Friday, July 4, 2014

Sermon for July 6, 2014

Rev. George Miller
“Beautiful in Christ”
John 14:1-14
July 6, 2014

On Friday we celebrated the 4th of July, a yearly celebration that marks our nation’s decision to declare freedom and independence and to make the bold claim that every man has the inherent right to property, life and liberty.

From a theological standpoint, I would say that the 4th of July is about the claim that every person has the right to experience the Kingdom of God here on earth.

For after all, aren’t the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Miriam, about being free to live life on one’s own little patch of land?

Wasn’t the ministry, the miracles, the stories of Jesus all about the ability to live life, life that is whole, life that is healthy, life that is free?

Yes, we celebrated the 4th of July on Friday, with good food, family and fireworks, which also means that undeniably it is summer.

Although our northern neighbors think we live in a perpetual summer, there is something markedly different about this season of the year.

Summer time, with its high heat index, afternoon storms and humidity makes it the perfect time for various things:

seeing big-budget action movies in the multiplex, binge watching an entire season of a TV show, spending time by the ocean swimming in the surf, soaking up the sun and enjoying a good book.

I’m not talking about self-important books that use 10 dollar words, or Pulitzer Prize winners that impress others, but good, trashy books with no goal other than to entertain.

I like romance novels. I’ve read stories about people in their forties who are starting over, teens breaking into modeling, twenty year-olds solving mysteries while shopping for Monolo Blahniks, and cities overrun by giant praying mantises.

Nothing but pure, fun trash.

Every now and then I come across a book that has a lesson, a small kernel of truth. For example, the book Can’t Get Enough of Your Love about a woman who is dating three men at the same time.

The main character is named Elana Joy. As to be expected, during the course of the story everything falls apart and Elana is left trying to pick up the pieces…only to discover that everything she needed to be happy already dwelled within her the entire time.

Elana goes through a period of rebirth. She reclaims Joy as her middle name. She walks, especially around the property of her country home.

She notices sights she never paid attention to before: a rose tree wrapped around a weeping willow. The sun seems different, the clouds seem bigger, and the night sky seems more sparkly.

Her ears are reborn. The ducks and swans chatter to one another and the cicada serenade her every night.

She discovers a new sense of freedom.

She discovers that God is everywhere. From the wilted petunia that springs back to life after the morning dew to the nightly music provided by the orchestra of bullfrogs, crickets and mosquitoes living in her pond.

During this rebirth, Joy creates a poem:

When I wake,
I am Beautiful,
flashing a little leg
and yawning slyly….

When I sing,
I am Beautiful,
flashing teeth and singing strong…

And when I walk,
Lord God!
I am Beautiful,
swaying with hope and legs and back
in time to a rhythm I want
only myself to hear.

I don’t need a magazine
to tell me
I am Beautiful
I am Beautiful.

Church, can I hear you say “I am Beautiful”?

We can all benefit from time to time reminders that we are all unique and beautiful.

Elana Joy’s story reminds me of today’s scripture, as they are both deal with the presence of God in our lives.

Today’s reading is part of Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse.” He knows his hour is coming and that soon he will die.

After washing the disciples’ feet and sharing a final meal, Jesus speaks about the time they’ve spent together, his eventual departure and what their future will be like.

He addresses their need for comfort; he encourages them in their struggles. He instructs them about how to live as a holy community.

Jesus prepares them for his departure yet he assures them that he will remain with them.

It’s confusing mix because Jesus is both coming and going. He will leave the group one way, but he will forever be present with them in other ways.

Jesus speaks to them about this new reality they’ve been experiencing all along: that he and God are one.

In other words, through Jesus they have witnessed the actions of God, by Jesus they have experienced the love of God, and in Jesus they have actually seen God.

Therefore, by continuing the ministry of Jesus, they are continuing Jesus’ presence in the world and they will become Jesus’ reflection to all those they reach out to.

This is some deep stuff to think about. Back when this was written, both the Jews and the Greeks believed that God was the Great Invisible, not something to be seen, but other-worldly and different.

Which is why, in the Gospel of Luke, it is so radical to claim that Emmanuel, which means God-With-Us, is born to a human family and is seen doing common, every-day things.

Yet here in John 14 we have Jesus stating that if you know Jesus, you know God, if you’ve seen Jesus, you have seen God.

This statement drives the Gospel of John. That God is not just a common deity who is somewhere far out there, but that through our relationship with Jesus we are in relationship with God.

What good news this was to the disciples. What good news this was to the people of their time. What good news this is to all the people who have read these stories throughout the ages.

God is not far away, unknowable or un-seeable, but God is forever present, relational and here.

…but a problem exists: if Jesus is about to go away, how are the disciples to continue being in relationship with him?

Simple: by doing the works Jesus did.

Jesus tells them: you have seen everything I do, now when I leave, you are to continue ministering to others. And guess what: you will do a great job because I will be with you.

Theologically stated, to share in Jesus’ ministry means to reveal God to the world, which also means the disciples can continue to still love and be in relationship with Jesus even after he is gone.

They can love him not by clinging to a memory, but by doing what he did and by keeping his commandments.

By doing his works, they allow people to see Jesus. By allowing people to see Jesus they are allowing them to see God.

What does this mean for us at Emmanuel U.C.C. in Sebring, FL in the year 2014? It means that the things we do become reflections of our God.

Have you ever stopped to think about that before?

That as Christians what we say, do, how we treat one another and others become living examples of who God is and how God loves us?

That can either be a scary or an uplifting thought and a pretty tall order.

Most of the time we go through our days aware of what we want to do and where we need to go.

If we’re lucky enough and we have enough clothes, we can choose how we want to appear to the world. What outfit to wear, which shoes to put on, to shave or apply make-up, perhaps some perfume or cologne.

There are those who don’t stress out about those things. There are those who are uber-aware of how they appear. A lot of times it has to do with upbringing or the era we grow up.

What we wear to the gym we might not wear to the store which we might not wear to work which we might not wear to church which we might not wear on a date. (Although lately the cultural norm has become that pajama bottoms are Ok any time and any place!)

If our clothes don’t send a message of who we are, how we behave in public does. If we’re at Publix and take our time shopping and talk nicely, people might say we’re polite. If we barrel through the aisles and switch feet as we wait on line people will say we’re rude.

A smile says you’re friendly. A frown can say “I’m mad” and crossed arms can say “stay away.”

As Christians, when we step out into the world, do we check ourselves to see if we are truly reflecting Christ?

We sing “They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love” but is that really true most of the time? 80% of the time? 50% of the time? 20% of the time?

If you’ve ever noticed, I don’t have any religious decals on my car. It’s because I know how I drive, how I look after leaving Gold’s Gym and that at times I prefer to blast my music.

I’m the first to admit I don’t always drive the way a Christian should, and I don’t want anyone to ever think bad about Christianity or our denomination because I cut them off or rode their bumper.

How do we act with other people; with one another? Because if we truly identify ourselves as Christians than our actions no longer represent just ourselves, but the body of Christ.

When people see us, what are we showing?

Are we kind? Do we smile? Do we acknowledge someone’s presence, even if we do not know them? Do we engage in friendly conversation, offering a compliment or two?

Are we present for people? Are we willing to be there not just for the joy, but for the sorrow, the frustration, the fear and the hurt?

What are the things we say about others? Are they words sweet like honey, meant to bring forth life? Or are they fraught with stones and fire, meant to hurt or criticize?

Do we use phrases that are racist, sexist, homophobic or hurtful to those with physical or mental disabilities?

What are the works we do both as individuals and as a unified body of Christ? Is it for the benefit for us, or for the Kingdom of God?

Because what we say, what we do, how we act are all reflections of Christ, reflections of God.

And those reflections can either show to the world a God that is made up of closed doors and hate or they can show to the world a God who is made up of welcoming compassion and love.

How are you reflecting Christ? How am I? How are we?

…remember the beginning of the message, when we talked of Elana Joy and her discovery of who she is and how beautiful she has become?

She realizes that from waking to walking she is free and she is beautiful.

She gains new ears, new eyes, new body and a new soul, realizing that God is present everywhere and in everything.

Later, she states “If God is everywhere, than he is always nearby.”

The Gospel of John shares a similar sentiment: God is everywhere, God is also always nearby and because of Jesus, his life, his ministry and his many works, we have come to see and to better know God.

And so it follows that through us and our actions that Jesus is reflected to others and the world gets to experience the love of God that is everywhere and is always nearby.

A love that claims we are free and we are all beautiful, when we wake, when we sing, when we walk, when we work.

In Jesus Christ, we are all beautiful indeed.

All thanks be to Holy Spirit that sings freely throughout the world, to Jesus who walks with us wherever we go and to God who is everywhere, who is always nearby.

Amen and amen.

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