The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r164.htm
s164g98 Somerton Park Sixth Sunday of Easter 17/5/98
"I am going away." John 14.28.
Liturgically we read of Jesus saying to the disciples that he is about to leave them in this period between Easter and the Ascension, but of course his words about leaving, in chapters 13 and 14 of St John's gospel, actually refer to the death of Jesus on the Cross. When Jesus said (in the gospel for last Sunday): "Where I am going, you cannot come" he is referring to the Cross. He never means or calls his disciples to "drink the cup" that he was to drink - to undergo crucifixion or even to suffer martyrdom for his sake. Any dying that needs to be done in Christianity has already been done and that by the Son of God.
We, however, read the words about Jesus' leaving as referring to Jesus' Ascension, which was, for the disciples actually the second time he had left them, and this time with somewhat more finality.
It was, I suspect, a bit like being doused with a bucket of cold water, for the disciples to hear these words of Jesus. It wasn't going to end up all right. They weren't going to live together happily ever after. We too might have the same reaction. We much prefer other words of comfort that Jesus had to say - things like "We will come to them and make our home with them." John 14.23
What are we to make of these words? Doesn't Jesus want our devotion and our worship? Doesn't he want to be there and stand by our side, helping us through the difficult times. I am reminded of the lovely prose entitled "Footprints" where the Lord is pictured as carrying the person when the path got particularly tough. Thus there were but one set of footprints not two during those tough times, and so the Lord was revealed not as absent, but as particularly present. It is all good and comforting and comfortable. But I rather question whether it is true.
The Lord is to be, liturgically at least, ascended. Jesus is not to be our constant spiritual companion along the road, jollying us along when we get a little down. It has occasionally crossed my mind that this is what we often look to the Church for ... And to the Rector for ... To jolly us along when we get down. So the hymns should be rousing, or at least some that we should be familiar with ... We should not be challenged too much either ...
As long as this happens, we too will be satisfied, and we will love Jesus, as Jesus asks of Simon, son of John, three times.
But as I said of the disciples, Jesus left them twice, once going to the cross and then at the ascension.
Our lives too are filled with losses. It might be the loss of innocence, when we realise that the whole world doesn't revolve around us and that others are, more often than not, out to get what they can from us. It might be moving to a new job, and the attendant loss of friends from one location and the need to make new friends in the next. It might be the loss of a job, and often what accompanies this, the loss of self esteem. It might be the loss of a loved one through separation or divorce. It might be the loss of our health or the loss of our "independence" as we are not allowed to renew our driver's licence. Or it might be the loss of a parent, a spouse or, heaven forbid, a child, through death. And so we see our love for Jesus, and Jesus' love for us as something which helps us through these difficult times. And I am sure that this is the case for many of us.
Yet I am not sure that we can take this too far - that because we are "Christians" Jesus is there to help us through. Half way through the preparation of this sermon I was reminded of Jane Elliott (of "Blue Eyed" and "A Class Divided" fame). She is currently visiting Australia, waging her campaign against all forms of discrimination against classes of people. We categorise them with the "'ism" tag - racism, sexism. It caused me to wonder if we as the Church have as the foundation of our faith a conscious or unconscious "faithism". Do we as "Christians" discriminate against others who do not hold the same faith as we do, or against those who do not have the right faith, or enough of the right faith, or against those who have no faith at all? And if we do, does this square with the words and actions of Jesus?
I recall a situation which arose where a quasi-religious organisation was seeking to organise a community function and wanted the support of the Churches. However because this quasi-religious organisation is not exclusively "Christian", that support was not immediately forthcoming.
I believe, deep down we do practice, to a lesser or a greater extent "faithism". If we don't discriminate against others who don't share our faith - we tend to look down on them. I recall my mother and the ditties of an innocent, yet derogatory nature, she and her companions used to trade (when she was young) with the local Catholic school children and vise versa. In my own life I have heard Anglicans speak in less than complementary terms of those of other traditions. It was the main preoccupation at Theological College - most of the time was spent trying to get the uncommitted (churchmanship wise) to follow a particular line. The usual tactic was to put down the faith of others.
God is, of course, going to consign all those who don't believe to hell...???
And as I pondered along this line, I began to wonder if this is one reason why I have supported the Ordination of Women, and yet thought it doesn't go far enough. It is not just that women are meant to be included, but all are meant to be included. And I wonder if some of the opposition to the ordination of women, consciously or unconsciously, stems from a desire to retain distinctions, to discriminate on the basis of faith?
Jesus is not leaving us alone, in going to the Cross, but to die and to rise for all. Jesus is not leaving us to be alone when he "ascends into heaven" - but to be with all.
When Jesus says to the disciples: "'Where I am going, you cannot come'" (referring to the Cross) he immediately says: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another." (John 13:33-34). If we love Jesus we love all for whom Jesus died.
Now the most practical application of this is when we get sick. Frequently we pray to God (myself as much as anyone else) as much for healing so I don't have to ask for or accept help from others - as I pray for healing to relieve me of the symptoms I am experiencing. Is it any wonder that Jesus doesn't answer our prayers! There is the old story about the man sitting on the roof of his house as the flood waters get higher and higher. Along comes a boat to rescue him, but he declines the help. "It's all right, God will rescue me!" he says to the person in the boat. Later along comes a helicopter. "It's all right, God will rescue me!" he says to the pilot. Finally the man drowns and gets to heaven. "Why didn't you rescue me?" he demands of God. To which God replies: "I sent you a boat and a helicopter, what more did you want!"
Next Thursday is the feast of the Ascension, next Sunday is the Sunday after the Ascension, and the following Sunday is the feast of Pentecost, the time of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples. We will have to consider most carefully the purpose of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, lest we slip unconsciously into thinking that the Holy Spirit is given to make up for the absence of Jesus. If we slip into thinking that the Holy Spirit is given to make up for the absence of Jesus, we are simply replacing one spiritual relationship with another, when God in fact wants us to have human relationships with others that he puts around us. Human relationships of equality, not master / servant relationships. Human relationships not especially close relationships where people's personal space isn't respected. Human relationships rather than inhuman relationships - treating others as less than human. The spectre of some treating others inhumanely is graphically shown in Steven Spielberg's film "Schindler's List" which our boys watched last Sunday. I confess I am happy if they choose not to believe in God, if only they do not treat others in such a manner.
For the Holy Spirit is given to prod us to reach out to others as the Holy Spirit prodded Paul and his companions to leave Asia and cross the rubicon into foreign parts - Europe. Not to take God there, mind you but to see God already there - waiting for them in the form of Lydia! To reach out to others, not to convert them to our thinking - but to contribute to our lives, our health, the life abundant that God has promised.
So everyone has something to contribute to our understanding of the faith.
Jesus is ascended into heaven to make sure that we don't spend our existence turning to him, but to look about us and see and appreciate all the wonderful help and blessings God has put around us in the form of other people. For us to contribute to their existence and they to ours, and so life in all it's fullness will come to all.
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