Believe.

Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, all who have faith in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. 15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever– 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:10-18 TNIV) 

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26 TNIV)

Here we are!  Another week of staying at home and doing all that we can to “suppress the curve”!  I’m so glad to be here and be a part of the conversation and journey of this pandemic season that is so crazy, unique, scary, and also full of potential growth with you and our church and neighborhood!  I believe that God’s agency, God’s Spirit is moving in and through this church and our neighborhoods, and it’s going to be good, great even, to listen with you to figure out what God is up to and to be moved in the direction that God has us going in.  

Folks in the UK showing their appreciation for the NHS!

At our basic level, we all of have dreams of what it means to be great don’t we.  If you are like me, then when you were a kid, you had some big dreams to someday be great…maybe to be an astronaut or president…So, today I’d like for you to remember back to when you were a child in elementary school.  What do you remember?  What were you dreams?  What did you believe in?  

I remember playing in my grandfather’s backyard, it felt safe and I could have some great adventures while I singlehandedly slayed dragons, won the Battle of the Bulge, defeated the bad guys.  Even in these very dangerous adventures, I believed I was safe and I had the power in my imagination to change the world.

Now, fast forward to middle school…what do you remember?  What were your dreams?  What did you believe in?  

I remember being bussed to an inner-city school.  My parents were both strong believers in public education as a school principal and teacher.  I was not going to be going the route of my friends who were pulled out of school and sent to private schools.  The Jones’ were “team players”.  In sixth grade, I had my eyes opened to a world that was very different from mine.  People stole things, people felt powerless and would want to pick a fight with me.  I had teachers who seemed to mean well, but were overwhelmed.  I saw national guardsmen on my bus with their guns.  Yet, I wasn’t bitter.  I thought it was simply part of my life.  I adapted, and years later, I realized that I received an amazing education that year that was more valuable than most academic endeavors. I saw the inequities in society and knew that I wanted to stand for something more: equality, inclusion, and working towards the common good.

Later, when I went back to my suburban school, going through pre-adolescence, my dreams simply became to survive and get to high school.  

Bono…and me (at 16).

What do you remember about high school?  What were your dreams then?  What did you believe in?

I remember thinking it would be great to be a rock star and somehow sing about God and the issues surrounding the world around us.  Then, in my sophomore or junior year of high school, I heard this band called U-2 and their charismatic singer, Bono.  He was set on changing the world (and still is!), and I wanted in on it and I wanted to be great like Bono.   

The disciples in today’s Scripture had similar aspirations, they wanted to do great things.  Their dreams, their beliefs, were tied up in wanting to make a difference and in following Jesus.  Well, Jesus had some GREAT news for them to hear, for them to believe. 

This passage is a part of John’s writings called the “Farewell Discourse” found in John, chapters 14-17.  I’d encourage you to read them all when you get home…not right now though…  Jesus is setting the stage for what is to come after he is crucified and resurrected.  The disciples are a bit confused, they’ve got some questions.  Where we take up this discourse in vs. 10, Jesus is asking them if they believe that he is in the Father.  This is a wonderful passage that points directly to Jesus being in the Father and vice versa.  It gives foundation to our understanding of the Triune nature of God, the Trinity.  Jesus is saying that he is one with the Father and he speaks, not with his authority, but with the Father’s authority who lives in him, and Jesus lives in the Father, they share space, they mutually indwell within each other.  Jesus also, in his humanity, shares space with us and in his humanity is showing us how we should live and the work we should be about as we participate in God’s actions, in obedience to the Father.  

That’s hard for me to completely understand.  Jesus has an intimate oneness in his relationship with the Father and Jesus is one with us in our humanity which allows us to share in God’s love for each other and the world around us.   We are one in Jesus as it says elsewhere in Scripture, because of this oneness, we are connected together by the very power of God.  

I have to believe that something is happening here at Fleming Road UCC, in our community, in me, in our relationships, something very good, and hard though, especially as we live into this season of disruption that seems will be with us for a while.  

I believe that my coming to Fleming Road UCC was such a unique calling.  It’s a church in my neighborhood wanting to be community engaged.  The timing of the conversations with our church started right before I left for India for three weeks.  While in India, I had a growing sense that my next call would be as pastor of this church.  I was filled with excitement, but also lots of questions and not knowing what to expect or what this church would be like.  Yet, I believed.  And, it’s proven to be a great call 2 1/2 years into it.  Filled with ups and downs, yes, but so good.  And, now, we are in the midst of a pandemic, which is a struggle for all of us, but so glad we are in this together.  

Jesus is asking in this passage:  Do you believe?  The Greek word in this text for believe is a great word πιστεύw it means  1. believe, believe in, be convinced of, give credence to; 2. believe (in), trust in a special sense, with God or Christ as object; Have confidence; 4. think, hold, or consider (possible).  It is used 3 times alone in vs. 10 & 11.  In vs. 11, the word “believe” is used as an imperative, giving it a sense of command and urgency.  The writer of John is trying to drive home a point, do you believe?

The writer goes on to say that if you believe, then you will do even greater works than me.  This is where we come to the word “great”.  What does that mean to do greater things than me?  The key here is to understand what Jesus means when he says “they will do even greater things than these..”  Jesus is communicating to his disciples, and to us, that we have a new identity that is wrapped up in him and our understanding of what it means to be truly human.  There is a new power at work that will enable his followers to do great things.  What are some of those works?  Taking care of those who are impoverished, healing disease, causing the lame to walk, preaching release to those held in bondage, being a true friend and good neighbor.  Jesus says that to be great, those are the types of things that we need to be about because that’s what he was about.  When read in that context, we begin to understand vs. 14, which says that anything we ask in Christ’s name, he’ll do it.  In other words, God’s purposes will always win out and those purposes are consistent with his character.  As humans, we share in those characteristics and purposes because we share in Christ’s humanity.  Our identity does not lie in what roles we play in life such as being a doctor, engineer, parent, pastor, runner, or whatever…our identity lies in Christ and it shapes our roles and actions.  Because of Jesus’ identity with us and our identity with him, we can be great and change the world…not only on global issues, but in our own communities, and even in the lives of those we see every day.  We can all be great to someone!

Now, we can’t do this on our own.  God’s Spirit is all around us, even living inside of us as it says in verse 17, animating us, prompting us, changing us.  The “world”, or the systems that tend to dominate this world that are based on the pursuit of fame, money, individualism, self-centeredness, narcism, etc. can’t understand truth, they can’t understand the reality of God’s Presence.  The writer of John makes it clear earlier in this book, in John 3:17, that Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn the world, but to save it.  To turn those systems upside down with a new reality of God’s Presence with us and in us, transforming us all…and he wants us, the church, to reflect his Presence in our lives.    And we can have confidence that Jesus will not let go of us, ever.  He is with us and will not leave us orphans.  We are not alone.  

Jesus wants to teach us ALL things and reminds us of how he has carried us.  When I remember my past, I am reminded of God’s faithfulness.  God has kept God’s promises as demonstrated through Jesus and throughout our lives as the Spirit of God inside of us points us away from ourselves and to Jesus and the world around us.  That not only helps me to understand my past and to understand what it means to be my true Self…and it gives me confidence for the present and faith for the future.  

You’ve been given the gift of God’s presence in your life.  Allow yourself to not settle for simply looking at the gift or only bringing it out on special occasions, but allow yourself to get in a place to see Jesus at work in your life and in the lives of others.  As someone passionate about running, I tell folks all the time that they have the gift to run, but unless they exercise that gift, they’ll never know how good they can be.  Exercise your faith through prayer, finding a small group Bible Study, starting a neighborhood gathering or even a prayer group (virtually or outside 6′ apart…during this season), getting together with a spiritual director, serving others, being in worship with others, finding a small group of folks to pray with and hold you accountable.  Even if it’s online during this season, it’s still good!   The conversations that we’ve had online these past few months have been amazing!

When I was younger, I wanted to do something great.  Now I realize that doing something great is wrapped up to my identity in Christ.  It may not mean changing the entire world over night, it may mean being great for just one person or being a great neighbor.  We are his body as the church and called to build community with others and to be good neighbors by loving well ourselves, God, and those around us.  God’s power is living inside of us, reminding of us our identity it Christ, carrying us and changing us as we remember and focus on the amazing gift of his Spirit, and in the lives of those around us.   Live in Jesus and have confidence that his Spirit is living in you and wants to transform the world with his love through you!  Believe!  

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