May 5, 2013

posted Jun 19, 2013, 12:31 PM by David Hawkins   [ updated Jun 19, 2013, 12:31 PM ]

05/05/13 (May 5, 2013) Sermon

Karen Sandlin Retirement

John 14:23-29

Jesus answered him, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

"I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, 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.

“You heard me say to you, 'I am going away, and I am coming to you.' If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.”

Sermon: “Peace at the Table”

You know, this really is a peaceful church. I’m sure that comes as a shock to some of you. Now, I don’t mean that it hasn’t experienced conflict. I know you all too well for that. What I mean is, there is a sense that no matter what is going on in the immediate situation, no matter what the mood, or current emotional dynamic, the church is part of something bigger, and more rooted in time and space than itself. That even in its worst moments, it has the sense that God is doing something in this church even when whatever it is that God is doing is not completely obvious to us.

One of the signs of that peace is the longevity of your pastors. I believe that over the last 75 years of your existence, you’ve had four called pastors, and I’m the fourth. There was Frank Travis so long ago, and then there was Charles Teykl, and then there was Drew Travis, and then God help us all, there is me.

I can’t tell you how rare that is. It takes an incredible trust of God’s presence and guidance for this to happen.

There are many reasons that a church finds a way to be at peace, even in the midst of change and conflict. And the reality is, many different folks hold the keys to a peaceful church. And today, we are witnessing a change in seasons in the life of one of those folks, as we celebrate the retirement of our Organist, Karen Sandlin.

Now I promised Karen that I wasn’t going to preach her eulogy today, and I won’t. But I really want to just take a moment and thank Karen for her work for the last 25 years, serving as Elder, Clerk of Session, Church Secretary, Organist and Director of Music, sometimes all of these offices simultaneously.

In many ways, Karen has been the glue that has held the church together, especially in the transitions between pastors. Her perseverance, her skill, and her dedication to the church and its ministry has been a tangible example of God’s presence among us. It is our honor and pleasure to be able to say thank you, and well done, good and faithful servant of the Lord. Karen, you may now enter into the joy of your retirement.   

OK, let’s get back to our scripture lesson.

Jesus is getting ready to leave his disciples. They have eaten their last meal together, on this side of the resurrection. Jesus knows what is going to happen next. His disciples are less certain. They are unwilling to accept the fact that one of them will betray him, the rest will flee him, and one will deny him altogether.

They have been with Jesus for three years now. How can he say that they will abandon him? It doesn’t make sense to them. And they can’t deal with it.

“How can this be?” they ask. “Who can it be?” they speculate. And in the deepest part of their hearts, they wonder, “Can it be me?” Will they be the one to betray Jesus? Will they be the one who turns their back on him?

It’s a sobering thought.

You know, for the last couple of decades, it’s been a fashionable thing to ask the question, “What would Jesus do?” But in this situation, I can’t help but think about what I would have done, if I was a disciple. Would I have stood with Jesus as he went to trial? Would I have stayed at his side while he was being flogged in the public square? Would I have carried my cross along the via Dolorosa?

I have to admit, I’m not absolutely sure of my answer.

And in just a little while, the disciples are going to find out what their answers to those questions will be.

But in our scripture, we are not quite there yet. Jesus is in the middle of saying goodbye to his disciples. Goodbye after a three long years together, years of conflict, years of hunger, of persecution, of danger. Years of miracles, healing, teaching, and learning. Jesus is telling them that their time together is coming to an end, that this season of their lives is going to change.

And what are his words of wisdom? His parting words of strength and encouragement? He says, “Peace. Peace, I give to you.”

It’s a peculiar gift. It’s probably not the first gift the disciples thought they needed. Personally I would have voted for, I don’t know, a superpower or something.

Because the reality is, they are going to need something pretty powerful to get through the coming days. Things are going to get unbearably bad for them. They are going to be attacked, hunted, and alone. They are going to doubt their own faith. There are going to be times when they feel like God has abandoned them. And they will feel like they’ve abandoned God.

And  the reality is sometimes we don’t see God. We don’t feel God. Sometimes, we don’t even trust God, or even think that God remembers that we exist.

In our worst moments, we’re not even sure that God exists. Our lives are so violently out of whack that we cannot conceive that God would have anything to do with us or this world that is so utterly broken. If we are honest with ourselves, we can admit that we can imagine what the disciples must be feeling.

They know that Jesus has caused a ruckus with everything he’s said and done for the last week. Pilate’s come to town with a contingent of Roman soldiers, and shouts of revolution are sounding all over Jerusalem. One of their own number has disappeared into the night to betray Jesus for a handful of money.  Jesus is getting ready to take off. Their whole world is crumbling around them.

And what is Jesus doing about all this? He tells them that he’s getting ready to prepare a room for them. As if that means anything. They don’t need a room. They need a sword. A shield. They need a savior. And it doesn’t look like they’re going to get one.

And still, Jesus stands before them and says, “Peace.”

It’s hard to accept peace in this situation. In fact, I would think that it would be hard to accept that there might ever be peace again in this situation.

And if the story would have ended there, with Jesus going off into the night, betrayed, arrested, tried, convicted, abandoned, crucified, dead and buried, then I would have to say that it would frankly impossible to accept that there ever would be peace.

But this story doesn’t end with death. It ends with life.

This is not the last time that the disciples eat with Jesus. They eat with him again after he rose from grave on the road to Emmaus. They eat with him on the lakeshore. They eat with him again in Jerusalem. In fact, Jesus has so many meals with his disciples after he rises from the dead, that I’m not entirely sure why we call the passover meal the last supper.

I mean, the word ‘last’ sort of implies final, done, end, terminal, game over. But there is nothing at all that is finished with Jesus Christ. And that includes the eternal banquet that we are all invited to share with him. The Last Supper is not the end. The Last Supper is just the beginning.

Every time we come to this table, we we remember that one more time, we are eating a meal with the risen Jesus, that the promises he made to us at Passover are fulfilled at Easter, that the dark night of Good Friday is forever vanquished in the bright dawn of the Rising Son.

This Easter meal is the gift that Jesus has given us, that we are given permission to come and experience the promise that God is still with us, that even when all seems lost, when our world is breaking apart at the seams, when violence surrounds us, when we are overwhelmed with our own sense of guilt and shame, this meal is a tangible reminder that we are ultimately loved, ultimately protected, ultimately redeemed, ultimately welcomed into the house of the Lord.

Because at this table, in the bread of life, and the cup of salvation, we taste peace.

Thanks be to God. Amen.