Message for May 22, 2011

Easter 5–A

Acts 7:55-60; John 14:1-14

 First of all,  I see none of you were taken in the rapture.

We need to take a teaching moment here. Besides the fact that the rapture is a made-up concept that didn’t even exist until about 150 years ago, think a minute about where–through all of scripture–God takes a stand. God is always with the outcast, the poor, the powerless, the sinful, those who are left behind. If there ever is a rapture (which there won’t be), God will be with those still here. So, congratulations! God is with us, and we are with God!

Now, on to the gospel.

Typical of the passages in the gospel of John, there’s a ton of stuff in here, more than I can preach on in one day—and certainly more than you want to listen to in one day. So what I have to do with John is pick one small part of it, open it up and dig in. Usually for me, it’s a part that is troublesome for me.

That’s the case here. Verse 12 bugs me. More than that, it’s a problem for me. “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”

I’ve never done greater works than Jesus. I’ve never healed anyone of leprosy, never fed 1000s of people with one kid’s lunch, never turned water into wine, never raised anyone from the dead. Yet I believe in Jesus—at least I though I did. . “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”

So what’s wrong? Is it that I really don’t believe? Am I not praying right? Do I have too much doubt? Has my sarcasm finally caught up with me? Or is this text just wrong?

Most of us tend to just ignore verses that are too hard or don’t seem to fit with our experience.

  • Love your enemies,
  • Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor,
  • Forgive everyone everytime,
  • The last shall be first,
  • Turn the other cheek,
  • The meek shall inherit the earth.

Generally we ignore these rather than seek to understand them. This one in John too.

But before we write this off because it seems contrary to experience, we owe it to ourselves, to God, and to the world to take a closer look.

The setting in John is Thursday night, at the Last Supper. The last night Jesus is alive. He told his disciples that one of them would betray him, that one would vehemently deny they knew him, that he’d be arrested, put on trial, tortured, and killed.

The irony is that for Jesus, this is the best thing. In John, everything points to the cross. Everything leads up to Jesus’ death. It is his crowning glory, his highest achievement, his greatest work. It’s this that Jesus says we will do better than. We will do better things than dying on a cross for the sake of the world.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not finding a lot of comfort in that. Do you see why John is so not my favorite?

But as always, there are more layers in John. We have to take this gospel in small bites and chew a long time. . “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”

We’ll do great things, Jesus says, because he is going to the Father. Because of the relationship they have. Because he is in the Father and the Father is in him. They are one in purpose, one in mission—because of their relationship. That’s where he’s going—to dwell in relationship with God the Father. And because of that we will do greater things.

He said at the beginning of this text that where he’s going—a complete, whole, perfect relationship with God the Father—he’ll take us there too. Into a relationship. His relationship with God and our relationship with him is the foundational piece here.

Us doing greater things doesn’t mean a miracle contest with Jesus. He feeds 5k with 5 loaves/2 fish, we don’t have to feed 6k with ½ loaf and some leftover shrimp. He turns water into wine, we don’t have to turn water into 12 year old single malt scotch. This isn’t a measure of our Christianity, our faith, or our discipleship. NO! It’s not a contest—it’s a relationship.

Jesus and God the Father are united in love, purpose, and mission. Everything that God does, Jesus reveals. Everything that Jesus does is the will of God. Their very identity is found in the relationship they share. Because Jesus is being killed and going back to completeness in his relationship with God the Father, he can offer that relationship to us too. He can come to us, sweep us up, open for us that kind of perfect, unified relationship with God. He takes us there. So that just as Christ’s identity reveals the will of God, ours does too. Again, this is less about what we do and more about who we are. In Christ we have this relationship with God. In Christ our identity is made new in God. In Christ all the barriers that get in the way of a life-giving relationship with God are overcome. Because Jesus comes and takes us to himself, we are thereby united in a relationship with God.

In Jesus we are the body of Christ. In Jesus we reveal God in the world. In Jesus God’s very nature is the core of our identity. And so in Jesus, God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness have flesh in the world. Us. It’s who we are. In Jesus. Because he brings us to where he is. Through us, in Jesus, with God, all of us together, greater things continue to be done in the world. Grace and mercy, kindness and compassion, love and forgiveness are more real in Green Mountain, in Jefferson County, in the world. Because Jesus bring us into his relationship with God. . “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”

Jesus brings us into his relationship with God the Father. Everything is new.

Amen.

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