Saturday, May 8, 2010

"Disciples Behaving Badly" May 9, 2010

Text: John 14: 23-29

Today is Mother's Day, Family Sunday, and the day of the baptism of Tiauna, Marisa, Nathan and Alexander -- and so our focus this morning is on families.

I mentioned to the children a few minutes ago that we often consider church to be a kind of family. Indeed, part of Knox United's mission statement, which we print every Sunday in the bulletin, says "We are a church family that welcomes you to a living faith through God and the teachings of Jesus Christ."

Church as a kind of family -- that might sound appealing, unless the phrase also brings to our minds some of the tougher realities of families. Families, of course, are central to our lives -- we are raised in them as children, we form them by marriage in adulthood, and we enjoy the wonders and grace of extended families throughout the years in times of mourning and celebration.

But our experiences in families are not always positive. Families are where we experience love, and sometimes also aggression; where we get our most basic needs met, and where we sometimes suffer neglect; and where we find acceptance and healing, and sometimes also find rejection and hurt.

So what kind of church family do we form here at Knox, or in the United Church of Canada, or in the broader Christian Church all around the world?

For three years, Jesus and his followers formed a kind of family. They travelled together, ate together, healed and taught together, and loved and supported one another.

Our Gospel reading from John this morning is taken from the long speech Jesus gives to his disciples on the night before his death. He explains that soon he will no longer be with them in person. But he assures the disciples that God will send the Holy Spirit to teach them everything and remind them of all Jesus has said to them. This assurance is also meant for us: though we do not have Jesus with us in person, we have the Holy Spirit to teach and help us.

But is this really reassuring news? Even when Jesus is with his disciples in the flesh, not everything goes smoothly. In Bible stories, the disciples are often in trouble. They quarrel with one another. They argue about who is the greatest among them. They often don't understand what Jesus is doing or saying. One of them, Judas, betrays Jesus to the Romans. Another one, Peter, denies Jesus three times on the night of his arrest.

One can imagine a TV special about the disciples' life with Jesus. It might be called "Disciples behaving badly!" And if this is how his friends behave when Jesus is there in person to teach, lead, and love them, will it be any better when Jesus' presence is only something as seemingly nebulous as the Holy Spirit?

We do know a little about the life of the disciples after Jesus' ascension to heaven -- from the book of Acts and from the Letters in the New Testament. And these show that  Jesus' followers continue to have troubles. Of course, part of their trouble comes from outside forces that oppress them: the Roman Empire, religious elites who opposed the teachings of Jesus, and the harsh life of the 1st Century. Just as in parts of the Global South today, the early followers of Jesus lived in a time of poverty, disease and inequality.

But even within the church of the first Christians, we are told of fights and arguments -- about whom to welcome into the church and whom to exclude; what to believe; and how the church should conduct its business. Two Sundays from now on Pentecost, we will celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to the early church, just as Jesus predicts in our reading this morning. But despite the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit, the early Christians still had fights enough and unhappiness.

And so it continues today. A congregation like Knox might be our chosen family -- and we are very glad to welcome the Torchia children into this family today -- but like all families, there are things we dearly love about this church family, and sometimes things we are not so thrilled about.

As in any family, members of Knox might feel resentment as well as appreciation, envy as well as joy, fear as well as trust, boredom as well as excitement, and hurt as well as healing. If there are stresses in the church -- things like budget shortfalls, decisions to be made about the building, or competing ideas about our mission -- then those stresses sometimes lead to bad feelings and perhaps arguments.

The disciples had Jesus with them and then the Holy Spirit, and sometimes it wasn't enough to make life in their chosen family run smoothly. And we have the Holy Spirit and God's Love here among us, and it isn't always enough to make life in this church family always run smoothly either.

And that is OK, I think. As I said during the Welcome this morning, we come to church for many reasons,. But we all come with problems: each one of us is limited, mortal, and broken in various ways. Sometimes we are scared and unhappy. We come to church not because we are perfect, but just for the opposite reason, because we are sinners. And if you put a group of broken, unhappy sinners together to form a family of believers with a mission to love God and neighbour, then of course things won't always run exactly the way we would want.

But Jesus and the Holy Spirit didn't give up on the confused, quarrelsome and unhappy disciples; and neither do they give up on us.

The creation of any family is always a matter of faith, hope and love. Despite all our shortcomings, we fall in love, marry, have babies, and try as best we can to raise them. We trust that God's Love will support us even when we make mistakes. We live in hope for our children and grandchildren, even as many forces exist to frighten us. And always we try to remember to be guided by the light of Love, which for us as Christians is best represented by God through Christ in the power of the Spirit.

How do we remember to follow the path of faith, hope and love? Church can be a big part of it. This morning, we embraced four children as children of God. We used water as the symbol of God's Spirit to mark them with the sign of Christ's cross. And in welcoming these four little ones into our church family, we remembered and renewed our own baptismal vows. We are broken, and yet we belong to God. We bear the marks of pain and unhappiness of our lives, and yet we are also marked and claimed by the sign of Christ. We stumble and sometimes argue amongst ourselves, but we also rely on God's grace again and again to respect ourselves and love one another.

Life wasn't always easy for the disciples -- both when they had Jesus with them and after he left them with His Spirit. But they prayed, celebrated and sang because God had given them the path of faith, hope and love on which mere mortals can support one another in families of all kinds. Life isn't always easy for us, but we have God's Spirit buried deep within us and always dancing between us. So we pray, celebrate and sing because God has given us his path of faith, hope and love in which we as mere mortals can support one another in families of all kinds.

And so on Mother's Day 2010, as we welcome four children into this beloved community, Knox United, we celebrate again the grace of God's Love, shown to us in the example of Jesus Christ, and through the ongoing power of God's Spirit. We do so amidst the troubles and joys of our lives and amidst the troubles and joys of this church family. And so we cannot keep from singing.

Thanks be to God.


Prayers of the People

Let us pray,
    for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus
    for all people everywhere according to their need
    and for the entire web of life . . .

God of Life, help us to be aware that you are with us every moment of our lives; help us to give thanks for this and all our blessings.

For children, who are the promise of new life fulfilled, and an endless source of the joy and challenge of living, we give thanks.
For families and communities of faith that pledge to love, support and teach our children, we give thanks
And for the path of new life that is your gift of grace to people everywhere, we give thanks.

God who is Spirit,

By the Spirit buried deep inside us, we know that we are your child.
By the Spirit dancing between us, we know each other to be your children.
By the Spirit that animates the entire world, we know that you support us.
We give thanks for families, churches, and rituals that make visible your Spirit which calls, claims and commissions us to a life of faith, hope and love.

God who is Love,

In families of all kinds, we find struggle and grace.
Help us to feel your love for us and so find the self respect we need
to love one another no matter what we are feeling.
Help us to forgive ourselves and each other when we stumble and to always remember that we are also part of the family of church, humanity and God where all are welcomed and all are forgiven by your Love.

God of Healing,

May we feel your healing touch during times of physical and emotional pain, in times of loss, and when we feel afraid and alone.

God, we need your loving presence.

We raise up for support and love those that we have named aloud and those whom we now remember in silence . . .

Gracious God, these are our concerns, these are our joys, these are our prayers. We lift them up to you.

Finally, let us draw all our prayers -- spoken and unspoken -- into One as we pray again together the Prayer that Jesus taught us, saying . . .

Our Father, who art in Heaven . . .

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