December 10, 2023

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in Memory of

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Last week's Sermon

To our readers: This is my last Sunday at United Congregational United Church of Christ so this will be the last sermon that I post.  Blessings & Peace, Pastor Keith

John 13:31-34, 14:18-19, 16:4b-7, 16

June 19, 2022

“A farewell discourse”

Written by Keith C Kraft

Can you believe that guy? I mean, here it is on the last night that he has to spend with us and it is like he is talking in riddles. “In a little while you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.” What kind of double talk is that?

I’m sorry. I didn’t introduce myself. My name is Bartholomew. I was one of Jesus’ closest disciples. Jesus had many followers and many disciples, but there were 12 of us who were with him the most. We were the ones who Jesus would send on special missions and help him with the crowds of people who would come to listen to him teach and preach or needed special attention for healings and things like that. It was also the twelve of us and a few more that were with Jesus on that night of his arrest …the day before his crucifixion.

I have to tell you, that was one really strange night. And it started strange from the very beginning. Earlier that day, Jesus had sent a couple from our group to make arrangements for us to share a Passover meal together. That evening we began to gather in that upper room. Tradition at that time was that when a person entered a house, they would remove their sandals. There was usually a basin of water and a towel sitting by the door for them or the servant of the household to wash their feet.

Well, none of us wanted to take on the role of the servant and wash everyone else’s feet. Wouldn’t you know it, Jesus took up the basin and the towel and started to wash our feet. How embarrassing for our leader to take on the role of a servant washing our feet. Well, Jesus being Jesus, just used it as a teaching opportunity telling us that just as he took on the role of servanthood, we should do the same serving one another.

That was just the beginning of a strange night of teachings. After supper, Jesus tells us that one of us is going to betray him. We didn’t know what he was talking about. Then he gives us this new commandment that we were to love one another. It really wasn’t a new commandment. We were always supposed to love one another. The problem was, most of us didn’t do a very good job of it. Jesus told us that through loving one another, other people would know that we were his disciples.

I have to tell you; I didn’t know if I wanted to love everyone in our group. Even though all of us in that group followed Jesus, we didn’t always get along. There were many of us in that group and many different political leanings. Some were zealots. They wanted a revolt against the Romans. I, myself, preferred a more peaceful resolution. And then Jesus goes into this weird talk about oneness.

He starts talking about how he and the Father are one …and that he wants us to be one with him and one with the Father …and even one with one another. Really? How can you be one with people who think and act differently than you do? I’m not sure I want to be one or even considered one with some of the people in our group. In many ways, for some of us, Jesus was the only thing we had in common. He was the only thing keeping us together. I think Jesus knew that and was worried that when he was no longer around that we would just fall apart as a group.

That was the other crazy thing about that strange night. Jesus started talking about leaving us …and the way he was talking, it wasn’t just about packing up and leaving. He seemed to be suggesting that his death was imminent. As if the night wasn’t somber enough reflecting on our past history, Jesus has to throw in this kind of talk. He starts talking about going away to the one who sent him …that his Father’s house has many rooms …that he is going away but he will come back for us. It was all quite confusing …and frightening.

I mean, really, what were we going to do without our leader and our friend. We would be lost. We would have no direction in life. Not only would we be losing a friend …someone we have grown to love and care about, we would also be losing our leader and our guide in life. It was all just too much to take in. Our grief was already beginning, even as Jesus was still present with us.

Jesus seemed to understand what we were going through …the questions we had and the grief we were and soon would be experiencing in a more real sense. He spent most of the night trying to comfort and reassure us. Jesus told us that he would not abandon us as orphans …that even though he wouldn’t be there, God would send a helper …God’s own Spirit. God’s Spirit would continue to guide us and remind us of all that Jesus had taught us. God’s Spirit would comfort us and reassure us. Through the experience of God’s Spirit, we could still experience peace, even in the midst of pain, chaos, and uncertainty.

Jesus also told us that God’s Spirit would keep us connected to him …that he was the true vine and we were the branches. It was through God’s Spirit that we would continue to be fed and nourished …not just to survive, but to survive and produce fruit. God’s Spirit would give us the courage, strength, and guidance to continue Jesus’ ministry …even in Jesus’ absence.

Jesus then said something that didn’t make sense to me at the time. I don’t know if you caught it in your reading this morning. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away.”

At the time it made absolutely no sense to me. How could it be to our advantage that we have no leader …no one to teach us and show us God’s love …give us directions on how we should live our lives? How could that possibly be to our advantage?

What Jesus knew is that he had to remain obedient to God for his mission and ministry to have any credibility. If he did not remain obedient to God and fully live out God’s love, then his life of mission and ministry would have been meaningless. All of the things that he taught and preached would have no meaning. No one would believe or trust someone who talked of God’s love and the importance of being obedient to God’s call, but then didn’t live the life he taught or preached. Jesus knew that the only way for the message of God’s love and grace to be spread throughout the world was if he remained obedient to God, even though he knew it could cost him his life.

It was not easy for Jesus. He had a pretty good idea of the pain and suffering that lie ahead for him. But it was also painful for him to leave us. He loved us and cared for us very much. It was difficult for him to see the pain in our eyes. That is why he tried to reassure us that we would always be connected through gift of the Holy Spirit.

Change is never easy. It is especially difficult when that change is forced upon because of forces and events beyond our control. But there are times that change needs to happen. Sometimes change needs to happen in order for us to grow in faith. Sometimes change needs to happen in order for Christ’s mission and ministry to grow and expand. Part of what it means to be a believer and follower of Christ is to grow fruit …to live out God’s love so that others might experience God’s grace. Sometimes change needs to happen to force us look beyond ourselves. Being a follower of Jesus is not about me. It is about God and living the life that God has called each of us to live.

We faced many challenges and changes after our last night with Jesus. You are and you will continue to face many challenges and changes throughout the rest of your lives as well. I would like to share with you what I learned as I looked back on that last night with Jesus. I learned that God is always with us, even in the most drastic of changes. It is in experiencing God’s presence in the midst of change that we experience comfort, reassurance, and eventually, peace. It is God’s Spirit that will continue to guide us through the times of change. It is in the love of God that keeps us connected with one another. Even if we are divided on so many other things, we are one in the love of Jesus Christ and one in our desire to carry on his mission and ministry.

As much as we do not like it, change is necessary for growth of faith to happen. I must go now, but know this. We will always be together in God’s Holy Spirit of love. Amen.