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Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Sunday, May 25, 2014

I Am Coming To You

Sunday, May 25, 2014
Sermon by Katie Mulligan

Scripture Reading: John 14:15-21
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

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. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.
Did you know that it is still Easter? This is a thing I did not realize until a year into seminary, but perhaps some of you are better churched than I was!

Agape feast at L.O.G. (Love Of God) retreat.
Thanks to Pat Fletcher for the photo!!

He is risen!
And you say?
He is risen, indeed!
And we all say together? Hallelujah!

And again, please!
Again until the sanctuary
cries out with Hallelujahs!

Oh, my friends, it is still Easter! After 46 days of Lent, we move into 50 days of Easter. 50 days to think through resurrection and the enduring presence of Christ, even beyond the grave, until Pentecost. Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit will descend like tongues of fire on our heads.

For now, we wait. And ponder. And wonder.

Our text this morning from the Gospel of John takes us back to the Last Supper—and why, you might ask? Why focus on the night before Jesus was betrayed, in this time after the empty tomb? Why in a
time of assurance and celebration might we go back to the sad and confusing time before Jesus’ execution?

Oh, it is Easter! And Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

And we can say that now, in the assurance of 2000 years of cultivated and crafted ritual, but surely we can understand the plight of the disciples in that first Easter? With the cruel pace of fear and grief in the week of Jesus’ death, might it not take us 50 days (or more) to come to terms with the death of a loved one? Perhaps it might be true that after 2000 years we are still coming to terms with this one death that stands in for so many others. We might still be coming to terms with the death of this one man/God who gave his life for each of us, so that we might live abundant life. And when I say that, I am not just talking about his death—we can argue all day long about whether Christ was a sacrificial lamb, or a death row inmate, or however else you want to frame that death to make it understandable—but I am talking about giving his life. At least the last three years of Christ’s earthly existence was given over to teaching, healing, fellowship, soaking in the world and allowing the world to absorb him. How many of us can say we have offered three years of such living to the world? Three months even? Three hours? Do you know how drained a person can be after three hours of soaking in the world and being absorbed by it? Three hours, three months, three years, he gave to us--what a gift! And what a terrible loss.

This Easter time (Hallelujah!) is an in between space. A now and not yet. A “liminal” space if you like that word. A “thin place” if you are of a Celtic bent. Christ had died on the cross and been buried. And then Christ was not in the tomb, and there were angels and faux gardeners and appearances of the risen Christ popping up in impossible places. Christ was no longer here. Christ was abundantly here (and then gone again). What kind of grieving is possible when the spirit of the dead will not let you rest?

In thin places, in between the now and not yet, anything becomes possible. What we have known to be certain is turned on its head and is now uncertain. Who we have known ourselves to be shimmers in the mirror and we become unknown to ourselves. The death of a beloved teacher shakes our core because in that death we become either the orphaned student or we become the teacher—but how do we do that without the beloved teacher who held us up? In thin places our relationships are broken and rearranged--transformed, if we have the courage to accept it.

Your father dies and now you are the patriarch. Your mother dies and you are now the matriarch. You are the last son who has not left home. The only daughter who still visits. Our roles are so definite and so concrete...until they aren't, until death shakes our foundation and we are...lost. How do we bear the loss of those who defined us by their presence and place in our lives? This surely is the question on the minds of the disciples. Perhaps it’s a question on the minds of some of us here. We might go back then, in our minds, to relive those last moments before our loved one left us. The disciples, in those days after Jesus’ death and inexplicable appearances, might well have reflected back on Jesus’ words at dinner, the night before he died. 

Surely we have done that? A loved one dies and you reach for their last words to you. Perhaps you had time to say goodbye, or perhaps you didn't. If you had known this would be the last time, you might have said it different, done it different. We reach for meaning in those last words--in these days we pour over the last tweets and Facebook messages of those who are gone. We keep the voicemail of our lover asking us to stop to buy milk on the way home, because we cannot bear to erase their voice. In the older days, when we had answering machines, how many of us kept the outgoing message recorded in our beloved's voice, because we wanted to be able to call home and hear them speak to us one last time?

I read through the last supper sermon that Jesus preached to his disciples in the gospel of John, and I get lost in the language. After a while, my mind zones out. How much could one possibly take in at this last supper—which perhaps they did not fully understand would be the last? But there are words and sentences that stand out, and as I read through the passage this week, my heart got stuck on this one sentence: “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”

This is our Easter promise this morning—are you feeling me? Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah! We read this scripture, and the words rattle around our brains—we know this to be true because of 2000 years of ritual, but what do we do in the in between, in the now and not yet, before the Spirit, the Advocate, the paraclete (as theologians love to pronounce) arrives with the rush of fire on Pentecost? What can we cling to when the Spirit of God appears remarkably absent from our times of grief and challenge? When we are alone in the night, and there is no one to call or turn to for comfort, what (or who) is left to cause us to proclaim Hallelujah?

There is a Mumford and Sons song that goes like this:
Cold is the water
It freezes your already cold mind
Already cold, cold mind
And death is at your doorstep
And it will steal your innocence
But it will not steal your substance
But you are not alone in this
And you are not alone in this
As brothers we will stand and we'll hold your hand
Hold your hand

There is a lot of language in this morning’s passage, and it goes something like this: If you love me and keep my commandments, then you will have me with you always. My Spirit (however you understand that) will abide with you and in you and in your relationships with one another. I will not leave you orphaned—you are not alone in this.

There are so many ways to spiritualize this, but I am reeling this morning from the murder yesterday of 6 people in my hometown of Isla Vista, near Goleta and Santa Barbara, CA. 13 more were seriously injured. The killer himself is dead. I grew up around there and went to school at UC Santa Barbara. I know the community well and spent time in the places where the shootings occurred. Three of the women were shot outside of the sorority I advised—the house the shooter was trying to access houses 80 sorority women. My prayers are with the Tri Deltas this morning as two of their sisters died and a third is critically wounded. And prayers for all of the victims, their families, and loved ones. Prayers for the family of the man who damaged this community. How do we make sense of life when death is so senseless? How do we go on when it seems like we can’t. How do we live out the promise in that song: “death will steal your innocence, but it will not steal your substance”?

I read and read through the last supper sermon and was so dissatisfied. Until I found the passage at the very end of John, when Christ is dying on the cross. From John 19:
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magadalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
I think this is the key to understanding John for me. Perhaps it is too earthly and too human. Perhaps I am missing the deeper meaning of the coming of the paraclete, the Advocate, the Comforter, the Spirit. But I am stuck here in Easter, this time before Pentecost, and the Spirit has not yet come. In the meantime, in grief, what are we to do? When one has lost a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, a sister, a brother, what does one do in the thin place of grief? What might one cling to when the hope of resurrection is all but beyond our comprehension?

I think it is this: in these thin places everything is up for renegotiation. Family ties are broken. Love is shattered. And there is room for new relationship and reconciliation and change. In these times of grief and fear and sorrow, when we are certain there is no one to call in the night, Jesus calls out to us from the cross:

          Woman, this is your son.
          Beloved, this is your mother.
          It is finished.

Even before his death, before the empty tomb, before the bewildering appearances to the disciples, and LONG before the coming of the Holy Spirit like a rush of fire and wind, Christ gives us to one another, to love and care as we have loved and cared for him. Keep my commandments—and what were those again? Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.

In the in between time, in the now and not yet, we are called by Christ, from the cross, to reconfigure ourselves into relationship with one another. You have lost your son? Who will you bring tea and cookies to now? There is someone in need. You have lost your father? Who will you embrace in his old age? There is someone in need of you. Your sister is gone? There is another who has lost her brother. Go to her. Take her into your house. We are Easter people, we say, which means we live in the thin places--reconfigure, transform, become new with one another--if you dare.

          Woman, this is your son.
          Beloved, this is your mother.
          It is finished.
          I will not leave you orphaned; 
          I am coming to you.
          You are not alone in this.

And indeed Christ already has come to us in the love we have for one another.
Let us live that out fully.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your powerful message, Katie. I did not know just how close you were the the tragedy at Isla Vista. You, along with the families and friends of the victims, are in my thoughts and prayers.


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