defeat death for himself.  He defeated death for each one of us, too.  Every one of us is responsible for Jesus’ death.  And yet Jesus rose again, and defeated death, and took the punishment for the sins, of every one of us.
In a little while, we’ll leave here.  We’ll go on about our business, going wherever we go and doing whatever we do.  And before long, everyone will have forgotten everything I’ve said here today.  I don’t mean that as a criticism of you, or of me for that matter.  It’s just the way it is.  I’ve heard lots of Good Friday messages over the years, and I don’t know that I can remember anything from any of them.  I don’t know that I particularly remember any of the Good Friday messages I’ve given myself.  I don’t expect this message to have any more impact than any of those did.
            But I hope you’ll think about Good Friday and what it means for us.  Each one of us was responsible for Jesus being killed.  And Jesus willingly allowed it to happen, so that each one of us would be saved.  And that truly is something to celebrate.

Friday, April 3, 2015

We Should Be Committed

This is the message given for Maundy Thursday service in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish.  The Bible verses used are John 13:17-38 and John 18:1-37.

            There’s an old riddle that you’ve probably heard before.  It asks, in a bacon-and-egg breakfast, what’s the difference between the chicken and the pig?  The answer is that the chicken gets involved, but the pig makes a total commitment.
            I thought about that story as I read our Bible verses for tonight.  The disciples had been with Jesus all this time.  And yet, when the crunch time came, they all abandoned him.  Judas, of course, actively betrayed him.  Simon Peter denied three times that he even knew who this Jesus guy was.  And the others, once Jesus got arrested, were nowhere to be found.  They apparently just took off, left, went into hiding.  The disciples had gotten involved, but only Jesus was willing to make a total commitment.
            Jesus knew it would be that way, of course.  He told the disciples about it.  He knew Judas would betray him.  He knew Simon Peter would deny knowing him.  He knew the others would leave, too.  But he never got mad at them for it.  He said to Judas, “What you are about to do, do quickly.”  The way it reads, he would never have said anything about it to Simon Peter if Peter had not bragged about how he would lay down his life for Jesus.  Jesus knew how things were going to go, but he did not get upset about it.  He accepted that this was who the disciples were and he accepted that this was what the disciples were going to do.
            And that seems to be Jesus’ attitude during the entire reading we had for tonight.  When the soldiers came to arrest him, he did not fight.  He would not let the disciples fight, either.  He did not even criticize the soldiers for arresting him.  He accepted that this was who the soldiers were and this was what the soldiers were going to do.  It was the same when he went before Caiaphas.  It was the same when he went before Pilate.  Jesus never fought.  He never got mad.  He never even criticized the people who were responsible for beating him and killing him.  He accepted the situation for what it was, and he accepted the people for who they were. 
            Think about how hard that must have been for Jesus.  To know everything that was going to happen.  To know who was going to do it to him.  To know that some of the people who were going to do it to him were his closest friends on earth.  To know that he could stop them.  To know that he could stop everything that was going to happen.  To know that it would be incredibly easy for him to do that.  And yet, to accept it all.  Not just to accept the terrible things that were going to happen to him, but to accept the people who were going to do those things to them.  And not only to accept them, but to still love them.  To still love them, in spite of all they were going to do to him.
            That’s a total commitment.  That’s a commitment beyond anything I can even imagine.
            I think there are lessons for us in that commitment.  You know, pretty much everyone here is involved in the church in some way.  And we have awesome people in this church.  Wanda and I feel so lucky to be able to serve God with you.  There are so many people here, and some who are not here, who do so much for the Lord and for the church and for us personally.  We appreciate each and every one of you.
            And yet, how many of us could say that we are totally committed to serving God?  Probably not very many.  And don’t get me wrong—I don’t claim to be one of them, by any means.  There are very few of us who could say that we are totally committed to serving God, so committed that we would give up our lives, if necessary, to serve God.
            But we should.  Because we claim to be followers of Jesus.  If we’re followers of Jesus, then we should be willing to go where Jesus went and do what Jesus did.  And of course, where Jesus went was the cross, and what he did was die there.  So if we’re truly followers of Jesus, that’s what we should be willing to do, too.  We should be willing to make that total commitment that Jesus made.
            Now, don’t get me wrong here.  I am not arguing for works-based salvation.  The disciples were not totally committed, and Jesus loved them and accepted them anyway.  Our salvation is based on faith, not on works.  And Jesus knows how hard that total commitment is for us.  Remember what Paul said, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.”  The kind of total commitment we’re talking about is a rare thing.
            But we should not use that as an excuse, either.  And that’s an incredibly easy thing to do.  It’s easy for us to say, well I’m doing pretty well.  I do a lot of stuff for the Lord.  I do a lot of stuff for the church.  I’m doing okay.  I’m doing enough.
            Now, again, don’t take this as me saying I’m upset with you for not doing enough.  I know lots of people do lots of things for God and for the church.  I appreciate them.  I’m sure God appreciates them, too.  That’s not my point.
            The thing is, I suspect the disciples felt like they were doing pretty well, too.  They did a lot of stuff for God.  They did a lot of stuff for Jesus.  I suspect a lot of them, maybe all of them, thought, I’m doing okay.  I’m doing enough.  And I suspect that attitude is part of the reason they all fell away from Jesus when the crunch came.  They felt like they were doing enough.  They were not totally committed to following Jesus.
            But praise the Lord, Jesus did not have that attitude.  Jesus obviously did all kinds of things to serve God the Father, but he never felt like he’d done enough.  It was only when he was on the cross and in his last breath said “It is finished” that he finally believed he had done enough on the earth.
            If we’re truly followers of Jesus, that’s the kind of total commitment we need to have.  A commitment that says we’re willing to give up our lives for God, and to not believe we’ve done enough until we draw our last breath.
            That’s a tough standard.  It’s a standard most of us will fail at.  But here’s the good news.  Remember that quote from Paul about how it’s rare that anyone will die for a righteous person?  Some of you know that there’s more to the quote than that.  Here it is:  Paul says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
            That’s why it’s not works-based salvation.  Jesus knew the disciples were not totally committed.  He knew it would be very rare when someone had that kind of total commitment.  And yet, Jesus died for us anyway.
            You know, we’ve talked before about how Jesus was both fully divine and fully human, and that we believe that even though we don’t know exactly how it works.  But here’s at least one aspect to it.  Jesus was totally committed to God and totally committed to humans.  Jesus knew that it was God’s will that he die to save humans.  And Jesus knew that it was only through his death that humans could be saved. 
It was only because he was totally committed both to God and to humans that Jesus could do what he did.  It was only that total commitment that allowed him to accept the fact that one disciple would betray him, one would deny him, and the others would run away and hide.  It was only that total commitment that allowed him to accept his arrest, his show trial, and his death sentence.
Remember what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments?  That we love God and that we love others?  And remember how he said the second was exactly like the first?  Well, this is Jesus giving us the ultimate example of how this plays out in our lives.  Jesus was totally committed to God and Jesus was totally committed to human beings.  And it was only that total commitment to both that enabled Jesus to do what he did.
God will love us without that total commitment.  God loves us no matter what.  And our salvation is based on our faith, not on our works.  But as Christians, we claim to be followers of Christ.  That means we need to do what Jesus told us to do—love God and love others.  And we need to do that no matter what the cost is.  We need to make the total commitment to God and to each other, even if that means giving our lives.
It’s a tough standard.  And again, I’m not saying I’ve done it.  And I’m not saying I’m going to be able to do it.  But we need to try.  And we need to try again.  And we need to keep trying, and keep trying.
           It’s good to be involved.  But it’s not enough to be involved.  We need to be totally committed.  Jesus did that.  It’s what we’re supposed to do, too.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Jesus' Farewell Address

This is the message from last night's Wednesday Lent service in the Gettysburg United Methodist Church.  The Bible verses are from the gospel of John, Chapters 14-17.

            We’re not going to have a very long message tonight.  Instead, what I’m going to do is let Jesus himself give the message.
            What I mean by that is that in John chapters fourteen through seventeen, Jesus gives what could be called his farewell address to his disciples.  So what I’m going to do tonight is read you Jesus’ farewell address, and then just make a couple of comments afterward.  I’m not going to use the screen—after all, Jesus did not have a screen.  What I want you to do is what I’ve asked you to do in all of these Wednesday night messages.  I ask to again imagine you are in the story.  Imagine you are one of the disciples, listening to Jesus.
            This comes after the last supper.  It comes after Judas has left them to go and let the Jewish authorities know where Jesus was.  It comes after Jesus has told Simon Peter that, before morning, Simon Peter will three times deny knowing Jesus.
            The disciples don’t know what’s coming next.  But they know they’re in a dangerous situation.  They know something’s about to happen, even if they don’t know what it is.  So, Jesus starts talking to them.  Here’s what he says:
            “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”
Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 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 heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.
            “Come now; let us leave.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.  They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’
“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
“All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”
Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”
At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”
Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
“Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”
Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”
“Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:
           “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.
“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
           “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
That was the end of Jesus’ farewell address.  After that, he went out to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he would be arrested.
Did you put yourself into the story?  Did you imagine yourself as one of Jesus’ disciples, listening to all this?  How did you feel?  What did you think?
I doubt if the disciples really understood everything that Jesus was telling them.  After all, as we’ve seen before, the disciples hardly ever really understood what Jesus was telling them.  But they knew Jesus was leaving.  They did not know how that was going to happen, but they knew he was leaving.  And they knew the one thing they were supposed to do:  love each other.  That was it, really.  Obey Jesus’ teaching and love each other.  And don’t worry about the consequences.  Jesus said, people may hate you, but that’s okay.  People hate me, too.  Don’t worry about it.  The Holy Spirit will be here to protect you.  You don’t know what the Holy Spirit is, but just know that the Holy Spirit is from God.  So you don’t have to be afraid. 
And that’s really the lesson for tonight.  So let’s do it.  Let’s obey Jesus teaching, love each other, and not worry about the consequences.  The Holy Spirit is here, and the Holy Spirit is from God.  We don’t have to be afraid.