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the sermon for

The Seventh Sunday of Easter

28 May 2017

John 17:1-11
Eternal life isn't heaven. It's being loved by god!

04302017Look up the word 'eternal' in the dictionary – any dictionary – and the list of meanings will, pretty much, be alike. Without end! Lasting forever! Always existing! Permanent, as opposed to temporary! Hit shift-F7 in word and the list of synonyms isn't much different! Everlasting! Unending! Undying! Perpetual! Ceaseless! Interminable! 'Eternal'... It's an important word for John. Used extensively! One of those things that set John apart from the other three gospels! Matthew uses the word 'eternal' five times. Mark three times. Luke four. John uses it seventeen times! First John six more! And each time, every time, it modifies, describes only one word. Life! Life eternal! Eternal life!

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have...
eternal life.

That verse is stereotypically John in so many ways. Unfortunately, when we hear those two words together, right away, we start climbing to heaven! Up Jacob's latter! Through the pearly gates! Onto the streets of gold! That's where we find eternal! Up high and far, far away! Endless! Everlasting! We hear that phrase – eternal life – and all we see are white robes and wings, halos and harps! But here we are, once again, on the Thursday of Holy Week! Maundy Thursday! The night in which he was betrayed! But remember, in John, there is no meal. No bread. No wine. Instead, there are only words! Lots and lots of words! Five chapters of them, to be exact! One hundred fifty-five verses! And not once, no one time, during the entire discourse, does Jesus use the word eternal! Not until here... now... at the very end of it all! With just a mouthful of words remaining, Jesus looks up to heaven and says, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him!"

"To give eternal life to all whom you have given him!" And one more time, we hear that word and it all comes rushing back! It unleashes a tidal wave, a tsunami, of heaven! Everlasting! Unending! Undying! Perpetual! Ceaseless! Interminable! And, frankly, we bask in its glow! But then, as he has done so many times before, John adds one more verse! As if he knew, as if he understood, what would happen when we read his words, Jesus continues... "And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent."

And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God,
and may know me, Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

You see, eternal life isn't a where! And it's not, even, a when! Eternal life is a who! Eternal life is a person! A person and the love that person brings! We tend to get so spiritual. Faith becomes such a supernatural thing, for us! But in reality, it's so down to earth! So close at hand! Unreined, that word 'eternal' makes us think of another place, of another time, so unlike this one. It conjures up visions of Valhalla and Elysium Fields! But that's not what Jesus is talking about, here! That isn't what he has in mind! He's not saying eternal life is around the next turn or over the next hill. He's saying that eternal life is wherever he is! Wherever Jesus, wherever the son, is!

Eternal life can be right here! In a handful of people on a Sunday morning in West Texas! Eternal life can be the words they hear spoken from behind the altar! Eternal life can, even, be the words they speak to each other! Eternal life can be a bowlful of water or a pinch of bread or a sip of wine! Eternal life can be the greeting they share along the way. Eternal life, simply, isn't what happens once this world is over! When the shadows lengthen... and the evening comes... and the busy world is hushed... the fever of life is over... our work is done... But it's something that happens right here, right now! "This is eternal life: that they know you and that they know me!"

And the crazy thing about that way of thinking... It leads you to believe that this... that all of this... is sacred! All of this is holy! The very world we try so hard to escape... the very world we do our best to leave behind... this imperfect, this broken, this fallen world... all this becomes the dwelling place of god! All this becomes heaven! That's what Jesus is saying, on Good Friday eve... Eternal life can be here! Eternal life can be now! Because eternal life is Jesus! Eternal life is Jesus! You don't need cherubim! You don't need seraphim or the four-and-twenty elders or all the rest! All you need is Jesus! Jesus and his love! That is eternal life! Abundant living!

When the perishable puts on the imperishable! When the mortal puts on immortality! That's how Paul describes it in one of his letters! In a moment! In the twinkling of an eye! At the last trumpet! That's when he says it will happen! That's Paul. This is John! And it all happens wherever Jesus is! Whenever Jesus is! sure, it can happen up high and far away. And it can happen in a moment, in the twinkling, at the last! But it can happen right here and right now, as well! Because, you see, it's all about Jesus! Jesus and Jesus' love! Because that love is the magic! The magic that turns night into day! That changes doubt into believing! It's that love that transforms a stable into a palace! Shepherds into nobility! It can change a ring of thorns into a crown and a cross into a throne! Eternal life – at least, for us – isn't a time and it's not a place! It's a person!

A person who comes from heaven to earth! Who goes from earth to the cross and from the cross to the grave! Just like the song says. But the truth of the matter is that when Jesus leaves the grace, from John's vantage point, he didn't go back to the sky. He remained right here! Where he's needed the most! And where he is, that is eternity!

So, my friends, don't be blinded! Blinded by the glory! And don't be deafened by the splendor. This is eternal life: knowing god; knowing Jesus! This is eternal life: being knowing by the Father and by the Son!

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the sermon for

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

14 May 2017

John 14:1-10
God loves us; we love one another!

04302017Well, last week was going to be the week! I came in here, Monday morning, to pick up a few pieces I'd left behind, the day before. My hymnal. The sermon. And for the first time – the first time in a long, long time – I, actually, looked up at the cross and saw the burlap arrow hanging there! It had become so much a part of the scenery that, for all interests and purposes, it had become invisible! Just like the pictures we hang on the walls at home. They become so much a part of our world that, after a while, we just don't see them, anymore. So, I decided to take it down. Fortunately, I didn't get around to it.

I forgot when, exactly, I put it up. Even why. My guess would be it was something I did to highlight something in one of my sermons... a year ago... two... I do know it was meant to stand for the essence, the spirit, of believing! The bottom line, so to speak, of our faith. Everything is a gift from god! Absolutely everything! How's the song go? "All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above!" And that arrow represents it all! Baptism is a gift from god! Forgiveness is a gift from god! The supper is a gift from god! Daily bread! Family! Neighbors! It's all a gift! Free and clear! Nothing we have to do to earn it! Nothing we have to do to deserve it! It comes to us, simply, from the goodness, from the greatness, of god's own heart! That arrow! Pointing down!

Well, I got back to my office, sat down, and began thinking about this morning's sermon. And the arrow did its work! Because that arrow – more than anything else – sums up John's gospel! "And the word became flesh and dwelt among us!" That's how the story begins. He came down! Jesus gave sight to the blind! Jesus fed the hungry! Jesus raised the dead! It's all a coming down from heaven! At that last supper with his disciples, on the eve of the cross, in John and in John alone, Jesus gets up from the table, takes off his outer robe, ties a towel around his waist, and he kneels down before his friends! And being glorified? Being glorified, according to the fourth gospel, means descending to the land of the dead! And then, at the end of the New Testament, the Revelation – another book from John's community – comes to a climax as the New Jerusalem comes down out of heaven as a bride for her husband! The arrow always points in one direction! Descending! Entering into! Becoming a part! And so, it was with that arrow in mind that I began reading the passage from John...

'Do not let your hearts be troubled,' [Jesus said to the disciples,] 'Believe* in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

And as you might expect, on seeing those words, I, naturally and automatically, began to go in the totally and completely opposite direction! I read the words and I, immediately, lifted my eyes toward heaven! Up Jacob's latter! Through the pearly gates! Onto the golden streets! And I left everything I knew – everything and every body – far, far below!

In my Father's house there are many dwelling-places... And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

Like rubbing a magic lamp, those words conjure up images of heaven! Up high! Far away! You know what I mean! You've heard the sermons! Read the descriptions! And they're all around us! So much so, it's the only picture that comes to mind! Pie in the sky! Sweet by and by! And the arrow, always and forever, points up! Above! Beyond! But that's not the direction of faith! The tendency of believing!

Stop and think about it, for a moment... Chapter fourteen in John's gospel isn't something that happens AFTER Easter! It's not, even, something that comes AFTER Good Friday! It's something that is spoken, the night in which he was betrayed! Around the table! At the last supper! Of course, in John, there is no supper. Just a lot of words! So Jesus hasn't left his disciples the first time! To suffer under Pilate! To be crucified, to die, to be buried! To descend to the dead! So, if he leaves now, it's to do THESE things! And to return – to come again – would mean the resurrection! It would refer to Easter! Coming again, in this context, would be coming again in the garden, outside the tomb, on Easter morning! Coming again would be coming again to the house where the doors were locked for fear! It would mean the same house, a week later! And along the lake shore! Events where the arrow points down! Again! And again! And again!

But that seems to imply that "his Father's house," the house in which there are many dwelling places, the place to which Jesus will take us when he comes again... It seems to imply that place is right here, smack in the middle of creation itself! Not outside! Not beyond! But right here in the midst of it all!

What if that place Jesus was preparing... is your spot in that pew, this morning!

What if that place Jesus was preparing... is the place you were given in this community the moment you were baptized!

What if that place Jesus was preparing... is your position in the mission, in the ministry, of god's own people!

What if his Father's house wasn't something in heaven... but what if it's us! What if it's the church!

What if that place Jesus was preparing... isn't so much a place, as it is a purpose, a reason!

All those what-ifs demand an arrow just like the one hanging on that wall! An arrow representing, an arrow symbolizing, god's love, god's charity, god's grace! An arrow that points in one direction! Down! Down toward the lowest and the least! Down toward the down and the out!

"Love," Jesus said! "Love just like me!" I never noticed until this morning, but those words are spoken just five verses before the start of today's gospel, before the start of this week's good news! This is where Jesus is! This where Jesus has always been! Right here between us! Between us and beside us! Behind us and before us!

In John's gospel, there was no ascension! There was no second coming! Because, you see, Jesus never left! He came! And he stayed! Because that is what love does! Love comes down! And love never, ever goes away!

So, I guess, for now, the arrow will stay. At least, as long as it does what it was meant to do! Remind us of where love comes from! Remind us of where love goes! Reminds us of where love is found! From the Father to the Son! From the Son to creation! And here it stays! It never returns! It never leaves! God loves us and that will never change! And because of that, we love one another! Arrow on the wall or not!

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