Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Sunday 2014

Jeff Garrison
First Presbyterian Church
John 20:1-18
Easter Sunday 2014

          We've made it to another Easter Sunday.  It's a day of celebration, a day of joy!  But arriving at Easter isn’t a cakewalk.  There's that weird evening in which Jesus washed the disciples feet as a sign of humility and then at the table, instituted Communion.  A few hours later he was betrayed.  There are the crowds who had, earlier in the week, shouted “Hosanna” and then on Friday cried "Crucify."  There was hope with his entry into Jerusalem and then despair as the week ended on a hill with three crosses.  There was agony, unexplained darkness, an earthquake, the ripping of the temple veil, the sealing of a tomb, and the long silence when everyone assumed all was lost.  Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning, the Psalmist writes.[1]   Easter is a day of joy, but by the time we arrive, lots of tears have been shed. 
          In Richard Rohr’s devotional for today, there is a quote from a book he wrote for teens about the Risen Christ. 

If you have ever been rejected, you know how unlikely it is to come back into the midst of those who have said, ‘We do not want you.’  That is the eternal mystery we celebrate:  God is always coming back into a world that some unbelievable reason does not want God.  It’s almost impossible to believe that could be true.  And yet Jesus, in his humility, finds ways to come back.[2]

When I think about all Jesus endured leading up to his crucifixion, I’m amazed at Jesus.  Why would he come back and show love and concern to the disciples (and us and others who’d rejected him)?  Jesus’ actions on Easter remind us just how much we’re loved by God.  Let's listen to the Easter morning account as recorded in John's gospel.   Read John 20:1-18.
          Although there are some slight differences between the Easter stories in the Gospel, they all attest to basic truths.  The tomb that had been sealed shut on Friday was open and empty, a woman is first on the scene, and, most importantly, Jesus is alive.  And it’s that last truth that makes all the difference in the world.  Our testimony is based on a risen Savior.    Didn’t you like the testimony we heard earlier from Bono?[3]  We should be so bold in sharing our own testimonies!
          John tells us that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb while it was still dark.  Perhaps the waning moon provided her enough light.  It would have been a little after full, as the full moon corresponds to Passover.  She makes her way through the empty streets and out beyond the walls of the city to Jesus’ tomb.  She expects to find the tomb sealed, perhaps she’ll spend the morning hours wailing by the rock door.  But when she arrives and finds the tomb open, she panics and runs and finds Simon Peter and another disciple.  We know, from the ending of the book, that this other disciple is John, the beloved disciple and author of this account.  These two disciples, hearing that the tomb is open, sprint off toward the tomb as if they were in a race.  John arrives first.
          It is interesting to note that up to this point (and even afterwards), they think someone stole Jesus’ body.  Perhaps it was the Romans, who didn’t want Jesus to be made into a martyr.  Perhaps it was the Jewish leaders, who wanted to erase him from the memory of his disciples by removing the body so that his followers wouldn’t have a place to grieve.  Of course, it is early, still dark; no one has taken the time to process everything that has happened.  It’s just odd that Jesus’ body is gone.  “Where could it be,” they wonder?
          John’s gospel says that he “believed” when he saw the empty tomb with the fabric used to wrap Jesus body rolled up, but we’re not sure what he believed.  This has been debated by scholars, many of whom disagree with me.[4]  It seems obvious to me that he believed what he’d heard from Mary: that Jesus body had been taken away, not that Jesus had risen for the grave.  John goes on to state that they did not yet understand the Scriptures prophecy of Jesus rising from the dead.  The disciples leave the tomb and head home, feeling lost, wondering what had happened to Jesus body.
          Mary Magdalene, however, sticks around. Tears flow freely as she looks into the tomb and through the water prism makes out two angels kneeling by where Jesus’ body had been laid. Interestingly, neither Peter nor John had mentioned the angels.  Looking away from the tomb, Mary sees a man that she mistakes as the gardener.  He, like the angels, asks her why she is crying and continues, asking who she is looking for.  She begs him to tell her where they’ve taken him.
           We’re not told why she doesn’t recognize Jesus right away.  Perhaps it was because her eyes were filled with tears.  Maybe it was because of the darkness.  Or maybe Jesus’ resurrected body appears somehow different than his earthly body.  But when Jesus calls Mary’s name, she immediately recognizes him and cries out, “Rabbi!” as she throws herself around him.  Can you image the joy she instantly felt in her heart as she realizes Jesus lives?
          Now, Jesus wants her to get a hold of herself and to calm down.  He tells us not to hold on to him, but perhaps a better translation, as The Message has it, is “Don’t cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.”  We see how Mary’s emotions take over and understand why she would want to hold on to Jesus forever.  But remember, such actions would be an attempt to control God.  So instead of clinging to her Lord, he sends her on a mission.  She is to go and tell the disciples, whom Jesus calls “my brothers” that he is ascending to the Father…
          There are two important things I want to point out in verse 17.  First of all, Jesus doesn’t hold any grudges.  Jesus still considers the disciples, most of whom have been cowardly and have fled or are in hiding, his brothers.  Jesus is willing to forgive and seeks to round up his brothers so they can get on with their work. 
          Secondly, Jesus isn’t just going to “his father,” but to her Father and their Father and our Father.  I’ve got to go, Jesus continues saying, to “my God and to your God.”  Jesus special relationship to God the Father is something that we share in. That too, is a reason for joy for through the resurrection, through this new life, we are brought into a more intimate relationship with the Creator.
          It’s a joyous think to wake, as I did this today, on a spring morning to birds singing and flowers blooming.  But such examples of nature should remind us that we belong to a God of second chances.  We belong to a God of forgiveness.  We belong to a God of love and compassion who still keeps after us even though we turn our backs and ignore his commandments.  There are plenty of reasons to be joyful and, like Mary who was sent to the brothers to share the good news; we too should join the efforts at sharing the news of Jesus’ resurrection.
          In an effort to improve my writing and preaching abilities, I have been reading Verlyn Klinkenborg's Several Short Sentences about Writing.  It's a unique book; written (or printed) in a way so that each sentence stands alone.  There are no paragraphs.  It’s his attempt to force his reader to look at each sentence and to ponder its meaning.  Klinkenborg also suggests writers throw out most everything they'd been taught about the craft, which I am sure doesn't make him very popular with English teachers.  Yet, there are things he insists on like the power of the correct word. Mark Twain (or at least it’s attributed to him) said that the difference between the right word and an okay word is the difference between lightning and a lighting bug.  This makes the title of Klinkenborg's book ironic at best.  His "several" short sentences(according to my brief calculations)  come in around 5000.  So much for "several!"  That said, at one point in the book I read passage that popped out at me as applicable for our role as Jesus' witnesses in the world.  Listen:
Writing doesn't prove anything, and it only rarely persuades.  It does something much better.  It attests.  It witnesses.  It shares your interest in what you've noticed.  It reports on the nature of your attention.  It suggests the possibilities of the world around you... Proof is for mathematicians.  Logic is for philosophers.  We have testimony.[5]

I would suggest that the same goes for us as witnesses of what God is doing in the world.  We have our testimony.  This morning we’ve read John’s testimony.  We also have the testimony of others: Matthew, Mark and Luke.  We have the testimony of Paul and Peter.  And we ourselves, or at least some of us, have experienced what God has done for us through Jesus Christ.  Like the Gospel writers, we then want to share our experiences with others, just as Mary Magdalene did in our text this morning.  It is a joyous experience to go from thinking all is lost to seeing that all has been gained!  Such experiences, to borrow from Klinkenborg, needs to be attested, witnessed, and reported.
          N. T. Wright, a theologian from Great Britain whom I’ve often quoted, says “the resurrection of Jesus is Christianity.  And this means that it becomes the starting point for all Christian thinking and living.”[6]  Jesus lovingly calls Mary by name and her life is changed.  Jesus calls us into his family and our lives are changed.  We’re not yet perfect, but we have hope and we know our future is brighter.
          If you read on to the end of John’s gospel, you’ll see there are other encounters between the resurrected Jesus and his disciples.  In each, his love flows and their lives are changed.  Jesus institutes his kingdom, that starts here on earth, within our broken lives.  Mary Magdalene becomes a missionary to the disciples.  The disciples are sent out as missionaries to a dark and hopeless world, telling of the loving-power that’s centered in the risen Christ which can change lives and the world.  Do we believe that?  Can we testify to it?  Can we embrace the joy of it?    Amen.  

©2014  Jeff Garrison and First Presbyterian Church, Hastings, MI

[1] Psalm 30:5.
[2] Richard Rohr, For Teens on the Risen Christ, as quoted in Radical Grace: Daily Meditations by Richard Rohr, John Bookser Feister, editor.  (Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1995), 146.
[4] See Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970),  1007-1008 and  Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 1147-1148.
[5] Verlyn Klinkenborg, Several Short Sentences about Writing (New York: Random House, 2012), 117.
[6] N. T. Wright, Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1994), 112.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

April 13, 2014 Palm Sunday

Jeff Garrison
First Presbyterian Church
April 13, 2014
Mark 11:1-11
Palm Sunday!  It’s a triumphant day when we recall Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. Jesus arrives at the royal city, greeted by a cheering crowd waving branches.  It’s the high-water mark of his earthly ministry.  Crowds storm after Jesus, looking to him as a Savior, but as we know things change quickly.  Later in the week Jesus stands alone before the authorities and is sentenced to die.  (Read Mark 11:1-11). 

            Everyone loves a parade.  Actually, it’s a cliché and I’m not sure it’s even true.  If you’re like me and take the back roads for scenery and then find yourself in a small-town parade, you know what I mean.   Yet, I must confess, there is something intoxicating about crowds.  It’s addictive to be a part of something larger than ourselves.  Hopefully, that something is God, but we must acknowledge that we’re also lured by the masses. 
            I’ve told you this story before.  When I was in the ninth grade, there were two schools side by side.  Our school, Williston, consisted of just ninth graders; the other school was for fifth and sixth graders.  The schools had been originally built as a Junior and Senior High, with connecting breezeway between the second floors.  This became a hangout for a group of us who often got into mischief up there where we had a commanding view of the school yard around us.  It was also a great place to carry out sociology experiments. One day someone came up with the idea of drawing everyone in to watch a fight, but there was no fight.  We just started yelling “fight, fight,” and pointing to the other side of the breezeway as we ran over as if to watch it.  As we moved from one side of the breezeway to the other, hundreds of kids from the front of the school ran under the breezeway into the back yard in order to see the non-existent fight.  There almost WAS a fight because then everyone was angry at “us.”  We’d lured the crowd, yet we could have also been sucked into such a trick fairly easily.         
            It’s an exciting spring day in the imperial city of Jerusalem, maybe a bit like this Friday.  Pilgrims pour in; Jews living throughout the Mediterranean gather at their ancestral city to celebrate the Passover.  What a wonderful day for a parade...
            Jesus and his gang are also coming to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  When only a few miles from town, Jesus sends his disciples into the next village in order to procure a colt for his entry...  Jesus has worked out the details in advance.  He tells them where to find this never-ridden colt and to tell anyone who challenges them to say that the "Lord needs it and will return it."  The disciples find the animal; some bystanders question their taking the colt, but they seem satisfied with the answer that the Lord needs it.  We can picture them returning to Jesus, leading the animal by its reins. 
            Now let me point out that this is an example of Jesus being a brave man—one tough hombre!  He must have been some kind of cowboy, for this beast had never been ridden, in other words, it wasn’t broken in.  Some scholars think this piece of information is a subtle hint to Jesus’ royalty, as no one was allowed to ride the king’s horse.[1]  I think it shows that Jesus had faith and was very brave to climb up on the back of such an animal. 
            The disciples, without being asked, placed their cloaks on the animal as a saddle.  Other followers start placing their cloaks on the ground—in Sir Walter Raleigh’s fashion—as the procession begins.  The crowd grows.  Someone brings in branches—Mark doesn’t say Palm Branches, just branches cut from the field—and they begin to wave them along the road.  Others go into the fields and cut more branches.  The crowd is filled with waving branches welcoming Jesus as if he’s a general or a king returning victorious...  And they begin to chant Hosanna, which means “Save us.”  And someone starts singing the 118th Psalm (which we heard portions of earlier in the service) as they join in: 

            Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
            Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
            Hosanna in the highest heaven!

            It’s mostly pilgrims making up the crowd.  They’ve come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.   Think about it as spring break, 30 AD.  Just like today, everyone is making a trek south—even Jesus and the disciples have come down from Jerusalem.  For many of the pilgrims, this is the highlight of their life - being in Jerusalem for the holiday.  It’d be like us getting a chance to celebrate New Years on Times’ Square or Mardi Gras in New Orleans or Christmas at Grandma Moses’s farm.  This is a once in a lifetime chance.   And as they come to Jerusalem, they recall God’s great acts of salvation in the past, of how God freed the Hebrew people from Egyptian slavery and saved them from Pharaoh's army.  It can be dangerous to reminisce about God's past activity, for it reminds them of the possibility God will act again and restore Israel to her former glory.  So they gather with hope.
            Many of them are hoping Jesus is the one they’ve been waiting for, for so long.  They see him as the man God will use to shake off the Roman shackles and allow Israel to once again be free.  Jesus, however, doesn’t fulfill their expectations.  Mark has the sequence of events a little different than the other gospels.  Mark says that after Jesus entered the city, he went to the temple.  This is what you’d expect, if he was the Messiah.  But instead of doing anything, Jesus just looks around and, as it’s already late in the day, leaves the temple and city and travels out into the suburbs, to Bethany, where perhaps the room rates are cheaper.  There he spends the night with his disciples and followers.  And most who had cheered him on have probably already forgotten their excitement.  Since this party petered out, they went and found another party to enjoy.
            There’s something important being said here, about Jesus going to the temple and looking around and then retiring for the day.  The next day Jesus will return and clean house.  This is when Mark tells us he threw out the money-changers and such.[2]  But Jesus doesn’t do that right away, he first looks around and then sleeps on it.  By the way, this should be a lesson for us.  I’ve heard many people try to justify their anger with Jesus’ example of cleansing the temple.  In Mark, he doesn’t go right into a triad, he sleeps on it first—and so should we.  Of course, the next day, he comes back and the tables fly.  And by the end of the week, his royal welcome has long worn out as a royal execution takes place.
            We’re left to wonder what our response would have been if we were there?  Would we have been in the crowds shouting “Hosanna?”  And if so, would we’ve also been in the crowds shouting “Crucify?” 
            What is it about our nature which allows us to get excited when our religion seems to be supporting our expectations, and then to back away when things seem to move in a direction with which we disagree?  We forget that God’s ways are not ours.
            The crowds on Palm Sunday cheered Jesus, hoping he’d throw Herod off the throne and become king.  On Friday, after it was clear Jesus was not leading a zealous political overthrow, the same crowds cheering on the authorities, encouraging the Romans to crucify Jesus...  
            And aren’t we the same way?  Don’t we still seek a religion which supports our beliefs and ideologies?  By the way, I call this "religion" because I do not believe it has anything to do with a faith...  Faith implies that we believe, but that we don’t have empirical proof.  Faith involves trust, a willingness to admit that we, as individuals and as societies, have a sinful nature and our opinions may be wrong.  Only when we are so open can we truly be “born again,” to be transformed by God.
            Real transformation takes place at the cross, not in the hype of the parade.  A religion which only stresses "feeling good," is a Palm Sunday religion and it does not take seriously our human condition toward sin.  A religion based on “feeling good,” will mislead us this week as we recall the events on Maundy Thursday and the day we call Good Friday.   I hope you will join us for these services.  Without a faith grounded in death and resurrection, we’ll be like the crowds running to see the non-existent fight.  And by staying with the crowds, we damn ourselves. 
            Palm Sunday is about politics.  It’s about Jesus making a mockery of those other politicians who entered Jerusalem with pomp and circumstance.   As Jesus was coming into Jerusalem, there were two other significant political figures either already in the city or if not, soon to be there:  Pilate, the Roman governor, and Herod, the Roman puppet king.  There was probably a parade for them too, one involving fancy horses and soldiers with shiny brass and perhaps even a band.   Pilate and Herod displayed the power of Empire; Jesus displayed the power of a mysterious kingdom, one not of this world.  Yes, Palm Sunday is about politics as it reminds us of where we are to place our allegiance.  We’re not to be lured by the fancy horses and war chariots of the kings and politicians.  Instead, we follow the man on a donkey.    
            The church always has difficulty with politics.  We walk a line between being prophetic in calling government to a higher standard (which is appropriate), and playing the court jester.  With the later, we sometimes divert people’s attention from what’s really important and thereby providing support for the status quo.  In a way, with the decline of the mainline churches, we no longer play the role we once did in politics and that’s probably good.  After all, back in the 50s, the Presbyterian Church was referred to as the Republican Party in Prayer.  I’ve heard that Eisenhower, who’d never joined a church in the years he was traveling the world with the Army, was told when he was running for President that he needed to either a Presbyterian or an Episcopal Church, and he picked us because he didn’t have to kneel.  Back then, the church thought it had influence, but much of our influence came because politicians and people were hearing what they wanted to hear.       Yesterday, at Calvin College’s Festival of Faith and Writing, I heard Miroslav Volf, a theologian and the founder of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, address this issue.  “Don’t look with nostalgia on when the church was in the center of everything,” he said, “for then it was used and abused by those in power… instead, we must find the language and the confidence to cheerfully live our lives as followers of Jesus Christ.”  The church can’t and shouldn’t depend on political power.[3]
            Many people think that the reason the mainline churches have declined in influence is that we no longer reflect the values of the larger society.  This may be so, but even if it is, we must remember that we’re not called to reflect the values of society.  We’re called to reflect the values of that man who rode into Jerusalem on a colt some 2000 years ago.  And his values constantly challenge us as to who we are and to whom we belong.  Do we conform to how others want us to be, or do we strive to conform ourselves to the example of our Savior Jesus Christ?   Are we intoxicated by the crowds, or by a desire to stand by the one who is the way and the truth and the life?[4]
            The Passion Week, which begins today, makes us think about conforming.  Here are some things we should consider.  If we only support our church when things go our way, or when we hear what we want to hear, or do only the things we want to do, are we really being supportive?  Or let me ask this: Are we being Christ-like?  If we’re only listening to what we want to hear from Jesus, are we really being faithful to him? It takes faith to stand alone when the crowds disappear; it takes faith to buck the trend.  Granted, sometimes we, as individuals and as the church, are wrong, and when we are it takes faith to admit we are wrong and to seek the new trail Jesus is blazing for us...
            We hear the crowds...  We are drawn toward Jesus...  Will we just going to hang around for the fun of the parade, or will we to continue to follow him as his journey moves toward the cross upon which we’ll be called to sacrifice our wills and desires for his?  AMEN

©2014  Jeff Garrison and First Presbyterian Church, Hastings, MI

[1] Morna D. Hooker, The Gospel According to Mark: Black’s New Testament Commentaries (Hendrickson’s Publishing, 1991), 258.
[2] Mark 11:15-19.  In Matthew 21, Jesus cleanses the temple immediately after entering Jerusalem.  In Luke 19, Jesus enters and condemns people for making the temple a “den of robbers.”
[3] Interview of Miroslav Volf by Cornelius Plantiga, Calvin College, April 12, 2014
[4] John 14:6

Sunday, April 06, 2014

April 6, 2014, Divine Anticipation

Jeff Garrison
First Presbyterian Church
Divine Anticipation:  John 14:15-18
April 6, 2014

        This is the final sermon in this series on how we can both follow Jesus and be attractive to those outside of the faith.  My goal in these sermons is to heighten our awareness of how we might interact with those who do not know Jesus.  This is essential for as Christians; we are called to be Jesus’ witnesses.  How do we represent our faith in a manner that is both honoring to Christ and respects those who have not yet had an opportunity to meet him?  Many techniques used by the church and by misguided members over the centuries have failed on both accounts.  They’ve not honored Christ nor have they respected others.  That’s why things like radical hospitality, genuine humility and fearless conversations are so important.  Today, we’re looking at the fourth technique, divine anticipation![1] 
          Do we see God active in the world?  Do we expect God to show up, not just on Sunday morning but throughout the week?  If we don’t, what do we have that would be appealing to those outside the faith?
          Early in my ministry I read Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon’s collaboration titled Resident Aliens.  At the time, both were professors at Duke Divinity School and they described what they called, “life in the Christian Colony.”  Throughout the book they were critical of Christians who have become “practical atheists.”  In other words, we professed a belief in God, but we don’t live like we believe it.  Instead, we live like everything is up to up as individuals or collectively as a group.  Such an attitude leaves little room for God or for a view of the world that is seen as a part of “God’s continuing history of creation and redemption.”[2]  The authors go on to suggest that the church has given atheists less in which to disbelieve.[3]
          Divine anticipation requires a certain lens in looking at the world and seeing God’s hand involved.  It requires faith and a trust that with God we can do far more than we can ever do on our own.  It also means we must stop trying to control God.
          A group of us have spent the past few weeks watching The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe after our Wednesday soup and bread dinners.  Sadly, those dinners have come to an end.  This week is spring break and next week will be filled with Holy Week activities.  In this movie, which is based on the first book in C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan, the lion takes on the role of Christ.  Aslan sacrifices himself in order to save Edmund, one of the children who have come to Narnia.  In talking about Aslan, the children are reminded that although he is good, he is not a tamed lion.  God is like that—God is good but can never been “tamed.” 
          Divine anticipation means that we are open to things we have no control over.  And because we are followers of Christ, we are promised God’s presence. Hear as I read from the gospel of John… (Read John 14:15-18)

          You know, we often speak of God being with us.  The most beloved Psalm, the 23rd, envisions God as a good shepherd leading us through the darkest valleys where death looms.  Psalm 139 speaks of God’s hand upon us and of God going ahead of us and watching behind us in order that we might be protected.[4] At times, this imagery helps us through difficulty, but when we get out of those valleys, out of the danger zones, do we still give God credit? Do we remember that God was with us?
          I’ve shared this story before with you, but it bears retelling as it is a significant event in my life.  It was one of those “light going off in your head” moments.  I was hiking the Appalachian Trail and in the north woods of Maine, ten days or so before climbing Mt. Katadhin, at the end of the trail. I became sick early one afternoon.  The group I’d been hiking with had all gone ahead.  We’d agreed we would stop at a shelter on the other side of Saddleback Mountain.  But that required a hefty climb and I was a little dizzy and my stomach ached.  I began to think I couldn’t make it.  I stopped for a nap. 
          As I got up, still feeling weak, I prayed for strength to get over the mountain.  Then I took out a little radio (this was in the days before iPods) and tuned into a classic oldies station out of Bangor, Maine.  “Heartbreaker” by the “Rolling Stones” was playing and I stepped up my pace. A few hours later I was in camp, enjoying dinner.  As I wrote in my journal that evening, I thanked Mick Jagger and the Stones for getting me over that mountain.  That night, I woke up sensing something was wrong.  It was very dark.  Lying in my sleeping bag I realized I’d given credit to the Stones for a prayer that had been answered by God.  And yes, I do think God can even use the “Rolling Stones” to accomplish his purposes. 
          It’s easy for us to forget about God.  We think about God an hour on Sunday, maybe a few minutes a day when we pray, but mostly we don’t spend much time thinking about God.  That’s why it is important that we pay more attention. 
          Worship isn’t necessarily a time when we experience God.  But it should be a time where we praise God as we recall those times in our lives when we have experienced God.  Because God is always with us, we never know when we might encounter him and, if we are open to it, we might be surprised.  Worship is also a time to rehearse God’s story of creation and redemption, of praise and confession, of new-birth and new-life.  What we do here is a reminder of a larger reality that exists beyond the eyes of those who do not believe.  Knowing God will show up when needed, just as Aslan in the Lion, Witch and Wardrobe showed up at critical moments, should cause us to look at the world around us with a new set of lenses.  
          Our passage comes from the night before Jesus’ crucifixion.  This would make it Maundy Thursday—which we’ll celebrate next week.  A lot happened on this evening including Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and instituting the Lord’s Supper. 
          In addition to these actions, Jesus devotes a significant amount of time this evening to some final teachings.  He knows his time is short, that before the night ends he will be arrested and hauled away to be crucified.  Yes, he’s coming back, but he won’t always be physically present.  His worldly ministry is about to end.  This challenges the disciples so Jesus tells them, in the passage we read, two things.  First of all, they’re to keep doing the things he taught them (and so are we) and, secondly, he’ll see to it that a Friend (or an Advocate) will be sent to guide them.  The disciples won’t be going about building a church by themselves; they’ll have help.  God’s Spirit will accompany them. 
          Notice the promise detailed in verse 17.  This Spirit is a gift to the church, to Jesus’ followers.  The world won’t recognize God’s Spirit, but we will.  Jesus promises God’s continual presence with us. This doesn’t mean that things will always go well or be easy.  The way of the cross is not the easy way, nor will our lives always be easy as we’re called to “pick the cross and follow.”  But it’s the way of eternal life and we’re promised that we won’t travel the hard road alone.  God, through the Holy Spirit, is with us.  Do we believe it?  Do we see God’s hand at work around us?  We should!  That’s what makes divine anticipation so important.
          Let me give you a quick summary of what divine anticipation is about.  I’m taking this from the book we’ve been talking about for the past four weeks, Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore.[5] 
·        Divine anticipation is realizing that God is actively involved in our lives and world, all the time. 
·        Divine anticipation is grasping God’s power—the power that brought Jesus back from the dead—realizing that such powers are available to us. 
·        Divine anticipation is accepting there are things we can’t explain and that we have to trust the Holy Spirit. 
·        Divine anticipation is being relevant, which has nothing to do with being hip or the new thing on the block.  Relevancy is about addressing the real needs and pressing concerns of people.  Relevancy means God is interested in our lives. 
·        Divine anticipation is expecting God to show up and do what only God can do.  Only God gives life—as Paul points out, he planted and Apollos watered, but the growth came from above.[6]  Furthermore, only God can save us. 
·        Finally, divine anticipation is telling others in a natural way what God is doing in our lives and allowing others to express their faith in their own ways.
          We need to both expect and look for God to show up as our prayers are answered (although it may not be the answer we desired).  We need to expect and look for God in our encounters with others (including those outside the church).  And finally, we need to expect and look for God in our own lives.  For me, journaling is a way that I have discovered God’s activity in my life as I look back over what I’ve said, prayed for, sought out and the response I’ve received.  God’s divine presence is seldom in a burning bush or lightning bolt.  Often it’s the ordinary things of life in which we encounter the Almighty.  That’s why Jesus gives us communion—the Lord’s Supper.  It’s in the simple things like breaking bread, sharing a meal with friends that we experience the divine.
          I encourage you to make a habit of looking for God.  And then, when you experience God, to share your encounters with others.  It will make your testimony, your witness, stronger and our faith more compelling to others.  Amen.

©2014  Jeff Garrison and First Presbyterian Church, Hastings, Michigan

[1] For a complete discussion on each, see Thom & Joani Schultz, Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore (Group, 2013).
[2] Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (Nashville: Abingdon, 1989), 36-37.
[3] Ibid, 50.
[4] Psalm 139:5
[5] Schultz, 177-186
[6] 1 Corinthians 3:6