Sunday, May 23, 2010

C, Pentecost Sunday - John 14:12 & 27 "Greater Things"

To do what Jesus did and does! How is this possible? What did Jesus do, anyway? What’s it mean for us when Jesus says “you will do even greater things”; that is, greater things than the things Jesus did before he was taken to the right hand of the Father in heaven. And what can you expect to be doing when you allow yourself to be guided by this promise Jesus makes to you here in John chapter fourteen?

To know the greater things God desires to constantly do in, with, and through us, we first need to know just what it was that Jesus did, while he was on earth.

We might look to him turning water into wine! Or making a small meal of bread and fish feed five thousand. These things are great, yet we do greater.

How about the healings he performed as he dwelt amongst the people of the day! During Jesus’ ministry he did many miraculous things amongst those who were sick and dying. But Jesus still did greater than this, and he promises that now we can do greater things than these. How can this be?

Jesus walked on water, he made storms go calm, and a fruitless fig tree withers at his curse. He raised Lazarus from the grave three days after he was had died, as well as Jairus’s daughter and the widow’s son at Nain. He cast out demons, yet he still did greater than all of these things.

So we might come to the conclusion that the greatest thing Jesus did was to die on the cross and come back to life on the third day. This is surely great, however, Jesus didn’t do these things, but rather he was passive in these events. In fact, they were done to him! He never crucified himself, nor did he raise himself from the grave. We human beings crucified him and God raised him.

In all these events plenty of marvellous and miraculous things happened. That’s for sure! However, in these astonishing things a more specific greatness occurs, but is not immediately obvious. This is the greatness to which we have been called since Jesus’ ascension to the right hand of the Father.

Jesus first had to be raised so he could have access to all people, in order for us to do the greater things than the things he did. He and the Father also then had to send the Holy Spirit, so we might be connected to the Father and Jesus Christ as one, and so the greater things can occur.

But before Jesus was raised what he did which was the greatest work, was his faithfulness to the Father, even though he knew it meant his life would be taken, even though he knew he would be killed, he trusted and was obedient unto death.

Jesus greatest works began immediately after his baptism in the Jordan by John when he was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He didn’t succumb to temptation but remained faithful. And the greatest work of faithfulness is illuminated by the glory it gives to the Father in heaven.

There was no glory in his forty days of suffering in the wilderness! He could have thwarted the devil with a legion of angelic hosts and revelled in the victory, yet he didn’t and he suffered every trial of his and our humanness. And he continued to this pattern for the duration of his earthly ministry.

In all his miracles he often told the disciples not to tell anyone. Have you ever wondered why? Our rationale would have us spread the news around to drum up support. But support in what? It definitely wouldn’t be support that brings glory to God! No! It would be a masked glorifying of God — it would seemingly glorify God — but in reality would glorify us.

This is why Jesus constantly sought to stay out of the spot light so the glory due to God alone was not distorted into a praise of the healing or those being healed. In fact, on healing individuals he commanded them not to tell anyone but rather go and show themselves to the priests in the temple and worship God.

When we hear in John 14:12 that we will do greater things than Jesus, after he goes to the Father, we always set our minds on the obvious extraordinary circumstances of the events surrounding Jesus’ ministry on earth. But once we peel back the extraordinary exterior the greater, but less obvious, is revealed. And this greater work is what we can do, now that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, and present with, in, and through us by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Just as the Father and the Spirit were present with Jesus as he walked to the cross, God is present with us. He is hidden from physical sight, that’s for sure! And just as Jesus trusted his Father, giving him the glory, we now do greater things than Jesus because we do them by faith through the power of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit hidden in his church, in his word, in his holy means that he gives to the church; and because of these things, hidden in us.

The greater things we do are, in fact, still done by God in us! Just as Jesus was passive, we too are passive when we do the greater things. When we allow the full power of Christ’s resurrection and glory to dwell and work in us, the Holy Spirit uses this power to glorify Christ and the Father in heaven, and in the works done through us the Spirit glorifies the Father and the Son before all people here on earth. And finally we too will be glorified with Christ when we pass through death into God’s sinless eternity.

So for greater things to happen, God must be glorified “alone”. We become less, so Christ becomes more! And we take on the nature of Jesus being servants in a world that doesn’t recognise it desperately needs to be divinely served by God the Father who sustains, God the Son who graces us with forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit who unites us into Jesus Christ. And all the while, it’s not we who are glorified when doing the greater things individually and collectively in the church, but God “alone”.

Today, we celebrate Pentecost, the giving of the Holy Spirit, to the church, to gather the church around Christ as one, and to give glory to God alone. For us we also celebrate with Lois in her confirmation; as she affirms what the Almighty Lord has done for her. And in a short while she will be called to greater responsibilities in the church in the rite of Confirmation. Lois, how are you to fulfil these greater things?

These things are greater than memory work well learnt, greater than your excellent attendance in class, your comprehension of the faith, or any of the other human gifts you have. This is the greater work of faith.

And not just you Lois, but today we are reminded that all of us who have affirmed our faith in confirmation are called to greater responsibilities and work in God’s church. What are these greater responsibilities and works? How are you performing in doing greater works than Jesus?

It all comes down to faith, or trust in God and his means! This means we come to a realisation that nothing from within our humanness is worthy of glory, but rather is only a cause for despair. That worry and doubt, both born of sinful pride, together with the same boastful pride are allowed to be daily drowned in repentance, so we stand under the authority of Jesus Christ, giving glory to him. Even our failures, which are many for us all, can give glory to Christ, by our allowing Christ to deal with them through confession and allowing his forgiveness to reign supreme though faith.

This is the greater work, the greater responsibility to which all of us have been called with Lois today. Are you prepared to give God the power in your life, let him deal with your weakness, and carry you through the trials of this life?

This greater work happens now in those who believe in him. Greater things happen because God’s faithful children persist in the things God has given — hearing his powerful Word, receiving full forgiveness in our believing reception of Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, and Holy Absolution.

Furthermore, by allowing ourselves to be immersed in these greater things by the Holy Spirit glory is given to God, and we are faithfully led to participate with Christ in the greater work of prayer for the sake of our neighbours and the world. So they may know of God’s glory and be led into his forgiving presence further glorifying God. Whatever you ask in Jesus’ name, will be done, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (John 14:13)

It comes down to faith and worship, not the faith and worship of our self-centred society, but belief in the ways of worship given by God. This is not all that popular these days! In fact more and more, those who faithfully follow God will be persecuted from inside and outside the denominational churches because of God given faith. Why? Because nobody likes their glory being stolen! One’s pride always takes a big hit when all glory is returned to God. And this happens irrespective of a person being seen to do “the Christian thing” or not.

But take heart when your pride is knocked down or you are persecuted as a result of someone else’s sinful pride, because we know suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:3-5)

And lastly hear the promised gift Jesus leaves with those who believe in him, and rejoice that despite the trials we face, we now have the power of a God who has overcome death and is daily giving us the gift of life. Hear and believe what Jesus says to you right now…

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27) Amen.