Sunday, November 8, 2015

Scattered Conquered

Scattered Conquered
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
November 8, 2015
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
John 16: 1-4; 29-33

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.
Amen.

“I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. 3 And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me. 4 But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them.

29 His disciples said, “Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. 33 I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” [1]

Chapter 16 is one of those chapters that comes full circle, which is why I decided this morning to bracket it, by choosing the opening lines and then the closing lines. In between this chapter has everything in it. Everything that we have seen again and again in this speech. Troubling predictions from Jesus, promise of the Advocate to come, and promise of final joy. It starts bad, and ends good. I mean it starts  out with some things that seem perfectly normal, not good, but they make sense according to the situation. Here is Jesus, he's come into Jerusalem, defying the odds, defying the man, doing exactly what he shouldn't be doing if he wants to survive, and he knows that his time is short. He knows that he will be betrayed and arrested tonight. He has already said so earlier in this speech. Yes this is the same speech still. This is the Last Supper speech. Here we have seen Jesus wash his disciples feet, and afterwards he started talking, and now he is continuing that speech. Remember that this speech all started with Peter saying that he would never betray Jesus, that he would stay with him to the end. Jesus, of course, famously tells him, no, before the night is out you are going to deny me three times, but then he starts this speech with, Do not let you hearts be troubled, and I am the Way the Truth and the Life, that the Father's house has many rooms. He has promised to send an Advocate.  He has talked about himself as the true vine, and he has said that where he is going that the disciples will not be able to follow now, but at some point they will be.
So it all stands to reason that the disciples are eventually going to get some heat for all this. . . . Jesus is a figure who has pushed alot of buttons, and the chief leaders, priests, scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, they all want Jesus dead, and that is just the Jews, we haven't even mentioned the Romans, the soldiers who represent the most powerful Empire that the world has ever known, at the very height of their power, and we aren't even talking about them, but these priests, scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees. . . they are the leaders of the Temple, the leaders of the Synagogue, they are the officials in the Jewish Puppet government, and they want to get rid of Jesus first, and then they are going to move on next to anyone then who ever followed Jesus. The life that these disciples have known as good Jews, following a man that they started out calling Rabbi, Teacher, in that very Jewish tradition is over. . . they cannot go on with their lives as they were.
Jesus is here preparing them for this realization. Think about it just as if Jesus is just talking to Peter. Think of Peter himself as if Jesus is only speaking directly to him, and let us put ourselves in his shoes, and hopefully it will allow us to personalize this even more. Peter is of course the impetuous one, always first to speak, so bold, so loyal, so brave, maybe us on our best day, perhaps, he says, Jesus I'll go with you wherever you go, I will follow you through to the end. . . and Jesus says, no, no you won't. . . you can't. . . it's not your time, but don't let your heart be troubled. . . Your time will come. . . . If you want to show your loyalty. If you want to make up for the denying of me you are going to do, it will come. . . be patient. . . and I want you to be ready. Your life as you know it is over. You can't go back to Galilee and live as a simple Jewish fisherman anymore. They are going to put you out of the Temple. . . that means you are also out of the community, they are going to turn on you, persecute you, threaten you, and not only are they going to do that, but they are going to do it all in God's name. . . they think that they are doing God's will when they kick you out, but you will know better. You will know better because again there is the advocate, I'm sending you an Advocate, a comforter, a counselor, a friend, that paraklete word we talked of a few weeks back. . . Yes Jesus is circling back. . . talking about the Holy Spirit again, but this time pushing it forward one more step. . . explaining just exactly what the Holy Spirit will do for you. . . The Holy Spirit will let you know the truth. . . because you will need it. The Holy Spirit will let you know the truth because the religious leaders will be saying the opposite and you are going to need to know the truth to stand up to them. . . the Holy Spirit will let you know the truth because the religious leaders are going to be persecuting you, and you will need to be strong, and to be strong you will need to know the truth. . . the Holy Spirit will let you know the truth because it will seem very much that the World has won, that the world has been victorious and you will need to know the truth. . . the Holy Spirit will let you know the truth because I am going away, you won't be able to see me, but I will return. . . and in the mean time you will need to know the truth. You will be scattered, threatened, abused, isolated, divided, alienated, excommunicated, it will be harder than you can imagine. . . and the only thing that will sustain you through all of that is the truth, the Holy Spirit will sustain you in the truth.
Now what is that truth? Let's look at some of the chapter in the middle of what I read to begin this morning, remember the Gospel Lesson reading was from the beginning and end of chapter 16. Before I read I want to share with you the NRSV subtitles (one of the good features of the NRSV is these subtitles). . . Here they are for Chapter 16 first, "The World's Hatred" then "The Work of the Spirit" then "Sorrow will turn to Joy" and finally "Peace for the Disciples." I want to start reading at Sorrow will turn to Joy, right after Jesus describing what the Spirit will do, which is as we have said, "sustain the disciples in truth." Now "Sorrow into Joy" starting in verse 16:
16 “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.” 17 Then some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying to us, ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” 18 They said, “What does he mean by this ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” 19 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Are you discussing among yourselves what I meant when I said, ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’? 20 Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. 22 So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. 23 On that day you will ask nothing of me. Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete. [2]

So Christ is talking in metaphor. . . to describe what he means by saying "in a little while". . . and he talks about a woman in labor pains, as if what Christ is doing is birthing something new into the world. . . the truth is that Christ is going to be gone for awhile, it will seem like all is lost, it will seem like everything they worked for is over, it will seem like that, but the joy will come after, after it is the darkest, after it is the worst, after it all, after they've gone through it, then there is joy. . . . so keep holding on.
As many of you know my football team is in the midst of an interesting week. We played St. Anne's yesterday, and lost, first time we have been in a tight game in weeks. . . it was really close. We had a chance at the end, but couldn't quite convert. Crazy game, great game, good momentum shifts, and the boys played well, through adversity they played well. And now they have to play St. Anne' s again this week, this Friday, since we lost, it is going to be at their place. The boys were heart broken because they had really played hard, they had played well, at least on defense, and they had hung around the entire game, but just couldn't pull it out. . . sometimes when you get close like that it makes it so much harder. . . but imagine if we were to win next week. All of the pain, all of the heart break, all of the tears, the soreness, all of that will just disappear because when it really matters we will have come through.
Now I'm not saying it’s the same for the disciples, because they are dealing with life and death, but the promise is the same. . . . there will be darkness, there will be pain, there will be shadows, and fear, and worry, and everyone will turn against you, but in the end it will all be so much better, and you will know, you will experience, you will get to taste real joy. Would you take that offer? Would you take pain on this side for joy on the other? Would you take the hurt, and the sadness, if you knew the lasting joy was on the other end? Or would you just rather have it easy, not great not bad, not easy not hard, just medium, safe, secure, middle of the road medium? It is quite a question. . . and one that disciples are facing. . . and frankly one that every Christian has faced. There is pain in the world, there is sorrow, but we are given an advocate to sustain us through it, and there is truth, and there is joy on the other side. Why?
Look at the end of the chapter:
29 His disciples said, “Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. 33 I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” [3]

Listen to that, the Father is with him, we believe that you came from God. . . . but here is the amazing last line, you will face persecution, but in me you have peace. . . . in the world you will face persecution, but in me you have peace. . . take courage; for I have conquered the world! Conquered the world? By heading to the cross? by letting them win? by being their victim, their sacrifice, remember Caiaphas said better for one man to perish than for the entire nation. . . By submitting to torture, and execution, Jesus says that he has conquered the world. . . What a strange way to save the world? What a strange way to conquer the world? Hard to imagine, hard to see, is it hard to believe as well???? But Christ sends us the paraklete, the spirit of truth, and we can see what we couldn’t before, we can see the real power in this world, we can see that the Father is truly in control of all things, and the else, the world, the power that is visible all around us is merely the mirage. . .  quite a claim. . . quite a miracle, but then again it isn’t the first miracle that these disciples have seen. . . as I look back on my life, I could say the same, so no matter how dark it gets. .  . the world has already been conquered. Amen.



[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 16:29-33). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[2]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 16:16-24). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[3]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 16:29-33). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.