The Work of Christ – Lectionary 05/10/2020

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.

Sermon Text

The work of the church is never done. Until Christ returns in final victory we will be working in this world. Telling the Good News to all who will hear, loving neighbor and fellow believer with all our heart, and pursuing true worship of God in all its forms. Even after we enter into paradise, we will not become inert. Instead, we will find ourselves employed in whatever mysteries exist in perfection. When all of our existence is communion with God and loving community with one another.

The work of the Church is too numerous to name except in the categories of loving neighbor and God. This is because the work the Church pursues is contextual. At times one course of action must be taken, at other times another. The general virtues and ethical ends that we hold for ourselves manifest differently across the wide and varied iterations of life scenarios. The course of action which is appropriate in one situation would be ill-suited for another. We have to be discerning in how we act as members of Christ’s body.

If we were left to discern this on our own, then we surely would be lost. There is not enough evident in our world and our experiences to make it clear what is and is not the will of God and the work of Christ laid out for us. If we were blindly sent into situations, then we would find ourselves lost in the mire of the situation itself. We need something more than raw intuition, our virtue has to be born out of more than experience, we need an infusion of something greater. We need Christ and Christ’s work on our behalf to know what our own work as the Church consists of.

Our scripture captures a moment in which Jesus is presenting this basic paradigm to his disciples. Jesus says, “You will follow in my footsteps, and you will know the way to go because I have shown it to you already.” Likewise, he says, “You will do the work I have done, still even more than what I have done, because I first did the work and now before the Father will support your work.” The text is a complicated construction in any language, and translators are utterly unsure throughout John 14 what function each member of the Trinity is ascribed in the work of the Church. John weaves such a complicated picture that after two thousand years, the only way we can see this text clearly is through its manifestations in our life.

This passage is famous for its opening “In my father’s house there are many dwelling places.” Usually, the King James is invoked for its usage of the word, “Mansions.” We imagine a spacious house for us all to enter into. Our worldly desires for opulence translate into our conceptions of Heaven and the simplicity of the text is lost upon us. A more apt translation is, “In my Father’s house are many places to stay,” or rendered differently, “many apartments.” The emphasis is not on the kind of place that we are given to inhabit but on its proximity to God who owns and maintains the household.

Jesus says that he goes to prepare the way for us, no doubt through the work of the Cross and the ascension, but Jesus also makes it clear that to follow him we must take the same path. Our entry into the blessed household of Christ requires the same sort of work, the taking up of our own cross, and the pursuit of God’s righteousness even to our death. It is a heavy statement. It invites us to think about our following God, to count the cost appropriately lest we get in over our heads too soon.

Thomas’s question of Jesus is often put against him as further signs of his doubt and hardheadedness, but in truth, it captures our own feelings toward Jesus. We often find ourselves looking to Jesus and saying, “What comes next?” Only to find Jesus replying, “I told you, but did you see me showing you and hear me saying it?” We are hard pupils to teach, yet Christ is patient.

When we encounter opportunities to serve Christ we do so as Thomas did. We enter in with little context and oftentimes lost in our own presuppositions of the situation. We miss that Christ’s example in life and on the cross is the framework by which we evaluate and plan our entire life. A life of service to all the world, a willingness to suffer on behalf of others, a pursuit of truth that is willing to turn over tables when necessary. Jesus’ life is the framework for our own – the perfect form of humanity married to the fullness of divinity to show us what we must become.

This would be an overwhelming task if we were not given still more guidance. We can read the Gospel and see what Christ did, but what do we do in situations that do not have direct parallels? Jesus told us to be kind, but how do we balance kindness and truth in a digital space? Jesus shows us how to serve one another, but how does one wash the feet of someone they risk spreading infection to? These questions do not have direct or obvious answers in the writ of scripture, and we depend still further on divine revelation to interpret our life and the next steps we must take.

Our Scripture goes beyond asking us to look behind at what Christ has done and forward toward what we will do. Jesus goes so far in his teaching here to suggest that what we as the Church will do is greater than any work of Christ! How can this be? Rather than evaluating how we can measure up against Christ’s work on the cross, it is better to look at what Jesus is intimating by making such a claim.

For Jesus, the work of his ministry was primarily in two functions – firstly in the salvific work, he undertook on the cross and secondly in the disclosure of God the Father to the world. Jesus is simultaneously the substance of God in his identity as God’s eternal Word and the sign of God in his concrete form of a spiritual God. Christ is an icon in the purest sense, a window into a reality we would not be able to conceive of otherwise. Still, Christ does not limit God the Father by locking him into a fleshy image. Christ perfectly displays God the Father as God the Father perfectly displays Christ. They are a united mystery we can scarcely begin to conceptualize.

Yet, this basic unity allows for us to see Christ and know God. If we know God, then we can speak to God and what is more, we are told that Christ also speaks to God on our behalf. We are granted through Christ’s going before us the opportunity to speak directly to God and the assurance that Christ does the same for us. We are initiated into relationship and then gifted further assurance that that relationship is authentic. We become the beloved of God in a way similar to Christ and then participate in relationship with the Godhead in Christ and in the Father.

All this is achieved through the intermediate of the Spirit. This divine Helper is no less God than the Father or the Son, nor does the Spirit exist only as a divine telephone. The Spirit enters into our heart and undertakes two roles. The first is to remind us of the example of Christ, and therefore unite us to the identity of the Father, the second is to educate us further in our understanding of the divine and what our ministry in the world should look like.

A complicated web to get to an understanding of how we know what we must do, but a necessary one. The fullness of God meets us whenever we are given the opportunity to act. We pursue a life that models the selflessness of Christ, even selflessness that ends in a cross. We receive the instruction of the Spirit that equips us for ministry and reveals more and more the truth of God and the disclosure of Godself. We are conformed to the image of God and in doing so begin to comprehend just what the image of God is in itself. The three members of the Trinity manifest in our lives, of one will and acting in perfect concert, to perfect us into what we were meant to be, what we must be.

Our work is often not as simple as flipping open a page of scripture and following step by step what we should do. If we are lucky, we will find it. Situations like church struggles, for example, are described procedurally in Jesus’ teachings. Still more often though we will find ourselves in a place where the teachings of scripture and the work of the Spirit in our heart have led us to a point where we have our moral compass set in the right direction and our general idea of what is right, but the particular action must be decided. In the infinite fraction of a second which we have between a situation presenting itself and our reaction to it, we must process and immense amount of information and begin to act.

We can train ourselves to react to situations in many ways. Workshops and seminars that teach us what the most advantageous actions are in a situation. How to manage conflict, how to speak to someone in distress, how to give responsibly to those in need. All these are good things and things we should seek out, so we are equipped with education and resources enough to effectively do what is right.

However, when the moment comes and all our learning flies from our heads, we must hope we have more than a list of things to do. We need deeply held beliefs and standards we hold ourselves to. More than that we need advocacy and support to see us through that moment. Luckily, we are afforded all the help we need in the Spirit’s movement in our hearts. It calls us to see what God has done, and what God is calling us to do. We work with the example of Christ behind us, the cross on our shoulders, and the Spirit blazing a path ahead of us. All the while with the assurance we have the blessing of our Father in Heaven.

Still more, at the end of it all, we know we enter into rest. Into a dwelling place prepared especially for us. Nothing grand, nothing lacking, but exactly we need and enveloped in the loving presence of our God. Our example, our guide, our beloved, and our savior. – Amen.

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