John 20:19-23

Jesus Appears to the Disciples

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors were locked where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Here we are at Pentecost!  It’s good to see so many of you wearing red…and plaid!  We wear red because of the symbolism of the Holy Spirit descending upon those early disciples in the form of a flame lighting aloe their heads.  

Pentecost itself corresponds to the Jewish “Festival of the Weeks”.  It’s a harvest festival that falls 50 days after the Jewish passover.  Jesus was crucified during the passover celebration as we know.  Fifty days later, the disciples are still living in fear, but are in Jerusalem now for another festival.  Can you imagine what those disciples must have been going through in those 50 days?  As we have been talking about these past few weeks, we’ve been talking about Jesus’ words in John chapters 14-17, the farewell discourse and events right after that discourse. Again, Jesus has been preparing his disciples for what was about to come. Now, Jesus did not know all that was about to happen. He did not have any certainty. He didn’t know the outcome of the next day or the next season. Sound familiar? 

We can identify with those disciples, living in seasons of our lives with uncertainty.  Yet, something happened to them in those 50 days.  As we read in the passage from Acts, the Spirit of God moved within them and they were empowered to move beyond their fear and to share their lives with those in a crowded Jerusalem.  

That dynamic energy of three in one God, demonstrated by the outpouring of God’s energy, God’s Spirit on the disciples, gave them courage to face the unknown of going outside of their comfort and into a world that they literally did not understand. They walked into a Jerusalem filled with folks from all over that had different customs, different ethnicities, and different languages.  This Spirit of God, this “Advocate” as we talked about recently is all around us and in us, the same Spirit that filled the disciples on that day. God’s Presence literally is advocating for us and is with us…and carried the disciples and carries us today!

The early disciples experienced being connected to God, one another, and wanted to share that connection with the world. And, in so doing, they gave birth to a new movement, a new understanding, a new realization if you will, that we are all one humanity, God’s children. That our diversity is beautiful, keeps us curious, AND, we can be united and connected in that diversity. Fire was used to describe the Holy Spirit…and that flame, once kindled, proliferated wildly.

The disciples needed the spirit…they needed courage…and they needed to know that they were not alone.  If we have ever lost someone, we know that even after they are gone, that it often feels like they are still with us. Maybe even more so. Same, but even more with Jesus. We’ve never met Jesus, yet it seems that Jesus is even more present within my body, within my friendships, and within the space between us. Teilhard calls this the cosmic Christ, that Christ not only lived and walked the earth, but is with us, everywhere with everyone and everything, right now. 

Jesus, the Christ, appears to the disciples in the gospel lesson from John giving them God’s very presence and calling them out of their comfortable place, which, is really precarious actually, into the world around them.  When they receive the Spirit in power later at Pentecost, the movement begins!  The disciples are not only carried by the Spirit, but they are also given forgiveness to be received and given!  There is no longer any shame to hold us back when live in the presence of God.

There is a Presence, a sense of God’s love all around us and I pray for awareness of God’s Presence. I believe that the greatest gift and struggle that we have as humans, is the work of becoming of self, others, and God aware…of being connected to ourselves, others, with the divine flow of God pushing us deeper. The disciples, like us, were in a liminal space, a threshhold out of their control and they were being pushed deeper into Presence. 

As we allow God’s love to pour into us and through us to others, we begin to understand that we are connected to an expansive and wild God. We begin to see faith as not about certainty or having things figured out, but understanding that living in mystery and curiosity, living in a willingness to let go of our control, our vision, and letting God expand our horizons. We are locally rooted in community, and globally connected in Christ…as we let that reality seep in, we begin to experience a deepening of ourselves, a joy in things unseen but lived out. 

God’s Spirit, our advocate, is moving us out.  And, we are being moved out of ourselves and finding creative ways that God’s Spirit has been at work in and around us during this season, and we are adapting, embracing this new reality, not certain of where it will lead, but trusting that God’s Spirit will energize us, that God’s Son will be our friend, and that God’s relational flow will continue to give birth to new possibilities. 

Today is a reminder that some chapters close in our lives, yet other chapters open up!  We are sending off Steve and Beth into the next part of their lives, even while we welcome new chapters in our lives personally and as a congregation.  Yesterday, at my  commencement, the president of the seminary reminded us that commencement is not only an ending, but also a beginning.  We are a part of a legacy, a lineage, a great cloud of witnesses!  Whatever happens next, we can remember that the Spirit of God, God’s Presen


John 17:1-11 

Jesus Prays for His Disciples

17 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you, for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

Glory!  What a word!  I would have to say that the music today has brought glory on each face as we sang earlier.  There is something about music that brings out glory, isn’t there?  Looking it up in the dictionary, gave me this as a definition of glory:

glo· ry 

: praise, honor, or distinction extended by common consent

: worshipful praise, honor, and thanksgiving

: something that secures praise or renown

: a distinguished quality or asset

: a state of great gratification or exaltation

: a height of prosperity or achievement

: something marked by beauty or resplendence

: the splendor and beatific happiness of heaven

We find this word in this morning’s passage.  Jesus is praying for himself and for his disciples.  This comes at the end of the “Farewell Discourse” that we have been talking about the past few Sundays.  Jesus has been encouraging his followers, his disciples that he now calls “friends” and family even as evidenced in previous Gospel stories.  

After this last supper, this remembrance and encouragement, Jesus goes to a place away from everyone to pray.  A quiet place, a place without distractions.

As we talked about in Bible Study this past week, God, the divine presence within and all around us, invites us to move into places alone.  The word in our bible study this past week was from Hosea 2 where God is seen as “alluring” us into the desert.

Jesus is in a season of consolation and desolation.  This is part of all of our journeys, as well as Jesus’.

St. Ignatius defined these as:  “(consolation is) every increase in hope, faith,  and charity, and all interior joy which calls and attracts to heavenly things and to the salvation of one’s soul, quieting it and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord.” And “(desolation as) the contrary of [the above], such as darkness of soul, disturbance in it, movement to things low and earthly, the unquiet of different agitations and temptations, moving to want of confidence, without hope, without love, when one finds oneself all lazy, tepid, said, and as if separated from his Creator and Lord.”

We sometimes want to separate Jesus from his humanity, but he was human in every way and had to go through all things and emotions as every human does.  In many ways, we are reminded or shown that God does not cause evil, but lives through it with us, experiencing all that we experience.  This is true of Jesus as well.  He is pleading with his followers to be one and stick together as they grow through life.  To love one another.  He knows that they are about to be in a season of desolation.

He is now praying for himself to remember who he is and that he is connected to God and to others.

When one goes through the desert where everything is stripped away, when one is “allured”, one can move through desolation to consolation, to knowing their truest selves as found in the Truest Self, the self of all selves, their lover and their belovedness.  

As we go through desolation, if we allow ourselves to be in places of lament and growth, we can move towards consolation where we find ourselves living into eternity.  Jesus talks about eternal life in his prayer, remember, eternity in the original sense of the word, is not about quantity of life, but quality of life.  It is about being glorified.  Jesus is praying this for himself, and consequently for all of us.

This is a theme in scripture, the writer of Colossians says this in 1:27:

To them God chose to make known how great among the gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. – Colossians 1:27

This mystery is that Jesus, the Christ, through Christ’s Presence, represents you and Christ lives in you.  As you live into glory of who you are, not your ego, but your true self, you live in glory, in splendor, in beauty…even as you go through the process of desolation and consolation, or the cycle of death and resurrection. In this cycle, your ego becomes subservient to your true self.  In other words, you die to your ego and are resurrected into the person you were created to be…the very image of God.

Jesus understood this, Jesus knew that something was about to happen.  He leaned into it as he prayed that night and into the next day.  It was not easy, and we all know that life is not easy.  Yet, if we live it authentically, that is in vulnerability and adventurous, we can move towards glory.

Our reformed background gives us a series of questions and answers.  Back in the day, when you were confirmed into the Christian faith, you had to memorize these.  The very first question in the Shorter Catechism (there was a longer catechism that had 10x more questions, imagine having to memorize that!), is this:  

“What is the chief aim of humanity?  To enjoy God and glorify God forever.”  

Live in Christ, live in glory…and be who you were created to be, made in the glorious image of God!


John 14:15-21

15“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

18“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Life can be crazy.  It can also seem like we are alone at times in trying to figure it out.  We all want to know if there is someone there for us.  Our culture is crying out to know if we are alone.  As one lyric of a popular song a few years ago said, “does anyone really care?” This morning’s passage gives us some sense that we are not alone. This passage comes to us while we are still in the season of Easter.  It is a part of the Farewell Discourse of scripture that we’ve been reading from quite a bit this year.  It is where Jesus is encouraging his disciples that they have a deeper power at work within them and all around them.  He has this curious question at the beginning, “if you love me?”  We should ponder that question.  We talk a lot about church in the church, but do we ask the questions, the deeper questions, do we love God, do we love ourselves, are we willing to go deep with this whole concept of love?  If we are, then are we willing to listen to the Divine voice within and without and love as God created us to love?  Are we willing to grow and change?  Jesus encourages the disciples, and us, to love one another, that they, and we, will not be left alone or orphaned, but that an advocate is being given to them.The Greek word for “advocate” in this morning’s passage in John is beautiful.  Greek words often have many different meanings.  The word for advocate in Greek is “paraclete”.  It means to come alongside, to help, to counsel. 

Coming alongside?  What does that mean?  Samuel Wells, an author and Anglican priest uses a term call “with-ness” rather than “witness” in describing God’s presence with us.  As the body of Christ, we find our being in the relational flow of the Trinity by being recipients of God’s emptying into us. This flow fills us and calls us to be our truest selves to then empty into one another. We are connected to an embodied Jesus that’s somewhere out there in the cosmos, it’s a mystery, but someday this will all be revealed. 

God demonstrated to us God’s love by entering humanity through Jesus, taking on flesh as described in the first book of John.  Immanuel, God incarnate, God in the flesh. We are connected to Jesus because He is the head of the church. The church has a particular role as part of the Body of Christ. We are called to emulate and model Jesus’ emptying by simply doing what Jesus did: by being “with” others or practicing “with-ness.”  By allowing God to pour God’s life into us and to allow that life to flow into others. To live in Christ by living in this relationship with God’s flow through God’s relationship within the Trinity. 

“Being with” is a central tenant of the outpouring, the emptying of God’s Spirit through the Trinitarian flow. Samuel Wells notes, “Being with the dynamic of the inner relations of the Trinity – God being with God; it is the essence of God being with us in Christ; and it is the fulfillment of the Spirit’s work in our being with one another.” Scripture reminds us that Christ resides within humanity: “Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11b). Jesus is the Christ, flowing from the Trinity, residing with us, as well as our neighbors, and in all things. As we live into Jesus being made present with us, we can then be present with ourselves and others, with everything. As we practice “being with,” of “living in,” and have a theological understanding that Christ is in all things and people, then we can understand being one, or in communion with others. 

We have this Spirit of the Divine calling us to be with and to come alongside others.  We have the power of God calling us to others even as it calls us deeper to ourselves.  How do we come alongside?  Cormac Russel wrote a great book called “Rekindling Democracy”.  He is a friend and asked me to review an early chapter of it a few years ago, he says this about coming alongside: 

In getting alongside communities the challenge is not to pre-script the conversation. Here are some tips we can follow.

1. Don’t pretend to know, ask.                   

2. Don’t assume to know, ask.                 

3. Don’t offer answers, ask; then….

4. Don’t talk, listen…

I gave everyone a handout this morning, it’s more detailed from his book.  Take it home, check it out.  It’s what we’ve been practicing in many ways over the past 5 1/2 years that I’ve been here.  Really, in a lot of ways, the basis of my doctoral work as well.  Many of you have been practicing this intentionally and unintentionally.  

Living this kind of coming alongside requires two things:  faith and connection.  Jesus knew that death was approaching on the night before he was crucified.  Jesus also hoped and understood that death needed to happen before resurrection.  We, even 2000 years later, don’t always have that kind of faith.  Even as we see it written out scripture.  Jesus also knew that we would need to stay connected to each other and to him.  Again, that’s why he said that an advocate would be with us, the very spirit of God.  The way the Spirit works, it comes alongside, it advocates for us, it helps us to see things about ourselves, others, and God that may not make sense at times, but always seems to work towards deeper awareness eventually.  Our congregation, and our world, are going through death and resurrection and we are crying out.  Not to have everything figured out, but to know that someone does care.  We’re not alone, the very power of God, the deep love of God that is radically inclusive of all of us in this room and outside these doors and windows, presides within us and all around us.

This spirit, this advocate that is with us won’t settle for comfortable, this advocate will push us towards growth…may we cultivate our awareness of God and ourselves as the advocate emboldens us and gives us confidence as it did the disciples.  The disciples faced hard things, their friend was encouraging them as he knew that they would need one another…we can do hard things.  May we love one another and may we trust this advocate.


John 14:1-14

Jesus the Way to the Father

14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, but if you do not, then believe because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled!”  Well, that seems to easy to say doesn’t I?!  Yet, we let our hearts be troubled every day at times.  Yet, anxiety can lead to deeper belief, and belief can turn into deeper commitment.  So, if there is a pattern to this sermon, it’s the “ABC’s”.  Anxiety to belief to commitment and how do we get there?

My anxiety on one level has risen this week.  My nephew sold his car to my son for 1/2 the cost of what it would normally be.  That’s great, but it’s a stick shift.  

Everyone in our family can drive a stick except for Brennan.  To his credit, he’s learning.  But, until he does, he’s been driving my car while I drive his. I’m anxious because I want him to be safe.  But, I have to admit, when I take a step back and look at the whole picture, it’s kind of fun to drive his car for a bit.  

Well, that’s one thing.  But, life throws so many curves at us, doesn’t it.  More than learning how to drive a stick shift, we face so many other things in life.  We live in anxious times where we don’t know the future and it seems like our dreams and expectations are not coming to fruition.  I see it and hear it every day.  We have an older congregation, many of us are wondering what the rest of our days will be like.  We also wonder about our congregation and where we will be…and we look around and wonder where are our sons, daughters, and grandchildren.  Not just in the church, but in our lives. 

In troubled times, we have to begin to ask deeper questions.  That’s why I love Thomas’ questions. He stays open and curious, even in his anxiety. In that process, he grows and faith takes shape.  It took Thomas to starting the church in India after Jesus’ death.  A church that still exists today and started a movement of folks across Europe actually.  That same faith is alive in us and giving us agency. 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.  But, even in our anxiety, we have to stay curious and listen together to figure out what God is up to and to be moved in the direction that God has us going in.  

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 these questions.  Where we take up this discourse in chapter 14, Jesus 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.

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.  But, we have to remember our oneness.  Are we honoring one another?  Are we asking questions?  Are we willing to be in this together?  To celebrate even our differences?

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 in 2017, I had a growing sense that my next call would be as pastor of this church.  I was filled with excitement, but also had some anxiety and 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 almost 6 years into it.  Filled with ups and downs, yes, but so good…and, friends, I don’t want to go anywhere in this season…I see our congregation coming together in deeper ways if we allow ourselves to slow down, reflect, and allow God’s flow to move us into new places.  I believe, that if we stay faithful, that the next two to three years of our congregational and community life, even with all of the uncertainty of our times, will be the most exciting in our church’s history.  

Jesus says he’s the way.  That’s not an exclusive statement, it’s actually inclusive.  Jesus is calling us to live into our agency as we live in Christ…a Christ that is universal and present within all of us.  The way of love…and it is our way at Fleming Road.  

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!

Our passage says that Jesus is going to prepare a place for us, that God’s house has many rooms.  Well, that’s a message for now.  Our church building is huge, and we are opening it to the community.  Yes, most of our contacts have come through my connections, but YOU have embraced it and have had agency and are taking these new partnerships in different directions.  You have worked through some anxiety, you have believed, and you have committed.  Someone on our church council asked me this week if I’m ready to be a new kind of pastor to multiple groups in our building.  My response was yes in so many ways.  We have some work that is still emerging, but it is good work.  We also have many rooms in the community opening up.  As Marilyn and I preached together on a few years ago, our congregation is merging with the neighborhood around us.  God is showing us the Way! I am committed to making sure that our current congregational live thrives, and that we engage the community together in meaningful ways that bring life to us and to our neighbors even as we commit to creating new things. Live in Jesus and have confidence that his Spirit is living in you and wants to transform the world with his love through you!  ABC… Amen?