Creekside Church
Sermon of May 16, 2021

"Out of This World"
John 17:6-19

Pastor
Rosanna McFadden

 

Good morning! Easter is almost over. For most of the world, Easter is a day -- at most a weekend -- sometime in the spring, when we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, and other springy things like rabbits and eggs and baby chicks. In the church, we acknowledge the resurrection of Christ every time we gather to worship on Sunday, the day of his resurrection. But for the folks who put together the church calendar, Easter is a season: not just the Sunday of the resurrection, but the six Sundays afterward when we read and hear the stories from the gospels of Jesus’ appearances to his disciples after he was resurrected: showing up in closed rooms with locked doors, meeting disciples on the road to Emmaus, giving some unusual fishing advice and cooking breakfast on the lakeshore.

But as we know, the resurrected Christ did not stay on earth with the disciples forever. At some point Jesus returned to heaven and left the work of the kingdom to his followers: men and women who were inspired at times, but also fearful and flawed. People like us. They were blessed to have known Jesus as teacher and friend, but also as their risen Christ as Lord and Savior. As Jesus told the disciple Thomas, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Jesus did not leave this world without promising guidance and support to his followers: that power came as the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, which we’ll observe next week. But in the meantime, until Christ returns, what are we supposed to do?

The most dramatic account of Jesus’ last words to the disciples is from the gospel of Luke, where he is taken up into heaven. Mark gives a shorter version of this event. Matthew’s account is probably the most familiar to us, because it includes the clearest direction to the disciples in Matthew 28:19 and 20, known as the Great Commission: “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” And Jesus’ command ends with a promise: “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Our text for this morning is from the gospel of John, and it’s part of a longer prayer of commissioning and blessing which Jesus shared with his disciples. Curiously, this happens just before his death. This is Thursday evening after Jesus shared a last supper with them; Judas left the party early and slipped into the night, Jesus blesses them with this prayer, and immediately afterward, Jesus and the rest of the disciples go to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. In this prayer, Jesus is clearly anticipating not only his death, but the fact that his disciples will still have work to do when he is no longer with them.

There is a lot of language in this prayer -- and Larry read only a part of it for us -- about “the world.” The author of John’s gospel is writing to a group of people who felt separated and alienated from their world; not God’s creation, but their culture -- the leaders of the synagogue who have hated and persecuted them because of the witness for Christ. This is a love/hate relationship if there ever was one. This is the same Christ who said, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son [Me!] so that everyone who believes in him [Me!] should not perish but have everlasting life.” Jesus tells the disciples that he does not belong to the world, and neither do his disciples. And yet, God sent Jesus into the world, so Jesus is sending his disciples into the world. Are you confused yet? It all gets a bit tangled. Jesus is preparing to ascend into heaven -- out of this world. But he knows that the work of the kingdom of heaven will not be imposed from the top down, it will come from the bottom up: it will come out of this world. The kingdom of heaven will come when fearful and flawed people like you and me, people who live and work and raise our families in the tedious, messy and un-heavenly place of this world--the kingdom of heaven will come when we act and when we treat one another the way that Jesus acted and treated other people; when we spread the Word to all nations; when we baptize and teach; when we obey Christ’s commandments. We assume that’s going to be the norm in heaven, but before we get there, we are given that work to do in this world.

This morning you are going to be hearing more about the work of this congregation, Creekside Church of the Brethren, specifically. We have our own unique ways of continuing the work of Jesus. This is partly because of this location and the potential of our facility and grounds, and more because of the history of the Church of the Brethren and its commitment to service, and the ways that was taught and lived out in the Elkhart City Church of the Brethren. But the character of our ministries is mostly because of you, and the gifts and commitment you bring -- and maybe a bit because you have called me to be your pastor. The mission has never changed, the commission from Christ to go into the world is still our charge today. What changes are the ways we commit to live that out in the ways that we love and serve our neighbors, and in what each of us has to contribute to doing that work together. Spoiler alert: at the meeting following this service, we are not going to be reporting that work of Jesus has been completed and there’s nothing more for us to do but sit back and wait for Christ to return. Christ clearly did not tell his disciples to sit tight, take care of yourselves, I’ll be right back. What he said was, “As [God] has sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also might be sanctified.”

It is sacred work which we have been charged with. Fortunately, that doesn’t keep it from being rewarding or enjoyable, or keep us from having fun with the people we work alongside of. Whether you are in the kitchen, in the garden, riding a mower, teaching a Sunday School class, sitting in the Worship Center on Sunday morning or watching our livestream, you are participating in the work of Jesus. There is no clear line which separates work and worship: they are both the work of the people, and we are all the people of God. I want to hold up our ministry team leaders and volunteers this morning, and thank them for the work which they have done, and bless them for the work which there is still to do. I hope you have had the opportunity to read the reports from our teams. If you thought when you read them, “My goodness! This has been a lot of work” you’d be correct. If you thought “We should be doing more!” you’d also be correct. We have done a lot, and we should celebrate that. There is still a lot to do, and we should celebrate that, too. Our mission is not to arrive here, our mission is to continue the work of Jesus and the cause of Christ.

I am going to offer a prayer of blessing and dedication for work of this congregation, and then we will have closing song. Our congregational meeting will begin after the song. You are all encouraged to stay for the meeting to listen and to ask questions and to affirm reports from our ministry teams. We do not expect it to be long meeting, but that is really up to you. Larry Ford will be moderating the meeting for us, and we thank you in advance for your attention and participation. Please join me in prayer.

God, you have given each of us gifts to use as members of the body of Christ. We offer the work of our hands, our hearts, and our lives to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to our world.

May all we do, all we offer all we say, all we think, and all we hope be dedicated to your kingdom.

May your Word take root in us, grow in the world, and bear the fruit of your love, your justice, and your mission.

Bless the work which we offer in your name, so that Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Work through us, alongside us, despite us, for the cause of Christ. Amen.

 

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