Greater Works – September 27, 2015

“Greater Works”
Acts 7:55-60 John 14:1-14
We often hear the words from John’s Scripture at funerals. They are words of great comfort even when tears of grief are flowing and hearts are breaking with hurt for the one who has just been lost and for those who remain behind. They are certainly appropriate for the occasion. And…though the losses and the funerals may have occurred months ago…though hearts may still be hurting…the words of comfort are appropriate today…and as we go into the future. Jesus didn’t offer these words of hope and comfort at a funeral. It was at the Last Supper…right after he told his disciples that he would die. They were comforting words surely…words intended to brace the disciples for the eventful days ahead…words that should brace us at Jackson Grove United Methodist Church for the eventful days ahead. Just like the world of the disciples…our future isn’t what it used to be. Jesus offered comfort and hope for Stephen, too. As Stephen was going through his crisis…Jesus who was seated at the right hand of God…stood up…opened his arms…and prepared to be the advocate for Stephen before God. Stephen was so reassured that he accepted his fate…and…asked God to forgive those who were ending his life on earth. Like Stephen we must be so reassured that we ask God to forgive those who have hurt us. You and I may not have the opportunity…as the disciples did…to walk with Jesus in the flesh. We may not see him as Stephen did. There are times when you and I just have to believe when we cannot prove with physical evidence. We have to be able to accept what we can’t understand. This is what Jesus was telling his disciples as they faced their uncertain earthly future. Let’s look at his message this way. Just as a teacher does before the end of the semester exam…Jesus was recapping his time on earth and his teaching for the disciples. That same kind of review might be good in these days of great personal…church…community…state…national and international challenges…and hand-wringing. If in the darkest hours of life we believe that somehow there is a purpose in life and that purpose is love…then even the unbearable becomes bearable. Even in the darkness there is a glimmer of light. Jesus is the proof that God loves us so much. God gave us everything He had to give. God gave us his only son. God gave us his only son to be with us in our days of challenge and opportunity. Just like the teacher in the classroom…Jesus also reminded them to trust that he was telling the truth to them. “If it were not so, I would have told you.” Jesus was always honest and did not try to bribe any person with promises of an easy way. For us…individually and for our church family…there is a path forward. It may not be easy…but Jesus will walk it with us. There’s often someone in the classroom who challenges the teacher with questions…someone like Thomas. “How can we know the way? Thomas asked. Jesus said I am the way. It’s like this. Suppose you’re in a strange place and you ask for directions. The person you’re asking responds with words about a right turn here and a left turn there and three traffic signals and so on. Pretty soon you’re lost in the words. Now suppose a person took you by the hand and said come with me. That’s what Jesus does. He not only gives advice and directions. Through the Spirit He takes us by the hand. He strengthens us and guides us personally every day. He does not tell us about the way. He is the Way. Life with Jesus is life indeed. Jesus is the only way to God. No one gets to the Father except through him. It is in Jesus alone that we see what God is like. It is Jesus alone who can lead us on earth and to God’s presence…to our room in God’s house…without shame…without fear…without obstacles that can’t be overcome. As our church family goes forward…working together and with resources from the United Methodist Church and our community…Jesus will walk with us…if we let him. From the apostle Phillip came another challenge. Show us the Father. That will be enough, he said. After nearly three years…Phillip still did not get it. He had been looking at the Father all of that time. Jesus said that anyone who had seen him had seen the Father. That was a pretty bold statement to make in those days. People like Phillip thought God was different…that God was distant. Phillip…and the people of the day would never have thought they could see God. If you want to see God…Jesus said…look at me. God…through Jesus…participated in the most intimate parts of lives. God entered into an ordinary home and into an ordinary family…perhaps like ours. He was born the son of a carpenter…and lived most of His life in a carpenter’s home. Through Jesus God sanctified human birth and the humble home of ordinary people like you and me. God was okay doing the work of a human. Jesus learned the carpentry trade. He knew all the difficulty of living in an ordinary home…in a family…and every problem that comes to those who work every day. Though the Old Testament might have made some of us believe that work is a curse…the New Testament tells us that work has glory in that it is touched by the hand of God. The work ahead of us…of strengthening God’s family at Jackson Grove United Methodist church…will also bring glory…maybe not accolades and publicity…but glory in that it will serve God…and be touched by the hand of God. God knows what it’s like to be tempted. Jesus showed us a God who goes through the struggle that we also undergo. Make this note Phillip…and everyone else…God is not like a commander who leads from behind the lines. God knows the firing line of life. We may be tempted to rest on our hands. After all…it takes time…talent and treasure to do God’s work. That lazy chair on a cold…rainy… weekend afternoon is awfully tempting. Keeping a distance from those who hurt is tempting. Just writing a check is tempting. The financial report for our church…on paper…shows us to be better off than many churches. We have reserves that are five times the annual operating budget. Can’t we just write a check and continue to do what we’re doing? For two reasons the answer is no. At this point our revenues are just paying the basic bills…and our ministries are not bringing new or renewed members to our church…not providing significant ministry. Continuing as we are means our cash flow decreases at an increasing rate and we eat into the reserves until they are all gone with no progress being made…no additional ministry being done. Secondly…most CEOs and financial advisors will tell us that we need a reserve of six months to one year of annual operating costs…not five times. There was a reason our CEO…Jesus…told a parable of the servants who were given talents to do their master’s work. We have the treasure that can help us find ministry paths that will strengthen our church family. Our challenge is to move forward…with Jesus…to create…then execute a plan for doing so. That’s the purpose of our gathering in January. In the meantime…ask God this question. How can we be in greater ministry in our church and community…and bring God’s answers with you to our retreat in January. God will be there. I pray you will be also. Jesus shows us God loving. In Jesus we see God caring intensely…yearning over people…feeling for them and with them…loving them until he bore the wounds of love on His heart and all over His body. How can we show such caring in our church and our community? Bring God’s answer to that question with you in January. Jesus made two promises that night. First, he told them they would do great works….greater works than he had done. Through the disciples a great many converts joined the church. The number continued to grow. The disciples and those who followed to this day carried the gospel out of Palestine to the entire world. It is still spreading. Jesus couldn’t do that while on earth. He was confined to Palestine. As far as we know…Jesus in the flesh never walked on Jackson Grove Road. That work he has left to us…with the promise that he will send the Spirit to walk with us. How will we do greater works in our church and community? Jesus also promised that any prayer offered in his name would be granted. He didn’t say all prayers would be granted…just prayers made in his name. The test of any prayer is whether it can be made in Jesus’ name. When we pray we should always ask, “Can I honestly make this prayer in the name of Jesus?” It’s not about prayers for revenge…or for personal ambition or gain…or for some unworthy object. Many of us who listened to 1960s rock ‘n’ roll heard Janis Joplin sing, “Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz.” That’s not the kind of prayer said in Jesus’ name. The prayer which can honestly be made in Jesus’ name…and which in the end says “Thy will be done” is the prayer that will always be answered. A prayer that is based on self will not. What is your prayer for Jackson Grove United Methodist Church…and the community we serve? Together…let’s offer it in Jesus’ name. “Do not let your hearts be troubled”…Jesus said. Not just words for comfort at a funeral…these are words that prepare you for every crisis in life…and words that should prepare you for every day in life…every act of ministry on earth…as well as those days of rejoicing in heaven. With those words of comfort and promise…for every day…not just at funerals…let us go forth…just like the original apostles…just like two of the servants in the parable of the talents…building on what has already been done by those who built and strengthened the Jackson Grove United Methodist family…using our time…talent and treasure…for even greater works.