Presence and Promise
2008-04-15 by Dee Dee Haines
Just a few months after her husband’s death, Thelma tells me that she’s so grateful for those words of comfort, “In my Father’s house there are many rooms.” The church folk have been a great support for her. But now, the visits are few and the cards of sympathy have all been taken down from the mantelpiece over the fireplace. “At least I can look forward to seeing him again,” she says as she pours me a second cup of tea.
For me, the challenge of this text is to be able to call forth a creative partner identity for these words of comfort that are almost always read at a funeral. These words have a history. They are heard with visions. They call forth memories in our hearts and minds. “I remember those words from my grandmother’s funeral.” If we’ve lived long enough we might say, “I think that I’ve heard those words at every funeral I’ve ever attended.”
In the sanctuary on Sunday morning, many preachers will be looking out into the faces of those they pastor, wondering about what fresh emotions might be stirred within the listeners as they hear these words of comfort in a context that may not be named as a context of loss. Some unknowing worshipper might think, “How strange to have a funeral text on a Sunday morning.”
Brian Blount seems right on the mark when he names our troubled times and the need to hear these words in this present context. We may need to be reminded that we live in a context of loss. We also need to remember that the choices we make have a power that impacts this context of brokenness. There’s a lively tension when we understand that we stand in both the presence, and promise, of God.
It’s so easy to distance ourselves from our very troubled world. One task for the preacher is to name that pain- filled trouble, the heart ache we have numbed, so that we can acknowledge our grief, fear, anger and the accompanying emotions, instead of pretending that they are not our reality. The old saying, “You can’t change something you don’t acknowledge,” applies here.
How wonderfully the text points to something to hold on to in the here and now. Jesus is here, in this very room. “I am the way.” There may be something to be gained in asking ourselves, “What are the stories of Jesus that remain fresh in our minds? What narratives have been formative for us? What prophetic words and actions come alive in us---are called forth from us--- when we immerse ourselves in these life-shaping, life-changing stories of Jesus? What about this story?”
Leslie’s wife, May, died twenty six years ago. Even though he suffers from acute short term memory loss, he still remembers to invite me to sit in May’s chair. Several times during our visit he will say, “You are sitting in May’s chair. She always sat there--- and I always sat here.” He taps the arm of the worn, overstuffed chair.
“You must miss her every day,” I say. I feel compelled to acknowledge his pain so that he knows that someone sees. Someone notices. Someone cares that he is suffering---even after twenty six years.
His eyes fill with tears and he nods up and down, unable to speak. In the course of an hour or so, we sometimes go through this routine two or three times before we pray together, and I find my way home.
I think that perhaps this Sunday, even more than others, I will be very caring about how I speak to a congregation where the troubles of our world are being named and the grief that accompanies that trouble becomes real enough to touch, if only for a few moments. I will remember that there is a power in naming the pain in our world and pointing to the many ways Jesus impacted, and impacts, the suffering of many with actions that speak louder than words. Wanting to make a difference in the world right now, ministering as Jesus did, seems an appropriate response to the affirmation of his presence, and promise.
Dee Dee Haines, Isle of Man
Our guest blogger this week is
2008-04-14 by David Howell
Brian K. Blount. He is the President of Union Theological Seminary & Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, Virginia. Click here for his complete biography. Dr. Blount will be a speaker at the 2009 Festival of Homiletics in Atlanta, Georgia.
Also, Pastor Bob needs your help with his "Pentecost Panic" in Parish Solution Forum. Go to Homepage and to Share It! Click on Submit Your Own to help this brother out.
What About Now?
2008-04-13 by Brian Blount
In these very difficult times, it is hard to take Jesus’ words at face value. How is it possible not to live with a troubled heart in these very troubling times? Around the globe, the U.S. faces difficult choices in Iraq and Afghanistan. Starvation, AIDS, and ethnic violence ravage many parts of the African continent. Economic woes threaten the livelihoods of people throughout the planet. The cost of living rises and the psychological and spiritual tolls required to pay those costs threaten to tear lives and hopes apart.
At first, it appears that Jesus, instead of directly addressing the troubling issues and why they so haunt us, tries deftly to do an eschatological sidestep around them. He appears to speak to a future where troubles will be no more. He goes to prepare a future place, and in that future, if not in the present, God will tend to the troubles and the people disturbed by them. Well, what about now?
John’s gospel, focused so intently on the now, on the way in which one can experience salvation now through one’s participation in the person and ministry of Jesus, surely cannot at the very moment that we need a present word attempt an escape to the future, can it? Indeed, it is John’s theology of realized eschatology that makes me look for a word that speaks to the present as surely as it gives assurance for the future.
The answer lies in Jesus’ declaration that he is the way. To be sure, he is assuring his people that God has a future dwelling place, and that those troubled in spirit about their future relationship with God need not be so troubled, for God has surely prepared a space dedicated to an eternal housing of God’s people. Jesus is the way toward and the truth of that new, future life.
But it is his present way that captures my attention here. He does not say that he will be the way when one gets into the future; he declares that he is the way in the here and now. If one wants to get to that untroubled future with God, one must journey through him, through his way and his truth. This is how one makes a way to God.
But how does one undertake such a journey? It is at this point that Philip asks Jesus to show God to him and the other disciples. Jesus declares that one sees God when one sees him and his works.
There is the answer, it seems to me. Jesus’ works, throughout the Gospel of John, appear to be works designed to challenge the troubling conditions of his time with a life generating spirit dedicated to bringing wholeness where there is brokenness, light where there is darkness. His words, his signs, his ministry bring sight to the blind, clarity of mind to the ignorant, life to the lifeless. Those are the works to be emulated. That is how one makes a way in the present toward a future relationship with God.
But can one do such works as Jesus has done? Jesus thinks, “yes.” Through faith, not only will one emulate Jesus’ works, such a person will do even greater works. Can it be that this is how the troubling in human hearts will find its cessation in the present? Through the works of those who emulate the ministry of life and light that were on display in Jesus’ own ministry?
Once again, the answer appears to be an affirmative one. Jesus explicitly says that those who believe will do greater works then he himself does precisely because he is going to God. Jesus’ journey to God is not a cause for escapism; it is apparently the motivation for believers to “work” the works that Jesus himself worked. The search for a future with God demands a present dedicated to God’s service. Those who dedicate themselves to that service therefore dedicate themselves to working against the troubling causes that disturb our world.
Perhaps, then, in the end, Jesus is not focusing only on the fact that in the future there will be a place where troubles will be no more. Perhaps he is also luring those who seek such a future to do the work of realizing that future in the here and now.
Tillich and Buechner
2008-04-12 by Tom Steagald
Actually, Buechner was quoting Tillich who said something to the effect that "here and there in the world, now and then in ourselves, we see the New Being."
And I hope, Fred, you did not misunderstand my reference to Jesus and Buddha. I was suggesting that there is a real difference in these two view of reality and how we relate to it: detachment or embrace. The quality of embrace, of suffering for love, is the characteristic that lets us see Jesus as the Good Shepherd as well as the Lord. Abundant life does not mean an absence of suffering but oftentimes an embrace of same.
Examples of Abundant Life
2008-04-12 by Fred Rose
David has already said I've given ample entries. Thanks, David. I want to add this one before the week is out. Who knows who might be looking for "examples" at this hour.
These are only a few final thoughts on this Saturday. I offer them in the hope that these thoughts help you think of your own.
When our mission team returns home from Appalachia or the Gulf of Mexico, they tell of all their near disasters and funny stories. They also tell of amazing moments when they have joined some family in pulling down sheet rock, putting up new and painting walls with an awareness of the deep gratitude of the family. All they experience seems to be abundant life to me.
Before my wife and I were married and I was still in college, we knew an older couple who acted like surrogate grandparents to an entire crowd of college students. George and Monrovia Goudy would have a group of us in for breakfast on a Saturday morning. Their home was tiny and some twelve or fifteen of us would squeeze around their kitchen table and eat pancakes with a bit of Cointreau in the syrup. This is abundant life for me.
When a member comes up to me after a worship service and tells me honestly, "Your sermon today was good. but I want to tell you the most powerful part of the service is the Prayer of Confession." With tears in his eyes and people all around, he whispers, "In that moment, I know God's forgiveness and love." This is abundant life; surely an abundant moment.
I seem to remember Frederick Buechner saying something about this abundance in another context. "Now and then, here and there" do we ever catch a glimpse of this kingdom of God. Is it possible that this abundance is more real than we can imagine, but we are only aware "now and then?" Perhaps!
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