Sunday, May 22, 2011

Many Mansions...

I know the sermon title stinks.

My heart is honestly heavy for those families who invested their time and their life savings into preparing for the Family Radio Rapture. I've been speaking to different people about providing assistance to those who need help: material, financial, and spiritual/psychological. If you have ideas or resources, or know how to get in contact with people who lost everything following Harold Camping, please comment here, or on FaceBook or Twitter.

I especially appreciate the writing of the Reverend Kathleen Lambert, a dear and constantly supportive friend, who allowed me to echo many of her thoughts on relationship as it relates to our Gospel passage.

Acts 7:55-60
But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

1 Peter 2:2-10
Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation — if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture:
“See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,”
“A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

John 14:1-14
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”

This is the Word of the Lord.

You may or may not have heard that, according to Harold Camping, millionaire owner of the Family Radio broadcasting network, Jesus was to have called his children home at 6:00pm yesterday evening. The event, which Evangelicals call “the Rapture,” was to have been followed by a devastating global earthquake.

All of you are here, and the building is still standing, so I feel pretty comfortable in stating that Harold Camping was wrong. The late-night talk show hosts are getting their laughs in, Twitter and FaceBook are clogged with Rapture jokes, as well as with people calmly repeating Scripture to show that we cannot place a date or time stamp on Christ’s return. Verses like this: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority,” Acts 1:7; and “At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time. So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Matthew 24:23-27, and so on.

People like Robert Fitzpatrick, a retired transit worker in New York, spent his life savings, $140,000, to warn people of the impending Rapture.

Robert and Abby Haddad quit their jobs two years ago to spread the news, but believed the whole time that their three children, Joseph, Faith, and Grace, would not be going to heaven with them. They told their three children that they would be left behind when the Rapture occurred! Can you imagine?

John Ramsey gave up his job as well, despite the fact that his wife is nine months pregnant.

So many people have given up everything in the hopes that yesterday would be the date that Christ would return to earth. Family Radio spent a million dollars on billboards and other advertising to promote the May 21 Rapture. So much money wasted, which could have fed the hungry, clothed the naked… you get the idea.

Rather than laughing at their stupidity, I pray for them in the disappointment, disillusionment, doubt and self-loathing they must be feeling. I pray for the many, many children who, like the Haddad kids, must suffer the consequences of their parents’ folly.

But, y’know, deep down I kind of see where they’re coming from.

In our Gospel reading today, it’s the night before the crucifixion, and Jesus is, in a way, saying goodbye. These disciples, who have known him for three years or more, are about to be left in shock, in terror, and without coherent direction.

And they are about to be left alone.

My friend, the Reverend Katherine Lambert is a mom, and she notices that her children (like young children everywhere) go into one degree or another of panic when Mom leaves. They don’t want her to go, because they can’t conceive of a time without her, or comprehend what it means when she says she’ll be right back.

For children, you see, relationship is defined by time spent together.

That’s not really fair, though, is it? We all define relationship by time spent together, don’t we? That’s the meaning of the word, after all, isn’t it? To be in relationship is to be in “the state of being connected or related.” You can’t have a relationship with a person you never meet, never speak with, never see, never make contact with.

We have countless methods through which we can initiate and maintain that connection – telephone, email, instant messaging, text messaging, Skype, and that old standby, face-to-face contact, but if that connection is severed, that relationship is severed.

And for these first-century disciples, who don’t have FaceBook or Twitter or email or telephones or Skype or even a Waffle House where you can have a chat over coffee, for Jesus to be gone – and gone in such a horrible, such an unthinkably permanent, way is too much to bear.

How can we follow you, if we don’t know the way? Asks Thomas. And Philip has the courage to demand what they’re likely all thinking: show us. Prove it.

And Jesus speaks about relationship – not relationship severed, but an ongoing relationship, in terms of time and in terms of space.

“Believe in God. Believe also in me.” When Jesus speaks about belief, it isn’t what we may think – mentally agreeing to a set of statements or doctrinal positions. He means something deeper: trust. The kind of trust that is born from knowing someone, from experiencing who they are and what they can do. When he talks about building dwelling places, when he reassures the disciples, and us, that he is in fact the Way, the Truth, and the Life, he’s really talking about fostering a relationship that isn’t broken at any point. He’s talking about time spent together in the same space.

He’s promising to make room for relationship, and providing that space for everyone.

Yes, relationship is defined by spending time together, and that is true of our relationship with God in Jesus Christ. We understand it as time spent in worship, in prayer and meditation, and in study. And while these are indeed components, building blocks of our relationship with God, I want to suggest that this is an incomplete picture. By relying on prayer and worship and study we make relationship one-sided.

And this is why I really understand where the “May 21 Rapture” people were coming from.

The Evangelicals in Harold Camping’s sphere of influence have some very rigid beliefs concerning Scripture, concerning structure, concerning family. There are expectations which must be met, there are standards to adhere to. It is perhaps an unavoidable oversimplification to say that, to some or all of those who follow Harold Camping, the full weight of responsibility to initiate, maintain, and grow a relationship with God in Jesus Christ rests squarely upon the believer. It is, in effect, a codependent relationship.

So the Rapture becomes the confirmation that we’ve done everything right, and we can finally relax. God likes us, the pressure is off, we can finally breathe again.

But the completed work of Jesus, the reality of the now-and-coming Kingdom, isn’t an ideal we must attain, it isn’t something we must work toward, in hopes that if we do everything right, and think the right thoughts, and say the right things, and hang around the right people, then maybe God will like us enough to want to be around us. That is not relationship, that is monologue. We’re doing all the talking, we’re doing all the working, we alone are performing.

Yes, like all relationships, a relationship with God is defined by time spent together. The Good News is that God created, from the beginning of time, a place for you in the very essence of God's being. A Way to enjoy relationship.

It is not our cognitive act of making time for God, by going to church or talking about God, or believing in the proper dogma or doctrine. We are not more Godly than the next person because we do or think all the right things. It is only out of the nature of God that there is time for us. But it is the nature of God to have time for us. God has created this.

God the Holy Spirit makes this relationship real, constant, and mutual. We experience God when we pray, worship, meditate and study… and we experience God when we drive, when we speak with others, when we give, when we receive, when we sleep, and when we awaken.

This is why Jesus says, “do not let your hearts be troubled.” By letting our hearts be freed we are letting go of the artificial requirements and the arbitrary limits we place on ourselves and on God. We are free to enjoy that relationship, rather than fret about being good enough to get the relationship in the first place.

God came to earth in Jesus Christ to serve people, to let the slaves go free, to heal the blind, to comfort the poor in spirit, to restore the earth to the year of The Lord's jubilee! God came to remove the fear that would trouble the heart. God came to restore people to a wonderful relationship with the creator as in the beginning. A relationship that is not defined by religion, law or dogma, but a relationship defined by enjoying time spent together.

Make no mistake, Christ will, indeed, come again. I do not see any Scriptural evidence for a specific date or time, nor can I ever support a person who claims to have it all figured out. But I can see the light breaking on the horizon, and I believe Christ’s words, as related by the writer of the Book of Revelation when he says, “soon.”

But Christ’s return isn’t about who wins and who loses; who gets “Raptured” and who is “Left Behind.” Christ returns to his family, and the joy is this: we will see him, and recognize him, and he will see and recognizes us, because we’ve been together with him all the time.

1 comment:

  1. Well done, John. Beautiful words spoken from your heart. Blessings, dear friend.