First Christian Church
 Open Hearts, Open Minds, An Open Table
 224 West Dryden, Odessa MO 64076*  816-633-7726*  
Home      Sermon for May 22, 2011
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Scripture Reference: John 14: 1-14

My grandmother turned 89 this past week, and I marvel at the life she had led.   Like some of you here today, my grandmother recalls climbing into a wagon to attend church.  I think about the change she has seen in her life.   As a little girl my grandmother would probably have laughed at the notion that we could put a man on the moon. She saw the advent of computers, atomic power, amazing advances in aviation, television and even the automobile. And the list goes on and on.

Today I want to focus on a particularly important invention, which changed the course of history.  It dates back to China around 1050 and began being used in Europe around 1200.  Back in Jesus’ day how sailors navigated by looking at the position of sun and the stars. The north star proved especially useful in helping sailors determine the correct course. The problem? You can’t always see the stars or even the sun. A ship could go from sailing lazily across the open sea and suddenly clouds could roll in. Add to this some wind and maybe even a storm and you could quickly have a serious situation. Especially at night a ship could become really disoriented and be blown way off course. It could be days before the sun shone again or the clouds moved out.      

But this device change all of this: a compass. The compass revolutionized sea travel. Now when the clouds rolled in it didn’t matter. Even if a storm blew up a sailor could always be 100% sure of what direction the ship was traveling. A compass will always tell you what direction is north. The trip might not prove easy but the sailor would always know what direction to sail.      

Which leads me to thinking about our own journey through life. Perhaps many of us have experienced calm seas in our lives.  But suddenly the clouds began to roll in. Before we know it the wind grows fierce and we find ourselves in the midst of a raging storm. If this sounds familiar to you, I want to remind us today that there is a discovery which will lead us in the right direction. It does not matter how dark the night gets. It does not matter now fierce the wind blows or how large the waves swell, this precious resource will never fail to guide us in the correct direction. It is lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path - if we will consult it.     

Today’s passage comes from Jesus’ farewell discourse. Jesus knows what is about to happen to him. Jesus has washed the disciples' feet and shared a last meal with them. Now Jesus seeks to prepare them for his departure, for his leaving life as a human. But Jesus is doing more than that.  Let's keep in mind the context into which Jesus is saying his good-bye. Jesus and his disciples find themselves slaves in their own country. God’s people, the Jews, are subject to an occupying army, the Romans. For years the Jewish people have longed for freedom. They remember their escape from Egypt, and hope and pray for a similar deliverance from the Romans, in the present day.  The Jewish people pray daily for a Messiah like Moses who will deliver the Jewish people to freedom and defeat those wicked Gentile Romans.     

Likely this longing for freedom was to be found on every Jewish heart, including the disciples.The Scriptures suggest that at least a few of the disciples expected that Jesus would rule as David did.  As Jesus says good-bye, then, he is not only preparing his friends for his own death, but also for the death of their dream.  Jesus was not going to be like king David. There would be no military uprising. And here lies one of the toughest lessons in a life of faith: what they were praying for was not what God intended to deliver to them.  In Sunday school this past week we discussed an example of a couple struggling in their marriage. They came to church to get saved. Naively, perhaps, they thought that making this decision would make their lives easier, and solve all their problems.  Turning their lives over to God would create marital bliss. Now I believe that turning our lives over to God is the best thing that we can do. But being a Christian is not a formula for an easy life. As Jesus was trying to teach the disciples, God is not merely interested in solving our day to day problems. God has greater insight into our lives, and how our lives interact with the larger world - which God also loves.  

God wants to use us, not only to heal ourselves, but to offer healing to the world.   In his farewell address, Jesus was trying to take the disciples' eyes off of what they considered their biggest problem, the occupying army of the Romans; and turn them instead upon their mission to love the world. And when we look at the life of the church, we see they got the message.  Every single one of the disciples, with the exception of John, died a martyr’s death - not trying to free Israel from Rome, but standing up for the hurt and the needy and the vulnerable. They died delivering the Good News that God loves all people, Jews and Gentiles. They died challenging the powers-that-be, saying that all people should be treated with dignity and respect, that all people are created in the image of God. They died preaching that God so loved the entire world that Jesus came into our world and died upon the cross.  In their lifetimes, they never saw a "free" Israel; but they did experience freedom of spirit and heart, which they extended to all who would hear.

I think probably Jesus had respect and compassion for the disciples' dream of a free Israel,  but Jesus was faithful to God's bigger vision.  And he communicated that vision to his disciples.   Jesus wanted all people to be free from the presence and power of sin. Jesus says in verse 14 that if we ask for anything in his name then Jesus will do it for us.  This is not a blank check for us to ask for anything, but an invitation to participate in what God is doing.  Pastor E.M. Bounds once wrote that prayer is not an exercise by which we change God, convincing God to do what we desire. Rather prayer is an exercise by which God reveals to us God's own plan, and we are conformed to it.      

I am confident that God is at work in Odessa. And we have a choice. We can either become part of the problem or part of the solution. Jesus has an amazing vision for Odessa. And it may not look like we would think. But if we will discover what God is doing in our city then we can join God. And I promise you it will prove an amazing experience.    

Meditation for Communion and Stewardship: We come to to this table every Sunday, through every season.  In the darkness of winter, we come.  In the hope of spring, we come.  In the abundance of summer, we come.  In the dying of autumn, we come.  The seasons of our world mimic the seasons of our souls, sometimes full of joy and blessing, sometimes burdened with suffering and death.  But we know that God walks with us in each season.  Our greatest joys are made perfect in God's presence, and our greatest fears are overwhelmed in God's compassion.  So we gather, in season and out, to receive nourishment at God's table, and to offer our gifts and tithes. We gather because seasons wax and wane, and all things change - except the faithfulness of our God.