A sermon given by Rev. Dr. Peter A. Luckey on Sunday, March 19, 2017
On March 5th, we opened our sermon series with a sermon on “We are the Church,” and Edith Guffey and myself shared the sermon that morning and talked about how we in the church are the place that teaches people how to be disciples. Last Sunday we had Bryan Nurnberger, the executive director of Simply Smiles which hosts our young people going to the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota. (Which I am excited going on the trip this year!) And Bryan helped us understand what it means to be committed as disciples, caring for the most vulnerable of our population in our country, the Native American community. Next Sunday we’re going to talk about what is to be equipped as disciples and then the *next* Sunday, April 2nd, Reverend Eleanor McCormick will preach to us a sermon on that we are commissioned as disciples to go out into the world.
So then, this morning, what I want to share with you for just a few minutes is the idea that we are chosen to be disciples. What matters the most is not what you do but who to are. Will you pray with me? God, may the freshness of the breeze and the spirit in this place now permeate our minds and our hearts. Help us to open our spirit to the Gospel. We pray it in Christ’s name. Amen.
This text that Stephen just read to us, the 15th chapter of the Gospel of John, verse 1-17 is one of the most intimate and spiritually profound texts that you can find anywhere. And I want you to just imagine for a moment when these words were first uttered by Jesus. Imagine that night that they, the disciples, were gathered around table. Bread, pieces of bread, lying on the table, perhaps a jar of wine, a clay jug. Imagine that moment, maybe by candlelight, the sun going down outside. Imagine there’s the sound from the street coming up into the window, the sound of mayhem and violence. And yet around this table is this profound moment of intimacy. And I want you to imagine, and wouldn’t it be great to know what Jesus’ voice sounded like, if only we could hear his voice.
But I imagine that night that Jesus’ voice was a soft voice, almost a whisper. And notice what Jesus talked to his friends about that night. He didn’t talk about the political situation. He didn’t describe what was happening in Jerusalem on that evening. He didn’t give the disciples a marching order about what they’re supposed to do next – here’s the 5 things you need to do. He didn’t do any of that, but he engaged his disciples and invited them to turn inward. And talked about the relationship, the friendship that he had with God and that he had with his friends. And why that friendship matters more than anything else. He said on that night, “Abide in me as I abide in you… Abide in my love.”
Abide. Such a little word, but such great spiritual power in it. And in a day and age in our society when relationships are often superficial and transitory and casual, Jesus calls us to abide. Abide means to remain with, to stay with. To “abide in my love” means to stay in my love, remain in my love. Or I like best, make a home in my love. Abide. Abide in my love. That’s the one verse that I’m focusing on of all these beautiful verses in chapter 15. You see, in many ways chapter 15 it defies a three point sermon, and so you’re not going to get a three point sermon. It is more like hearing these words from John, Jesus’ words, more like walking into the surf. Have you ever been to the ocean and you walk into the waves? And you know that experience where one wave comes upon you and it tumbles around you and just at the minute you’re just sort of accepting the fact that one wave has come upon you there’s another, and then another, and then another?
Hearing these words is like one wave after another. A branch is connected to the vine, and without being connected to the vine you cannot bear much fruit. Abide in me as I abide in you. Abide in my love. And may my joy be in you and my joy be complete, and I chose you. One wave after another. But the wave that I want to ride with you this morning for just a moment is those four words “Abide in my love.” Make a home in my love. Wow.
You see friends, it is my view right now that many of us are feeling weary. We’re feeling wearied by the world when we, too, at times have felt overwhelmed by the world that’s ever with us. And we can relate to how the disciples must have felt that night with the politics so intense outside their door. We can relate. We know what’s it’s like when the powers and principalities are knocking at your door. When the empire exerts its power, the strong over the weak. When every Twitter feed that we hear is like one wave after another we’re being assaulted with, we know what it’s like when our spirits can feel overwhelmed by the gracelessness of it all. So, even as then it was a chaotic political moment and Jesus turned toward his friends and focused them on their inner relationship. Might we in this political moment, in the chaos of this time, focus ourselves on our inner relationship with God and Jesus and one to each other? That is, my friends, I’m not suggesting this morning that we abandon the world. But I remind you of Jesus words in the 17th chapter of the Gospel of John, in verse 16 where he calls us to be in the world but not of the world.
Did you know that if you spend too much time paying attention to politics it makes you unhappy? Did you know that? Have you experienced that at all in your life? I love it when there’s an editorial in the New York Times that tells you what you already know. Arthur Brooks had a column in the New York Times yesterday which documents from the National Opinion research center (NORC) at the University of Chicago that there’s a strong correlation between people that spend too much time paying attention to politics and their mood. And this is controlling for all education levels, all genders, all races, all backgrounds, it doesn’t matter – if you spend too much time paying attention to politics you’re going to be bummed. You know what he says? Arthur Brooks says you’ve got to let go. You got to let go. You got to let go.
You know, I think we are given the NCAA tournament just as an exercise in letting go, right? I mean, look at this, we get 68 teams, right? How many of them go home unhappy? 67, right? Sometimes you’ve just got to let go. You just got to let go.
And that’s what Jesus is saying to his friends this morning. He says, friends, don’t be so worried about that world, but be grounded in my love. Abide in me as I abide in you. Abide in my love. That’s what’s important. In fact, I only have one point to make this morning in this sermon on discipleship, only one point. And that is that being a disciples begins with understanding that we are chosen by God and that God’s love for us is first and we are invited simply to accept the fact that we are chosen and loved by God. That’s the most important piece of being a disciple. I like to imagine that night that they’re gathered around the table and that maybe John, the beloved disciple, was resting his shoulder on Jesus, and that he was feeling this power, this presence of love that night. You see I think so much in our culture we get so caught up in our individualism. We get so caught up in trying to be self-sufficient. We want to be masters of our own destiny. We want to be captains of our own ship. And we want to have it all together, but what that does is that masks over this deep yearning inside of us, this longing, this deep longing to find our way home to a place where we know that we are well-held and that we are loved. And sometimes we forget that along the way and we don’t always feel that love along the way and we need people in our lives that can remind us of that first love, that give us a glimpse of that first love.
Friends, it occurred to me, thinking about my mom how hard it must have been for her when my dad died when I was 22 years old, and she had 3 sons. And her 3 sons adored their father and now their father was gone. And I never thought about what’s it’s like to be the surviving parent and to have the father of their children dead and then lionized and idealized so much in their minds that no matter what you do, you can never measure up to the deceased father. And I realized that must have been hard for mom. You know lately I’ve been thinking about my mom and thinking about going back and visiting her in Connecticut and she has dementia. Actually the sad truth is she probably can’t remember if I visited her 6 months ago or 6 hours ago. So I’d really be tempted to not go back that much because she couldn’t remember if I’d been back there or not, right? But then it occurred to me that I need to go back and see her not so much for her, but for me. I know that I don’t have much longer with her. I know that her days are limited. That her departure is coming soon, just like Jesus’ departure with his disciples was coming soon. The time is getting short. And I need to go back to be reminded of my first love, of the love that my mother has for me, and she still has for me. She still knows me and recognizes me even though she can’t remember anything else. But I need to go back so I can experience that first love – oh yeah, that’s right, that’s who I am. This is where I’ve come from. I’m so fortunate. And it seems to me we all need that.
Some of you have spent time with people who are dying that you love and as hard as it is to hold vigil with the dying loved one you realize there’s no other place you want to be but be there in that moment with that person in that time. You need to be there not for them but for you, because you want to be in touch again with that first love. And that it takes a huge amount of vulnerability to let go of your defenses and just be open and let that love come crashing in and to that intimacy in that beautiful moment. And my prayer is for you that you have someplace that you can go, somebody that can remind you, and maybe it’s somebody who is already gone, but you can see their photo now and when you see that photo you are reminded of God’s first love for you. We all need human beings to be glimpses of that love that God gives us so we are grounded in it and out of that love we can go out into the world. Jesus says, “Abide in my love.” Make a home in my love.
Now friends, life comes with no guarantee, no guarantee at all. But we trust that along the way in our human relationships we know that God will allow for failure but also for forgiveness and also that there will be hope arising out of the disappointments and we give thanks for the great gift of friendship. And even though people hurt us, and wound us, and disappoint us, and let us down, and sometimes they even die on us, may it be that those moments are moments that catapult us back into our first love, which is God.
So what does it mean to be a disciple? The beginning point of discipleship is unambiguous and it’s absolutely clear it seems to me. It’s so important that Jesus on that night, he didn’t talk about politics, he didn’t talk about what’s going to happen, he didn’t give them a laundry list of what you’ve got to do, he didn’t do any of that. All he did is say: I love you, now love one another. Abide in my love. Because I abide in you, you abide in me. If we could get that then everything else would follow. Make a home in my love. Amen.