I shared this message with The Judson Fellowship: An American Baptist Church
http://www.abc-usa.org/ and member of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists
http://www.wabaptists.org/ this morning in Jamestown, New York.
Biblical texts for today:
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Can you believe it? Can you really believe it? Jesus says to us today: “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to [God] (John 14:12 NRSV).
Do you believe–do you really believe–that we can do greater things than Jesus? That is what our Scripture says this morning. It says that we will do greater things than Jesus did.
I don’t know which is more fantastic, more astonishing, more preposterous–that we are capable of doing greater things than Jesus or that Jesus is speaking this Word to us today. Look around you. Jesus is saying this little band of believers gathered here this morning will do greater things than Jesus did in his lifetime on earth!
Do you believe this? Can you really say it out loud? Can you?
And more importantly, do you? Do you believe it? Do you act every minute of every day that you will do greater things than Jesus?
Let’s find out. Try this sentence: I ______ (say your own name out loud) will do greater things than Jesus.
How does that sound to you? Fantastic? Astonishing? Preposterous? Irreverent? Blasphemous?
How about scary?
Let’s think for a minute what Jesus did. Give me some examples.
(Here are a few samples:)
* Cured a man of his demons;
* Cured a woman of a twelve-year flow of blood;
* fed the five thousand;
* walked on water;
* Gave Bartimaeus his sight;
* Raised Lazarus from the dead.
And we can do greater things than these?
Thursday night we read an article together from March’s InSpiritor. 54 American Baptist churches and a number of like-minded individuals have declared themselves to be welcoming and affirming to “all persons without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity”. In response, there’s a proposal to “disfellowship” all Welcoming and Affirming churches from their respective associations and refuse to allow these same churches to associate with other churches non-geographically. A consultant to the General Board of ABC-USA has talked about “acceptable losses”. Our General Secretary has called on us to be bridge builders rather than people who put up walls between us; to be Baptists who focus on the work.
“Disfellowship” is not a nice word–much less a real word. I began to ask myself if “fellowship” is a verb. Certainly not in English. In Greek perhaps–the original language of our New Testament? Well, yes, there’s a verb and it means “I share.” “Disfellowship” means, therefore, an unwillingness to share.
Well, The Judson Fellowship knows about sharing. We’ve been dubbed “the sharers”: the people who don’t want to put their resources into real property but want to reach out to other people, to put the money into work. Isn’t that what Welcoming and Affirming is all about–sharing God’s love with all people? Isn’t that the work?
Fellowship is such a hard thing to maintain. It is so much easier to walk away. Isolation seems preferable: no arguments, no wrestling with our consciences, no struggling with what it means to be Jesus’ disciples or how to love each other when we hold opposite views, no change, no growth, no work.
When I first got Caitlin–when we were still at the Seeing Eye–I bought a Nylo bone for her. It was just a toy for her to chew on. I hesitantly held it out to her. Those powerful jaws closed tightly on it. She seemed to be saying, “Mine!” Dogs don’t share. Toddlers don’t share. As adults, we make decisions about with whom we want to share. We have our own bank accounts, own our own homes in which we live with other people or not. Some of us may share clothing–jackets, sweaters, maybe even shirts, but I wonder about items like underwear. Toothbrushes are definitely out. We all have our limits.
Jesus says to us today, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to [God].”
What sort of works is Jesus talking about? Not necessarily miracles: these works are not signs or wonders. It’s work plain and simple–the kind of work that raises a sweat or provides a service. Jesus says our works, our deeds, our toil, our labor, our services, our sweat equity will be greater than any works Jesus did.
The old adage says: If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t. We may be inclined to ask, “What’s the fine print here?” The offer that comes in the mail that says, “Here’s a check for a thousand dollars for you,” also says, “Cash it and you’ve agreed to pay it back at considerable interest.”
When Philip says, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied (NRSV); that will be enough for us (NIV); that is all we need (CEV); something in me says, “Oh yes. Show us! That would be wonderful!” To be caught up in God would be to put all my troubles aside. I would be filled with love and a peace beyond words. That is all I need I tell myself!
Jesus, however, finds fault with Philip. Jesus finds fault with me, too. You and I and The Judson Fellowship are called to “greater works than these,” not blissful contemplation. We are not to shirk the work.
To see Jesus is to see God. Unlike Philip, we are not reclining at table with Jesus in Jerusalem around the year 30. We are here in Jamestown, New York, May 1, 2005. Shortly we will eat a loaf of bread together and share a cup. It is in the words at our table, in the passing of food and drink, in the sharing of this meal, that we will know Jesus is in our midst. We will see Jesus in each other’s face, feel Jesus’ touch as we are handed food and drink and we hand food and drink to another person. Jesus is present in the simple act of sharing. Jesus is present in the work.
Think how different we are. Only a few of us are biologically related. Think how little we have in common. Jesus is the one who binds us together, who enables us to share our lives, our hopes, our dreams, our troubles and our fears with one another.
It’s fantastic. It’s astonishing. You wouldn’t have believed it if you hadn’t seen it with your own eyes, if you hadn’t touched it with your own hands, if you hadn’t experienced it for yourself.
Sharing together is one of the greater things Jesus is talking about today. Bringing very different people to be partners together is what Jesus is talking about today. Inclusion is what Jesus is talking about today. This is the work Jesus is talking about today. That is why I find “disfellowshipping” so offensive.
Relationships are difficult enough with the people we love. Relationships with people we don’t agree with are very hard. I know. I’m experiencing this right now. I would rather just hang out with people who like me, who agree with me, who support me, who approve of me. Jesus’ words call out to me to do something more, something fantastic, something astonishing, something preposterous. Jesus calls me to share with others: people who don’t like me, who don’t agree with me, who don’t support me and who don’t approve of me.
The greater things than all the miracles we named at the beginning is “love each other, just as I have loved you. If you love each other, everyone will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:34b-35). It’s sweaty, gut-wrenching work.
There’s no way around it–Christian love is work. There’s a lot of risk involved. Feelings get hurt. Self-esteem and confidence fall through the floor. Minds get changed. Truths we once thought were incontrovertible turn out to be falsehoods.
I have one caution: Risk-taking in relationships does not extend to putting yourself in harm’s way in domestic relationships. Jesus does not intend for us to be in abusive relationships: spiritual, emotional or physical. If you are in one, get out. If you need help, ask. There is no situation that you can’t get out of. You don’t have to stay. Get out.
What I am talking about today is those voluntary associations we respond to because we believe God has called us together to be a community of Christian love and to continue Christ’s ministry of building the Kingdom of God on earth. One way I believe we do that is working so that some day all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or their gender identity will say, “Blessed be God, because [God] has not rejected my prayer or removed his [or her] steadfast love from me” (Psalm 66:20. This is the greater work Jesus calls us to do today.
I invite you to leave a comment or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org