Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Long Farewell

In the Gospel today, we see Jesus in the early stages of what scholars call "The Farewell Discourse."  Now, if you had a bible in front of you, you could notice that this is chapter 14 in a book that has 21 chapters.  The Farewell Discourse actually runs from 13:31--17:26.  That's a long farewell.

And yet, this is not just saying goodbye.  This is the night before the crucifixion.  Jesus wants to teach and prepare his disciples in this long discussion.  He wants to give them instructions for a time when he won't be there, and he wants to give them hope.

Which is why he starts out with "Don't let your hearts be troubled."

Don't let your hearts be troubled?  Believe me, the disciples' hearts were troubled.  They didn't understand his foreboding talk of death.  They didn't understand why he had just washed their feet.  

And they didn't understand the confusing words in this passage.  "In my father's house are many rooms."  "I'm going to prepare a place for you."  "I am in the Father and the Father is in me." "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."  And the kicker:  "If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it."

It's all troubling.

But what Jesus is saying in short is that they will be able to carry on after his departure -- both after the crucifixion and more importantly (as we know, but they didn't) after his ascension.  They CAN broaden the ministry that Jesus began.  They can know the Father because they know the son.  They can trust that Jesus will always be in their work as long as it is the work Jesus would have them do.

And so can we.  Of course, that means making sure the work we do is Jesus' work and not ours.  We can't make up our minds that WE want something and then say it's going to happen because we decide to use the name of Jesus.  You know, "In the name of Jesus, let the Rangers win the Stanley Cup."  Uh uh.

No.  Jesus assures that he is with us, but also that he is the only way -- which is to say, Jesus is the path, and Jesus is the embodiment of God, and God is Love.  So our path is love.

NOW, to take a quick digression, let's remember that Earth Day is this week.  That is to say a celebration and call to care for the Creation -- God's gift to us.  Depending on who you listen to, either we haven't done as good a job as God intended us to do, or it doesn't matter what we do to the planet because our actions have no consequences.  

Despite the preponderance of scientific studies asserting that global warming is real and that it has very real and negative consequences for all of life on this planet, there are many who refuse to hear or believe.  They say Global Warming -- or as has been suggested to me as more accurate, Global Climate Change -- is a hoax.

I have two quick questions in response to the hoax theory.  First of all, although I can understand why companies that pollute would want to call Global Climate Change a hoax, I'd like to know what gain the vast majority of scientists get from saying that Global Climate Change exists.  Second, what if we are wrong about global warming?  I mean, if those who say it is real are wrong, and we spend all this time and money taking better care of the earth, what are the negative consequences?  A healthier planet?  

But if those who say it is a hoax are wrong -- and we do nothing to change our destructive ways -- what are those consequences?  What harm is done then to the millions of poor in countries that suffer increased drought and flooding and all those things we've been blessed to avoid so far.  I'm not much of a gambling man, but I think I know where I'd place my bets.

Now, you might ask, "How did Chuck get from Jesus to climate change?"  Through the Farewell discourse and Jesus' words, "Don't let your hearts be troubled."

If, as scripture tells us, the care of all creation is given to us by God, then the earth itself is part of our mission.  God does not ONLY tell us to go out and convert people to Christianity.  Our work is to care for creation just as surely as it is to share the Good News of Christ, so we can apply to our work the words from Jesus Farewell Discourse.

Namely, "Don't let your hearts be troubled."  

It's easy to be troubled when you think of what CAN happen to this planet which is the only one we've got.  We've already seen the extinction of countless species, the death of the coral reefs, the destruction of the rain forest (for example).  It can be disheartening.  I mean, there may be many dwelling places in God's house, but there's only one earth.

But Jesus reminds us just as he reminded his disciples right before the crucifixion that he is with us.  What we ask for in Jesus' Name -- that is, if it is in keeping with Jesus' will -- he will do.  Even though it sometimes seems we've done irreparable harm to this earth, there is hope.  In Christ we can do all things, and we can repair much of the damage even in our time.

In this long farewell, Jesus says that curious line about being the way, the truth, and the life.  For him, that means that living as he did -- selfless, loving, always looking to the Father -- is the only way to live.  For us, in our daily life, in our evangelism, and in our care for creation, it is the same.  Amen.