Sermon May 22, 2022
The First Reading: Acts 16:9-15
During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us.
The Gospel: John 14:23-29
Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
Today is very much about the word of God and listening to it. Obviously, words are important. They make up a good part of our communication, although non-verbal communication is important as well. The first word of a child is exciting. Words can be beautiful in poems, scripture, literature. They can be loving and encouraging; they can be inflammatory and destructive; they express both truth and lies; they can be totally empty or meaningful; they can hurt or connect people. Choosing our words is important. This whole idea of “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is not quite right. Bullying – even if it is “only” verbal – is a big deal and can end in tragedy. For better or worse, words have consequences.
Jesus instructed his disciples about his word. Again, we find ourselves in the time right before his death when last minute explanations were made to prepare the disciples for Jesus’ physical absence. He reminded them of his teachings and admonished them to keep his word. His word is closely connected to love. “Those who love me will keep my word.”
For a year, the confirmands here at Trinity have heard about the word of God, faith, and how it is expressed in different forms, whether in the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, the Sacraments etc. I think the experience of this year in confirmation class was that the words that describe our faith can be several things. They can be extremely confusing. How does anyone explain the Trinity? There just is an aspect of mystery that comes with faith and our trinitarian God. They can be maddening. How do we deal with God’s word of love and forgiveness when we feel that someone has wronged us in a really bad way? The word is about priorities, but how do we put God first when there are so many competing things going on, all at the same time. Sports is one among many other things.
These were just a few questions that came up in our year together and not everything was clarified once and for all. The kids confirm their faith today, but that doesn’t mean that they are done with learning and growing, just as we all are never done. It is an ongoing process no matter what age we are.
Jesus’ connection of love and his word, and his command to keep his words is one of these ongoing challenges. We have an idea what it means to keep our word. For example, we make a promise, and we keep it – ideally. But we have a choice whether we make a promise or not in the first place. We choose our words.
To keep Jesus’ words is more challenging because we don’t control his words and sometimes they are difficult or even go against what we think is right and appropriate. Yet we are asked to adjust our words and actions to Jesus’ words.
In the last weeks we have heard what this means: Jesus commanded that we serve one another, that we love one another as Jesus loved us. He also commanded that we love one another even to the point of giving our life for one another. The idea to live up fully to this kind of love is a bit scary and certainly difficult.
Since we are human, our words and actions do not always reflect Jesus’ words or expectations. Inflammatory and dividing words are feeding much of the public debate today. Unfortunately, they are not just rude or annoying, but they can have deadly consequences in real life. The shooting in Buffalo was driven by the replacement theory, the idea that in the foreseeable future white people will not be the majority any longer in this country and that this development is a problem.
From a Christian point of view there is no place for this kind of thinking. It is just wrong. In Christ we are all one, all equal, all loved by God, all made in the image of God, all gifted in different ways, all contributing to the body, there is no lesser or better part, there is no worthy or unworthy. Jesus had clear words for those who did not believe in him or tried to trick him occasionally, but his words were never hateful, inflammatory, or discriminating. Jesus’ words – even those to his opponents – did come from a place of love.
It can be difficult at times to find this place, especially when anger or annoyance get the better part of us, but to keep Jesus’ words is to check our words and ideas, and to give Jesus’ words priority. Keeping God’s word means to live in harmony with God’s truth and God’s justice, with God’s love and God’s mercy. It means to let the teachings of scripture shine in our daily life. This is what we can do and how we can have an impact on the world around us.
Jesus told his disciples and us: Go and love in a world too afraid to share. Go and love in a world too afraid to be hopeful. Go and keep God’s word to love, because that is the only viable way to live and to find peace in this troubled world.
And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.