Jesus, in other words, taught his followers how to “talk to God in a different way.”2 Has he done that for you? When the storms of life rear their ugly heads, are you prepared to meet Jesus because he has taught you to pray? That doesn’t mean the storms won’t come up. They most assuredly will. But it does mean, I think, as Vivian Greene has said, that “life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
To live amongst the weeds is to acknowledge that God is in control, and to understand that this is what he has called us to do: live simply, do our best to follow Jesus, and leave the rest to God. It is indeed the way of the kingdom, letting the wheat and the weeds grow together. After all, is it beyond God’s ability to eventually turn the weeds into wheat? I’ll leave you to answer that question for yourself.
So this is not advice that Jesus offers us, it is news... good news. When life is burdened, for whatever reason, Jesus encourages us to walk with him. The yoke he offers is not a single yoke but a double one. When we accept it, we cannot walk our own way, but must go in the direction he determines. We need to understand that.
No one can take God from anything that God himself does not want to abandon. Still, the very best act of stewardship and patriotism that we can exercise is our willingness to give back to our country what belongs to it, and to God what belongs to God. In fact, that is the very meaning of the word that is translated “render.” It means to give back again.
You never know who you might sit down next to on an airplane. You never know what conversation you might have with someone that changes that person’s life. You never know who is observing what you are doing at any given moment. You never know who is accepting that cup of water from you, and what impact it might be having on them. You never know what circumstance, or perhaps even a tragedy, that comes to you will shape your destiny and that of others you encounter. You just never know.
It is here [at the table] we remember why... why we are who we are, why following Jesus is so important, why our relationship with Christ offers over and over again the newness of life.
We have been created, you and I, in partnership with our Creator-Redeemer God, to help bring our world into right relationship with God. That has to do with more than just getting to heaven. Far more. It speaks to how we take care of the earth God has created and given us, it determines how we relate to others, especially those who are different from us. It expresses itself in every facet of our being. We live – right now, you and I – in God’s faith story.
But let’s go back to that fateful night when the Risen Christ appears to his frightened disciples in the upper room. There is rejoicing then as well, but a different kind of joy... a joy that comes more in the form of relief, like when it appears that all is lost and suddenly the Cavalry comes to the rescue. It wasn’t with the force of a wind that would knock them off their feet, but with a soft puff of the cheek that Jesus breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Let’s take another look at what Jesus said. Of these three phrases – “I am in my Father, you are in me, I am in you” – if you had to reduce it down to the one that means the most to you, which one would it be? “I am in you,” Jesus said to his disciples, and to you and me, “I am in you.” Isn’t that the phrase you would choose? “I am in you.” What does it mean – not theologically, not analytically – but personally, inwardly, to have the Spirit of Jesus in you? Not what it means to the person sitting next to you in that pew, but to you, that the Spirit of Jesus is in you?
[W]e can entrust ourselves to God as a child to a loving father. A child cannot do that unless first the father has let it be known that this kind of relationship is possible. Again, that was at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. He hadn’t just come on the scene as yet another in a long line of would-be spokesmen for God. God had sent him on a particular mission, and at the very center of it was the need for Jesus to give his people a different picture of their God.
Now, here’s the question... how can you have abundant life – joyful, jubilant, triumphal, exhilarating life (after all, that’s what the word abundant means) – when your days are spent just getting by – laboring, sweating, working, worrying – under such an oppressive system? What did Jesus mean and how does he provide such a thing? And how does what he said – “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” – translate from his world to ours?
John has come to know and believe that faith is not an easily-packaged reality. It is not the same, exactly, for everybody... no one-size-fits-all. There are different levels and types of faith, different layers, if you will, to one’s understanding and ability to believe... which, I would imagine, is just as true of us who are gathered here today.[John} wants his readers to be encouraged in knowing that whatever level of faith is theirs, it is still regarded as true faith in the eyes of the kingdom of heaven. He wants them to believe that their faith has validity, no matter how deep or wide it may be, because they have believed even when they haven’t seen the Risen Christ.
So let’s consider this... During these past six weeks, as we’ve made the Lenten journey with Jesus, we have heard what he said about temptation and thirst and birth and sight and the resurrection and the life and servanthood and betrayal and the kingdom. Today, we hear what he said about fear. And what did he say? Are you ready for this? He said, “Do not be afraid; go and tell...”
“My kingdom is not from this world,” Jesus tells Pilate. “You’ve no cause for worry or for fear. I do not plan to overcome the kingdom of Caesar.” But he did, didn’t he? Not right away, perhaps, but it did happen. And guess what? Because he was willing to die on the cross, that kingdom – not of this world – is still in this world. And in you and me, in our hearts. Jesus thought it worth dying for. Isn’t it true that the least we can do is live in such a way that others can see it in us?
So let us hear this and hear it plainly and hear it clearly... This is not a table for the perfect, or for those who have their spiritual act together (despite what some people think when they try to interpret Paul’s version of this event). It is not for those who have all the answers. This table, and the invitation to come to it and partake of the bread and the cup, is for those who have it in their hearts to betray Jesus too.[ ]Why? Because it is the only place where we can hear Jesus say to us, “It is you who have stood by me through my trials.”
Think of it... the resurrected Christ, the Light of the World, has gotten on his knees and made a fire so he can prepare breakfast for his friends![ ]Don’t try to analyze it. Feel it! Feel the early morning dampness. Listen to the water lapping against the shore. Look at the fire with the fish roasting on the makeshift grill. Smell it. Sense the moment, take it all in. The greatest person who ever walked on this earth – the very Son of God, by the testimony of these men in that boat – and he chose to do the smallest and simplest of things; not just to symbolize what he wanted his followers to do and be, but because that was his Spirit, his purpose in life. That’s who he was and who he is... the Giver, the Servant. Now... how could you and I possibly want do otherwise?
“I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus says to Martha. [ ]Martha thinks resurrection comes only “on the last day,” some time out in the future when God chooses to culminate life on this earth as we know it. But Jesus says to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Resurrection begins now for those who believe... now! That is what this sign, the raising of Lazarus, points to. It points to Jesus... now! It points to life in Jesus... now!
Those of us who can see often take such a wonderful gift for granted. But have you ever considered that it might be a hindrance as well... when it gives us, as Barbara Brown Taylor says, the “cheap confidence that one quick glance at things” can tell us fully what they are, when it distracts us from the light that God gives us inwardly in our hearts, when it fools us into thinking that we have a clear view of how things really are, of where the road takes us, of who is right and who is wrong.2
Does this fascinating story still have something for us?[ ]I think it has, and offer this to you for your consideration. Continuing to drink from the well we call Jesus is to be the presence of Christ to others and to offer them the same water he has given us. And how do we do that? We can’t see in someone else’s heart and know what is there. Not like Jesus can. But we can know that everyone we meet – everyone we meet – is struggling to some degree. And we can accept others as Jesus does, and give him the opportunity to do for them what he did for that unnamed Samaritan woman so long ago. The water is already there. All we have to do is show someone else where to drink.
Being born anew, or from above, is beginning the journey toward such a place and experiencing at least a part of it right here and right now. It is understanding earthly things from a heavenly perspective. It is to live in opposition, counter-intuitively, to the way most of the world operates. Look at Jesus’ life – what he said and what he did – and you’ll find that this is who he was.
But we’ve already entered into temptation, haven’t we? Why, we’ve invited it in, closed the door behind us, locked it, and thrown away the key. Temptation, you see, is inevitable. Again, it’s in our DNA. But so is the promise of the One who shows us how to overcome it. Trust in him, and regardless of what temptation comes your way, he will have the final word. And Jesus’ final word is always one of redemption and grace.
I think it means that while in that garden, hearing nothing from his Father, Jesus could look back on this moment, this epiphany, this transfiguration, and remember. In the silence of that desperate, desperate moment, Jesus could know that if God had been there with him and for him before, God would – even in his silence – be there with him at the cross.
Living faithfully, living truthfully, is a reflection of the very nature of God, and when we do that, we are most like the One who has created and saved us. Jesus carried that truth to the cross and embodied it in ways no other person has ever done. But before he did that, he brought it to the table.
Our choice may be to determine what our portal, our door – maybe even our river – is that connects us between the world in which we live and the place in which we worship. And, he would tell us that there can be no real difference between the two.[ ]The world is our church, and the church is our world. And the only real choice before us, wherever we are and whatever we do, is to choose life.
We are the salt of the earth, from Jesus’ perspective, and the light of the world. And he says “are”... “You are the salt of the earth... You are the light of the world.” Not will be, not might be, not even “I want you to be or should be.” The verb is not future tense, it is present. Nor is it dependent on our ability to be good. It is a God-given reality, a matter of divine grace, and there is no way we can get around it. We cannot escape it, we cannot avoid it or try to slip around it, explain it away or certainly deny it. We are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Still, what does it mean?