Sermon for May 9, 2021 from Pastor John

Sermon for May 9, 2021

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     There are large statues of Jesus in the world. Perhaps the most well known is the 120 foot tall Jesus statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The statue is known as Christ the Redeemer. The COVID-19 virus has hit Brazil hard and projected images of doctors and health-workers have been projected on the Jesus statue. Also projected on Jesus are the flags of various nations with the word ‘hope’ in the language of each country portrayed. Jesus has been portrayed as a source of healing and hope. An even larger statue of Jesus is currently being constructed in another city of Brazil. This statue will be known as “Christ the Protector”. This statue is being financed by a group known as the “Friends of Jesus”. This new statue should be finished by the end of this year and will have a unique feature. An elevator will be installed to take visitors to what is called the ‘heart of Jesus’. When the elevator reaches Jesus’ heart, people will be able to survey the surrounding countryside.

Our readings today proclaim the heart of Jesus which is God’s love for the world. In the reading from the first letter of John we heard “This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with water only but the water and the blood.” It is written in the gospel of John that after Jesus died on the cross, a soldier came and pierced Jesus’ side with a spear and at once blood and water came out.” What is meant is the testimony and truth of Jesus’ full humanity. Jesus, the Son of God, became a human being to dwell among us and reveal the truth of God’s love for the world. The heart of Jesus is to forgive sinners. The heart of Jesus is to be the friend of sinners. Twice in the first letter of John Jesus is referred to as the “atoning sacrifice for our sins.” This means the heart of Jesus, the heart of God is pardon and not punishment, reconciliation and not rejection, salvation and not condemnation.

Everyone who believes and trusts Jesus is given the power to be children of God. We heard in the second reading “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.” Born of God we are called to obey God’s commandments, to believe Jesus as our Savior and Lord, and to love one another. The text said God’s commandments are not burdensome. We may want to pause here and think about that. We have the experience that loving others may not be burdensome, but certainly in some cases not easy! We hear of family members who haven’t spoken to each other for years. It is as if each of the alienated members are waiting for the other to make the first move toward forgiveness and peace, but no such movement take place. Stubborn and sinful human nature can build up walls of resentment, getting higher every year.

In the gospel of Matthew Jesus criticized the religious teachers of his time of not practicing what they teach. Jesus said they tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to help them. Commandments can be burdensome if there is no one to help one to obey them. The commandment to love is absolutely necessary for the well-being of one’s life, the well-being of families and communities. In the gospel reading we heard Jesus speak the commandment heard other times in the gospel, to love one another as Jesus himself loves each and every one of us. It is important to understand the grace in this commandment. Jesus practiced what he taught. Jesus obediently went to the cross for our salvation to reveal love. In the first letter of John we read “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.”

We are still celebrating the seven-week festival of Easter. We like to sing, say, and shout “Alleluia! Jesus Christ is risen!” Jesus lives and we must add that Jesus lives through us by the Holy Spirit. Jesus will not refuse to help us when we call upon him. If love for another, if forgiveness for another, if living in peace with another is a burden, Jesus will more than lift a finger to help. He gives the promise of his presence: “Come to me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” When people are not getting along Jesus promises “Whenever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” And we heard Jesus tells his followers then and for us now, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” This is Jesus’ gracious word of welcome for us, to make our home in the eternal love of the Father and the Son.

On this Mother’s Day we know the important role of mothers, and for that matter fathers, in teaching children life-affirming values such as compassion for others in need, respect, and to develop a heart of justice and fairness in the community and the country. Christian mothers and fathers, Christian adults acting in care-giving roles, are called to teach and model faith. Children are to be taught how greatly they are loved by God and they are never abandoned by Jesus, their Savior and Lord.

The year 1967 appeared to be hopeless for singer Johnny Cash. His life was spinning out of control due to an addiction to certain drugs. Because of his erratic and irresponsible behavior promoters were cancelling scheduled performances. His first wife Vivian had filed for divorce. Johnny Cash couldn’t handle all of this so he resolved to kill himself. He came up with a strange plan. He knew of a cave and his plan was to crawl into this cave, go deeper and deeper inside until he was lost. So he crawled inside this cave and went further and further inside until the batteries in his flashlight gave out. So he planned to dwell in the darkness until he died. No one knew where he was. No one would find him. But in the midst of his pain, Johnny Cash heard the voice of God whisper to him, “I am still here”. Cash realized that although he had strayed from God and was lost, he was not lost to God. Although he had abandoned faith, God has not abandoned him. This was a turning point in Johnny Cash’s life: he was able to find his way out of the cave back into the light, from despair into hope God provided for him.

In the reading from 1 John we heard “For whoever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” Earlier in the First letter of John we read, “For the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” The world proclaims different commandments than the commandments of God. The world may teach that life is found in possessions and the accumulation of wealth. The world may teach that it may not be such a good idea to share. Social media platforms, so common now, may teach hatred based on another’s ethnic background or skin color. The world may teach a kind of love that is only twisted inward toward the self only. The world may teach that God is old-fashioned and nothing more than a fiction and fancy for the weak. Such teachings of the world will not have us conquer, but be conquered by false hope, despair, and other shameful sins. But we know the familiar words of the apostle Paul, “If God is for us, who is against us, He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for us all us, will he not with him give us everything else? Who will separate us from the love of Christ…..we are more than conquerors through him who loved us…..for nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We heard about a large statue being built in Brazil with the title “Christ the Protector” promising an elevator to take you up to the heart of Jesus. This is project sponsored by the “Friends of Jesus”. Jesus told his followers that he would not longer call them servants but friends. This was so because Jesus made known all that the Father had told him. Indeed may we consider ourselves both servant and friends of Jesus. We seek to serve in his example but always assured of Jesus’ friendship to help us fulfill the commandment to love as he loves. Jesus has revealed the will of God the Father, which is to abide or make our home in his love. Jesus does not choose others over us. But as he made clear for all of us: “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” The lasting fruit is found in the commandment, “love one another so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” We are not so interested in statues of Jesus but more interested in living according to the stature of Jesus, compassion, justice, care, and love for one another.

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