In this sermon, taken from John 14:23-29, I explore Jesus’ promises that we will never be left alone. This happens in the context of Confirmation Sunday, when Jesus’ promises are particularly important for our young people.
You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Most of you know that I’m pretty active with various types of social media…facebook, Instagram, and twitter being the main 3. They each do their own thing, and I use them in different ways, but one thing I like about my settings on Twitter, is that anytime someone directly interacts with me I get a text on my phone.
Friday morning…I was pacing around my office, my brain spinning round and round as I pondered on today’s sermon, when my phone chirped at me with a text…and sure enough, it was from Twitter, letting me know that some random person had liked one my old tweets from about a month ago…and the fact that it was an old tweet caught my attention…because I realized that the exact same person had liked that exact same tweet almost exactly 24 hours previously…a day apart…an old offhanded statement of mine got twitter love from the exact same source.
Now I was thinking about the significance of this, because its something of a “same old story” type situation…and when I think along those lines, I’m reminded of the whole process of preaching in the first place. One of the statements that I hear with fair bit of regularity is “I don’t know how you can do that every week.” Well to be honest, I ask myself that same question quite a bit too…and most often when I find myself in a preaching situation aimed at specific day.
This happens when I encounter out of the ordinary situations like weddings or funerals…and it happens with certain holidays like Christmas or Easter or Pentecost…when the gospel is the same story, repeated year after year, or when the situation dictates the same sort of theme for the sermon.
Now when that happens, its pretty normal for me, while in the midst of my preparation, to go back and see just what I’ve said before…sometimes the message doesn’t really change much…while other times the significant events happening in that moment can drastically alter how the text will preach that time around…but the long and short of this whole situation…is that preaching, regardless of the text, regardless of the season and day, regardless of everything…still includes the gospel…which itself…doesn’t really change…and so the struggle for a preacher in these moments is asking the question “how do I say the same thing differently this time around.”
Today is one of those days…sort of anyway…confirmation Sunday…when a group of our young people stand up before the congregation and publically claim for themselves, the promises made by their parents and sponsors and congregation at the time of their baptism…a time when these young people publically claim their faith in which they were raised.
And, since this is one of those times that repeats year after year, I did my normal thing of looking back to see just what I had said before. This is confirmation day number 3 for me here at Underwood, and so I had a couple different confirmation sermons under my belt…but what caught my attention as I looked back at those two sermons was the realization that our tradition makes sure I’ve got drastically different gospel texts each time. Now this happens for a couple different reasons, but mainly it’s a combination of the fact that we always do Confirmation on the first Sunday of May, along with the fact that this is always during the season of Easter, but with the back and forth nature of Easter’s changing date, we never know which Sunday of the Easter Sunday this will be year to year…and because of that, the various gospel texts, while fitting in with an overarching theme…can and are…drastically different.
But now here’s the amazing thing about all this…as I read back over those two sermons from the past two years…as well as pondering on the text for today…I was amazed to realize that despite the wondrous variety of these three different gospel texts…and despite the vast difference in individuals between each of these three particular confirmation classes…a theme has emerged.
Each year, I’ve given the confirmation class an opportunity to reflect on what they have learned…the discussions and lessons that we have shared…and to write a statement of belief…a creed…an honest reflection of just what they have come to believe about this whole faith and gospel of Jesus Christ thing up to this point. And while each and every statement has been different…they have all reflected a similar theme that I have come to believe is pretty normal…an understanding that God is always present along with an honest bit of confusion about all of this stuff. (pause) I’ve seen it across the board, with both of my previous classes, as well as in all 5 statements written by this years class. (pause) And if today’s gospel is any indication…you 5 students are in good company.
Now this of course brings me into today’s gospel lesson, which admittedly I haven’t said much about yet…but here we are…rapidly approaching Ascension Day when Jesus will depart from our reality and return to Heaven…and our gospel for today, once more, is taken from Jesus final time of teaching his followers…a lengthy passage, several chapters long…most of which is Jesus talking…but with a few interjections of questions from his disciples…and in fact our opening verse today is in response to one of these questions…three times in fact, one of the disciples…a different one each time…seems to raise his hand and say “Uhhh…Jesus…I don’t get it.”
Aren’t these the very people that we would expect to get it? They’ve followed Jesus around, they’ve seen the miracles, they’ve heard the teachings…they’ve even been privy to direct explanations of some of Jesus’ more cryptic teaching moments…and yet, they still don’t get it.
Jesus stands there telling them…over and over again…I am leaving…you’ll look for me but won’t find me…for I am going to my father…but you know what do….UHHHH, excuse me Jesus…ummm…no we don’t…what are we supposed to do? (pause)
And so Jesus goes over things again and again…but as we know…as he says, he is leaving…and perhaps it seems that he’s leaving his followers to their own devises despite their doubt and fear and shortcomings. (pause) But in the midst of all this, Jesus reminds his disciples and us today, that we are not left alone.
Those that love me keep my word…they observe it, they honor it…they remember it…and the father and I will come to them and make our home with them…We remember the words of Christ and in that, God is dwelling with us…that’s the first promise…but Jesus goes beyond that as well…and he starts talking about the Holy Spirit…the helper…the advocate…what Jesus actually the Paraclete, or the one who comes along side us…to help us…to guide us…and to teach us.
Jesus promises us that even though he departs from the earth…even though he steps away from our plane of existence, he assures us that God does not leave us alone. We’ve got this crazy notion of a God who is three different people…Father Son and Holy Spirit…one God in three forms…One God in three people…and no one, and I mean no one can try to wrap their heads around just how that really works without experiencing a fair amount of confusion…but that’s okay…because Jesus promises us that its true…and not only do we have this God that exists in ways beyond our understanding…but this amazing God dwells with us…among us…along side us in every moment…whether we understand it or not. (pause)
Now as I look here in the front row at these 5 students affirming their baptism today, I am once again reminded of the theme that emerged from their belief statements…God is with us, even when we don’t understand it…and as Jesus tells us today, it is the Holy Spirit, continuing to teach us…continuing to remind us of that which we have already learned…even in the moments when it doesn’t make sense.
And here’s a little bit of insight that I think any one of the people who have come before you would agree with…there are a lot of moments when this stuff doesn’t make sense. Life is hard…and its messy…and the various statements of belief that we profess sometimes seem pretty crazy…and that’s…okay…because Faith does not mean having all the answers…far from it in fact…faith, this faith in which you were baptized and which you are claiming for yourselves today…simply means believing that somehow, someway, God will do what God says he will do…and that promise that God will do it…that gives us hope.
Hope and faith are connected, but they are not the same thing. Hope is that which we cling to in the midst of the hard stuff…in the midst of those moments where it seems like maybe the darkness is winning…hope, is the glimmer of light that we hold onto in the knowledge that there is more out there…and that God is with us in the midst of that very hard stuff.
This is something you’ve heard before. We’ve talked about in confirmation class many different times…you’ve heard me preach on it many different times…and perhaps it sounds like the same old story…all boiled down to the idea that God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.
And I’ll say this…yes…it is the same old story…but it’s a good one…and it is my prayer that in the days and weeks and months and years and even decades to come…in the midst of every moment in that big unknown future that lies before you today…it is my hope that you will cling to those promises that God has made…that He has already claimed you as his own…that work is already done for you…that promises is already given to you…both in the moments when its easy to believe…and in the ones where it seems a little confusing…its already done for you…so cling to that hope…and believe in those promises…and remember that you…are never alone. Amen.