Sunday, May 26, 2019

Phil Kniss: "On whose side?" and senior recognition Sunday

Easter 6: Senior Recognition Sunday
John 14:23-29

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If there’s one message we want to get across to you five seniors
on this day we honor you and wrap you in a quilt
is that you are not alone, now or ever.
You have a family.
Yes, you all know and love your blood family,
your closest kin,
and your various circles of close friends.
But this is a chance to remind you of your extended family of faith,
and to express our love and commitment to you.

Your relationship with us may shift and change as years pass.
But we want you to know we will be here for you.

We are not only your faith family.
We are your fans,
your support base,
your advocates . . .
your people.

And like all healthy families, we want you to flourish in life.
But—also like healthy families—we come with a catch.
We are committed to something bigger than you individually.
We are guided by a vision of human flourishing,
and it is larger than you,
and larger than any one of us.
So while we will do almost anything to help you flourish,
we won’t always do exactly what you want us to do.

But you have known this about families since you were a baby,
and you reached out to put some object in your mouth,
and someone in your family, out of love,
also reached out and took it out of your mouth.
At that moment,
they were more committed to your health than to your happiness.
You may have cried or thrown a fit,
but that didn’t change their minds.

That’s the thing about families, and about church, for all of us, still—
from youngest to oldest,
from smallest to greatest.
There is something larger at stake,
than letting each person chase after whatever catches their eye.

This church, just like our own family,
is a community to ground us, to orient us in life.

Like other healthy families, it won’t abandon us
if we veer off the preferred path.
It won’t walk away from us.
It will always love us.
It will always keep the door open . . . 
and keep the porch light on.

And that brings us to the good word from scripture today,
the Gospel reading from John 14 that we just heard.
It is today’s lectionary reading,
being read in churches around the world today.
But it’s highly relevant to our special emphasis
of Senior Recognition Sunday.

Jesus said the Holy Spirit (quote)
“will teach you everything,
and remind you of all that I have said to you.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled,
and do not let them be afraid.”

Before Jesus left this earth he reassured his disciples,
“I won’t leave you alone.
I will send an Advocate.”

The Holy Spirit was sent
to take the in-the-flesh ministry of Jesus, and keep it going,
to be, like Jesus was, “God-With-Us,” Emmanuel.
And even now, the Spirit is among us to ensure continuity of mission.
To make sure Jesus’ good work never ends.
To make sure the Gospel still gets lived out,
with the same, and even greater,
power and purpose and impact.

But that’s not how some of us understand the Spirit.
Some of hear that word, “Advocate,” and think,
“Okay, great! I have my private divine superfan and cheerleader,
right by my side.”
No, sorry.
God has a bigger agenda than making me happy,
and giving me whatever I reach for.

God has a vision for human flourishing.
And that vision was expressed most fully in Jesus of Nazareth.
And when Jesus returned to heaven,
God made sure there wasn’t an empty void left behind.
The Spirit was given as an Advocate for Jesus,
and for the Jesus way of human flourishing.

So… if we’ve staked our future to fulfilling the purpose
for which God created us,
then yes, absolutely and thankfully and joyfully,
the Spirit is our Advocate,
because that also happens to be the Spirit’s agenda.

We don’t get to define what the Spirit will do for us.
And that’s a good thing.
This is a great gift—the Holy Spirit of God in Christ.
And that gift will always be a gift for us,
if we don’t reduce it to be for our own small purposes.
We always risk making God in our own image,
instead of yielding ourselves
to conform to the image God intended.

You want to know how the Spirit will work in us?
Then look how Jesus worked with his disciples.

Jesus pushed them where they did not want to go.
He sent them out on mission trips, on their own, without supplies.
He let them try their hand at healing, and let them fail miserably.
He led them into places of danger.
He said take up your cross.

The way of Jesus is still, as in the first century,
contrary to the dominant culture,
contrary to the powers that be,
contrary to our puny self-oriented tendencies.

We need an Advocate to be with us—
an Advocate for the way of truth,
an Advocate for Jesus Christ and the Gospel,
an Advocate for the Kingdom of God.
Without One to Advocate for that larger good,
we could easily fall captive to our own small-minded agenda.

So today,
as we bless you seniors at this important point on your journey,
we remind ourselves that we are all in this together.
We need you as much as you need us,
to help us find our way down the road of human flourishing.
So let’s stick together.
And let’s stick to the Spirit
who reflects the person and work of Jesus.

And now let’s sing, HWB 293: God sends us the Spirit

Repeatedly, in this hymn, the Spirit is referred to as Spirit-Friend.
But listen to the ways that friendship is defined—
The Spirit will recreate us,
guide us,
enliven, sanctify, enlighten us.
To be agents of God’s purpose.

Thanks be to God.

—Phil Kniss, May 26, 2019

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