Tuesday, May 28, 2019

What is Worship?

Sermon for May 19, 2019 
Read Psalm 95:1-7 and John 4:19-27

While we may be on the far side of Easter, our passage from John this morning is set during the last supper. Jesus is still talking to his disciples about what is going to happen next. And life for them is about to change pretty drastically. Again. After all, it already changed pretty drastically when Jesus came into their lives: some left behind families and learning trades. One walked away from a good job as a tax collector. All to follow Jesus across the countryside learning from him. And now Jesus tells them that he is going away.

The disciples ask him what happens now. How will Jesus ministry continue? And Jesus answers them "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them." The ministry of Jesus will continue through his followers when they love him and keep his word.

What Jesus is saying here is that to be a follower is to have and keep Jesus' word, or his teachings; to keep Jesus' word is to love him. Love is verb.  Love, like work, requires action.  It requires movement.  No matter how many times we may say, "I love you," it doesn’t really mean anything unless we actually show love in how we live our lives on a daily basis. We show our love to our Lord by keeping his word.

We cannot treat loving Christ and following his teachings as if they were separate and distinct pieces. We cannot selectively choose only one part: 'I'll have the love of Jesus please, but hold all of that messy caring for the sick and welcoming the outcasts." No, Jesus makes it very clear here that we love him, by following his word.

One day a little girl came running into the house to her mother, exclaiming: "Mamma, I love you!"

The mother hugged her little girl with a smile. "I am so glad you love me." Then she pulled back and looked down at her daughter  "I have had a hard day, and I am so tired. If you love me so much, will you wash the dishes for me?"

The little girl solemnly replied: "I do love you, mother, but not in that way."

When we truly love Christ, we wash the dishes. We bring food to someone who is grieving. We sit next to hospital beds and feed the hungry and visit the prisoner and welcome the stranger. We simply cannot separate loving Jesus with following his teachings.  We cannot even just follow the teachings we like, and ignore the ones that are hard or make us uncomfortable. And this is what Jesus presents his followers as he is saying goodbye to them.

How hard that must have been for them? Not only are they losing the rabbi they adore and have followed for years, but they are given this seeming monumental task of carrying on his ministry and presence to the world. Remember, Jesus tells the disciples that he will abide in them so that others will learn of his presence through the disciples. That is a lot of pressure to lay on anyone. But they won’t be alone.

The great preacher Fred Craddock, offered a helpful way to understand this passage by comparing the disciples here to children playing on the floor and looking up to see their parent putting on hat and coat. The children ask anxious questions: Where are you going? Can we go, too? What will we do while you are gone? Who will stay with us?

Jesus answers the disciples questions. "I go to prepare a place for you." and "Where I am going you cannot come, but you will come later."  To the third question he responds, "Love each other as I have loved you." To "Who will stay with us?" Jesus answers no fewer than five times. The text before us includes the second. He had already said, "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth… he abides with you and will be in you." Now he adds: "But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you."

The word translated "Advocate" by the NRSV is paraklētos, and no single English word can convey its meaning. It literally means, "the one who calls from beside" or "the one called to the side of." We also see it translated as "Comforter" or "Counselor" and all of these terms are accurate sometimes, for the Spirit has many roles in our lives.  We often talk about the Spirit like a tongue of fire on Pentecost. We also call the Spirit a rushing wind, blowing through our lives. All of these images help to get across the sense of the Spirit.

The function of the Spirit given here today by Jesus is of one who will teach and remind. What will the Spirit teach us? Everything! There will be new things to learn about God in the years ahead. Through the Spirit, God speaks to us and teaches us still.  The Spirit is what keeps the church alive and growing after two thousand years. The Spirit gives us new ideas, creativity and energy, enlivening our worship and our faith.

And of what will the Spirit remind us? All that Jesus has said to us! Because Jesus’ teachings are sometimes hard to follow. It is easy to forget them as we go about our lives, caught up in all that is going on around us. These two overlapping functions, to teach and to remind, make the important connection between memory and new understanding in our faith. We have not yet learned all that the Spirit would teach us, yet all of it will connect to fresh remembrance of Jesus’ word. We need both new ideas and understanding as well as the original teachings that our Lord gave us.

And Jesus knew that we would have trouble balancing all of that on our own. After all, Jesus never guaranteed that loving him would be easy; that following his teachings would come naturally to us. But he said that he would send help for us. He would make it so even when we stumble, the Spirit is there to guide us back to his word. Back to the way Jesus is calling us to. Back to love.

You see, Jesus calls the Spirit "another" Paraklete, to take his place when he's gone. Which means that Jesus himself was the first Paraklete.  He was the first one called in to guide and comfort us. The first one to show us the way. The Spirit was sent after Jesus to fulfill this same role. To behave like Jesus did for us.

Which means that we've actually seen what the Spirit looks like lots of times. Any time, in fact, someone stands up for another person. Any time someone acts like Jesus, or any time someone bears the love of Christ to another, we are seeing the Spirit in them. Which means that on any given day you have the chance to show the Spirit to someone else in the world through your actions.

In the passage today, Jesus is inviting us to be a part of that community. Just as Jesus is with the Father, we are with Jesus, and the Spirit is in us. When we reach out to one another with compassion, when we show love to another, even on days we are not feeling very loving,  that is how we love Jesus. That is how we follow his teachings.

We are being shown how to love our Lord and how to have the Spirit in our lives.  It  looks a lot like loving the rest of the world. After all, the same Spirit that is in us, can be in them.  When we show that care and love for our neighbors, we are loving Jesus in return. When we do for the least, we do for Christ as well.

So today, how will you allow the Spirit to work through you? How will your show your love for our Lord?