Sermons That Work

This Gospel Text Is Read…, Easter 5 (C) – 1998

May 10, 1998

This gospel text is read in Eastertide, in anticipation of Jesus leaving a particular place, at a particular time, and a particular group of people. As might be suspected, there was some anxiety about that in his leaving a particular group of people.

We can imagine how they must have felt. Life and feelings had been in a roller coaster ride from depths to heights and depths to heights. At this moment, Jesus was present with them. This was after his death. It was after His resurrection. By this time in the narratives that take us from the cross to the Ascension, there are a number of resurrection appearances. When we read them, a very complex reality emerges.

Here he say, “Don’t touch me.”
There he says, “Stick your hands in the wounds.”
Here he eats broiled fish.
There he is cooking fish for his disciples while telling them how to fish.

Here he suddenly appears in a locked room.
There he walks up to some of his followers as they travel on a road.
Here he is unknown to his followers even though he is sharing the Holy Scriptures with them.
There he is recognized instantly when he prays and breaks bread.

Many people see him. First the women, then St. Peter, then the rest of his disciples and then 500 of his followers – St. Paul gives us this list and then includes himself. But there is no clear, definitive picture of this risen one. What we can say, along with the earliest Christian, is “he is risen, the Lord is risen indeed.”

In this lesson from the gospel we can say,” now he is getting ready to leave.” The most powerful moment in the western movie Shane is when Shane is leaving and the small boy is saying “Shane, come back.” We can guess that the disciples were saying some version of “Jesus, stay here with us.”

These verses of Scripture were set down years after the cross, resurrection and ascension. We can almost hear a question coming from the early Christians, “did Jesus say anything before his death that let the disciples know what was going to happen?” And then we can almost hear today’s gospel remembered. “Well yes, right after he washed Peter’s feet he told the disciples that he would be betrayed.

“He said that this was how God’s glory was to be revealed. At that same time he ordered us to love one another the way he loves us so that people will know that we are his followers.”

There is no question about the betrayal. He was betrayed. God’s glory was revealing in stunning power in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Now how are we going to love each other the way Jesus loves us?

The soon to come feast of the Ascension gives us the way to love as Jesus loved.

In the Ascension, Jesus left a particular time, a particular place and a particular group of people to be present for all time, present in all places and present with all people. The Ascension is an explosion of love. The love of Jesus moves him from his presence with a particular group to a universal presence available to everyone everywhere. We are able to love as Jesus loved because he is present with us right here and right now. All we have to do is to allow that love to flow through us to the brokeness we see and know in ourselves and the world around us. This commandment of Jesus is impossible if we attempt to do it out of our own resources. First, we must take Jesus into our lives. Then we must give away the love we receive. And we can.

One of the easiest ways to do this is through the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief. We believe that Jesus is already present everywhere. This is the consequence of the Ascension. When we give money to the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World relief, it goes where Jesus is already present, loving people. The money then becomes a physical sign of the love of Jesus that we have received and are sharing. The money heals, feeds, restores and proclaims the gospel. The love, in the form of money, may go to African Asia, Latin America or to a disaster here in the United States. Like the presence of Jesus, the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief is present any and everywhere.

There are other ways to join with Jesus in loving others in the way that Jesus loves us. But this is a good one. In the meantime, remember the first and most important thing – Jesus can be found in your life in the same way that he was present with the disciples.

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Christopher Sikkema


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