Sermons at Union Congregational Church
Preached by The Reverend Gail L. Miller, Pastor
May 26, 2019 Sixth Sunday of Easter
So here’s where we’re at. We have four Sundays together including today, then I go on the youth mission trip to West Virginia, and then I begin to pack my office, moving everything out before we go on vacation to Wisconsin. After that I begin my new position at Trinitarian Congregational in Concord.
It’s a lot in a short time!
This passage in the Gospel of John is the beginning of Jesus’ final sermon to his disciples before he is leaving them. He’s got a lot to say in a short time as well. And his encouraging, comforting word to them, is not so much a word, but the promise of God’s enduring presence with them in a new – for them – way: the Holy Spirit.
They are being asked to consider a new way of relating to God, of receiving and knowing God’s presence in their lives. Whether they’re ready or not, the Holy Spirit is coming!
Sometimes life / circumstances beyond our control take us to places where we weren’t expecting to go. Times like this we’re pushed to the edge of what we thought we could see or know or do. And, it’s precisely at these times when we will discover what God can do and how much we need Him.
Christian faith is training in the art of dependency. (~Will Willimon)
Just like when the Israelites were in the wilderness, God led them only one day at a time. They never had enough food for more than one day. And when they tried to store some up, it turned rotten before the next day.
They discovered, as you and I will discover, that God is present even, and maybe especially, in the chaos of uncertainty. We begin to see what God can do, when we’re not sure what we should do. Some people find this “living on the edge” exhilarating – others not so much. But, it’s often the life God calls us to.
And here, over the past 13 years, we’ve done some new and exhilarating things, taken some risks together…
• Families with little children venturing into the city to give food to folks on the street
• Returning our endowment funds to their designated purposes, and no longer drawing down principle for cash – this required our pledging to increase. And it did! When I came the average pledge here was $1,600. Now it’s $3,600. And there were steady increases through the economic crash of 2008.
• Then there was that first year we took our own mission trip – 2010 – with 11 kids and 4 adults.
• Deciding to offer something for children on summer Sundays, and then keep the time at 10:00am to serve young families.
• Switching to gluten free bread for communion.
• The sabbatical in 2014 – hiring Christina Williams to serve while I was away.
All of this has required an openness to do something different or something new or something that perhaps you didn’t want to do!
And we grew together through these moments and so many others. And not because we were undertaking these endeavors FOR Christ, but rather IN Christ. Because that’s how Christians are called to live together – IN Christ.
As we read through the Gospel of John, the repeated refrain is “indwelling.” The Christian life is not just one of imitation or following after, but of habitation. As God the Father and Jesus are one – cohabitating so to speak – they also dwell with us and within us. And, therefore, we have the power, and the support, and the strength to do what is before us. We just need to receive it and let it take flight in us.
I discovered a new understanding of a simple word in the Bible this week. I’ve often said that the single most important word in the Bible is WITH. I also heard a sermon once asserting that the most important word in the Bible is BUT. And this week, I read about another most important word in the Bible: LET.
Now I’ve never really liked the word let, it always seemed so passive to me – especially in prayers. Lord, let me be more generous… As if it’s permission giving.
But what I learned this week is that that is the wrong way to understand this word as it relates to our relationship with God.
Let your light shine before others.
Let this mind be in us which was also in Jesus.
Let Jesus do his good work in us.
Let this your peace return to you.
Let there be light!
Let is actually a word of transforming faith, which assumes the total love and power of God. It assumes that heaven is crammed with good gifts that the Father wants to give his children. This profoundly simple word let is the gate that opens us to that power. It is permission giving, but it is giving God permission to work his might in us.
Now that’s good news! There is an incredible power available to us. All you need is what you have – and what you have is actually WHO you have: God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – present and at work in big and small ways in each of you, and all of you.
But to really know His presence and his power, we do need to do one thing. Let go! Choose to become dependent on God.
When I met Mike, he was an avid skydiver, and so I thought I’d join him and learn how to skydive myself. Well, what I learned was two things. You see, the only way I could approach this was to recognize that my instructors were the experts, and all I needed to do was trust them and do what they said. Then, when it came to the actual jumping, I realized that I was never alone in this. Literally…. They were holding onto me as we approached the open door of the airplane and we left the plane connected to each other. And they held onto me the entire time we were in freefall. Then I pulled the parachute and was taken out of their hands. But the helmet I was wearing had speakers in the ears, and as soon as the parachute was open there was someone on the ground talking to me. “Gail I can see you under the green chute. Kick your feet if you can hear me.” And then that person talked me down the entire way…. Turn left, turn right…flare!
I learned two things that we do well to apply to our life as Christians:
We have someone with us the whole time, and
We need to trust them!
Skydiving may not be the most relatable illustration to use. So how about biking. There’s an old poem that you may have heard (author unknown, found in Holy Sweat, Tim Hansel, 1987).
The Road of Life
At first, I saw God as my observer,
keeping track of things I did wrong,
so as to know whether I merited heaven
or hell when I die.
He was out there sort of like a president.
I recognized His picture when I saw it,
but I didn’t really know Him.
But later on
when I met Christ,
it seemed as though life were rather like a bike ride,
but it was a tandem bike,
and I noticed that Christ
was in the back helping me pedal.
I don’t know just when it was
that he suggested we change places,
but life has not been the same since.
When I had control,
I knew the way.
It was rather boring,
It was the shortest distance between two points.
But when He took the lead,
He knew delightful long cuts,
and through rocky places
at breakneck speeds,
it was all I could do to hang on!
Even though it looked like madness,
He said, “Pedal!
I worried and was anxious and asked,
“Where are you taking me?”
He laughed and didn’t answer,
and I started to learn to trust.
I forgot my boring life
and entered into the adventure.
And when I’d say, “I’m scared”
He’d lean back and touch my hand.
He took me to people with gifts that I needed,
gifts of healing,
They gave me gifts to take on my journey,
my Lord’s and mine.
And we were off again.
He said, “Give the gifts away;
they’re extra baggage too much weight.”
So I did,
to the people we met,
and I found that in giving I received,
and still our burden was light.
I did not trust him,
in control of my life.
I thought he’d wreck it;
but He knows bike secrets,
knows how to make it bend to take sharp corners,
knows how to jump to clear high rocks,
knows how to fly to shorten scary passages.
And I am learning to shut up
in the strangest places,
and I’m beginning to enjoy the view
and the cool breeze on my face
with my delightful constant companion, Jesus Christ.
And when I’m sure I just can’t do anymore,
He just smiles and says…”Pedal.”
You have the promise of the presence of God, which will provide for all you need to make it through these uncertain weeks and months.
Trust and pedal!
Or trust and jump!