“The Power of Yet” Series
This Sunday: Mother’s Day 2017
Preaching: Grant Glowiak
Scripture: John 14:10-12
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This week’s scripture reading is from the Book of John, chapter 14 verses 10-12.
Jesus is already in Jerusalem, and he knows what must inevitably unfold. He has already foretold of Peter’s denial but here Jesus is reassuring the disciples. Specifically, he is clarifying and elaborating on his relationship with God, referred to as the Father in the following reading. The author writes:
10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 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.
As we heard Bromleigh mention earlier, we’re doing Communion every Sunday. Personally, I love this practice. Even if you treat it as metaphor we’re all still metaphorically consuming something divine, which is a strange and yet, at least for me, quite satisfying practice. However, an unfortunate outcome of this is that we have to leave some other things out of the service. For example, we haven’t included visual texts, or the short videos, prior to the sermon. Since we chose to do this, I decided to make myself the visual text this morning by cutting off 8 inches of my hair two days ago. Which, by the way, my mother said was one of the nicest mother’s day gifts she’s ever received. On that note I’ll be sure to try to keep the message this morning brief since I’m sure many of you have brunch plans that I wouldn’t want to interfere with.
The reason I needed 8 inches is because that’s the minimum length needed for the particular organization I’m donating it to, which makes wigs for women with cancer. This organization is a great example of our Eastertide sermon theme, the power of yet. What we mean by the power of yet is that God is not done working in the world. Sure there isn’t a cure for cancer, or Alzheimer’s, or hunger, or racism but by adding the word yet to the end of that, it gives us hope. There isn’t a cure for cancer, yet. Global climate change isn’t under control, yet. Now, wigs certainly aren’t curing anyone’s cancer but I think it is a powerful outward statement of an inward truth. Sure someone may have cancer, but the wig says I’m not done yet. I won’t let cancer define me. This is the power of yet.
But the power of yet is certainly not an easy task. It requires faith. It requires trusting in something that you cannot see. Reinhold Niebuhr, arguably the most influential American theologian of the 20th century, wrote a prayer some of you may be familiar with entitled “The Serenity Prayer”. It says
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
This, in various forms, has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and many other 12 step programs but I think it is applicable beyond just the context of addiction. I worry about so many things I cannot control, and I can’t believe I’m the only one in this room who does.
For 8 years I was on staff at Camp Highlands for Boys, a summer camp in northern Wisconsin where boys ranging from ages 8 to 16 can go for 3 weeks, 4 weeks, or the full 7 weeks. I mostly had cabins with either 11 or 12 year olds. There are plenty of goofy stories from those years but I want to highlight one particular camper one summer. Before the boys get there we are given interest and health forms that the camper and parents fill out so we get to know a few things about them before they arrive. On this camper’s form the parents wrote that he only ate 5 different kinds of foods. Peanut butter and jelly, chicken fingers, pizza, hot dogs and spaghetti. I thought…well lucky for us we always eat spaghetti the first night so he won’t starve right away. In the days before he arrived I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I talked to some of the older staff, the camp director. I had never encountered anything like this before. Anxious would be a great way to describe how I felt. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change”
Now the camper, we’ll call him Jimmy, arrived on the first day and part of what I did every summer was encourage the kids to come up with 3 measurable, achievable goals. After encouraging Jimmy, we decided that a good goal for him would be to try 10 new foods while at camp. Courage to change the things I can.
I remember the first few meals being so nervous about how I could push Jimmy out of his comfort zone at the table without engaging in a battle of wills. All this anxiety leading up to this. And yet, yet, the other campers in my cabin did the work for me. I remember them saying things like “what do you mean you’ve never tried French toast!? This stuff is amazing!” “lasagna is like spaghetti but like, better” “but we wear costumes for taco Tuesday, you gotta try the tacos!”
By the end of the first week, Jimmy had tried 50 new foods and liked 45 of them, shattering his initial goal. I couldn’t believe it. The power of yet!
Now at 20 or however old I was that summer I certainly wouldn’t say I had much wisdom. In fact, I think I got plum lucky with the way this turned out.
But now, at my ripe old age of 29 I’m pretty confident I have all the wisdom I’ll need so I’m good. But in all seriousness, discerning what we shouldn’t concern ourselves with at any given moment, gathering up the courage to do what must be done and knowing the difference between the two is difficult. Another aspect of AA that I think is applicable beyond addiction is admitting needing help from a higher power. Acknowledging that indeed we cannot do this ourselves is both relieving and empowering. It isn’t just on me to cure cancer, to stop global climate change, to end racism. As Mike has stressed in several of his sermons, it isn’t really up to us but up to God. We are the players on the field and God is coach. Just one player can’t win the game, the entire team must perform well and with God as the coach we can win when it comes to overcoming evil, pain and despair. And yet I or perhaps we, still want that physical proof, that concrete reassurance that God is with us, because it is hard to believe in something we cannot see.
This brings us to this morning’s scripture reading. Right beforehand Jesus tells them that because they know him, they know God and yet Philip demands that Jesus show them God so that they can know for sure. And Jesus responds “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” and goes on to explain that he is indeed the real deal and that God works through him. But, and this is the part I found particularly interesting, he gives an alternative. He says “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.”
So, he’s telling the disciples that he’s the son of god, and they have all personally witnessed him perform incredible miracles and yet we have to assume that some of them are still not totally on board with the whole thing. This certainly makes me feel a little better. I’m two thousand years removed from the guy so yes some of the stuff is hard to believe but the disciples were right there and they too couldn’t fully commit all the time. So Jesus gives us another option. If you can’t take my word for it, just look at the stuff I did.
In my summer camp example, I could have forced jimmy to try new foods telling him that this is an important part of life and to just take my word for it but as I’m sure many of you know, maybe particularly some of the mothers, that engaging in this sort of battle of the wills is often not the best way of going about getting little jimmy to do something. Instead, the campers showed him how good the food was by eating it with delight and encouraging him to join them. Sure they told him it was good, but they also ate it, and the reverse is also true. Which is why I never made Jimmy try the ambrosia salad, because I wasn’t even willing to eat it. So, the other campers and I had to put our money where our mouth was and eat the food. So, for our scripture reading this morning, what kinds of works was Jesus doing?
He spent time with the cast off, the marginalized, the hurting. He healed people, taught people, challenged authority and look at the revolution that he started. And the next line, the last line, is our challenge today. “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, at least in John, knows he’s going to die. He knows how the story ends, well not ends because he comes back from the dead but I think you know what I mean. He knows his time on earth in human form is limited because the human body is limited. And yet, he says that for those who believe in him these kinds of works will naturally flow from them and they will do even greater works because his mortal existence is limited. What I think Jesus is saying here is that the church, the body of believers, will last thousands of years (and he was right in that) so imagine all the time we had, and all the time we still have for all of us to do great works. Jesus knew that he couldn’t possibly fix everything in his brief time here on earth, that job is left up to us. The tricky part, I think, is putting our money where our mouth is. If we, as the church, believe in this stuff then we have to do the works too. A major critique of the church from people around my age is that we aren’t doing this. Millennials are often very social justice oriented but find giving directly to agencies is a better way of using their time and resources than at church.
Sure we can bemoan the decline in membership of churches across the country since the 1950s but I think Reinhold Neibuhr might have something to say about that. We must have the serenity to accept that this is indeed a trend, that we cannot undue what happened over the last half century. However, we can have the wisdom to know that there are things we can change. We believe in Jesus, and so we can do the works that he did and in fact do greater works than these. Maybe the church is not front and center in the fight for social justice, yet. Maybe the church is not the ‘charity of choice’ for many young people, yet. We worry about the future of health care, the future of international relations, the future of the very identity of our country. And we forget about the power of yet. Our faith does not say the future is something to be feared. Our faith does not say we should react in anger or with aggression. Our faith is based in hope, in the belief that we can work together to make our world more like Jesus would want it to be. And we have to do it together.
I couldn’t change Jimmy’s diet by myself, the group had to do it. I had to believe in the power of the community, a higher power. And boy, was his mother thrilled when she came to pick him up a month later and the breadth of his diet had increased exponentially. For her, this was a great work.
Our faith is based on believing that not only did Jesus do some incredible things, but that God isn’t done yet. We have a multitude of fantastic outreach opportunities here at the church. We just finished a hugely successful resale. We are in the early stages of the before we get to mars project in which we’ll embark on church wide endeavor to solve a major social problem in the next 15 years. Work Tours domestically and internationally, financial and volunteer support for our mission partners. We are creating a different kind of future. The future is not something that will happen to us, not something to be feared. The future is what we make of it and although we’ve already done a lot we still have plenty left to do. We have done some great things, but I believe there are even greater works for us to accomplish as a church, and I, personally, can’t wait to see what we can do. And for that, we can praise God. Amen.
May the God of peace and love
comfort you when you hurt
Sustain you while you rest
And send you forth into the world
Doing works of justice and mercy
Knowing you are a beloved child of God
Just the way you are. Amen.