Sunday, May 12, 2013

John 17:20-26 Mother's Day, Seventh Sunday of Easter

It’s nice that on this Mother’s Day, when a lot of us are thinking about our families, Jesus would be talking about family too.  Maybe you didn’t think of it that way when you heard the Gospel read, but he was talking about his family.  He was praying to his Father, and praying for those who are children of God.  The idea of unity in this family was mentioned several times.  In fact, he was praying that everyone who believes in him would have such a close relationship that they are actually like one person.
This unity that Jesus wanted us to have in his family sounds a lot like what probably all of us wish our families could be like.  That kind of unity is a long shot down here on planet earth, though.  You don’t have to look any further than your own family.   My mom used to say that all she wanted for Mother’s Day was for everyone to get along.  A little help getting things done would have been good too. 
The problem can be a lot worse than kids fighting and wanting to play instead of doing chores.  I would guess that there are more of you than what I know who hear the word “family” and shudder.  You don’t think of unity.  Your family isn’t a safe place where you will always be loved.  It’s a place ripped up by sin.  Everybody, even people who don’t believe—everyone wants unity in good families and a peaceful world.  It’s a long shot.
It would help if God were in all of us, pulling us all together.  If I love God, and God is in me, and I know that you love God and God is in you too, then I have another reason why I would want to get along with you.  But even the church, with all the people who love God, is not united.  We have our squabbles and jealously too.
Take that all together—the fighting in our families and even in our church.  Perfect unity down here isn’t going to happen.  And as painful as all of that fighting is, and as much as we want unity, the problem is even bigger.  In heaven where God is, there is perfect unity.  Everyone gets along.  They are one.  This fighting and arguing and hurting each other doesn’t belong there.  Its what the people in hell do.
We have a real struggle.  It’s good to know that Jesus is praying for us.

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 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. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
24 “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.
25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 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.”
John 17:20-26

For a united family down here.
1.  Its horribly ironic that the closer we become to another human being, the more likely we are to hurt that person.  How many times have you hurt your brother, sister, parents, or spouse—even just yesterday?  Who is more likely to hurt you—your friends or family?  Probably family.  Sometimes it can be so bad that you don’t even want to be around them any more.
Sometimes you see a family that really seems to have it all together.  Mom and Dad love each other, and the kids are good.  They love being together.  They have their issues, but they always work it out.  Usually you don’t know what’s really going on behind the scenes in those families, but you want to be like them anyway.  Mostly I think of the old time TV families, like the Cleavers on Leave it to Beaver.  One of my favorites was always the Cosby Show.  Today, maybe you’ve seen Duck Dynasty, a reality show about the Robertson family and their business of making duck calls.  As much as they tease each other and irritate each other sometimes, they always get together for a big multi-family meal at the end of the show, and Willie always closes the show by talking about something that is great about their family.  I watch that and think, I want to have a family like that.
God has a bigger, better idea though.  He isn’t just looking for us to live in a happy, united family.  He wants all of our families to be united in one big happy family of God.
Jesus prayed for us.  He prayed that we would be united, all together in him, and that he would be in us.  He prayed that we would have the glory that he has.  I can’t tell you exactly what he meant by this, but I do know that when we listen and believe his Word, the Word that the apostles spoke and wrote, we will have a very close relationship with him and with God the Father.  We will be in God and God will be in us.  I don’t know how to understand that except that we will be super close to God when we believe his Word.  
Jesus said that he wants us to have this close relationship with him and the Father because he has given us the glory that the Father gave him.  He is talking about the glory of being the Son of God.  He has always been God, but when he was born as a man he was given the right to call himself not just a man, but the Son of God the Father.  He has given us the same glory, so that we can call ourselves children of God too.  It says that also in John 1:12, “To all who believe in him he gave the right to be children of God.
It’s amazing, but true.  Dysfunctional people like us and our dysfunctional families who often act like we belong in hell—Jesus has made us part of the family of God.  He paid the adoption price. It was the blood he poured out for our sins.  1 Peter 1:19 says that you have been redeemed, or bought for God, not with gold or silver but with the precious blood of Christ.
That’s a big price that Jesus paid to have us in his family, and it’s a price that he paid for the whole world—anyone who believes will be part of his family.  This is why he prayed for unity among his people down here too.  He wants the world to see that Christians have something special when we care for each other like one big happy family.  Then they will want to be a part of it, come to hear the Word, and Jesus will live in them and bring them into the family too.
2.  It was a big price that Jesus paid to have us all in the family, and you can tell how much he cares about the family when he prayed for us.  Its like he could see how dysfunctional we are down here, always fighting and hurting each other.  It just isn’t pleasant.  Sin rips us up.  As he prayed to his Father in heaven, he thought of how he would soon be in heaven too.  Thinking about how nice it is up there where everyone is united—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God, and all believers who have died are one with them, God in them and they in God.  It’s one big super close happy family.  As Jesus thought about what it’s like down here, he prayed to his Father, “I want those you have given me [believers] 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.”   Jesus prayed that we would be in heaven with him.
Jesus has such a close relationship with the Father that when he prays for something like that, we know its going to happen.  We are part of God’s perfect family, and we will be in heaven with Jesus.  In fact, Jesus was so sure of it that he could leave us and go ahead of us into heaven.  This last Thursday marked the anniversary of Jesus’ ascension, when he went back to heaven.  As he put it, he was going to prepare a place for us, and he will come back to bring us there.
Jesus prayed that we would be in heaven with him, and he is going to make sure it happens.  Next Sunday is Pentecost, when we remember how the Holy Spirit was given to us just like Jesus asked for.  Jesus asked the Father, and they sent us the Holy Spirit to remind us of Jesus’ words and teach us to obey, so that we will believe him and not fall away.  The Spirit guides us through life and counsels us with God’s Word, so that we will finally die in the faith and be taken up to be with Jesus in heaven, just like he prayed for.  He prayed for us to have unity with each other and with God, first down here on earth, and finally, perfectly in heaven.
I got away from talking about Mother’s Day and families, and for a reason.  I hope you all have a wonderful Mother’s Day, and I hope what you heard today helps to pull your family together.  But that isn’t really the point.  Sad to say it, but our sins will continue to ruin Mother’s Day.  It’s a sinful world that we live in too, and plenty of women will never be mothers.  The point is that no matter what your family situation is down here, you are part of a perfect family up there in heaven.  You are part of the perfectly united family of God.  It isn’t perfect for you yet—you have to die and be taken to heaven first.  But until then, you have God living in you and drawing you closer to him and to your fellow Christians.  You have the glory of being able to call yourself a child of God.  You have all this because of your brother, Jesus, who prays for you.  Amen.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

John 14:21-29 Easter 6

 Every time I study the Bible for my sermon, I have to wrestle with it.  I ask myself, “how is this going to help us?’  Especially these verses—I had to wrestle.  In the last verse Jesus said that he was giving us peace, but what he said right before that might not make us feel peaceful at all.  It actually makes me worry and wonder if I really do love him.  This is what happens a lot of times when we read the Bible.  Maybe we aren’t sure what it means, and what Jesus meant to say gets all mixed up in our minds, and the result is anything but what Jesus intended.  Instead of peace, we get fear. 
If only Jesus were here to help us understand what he was talking about, so we can have that peace that he promised.
Jesus knew that we would be in this spot.  He was leaving us to go back into heaven.  As he sat at the table with his disciples on the last night before he died, one of them asked a perfectly innocent question, “Why will you reveal yourself to us, but not to the world.”  Instead of answering the question straight up, he did it in a way that makes us all look at ourselves and wonder how well any of us really know Jesus love him.  “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.”  If you love him, you will obey his teaching, he and the Father will make their home in you, and the Holy Spirit will be your teacher.  But what if I don’t obey his teaching?  What if I don’t sense the presence of God dwelling in my heart?  What if I am not aware of the Holy Spirit’s voice, reminding me of the things Jesus said?  What if it really doesn’t look like the Holy Spirit is teaching me at all, because I have such a hard time understanding Jesus’ words and I don’t get that peace that he wanted to give me?  Does that mean that I don’t know him and don’t love him?  Well, yes, it kind of does.   But stay tuned, and let me tell you why you’re saved.
Jesus was sitting at that table with people who didn’t love him like they should and didn’t understand his words like they should.  They were not ready to live as Christians all on their own.  He was talking to Peter, who would deny him, and other disciples who would run when the soldiers came to arrest him.  These were men like the apostle Paul, who would join the group later, who lamented that he just wasn’t able to do the good that he wanted to do, and just couldn’t manage to stop doing evil things.  These men, like us, were not ready to be Christians all on their own, and yet it was time for Jesus to leave.  But at the table that night he promised that they would have another teacher, another Counselor who would teach them and remind them of everything he said.  The Holy Spirit teaches us to find that peace Jesus was talking about.

So, the question I was wrestling with this week was “How do we find peace in these words?”  The Answer:  The Holy Spirit teaches us.  He was teaching me this week, and I have a neat little acrostic outline for what I’ve learned.  He teaches us the ABC’s of Jesus’ peace.  This is the big point that you need to remember.  A—The Holy Spirit teaches us to Admit our sin.  B—the Holy Spirit teaches us to believe in Jesus.  C—This ones a stretch; The Holy Spirit teaches us to “See” his work.

A—When we come to those really tough passages in the Bible that make us look inside of ourselves, and we see that we haven’t been doing what we are supposed to be doing, don’t try to cover it up.  Don’t try to wiggle out of it, or interpret the words in a different way.  Admit it.  Nobody has ever found peace by trying to cover up his guilt.  You may convince the whole world that you’ve done nothing wrong, but in your heart you know the truth.  God knows too.
 “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.” If Jesus is saying to you that you don’t love him very well, admit it.  Confess your sins to him. 
Jesus told a story about people who say they love him but don’t obey his teaching.  There were three men walking from Jericho to Jerusalem, and all of them passed a wounded man on the road.  Two of them were men of God—a priest and a Levite who worked in the temple.  They didn’t stop to help this man.  It was the third man who did, the Samaritan.  He was the one who loved God and acted like it.  We shouldn’t be comfortable with acting like the priest and the Levite.  We shouldn’t try to cover it up either. 
Lord Jesus, we have not loved you and obeyed you like we should.  You commanded us to love each other as you loved us, but we have acted more like the sinful people in our world.

B—When we see that our faith and love for God really aren’t as good as we had thought, the Holy Spirit teaches us to Believe in Jesus.  Now, after we’ve been thinking about how our love for Jesus really isn’t all that good, what would you tell me if I asked you how you know that you will be in heaven?  Some of you would tell me that you have been baptized.  Others would talk about the Father’s forgiving love, or Jesus’ death for your sins.  Others would tell me that you have received the Lord’s Supper, with Jesus’ promise of forgiveness.  All of this is really the same forgiving love that God shows to us in Jesus.  It isn’t our love for him that saves us at all, it is his love for us.  The Holy Spirit has been teaching you to believe in Jesus, and you will be saved.
I’ll give you another reason to believe in Jesus, something that the Holy Spirit taught me from these words this week.   Jesus knew that he was talking to sinful disciples like us, who aren’t ready to be Christians all by ourselves.  We need the Holy Spirit to keep on teaching us after he went back to heaven, otherwise we would probably forget his words entirely and not love him at all.  There wasn’t anything especially holy about those disciples.  They did exactly what we would do, if we had been there in the Garden when Jesus was arrested…they ran from him and denied him.  But Jesus didn’t think that they were too filthy for him to live with them.  It isn’t any different for us.  In fact, Jesus and the Father want to be so close to us that it can even be said that they have made their home in us.  Now our holy God is going to need to do some housecleaning before he can live in these sinful hearts…that’s what we call forgiveness.  First he makes us clean in his sight, then he moves in and teaches us to do better.  When we are afraid because of our sins, the Holy Spirit teaches us to believe in Jesus.

C—Now the last letter is “C,” because the only thing left so that you can have peace is to “See” some evidence that Jesus has been doing what he said, that the Holy Spirit is teaching us, and that he and the Father really do live in us.  If we never obeyed any of his commands, and never sat to listen his Word, we would really have to wonder if we actually are believers.  Most of the time, when we get scared that we aren’t seeing the Holy Spirit making any progress in our hearts, the problem isn’t that God has left us.  Usually, it’s that our guilt is weighing so heavily that we can’t see what the Holy Spirit actually is doing.  The Holy Spirit teaches us to Admit our sins, Believe in Jesus, and See his work in us.

First of all, you are all still here and listening, more or less.  That’s amazing.  The Bible says the sinful mind is hostile to God, and nobody is forcing you to stay.  You are currently obeying Jesus’ teaching, like Mary who sat at Jesus’ feet and listened, even though there was so much work to do.  You are loving Jesus right now.  Wherever people are listening to Jesus’ words, the Holy Spirit must be working.  He is teaching us to love Jesus and obey his teaching.

I’ve noticed how some of you volunteer extra time for your church.  Once again, nobody is forcing you to do that.  We had an Easter breakfast, when some of you did an awful lot of work.  Many of you brought an offering to thank God today.  Some of you left early for church to pick another person up along the way.  I see you give your time to help other people.  You love like Jesus loved when help other people, visit them when they are sick, and pray for them.  Nobody is forcing you to do any of that.  The Holy Spirit has convinced you that the Word we preach is worth it.  He is teaching you to love Jesus and obey Jesus’ teaching.
It’s a good thing, every once in a while, to “See” what the Holy Spirit is doing in you and in other Christians. 

Christian life can be a mixed up mess without a teacher.  Sometimes you come to church and hear things that make you feel awful about what you’ve done wrong.  Other times you hear something that makes you feel very confident in Jesus your Savior.   Sometimes you’re supposed to think about what you’ve done wrong, today I just got done telling you to think about what you’re doing right.  That can get all mixed up in our heads so that we aren’t sure what we are supposed to do anymore, and the peace that Jesus wanted to give stays a mystery.  We need our Teacher to help sort it all out.  Remember your ABC’s.  Admit your sin to God, maybe to your pastor, and to anyone you have wronged, and you will have peace.  Believe in Jesus and his love to save you, and you will have peace.  “See” the good things that the Holy Spirit is doing in you, so that you will know that God doesn’t think you’re too disgusting to live in you and teach you, and you will have peace.  Amen.