Carrying On the Work of Christ
The Rev. Linda Potter
Scripture: John 14:1-14
Good morning. I am delighted to be with you today and am grateful to Rev. Sara for inviting me to join you in worship. Some of you I may have met previously when I was serving in the diocese. Others I look forward to becoming acquainted.
I was reviewing old files and I found one dated June 6, 2003 when I came and worked with the vestry doing a ministry conversation. We talked about who we wanted to thank, what surprises were happening, what were the parish highlights, and what was yet undone in parish. Almost 20 years ago and we are together again sharing in the good news of Jesus Christ.
This gospel reading from John 14 is the first of two Sunday in which we will read about how Jesus is attempting to explain to the disciples what is going to happen when they arrive in Jerusalem. We remember that it was in the previous chapter that we encounter Jesus’ last supper with and his command to his followers. He goes on to say:
Do not let your hearts be troubled….these words spoken by Jesus are a response to the confusion and distress experienced and expressed by the disciples when Jesus tried to explain to them what was going to happen to him. That he would be arrested, tried, crucified and would rise again. They could not imagine or accept His words and he sensed their panic.
Jesus goes on in this 14th chapter of John’s gospel to explain to the disciples about his leaving taking and the preparations that he has made for them. As many of you know this section of scripture is one suggested to be used at Episcopal funerals. It is a comfort to many who are experiencing loss to know that God has made provisions for them and their loved one.
Jesus continues to describe his relationship to God the Father and tries to help Philip understand that bond. One can only imagine that by this time Jesus has become very frustrated with the lack of clarity on the part of disciples. PARENTING – put the towel on the rack not on the floor
But he doesn’t give up does rather, he says to them:
I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
What an incredible statement. Do we believe it? Do we live it? Do we have faith? In the early days of the church after the resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit the disciples of Jesus did all those things. Throughout the history of Christianity followers of Christ have done the things that Jesus did when he was here on earth. Lest we be confused by the word “greater”, the effect of this statement is that as the belief and faith in Jesus teaching grew the number of followers increased which then also created a “greater” opportunity for the works of Jesus to be accomplished.
Jesus entrusted that which he could not accomplish as one individual to those who believed in his teaching and were willing to do the greater works. And those works, as we would call it today, the ministry to which each of us has been called have as it’s foundation Jesus’ instruction during the last supper:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
God entrusts to the believer, that’s you and I, to carry on the work of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. You say but what does that mean really? It means that we are to be Christ to the world, to continue in the apostles teaching, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers. We are to worship together and share in the Eucharist that Christ has given to us. We are to pray, both individually and corporately. We are to move beyond ourselves to do these greater works by being God’s love to the world around us. We are servants and companions to those in need and we allow others to be of service to us.
When I was Rector at Trinity in Wheaton, Ill, I had a Confirmation class of high school students, and the focus of our classes was on the Baptismal Covenant. We were discussing: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? In the context of that discussion the group stood in a circle with a ball of yarn and each person was asked to tell about a time or a person that they had served. The yarn ball was then tossed to another member of the class. The yarn crisscrossed connecting one member of the group with another. Linking them together in the stories of service in God’s name.
We are linked you and I and all others who believe in Christ – we are linked by the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, empowering us, nudging us to do those greater works, to proclaim the mighty acts of God, to bring people out of darkness and into the light of Christ.
Like the early disciples, we might be confused or resistant. This is after all a daunting task. But Jesus goes on to say:
And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
I think sometimes when we read these verses we skip over or maybe even leave out that middle section, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. Mostly I just want God to respond to my checklist of requests disregarding whether or not they bring glory to God. Do our petitions honor our relationship to God?
Christ will do anything we ask if it glorifies the Father. Here is where we generally stumble. Not everything we do in the church is done to the glory of God. Isaac Asimov, familiar to many as a noted scientist and author, once told a hilarious story about a Rabbi Feldman who was having trouble with his congregation.
It seemed they could agree upon nothing. The president of the congregation said, "Rabbi, this cannot be allowed to continue. Come, there must be a conference, and we must settle all areas of dispute once and for all." The rabbi agreed.
At the appointed time, therefore, the rabbi, the president, and ten elders met in the conference room of the synagogue, sitting about a magnificent mahogany table. One by one the issues were dealt with and on each issue, it became more and more apparent that the rabbi was a lonely voice in the wilderness. The president of the synagogue said, "Come, Rabbi, enough of this. Let us vote and allow the majority to rule." He passed out the slips of paper and each man made his mark. The slips were collected and the president said, "You may examine them, Rabbi. It is eleven to one against you. We have the majority."
Whereupon the rabbi rose to his feet in offended majesty. "So," he said, "you now think because of the vote that you are right and I am wrong. Well, that is not so. I stand here" --and he raised his arms impressively-- "and call upon the Holy One of Israel to give us a sign that I am right and you are wrong."
And as he said this, there came a frightful crack of thunder and a brilliant flash of lightning that struck the mahogany table and cracked it in two. The room was filled with smoke and fumes, and the president and the elders were hurled to the floor. Through the carnage, the rabbi remained erect and untouched, his eyes flashing and a grim smile on his face. Slowly, the president lifted himself above what was left of the table. His hair was singed, his glasses were hanging from one ear, his clothing was in disarray.
Finally he said, "All right, eleven to two. But we still have the majority."
We all know that not everything that is done in the church is done to the glory of God. And yet God entrusts God’s work to us. To be a holy people, to be a people of compassion and mercy, to serve one another and the common good. We are to bring peace and respect to every human being. We are to be LOVE – LOVE THAT KNOWS NO BOUNDS AND IS WILLING TO GIVE ALL FOR THE SAKE OF CHRIST.
Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20,21