The Rev. Klemmt's Sermon from Sunday, May 25

Military chaplains kneeling with fallen soldiers in the field with their intestines in their hands tell me this passage from the Gospel of John is one they use to bring comfort, resolution and strength to those taking their last breath. The chaplain prays these words:

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”

I imagine this brings peace because a dying soldier about to disappear on a foreign battlefield must be the loneliest person in the world. And as they lay dying and disappear from the world, they will, at least, die in the loving arms of their savior.

Sometimes we can disappear from the world or even choose to disappear. Sometimes we don’t want the world we live in…it may be too difficult or too painful. I remember a woman, bed-ridden and dying just after 9/11, saying to me she was ready to go because she no longer recognized the world as her home. I know Jesus, at times, felt this way. We know this when he asks troubling questions with his disciples, or with the crowds, saying:

“Who do people say the son of man is? To what shall I compare this generation? Do you not yet understand? Can you drink the cup I am about to drink? Father, let this cup pass from me. Could you not stay awake with me one more hour? Why do they call me Lord and then do not do what I command? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? When the son of man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

When Jesus asks these disturbing questions of his friends, I believe he is asking them of us…today…now. They are questions of love, sacrifice, fidelity and relationship. They are questions about whether you will make your mark in the world or disappear without a legacy. Every soldier who disappears has made their mark. Others of us would do well to decide what’s worth dying for before we are laid to rest. These questions Jesus asks of us can challenge, inspire or confront … some are admissions of grief … some even show his weariness and desire to disappear. Carol Ross Joynt, in a Washingtonian interview last month was asked: “What is your most recurring fantasy dream?” She said, “To have enough money to simply disappear.” Would that be nice? Nice as a fantasy, perhaps…But what mark would that leave in a world short of saints?

In this section of John’s Gospel, known as the “Farewell Discourse,” Jesus is preparing his church for the time when his physical presence will disappear. How will the church live and thrive with him ascending to his Father in heaven? How will we keep his commandments? And in keeping them…show we are Christians by our love, forgiveness, our acceptance and hunger for justice? Jesus, knowing this … and knowing we would need an advocate to help us be faithful and leave a mark, out of the Eternal Trinity, God issues the Holy Spirit, perhaps the most under-employed person of the Trinity…the Spirit…the One who is alive and present with us now … the One who is more than the repository of Jesus’ teachings. Jesus equips us with the Holy Spirit who is alive in every generation and who prevents us from reading the Bible as history alone. Although the books of the Bible have been closed, encounter with scripture must continue as a living conversation. Each generation engages it and that engagement will always show signs of its era … its culture and dilemmas … its hopes and aspirations.  

Many complain that the church buckles under fads of trendiness. Some think since God does not change, we shouldn’t either. The Holy Spirit is given to us so we won’t be able to shrink from our responsibility to live in the era in which we have been born and deal with it face to face despite how much we would like to simply disappear. Welcome the advocate, the Holy Spirit into your life. Experience how open and free it makes you feel … how it brings order out of chaos. Search for it because it hovers over the places in which the presence of God is not yet obvious. The Spirit directs and makes the church … the museum of a church is defined by it … a strategic plan must bow to it. A new vestry should claim the Spirit’s wisdom … a church in transition should recruit its discerning will. Because the Spirit clarifies what is worth dying for … the Spirit leads us, it does not follow us. And following the Spirit can be a hair-raising journey. Expect goosebumps and you will be sure to find in your life what is worth dying for and leave your mark so others probably ever unknown to you now will have half a chance to live. In other words, die with your boots on!