Jesus’ Pep Talk

Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 21, 2017

Listen to today’s sermon here:

22Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,
 ‘For we too are his offspring.’
29Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” – Acts 17:22-31

[Jesus said to the disciples:] 15“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
18“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”- John 14:15-21

Everyone needs a good pep talk now and then. Something to get you psyched up for the big performance or the big game. Something to give you the courage to stand up and do what you need to do. Someone to give you a pat on the back, or even shout in your ear, “You got this!” Sometimes there are mornings when we could use a pep talk just to face the day.

The church could use a pep talk these days. I saw another round of stories this week about mainline church decline, positing all the same old stories about changing culture and grieving the way church was decades ago. I buy into that narrative less and less, but we are, as people of faith, living in a very different cultural context than we were several decades ago, some of that’s good, some of it doesn’t seem as good. It’s not easy necessarily to talk about our Sunday mornings with people in the rest of our lives, many of whom are rightly cautious about religious-types. The church as a whole needs some encouragement to keep on getting out there.

And all of us can use a pep talk when it comes to the hard work of serving our neighbor. It’s a world filled with need and it’s hard to know where to start, where to share our financial resources, what the best route to changing the world really is – in local community agencies? In local or national government? Through the church? Is it a focus on refugees, hunger, income inequality, racism, housing? Are you feeling tired yet? Looking for some energetic words to get you going again?

Thankfully Jesus is ready with some words for us and for the disciples. These words of Jesus come from his long speech preparing the disciples for what is about to come – his own death, resurrection, and subsequent leaving them again. The disciples, I imagine, are starting to get a little uncomfortable with all the reassuring Jesus is doing and the vague way he’s referring to the trials ahead. This is one of Jesus’ last chances to give them some words to get them through, words they can come back to later for support and courage, words that will inspire them to carry on the work of Jesus in the world.

So, what does Jesus say to them? He doesn’t say: “Come on everyone, you got this! You just go out there and be the best you can be, and I know you’ll do great. Work as a team and together you can do anything. Go out there and get ‘em!”

Actually he says, or at least strongly implies, the opposite. You can’t do this without help. Let that sink in for a minute. Jesus says, in this critical moment, you definitely can’t do this alone, not even together as a team of disciples personally handpicked by Jesus himself, you’re not going to have everything it takes to handle this.

What he does say is that as he leaves them God is sending another to work alongside them. You can’t do this alone, but the good news is that you won’t be alone. God is with you, God’s advocate is with you. The world cannot see it, but it’s true.

And here we are, desperately in need of words that will give us the courage to charge forward, and what we get is a Spirit we cannot see, hear, or touch, one whom the world doesn’t even know about. Some pep talk.

But then maybe it’s the pep talk we need. When Paul is trying to explain to the Athenians a God who is more than we can know he tells them that we, human beings that is, have been created to search for God, to grope for God, and perhaps to find God. In one sense that’s troubling to me. Created for a search for this unseen and too often unknown God. Created for a task that we cannot complete – to know this God who comes alongside us.

And yet, as much as I want this God who comes alongside to give me everything I need to work things out myself, what I get, what we get, is a God who has more in store for us that we have yet imagined. A God who has created much more in the universe than we can know. A God who is ever near yet never able to be fully known. And an invitation, not to desperate and unfulfilled searching, but the kind of searching which always discovers more questions with every answer. A God so deep and wide, so full of wonder and mystery, that we cannot ever fully understand the God who comes along side us.

That’s the pep talk the disciples get. Go, love God and love your neighbor. And when your efforts are not enough, when you yourselves are not enough, when the world tells you you are not enough, the God who is bigger than you have yet imagined, who is more than the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus, is already alongside you transforming you and your work into something holy.

It’s simply not very concrete in terms of help. It’s something more than can be grasped and held and even known. But you have been chosen and called in baptism for this work. You have been created for love of God and neighbor, created to be loved into that wonder and mystery. Like ordinary bread and wine transformed into a meal that sustains and heals us, forgives and renews us, forms us into the body of Christ, the ordinary offering of our daily lives becomes what God fills with breath and life, what God uses to feed the hungry and welcome the stranger, what God uses to bring the dead back to life.

-Pastor Steven Wilco