Sermons

"Why Celebrate? I'll Tell You Why!" A Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B

"Why Celebrate? I

May 13, 2018

Passage:John 17:6-9

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Robert Pace

Series: Easter

Category: Love, Forgiveness, Reconciliation

Keywords: easter, evangelism, forgiveness, hospitality, love, unity

Summary:

We are in Eastertide, a time when we celebrate the risen Lord. At St. Andrew's, on this Sunday, we will also celebrate a Baptism, a congregational "gathering," and today is Mother's Day. All of these are great reasons to celebrate. But we also know that in the larger world, the Christian Church is in decline. More than 46 million Americans consider themselves "religiously unaffiliated," and see the Christian Church in a negative light. This sermon directs us to share the joy and light of the Gospel, as part of our celebration, with these people.

Detail:

In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Today is such a wonderful day of celebration. There's a sense of joy in the air. In between the services today, we had the first of our three "Gatherings." At these sessions our congregation will listen together and talk together and share together about what God is doing in our life as a parish.

Today we celebrate Mother's Day. We are grateful for all mothers.

Today is also a great celebration in the life of the church. Today we celebrate a baptism. Gloria Katherine Swift will be baptized into the Body of Christ.

And all of this is taking place during Eastertide—the season that continues for fifty days after Easter Sunday. It’s during this season of Easter that we specifically revive the “Alleluias.” We particularly remember and celebrate the resurrected Christ throughout these weeks. Our whole life in the church these weeks takes on a tone of joy. We focus our worship and our celebration with a sense of rejuvenation in light of the resurrection.

As I look around at the faces in this congregation, I see that light of Christ. I see the joy of celebration and rejuvenation. We have so many things going on and so many people being moved to share the good news of God’s love and forgiveness with each other. This is a loving parish.

But the truth is, what’s happening in this parish is not necessarily a reflection of what’s happening in the rest of the world—or even in the rest of the Church.

In recent reports over the last several years, it’s clear that the Christian church in America is in decline. Today one out of every five Americans—and one in three adults under the under the age of thirty—are religiously unaffiliated.[1] That means there are around 46 million people in this country with no religious affiliation.

What's really sad and heartbreaking about this research, is that when questioned, these people tend to be specifically adverse in their feelings toward the Christian Church. According to the Pew Charitable Foundation, overwhelmingly, these unaffiliated people think that churches are “too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.”[2]

Of course, what’s the terrible shame about all of this is that the gospel—the Good News of Jesus—is NOT about money or power or rules or politics. It’s about God’s reconciling love for all of creation.

The gospel is about forgiveness and hope and grace. That’s the gospel we experience here at St. Andrew’s. That’s the Gospel we are supposed to be taking out into the world for all to hear.

But unfortunately, not all parts of the Body of Christ have abided by the same path.

Some churches out there are all about power--perhaps having all focus on one powerful preacher, or priest, or other type of leadership. Now God is powerful, and Jesus expects leadership in the Church. But not all focus should be on an all-powerful leader.

Other churches are all about rules, about conforming to specific guidelines and interpretations of scripture--essentially making them their holy idols. Again, there should be some rules and guidelines and proper boundaries in any system. But when the rules become our god, then the God of love get ruled out.

Other churches focus exclusively on money and the so-called "prosperity gospel"--often forgetting the role of Christ's suffering alongside us in our pain. And of course, money is an essential part of how the Church functions. We only exist through the faithful and sacrificial giving of our members. But money is not the measure of the Good News.  

And, there are those churches that make their pulpits little more than political grandstands. Of course, there are times that God’s call for justice and mercy might have us, as Christians, be involved in the political realm--to stand up for those who have no voice. But to turn the house of worship into a den of politics depletes the nature of the Gospel.

At their core, focusing church on money, power, rules, or politics is NOT about God's reconciling love to all of God's creation. Christ came to reconcile the world to God, not to condemn the world. Forgiveness, Love, Hospitality, and Unity should be the descriptors of the Church--not Money, Power, Rules, and Politics.

It’s no wonder that 46 million Americans choose not to affiliate with any religious organization. It’s no wonder that their general attitude about the Christian Church is negative. We are not unified in our message or our approach to bringing about awareness of God’s Kingdom.

Today’s reading from the Gospel of John was quite striking.

One of the reasons it stands out is because we are hearing it here on THIS SIDE of Easter. I mean, we're only a week away from Pentecost here. This is often called “Celebration Sunday!” Each week up to now, we've been hearing resurrection-themed stories. We start every service with: “Alleluia, Christ is Risen.”[3]

But now we read this account from just before the crucifixion. In some ways, it’s a bit jarring to be taken back to that room with Jesus. It's like an abrupt kind of time travel to be quickly returned to the time before his death.

And what's happening in that room with his disciples?

We get to eavesdrop on Jesus praying to God.

And it's a very powerful prayer.

The truth is, part of its power for us today is the context in which WE are hearing it.

Here's what I mean: If we were to read this prayer back in Holy Week--seven weeks ago--we would be alongside the disciples there in the room. We would be in a mindset of thinking and knowing that Jesus was going to the cross. We would hear the words “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.”

As we heard those words in Holy Week, we would imagine the next steps: Jesus headed to the cross--to his crucifixion--to his death.

But we have the gift of hearing these words here and now. We hear them on THIS side of Easter. We hear Jesus pray: “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

The disciples heard that prayer that night and did not know the full meaning of what Jesus was asking.

But we do. We have the benefit of seeing how the story unfolded. We know that Christ died, but also know about the empty tomb. We know about the formation of the Church. And, regrettably, we know about the many, many divisions within that one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

Jesus prays: “Holy Father, protect them in your name … so that they may be one….”

And it’s powerful and humbling to know that Jesus is praying for us.

Jesus is calling for OUR protection.

Jesus wants us to be one.

There's only one way for those 46 million religiously unaffiliated Americans to change their minds about the Christian Church. We have to do it.

We celebrate today for many reasons. But we especially celebrate because we know we are called to share the Forgiveness, Love, Hospitality, and Unity of God.  

St. Andrew's, you are absolutely up to the challenge. And because of that...

Today really is a day of celebration.   Amen.

 

[1]“‘Nones’ on the Rise,” October 9, 2012, Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project, available at http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/

[2]Ibid.

[3]Thanks for the idea for this shift to Michael Sullivan “An Out-of-Order Lesson Calling Us to a New Day: John 17:1-11, 7th Sunday of Easter/ Ascension Sunday - Year A” June 5, 2011, Day1 available at http://day1.org/2923-an_outoforder_lesson_calling_us_to_a_new_day