May 22, 2015

Testimony to life

1 John 5:9-13, John 17:6-19
This is the last Sunday of Easter, and we are facing again Jesus’ last speech, and a convoluted passage about testimony.  I’ve been reading them to myself all week, wondering, what the heck? Sometimes a sermon begs itself to be written, sometimes the scriptures speak for themselves and Jesus’ words shine with a beautiful eloquence that barely need a preacher to help them out.  But John and his followers, who are writing their letters and their testimonies, are writing some 50 to 60 years after Jesus’ death.  And John, well, he’s a bit of a poet.  No, correct that, he’s a huge poet, all starry-eyed, and trying to come up with a way to try and describe the indescribable.

As I was writing this last night, I heard someone playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, not the Judy Garland version, but the one with ukulele by a fellow that sings it like a lullaby.  It’s heart-breakingly beautiful.  It doesn’t have the power of Judy Garland, or the sweet stylings of Susan Boyle, yet it is powerful.

And sometimes it’s in the simplicity of moments like listening to that music, that I am reminded that our Easter story is a simple one too.  Jesus came to free us from the chains of fear and hate and self-loathing that we fall into if when left to our own devices.  It’s too easy as we slog through the challenges in our lives to turn away from hope.  Hope that our lives can be meaningful, hope that we might have love, friendship, and acceptance.  We all search for that part of whatever it is we think of when we imagine what the other side of the rainbow might be.  The tragedy is when we give up too soon, when we sell ourselves too short, when we think it’s all about me and my life and I have to do it all. All I need is the right self-help book, a little more self-discipline, the right Mr. Right or Miss Right in my life, the perfect friend, the perfect lover, the perfect child, or toy or house or car or retirement package, and so on.  Then we get that perfect possession, object or person, and we find that we are still the same miserable person that we’ve always been.

We are often scarred by the relationships we have had, so much so that we would rather complain, criticize or compete in the relationships we now have.  We are afraid of an intimate relationship with something that we cannot see or touch and sometimes do not believe exist.  I think at the heart of the matter, we are deeply afraid.

We are so scared that we will be rejected by God, if there is one, that we will push away or control or diminish anyone including ourselves.  At some deep level, we may have a hidden belief that we are just not good enough, or that the universe is not kind enough, or that there is not enough to go around to have abundance, or life is a competition that I have to win at all costs, or that the only way to prove to God that I am good enough for God’s love is to show God how much better I am than everyone else.  So we deal with people different than ourselves with suspicion, prejudice, fear, and even violence.

That begs the question, what does it take to have a really rewarding life?  A life where we are joyful and fulfilled, where we don’t feel the need to protect ourselves or control others or be perfect?  John says that it is listening to the testimony of God, not the testimony of people.  We get it wrong, we mortal humans.  Even the most seasoned preacher struggles to find the words that will fit what is weighing on our hearts.  Jesus wants us to have fulfilling lives of energy and enthusiasm, passion and creativity.  Lives of vitality and purpose!  What a dream, what a vision he has.  The prayer he says is one he makes on the last day of his life, and it is full of hope, purpose and a mission for his followers.  He sends them out into the world to continue his story, his teachings and ultimately his love.  And if you listened carefully enough to the scriptures, he’s not just sending out the Twelve on the adventure of their lives, he is sending us all out and asking God to love and protect us in a relationship so deep that he describes it as an intimate parent-child relationship.  Wow!

Jesus doesn’t see us the way we fear that he will.  Jesus sees us with love.  Jesus loves the 12, a group of argumentative men who couldn’t even collaborate enough to put together one definitive Gospel that would have all the answers.  They blew it on Good Friday, less than 12 hours after he prays so lovingly to God that ‘all may be one,” they ran away, betrayed him, lied to protect themselves, and committed acts of violence to protect him, all which are contrary to what he had been trying so hard to teach them. 

Jesus sees the flaws, the foibles and loves us anyway.  God testifies to us in broad, beautiful surprising ways.  The Spirit comes to us, regardless of the prison that we think we are living in.  The Holy, however you want to label it or describe it or testify to it, comes to you, yes even you, in your doubts, your fears, your challenges, your moments of weakness, dare I say it, your moments of sin.  And The Holy will not stop.  Even the threat of crucifixion did not keep Jesus from declaring his message of love to us and to the world.  And we are also sent out to declare that message of love, no matter how preposterous, through our actions or words, and when we do so, we are one with God who is the greatest testifier and lover the world has ever known.  May we find God’s testimony speaking to us with love and gentleness in our lives this day and ever more.

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