Monday, May 15, 2017

Sunday's Sermon - Somewhere

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, May 14, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. You can hear a podcast of the sermon on the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

If you find this sermon meaningful, please consider supporting this ministry by sending an offering to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.




Of course, this is from what I think may be the best musical ever written, West Side Story. And just so that we’re all on the same page, the play and later the movie is based on the Shakespearian play Romeo and Juliet, only in the musical, Romeo is named Tony, a part of a street gang called the Jets, and Juliet is named Maria, the sister of a member of a rival Puerto Rican gang called the Sharks. Anyway, just like in Shakespeare’s play, Tony and Maria fall in love despite the fact that their “families” hate each other. And in the song we just heard, they dream about a place that’s just for them, a place where they’re not weighed down by all the baggage they’re forced to carry, a place where they’re free simply to love one another. And according to what they sing, they hope that this place exists somewhere, in other words, that it must be real but they just don’t know where it is.

And I don’t know about y’all, but I can tell you, there are times when I feel like singing the same song myself. Of course, Ed and Debbie, well, we’re really not another Romeo and Juliet nor Tony and Maria. I mean, as far as I know, there’s no ancient feud between the Rudigers and the Shadiows. And back when we were in Indianapolis, Debbie and I were actually part of the same gang, in other words, we were both Presbyterian. Still, the idea that there’s a place for me, a place of “peace and quiet and open air,” a place where I can just exhale and don’t have to struggle through the frustrations and disappointments that are just part a living and where I can simply be the person that I think God created me to be, well I’ve got to tell you, that’s really appealing. But I don’t think I’m unique in that. I mean, give me a break, I think there are times when we’re all worn out by people letting us down and leaving us disappointed and worn out by pressure that keeps coming and stress that won’t let us go and simply worn out by the thought that a lot of us are careful to keep hidden, you know, that we’re not sure we can do this anymore but are absolutely sure that we really don’t want to. Frankly, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that, from time to time, these thoughts sort of drift through our heads. And so we end up standing with Tony and Maria and dreaming that “there’s a place for us, somewhere a place for us. ...Somehow, Some day, Somewhere!”

But I’ll tell you, if that thought has ever passed through your mind as it has mine, in other words, if you’ve ever felt as though you just don’t have a place where you can relax and just be, I think Jesus offers us some great news, and it’s right here in the passage we’re focusing on this morning. I mean, as we look for our own special place, I believe there are three things that we can know, and they’re found in this conversation between Jesus, Thomas and Philip.

You see, as we look for our own special place, first, we can be confident that it actually exists, something that Tony and Maria weren’t sure about at all and something that we might doubt if all we can see is the world around us. And I’ll tell you, it’s grounded on the promises of Jesus Christ himself. As he said right at the beginning of this passage: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” [John 14:1-4]

Now, I’ve got to tell you, for everyone who wants to find his or her place, this is outstanding news. For example, I don’t know about y’all, but it makes me feel pretty good, just knowing that Jesus loved his disciples which also means loves us so much that he doesn’t want our “hearts to be troubled.” In other words, he doesn’t want us to worry. And he sure doesn’t want us to give up hope. And for that reason, he tells us up front, that in God’s house there are many “dwelling places.” Now we generally assume he was talking about heaven and so we use this passage for funerals, and that may be a part of it, but I don’t think that’s all. You see, because he loves us, I think he’s prepared places for which we don’t need to wait, but instead are right here and right now. In fact, they’re the kind of places of rest we really need as we try to do the best we can in the real world, our own unique place within the father’s house, one that’s uniquely designed just for us, and I’m talking about for you and for me, but that has one very important thing in common. I mean, think about it; since there are many dwelling places, why would we assume that they’re all the same? It doesn’t say that here. I’ll tell you, I believe there are all kinds of places, tailored by Jesus specially for us. For example, your place may be sitting in a pew singing the old favorites, but for somebody else, it be may sitting by a quiet lake, or it may be simply sitting in front of a monitor or looking at a phone, talking with friends or cruising the internet. According to Jesus, there are a lot of different places. But like I said, they all have one thing in common. Regardless of the particular place Jesus has prepared for you or for me, we can be absolutely sure that Jesus will be close. He’s drawing us to himself, and where he is, that’s where we’ll also be. You see, unlike all those folks who can only hope that they have a special place, we who trust what Jesus said, we can be confident that our place exists. That’s the first thing we can know.

And second, Jesus also gives a pretty good idea about how we can get there. And I’ll tell that’s something else I think we can see in this passage. According to what John wrote, “Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’” [John 14:5-7] Now that’s what Christ said.

And again that’s great news for us. I mean, not only do we know that he’s prepared a place for each and every person here this morning, a place that’s just waiting for us, we know exact how to get there. And I’ll tell you something, he doesn’t say anything about having to die. No, instead we can get there, we can get to our own special place through him. Why? Because he’s the way. And because that’s kind of confusing, at least it is for me, he sort of explained what that means. You see, because he is the way, we can find our place by trusting in the truth that he brought, the truth that he revealed. Of course to trust in the truth, we’ll have to learn the truth and since Jesus is the truth, we’re going to need to study up on him. And how can we do that? Well, just listen to what John wrote near the end of his gospel: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to trust that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through trusting you may have life in his name.” [John 20:30-31] You see, to trust the truth, we’re going to need to read the story. And then, as we begin to trust the truth, we can also claim the life, and right now, I’m talking the eternal life that Jesus, the way, the truth and the life, offers right this minute. And even though I know it’s really tempting to assume that eternal life is something else we have to wait to get, I don’t think that’s the case. I mean, just listen to what Jesus said during the prayer he offered right before he went to the cross. He prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” [John 17:1b-3] Now I think it’s really important that he used the present, not the future tense here. You see, eternal life isn’t about knowing the only true God sometime in the future, you know, after we’ve died. Rather, it’s knowing God and knowing Jesus Christ right now. That’s eternal life. In other words, it’s life with the Lord in the present, a life that we can claim right now. And so, when we’re looking for, when we’re hoping for, when we’re praying for that special place, it’s through the one called the way. And we can find it by trusting the truth and by claiming the life. You see, Jesus gives a pretty good idea how we can get there. And that’s the second thing we can take from this passage.

And third, we can even know what’s going to happen we find our place. Again, as John wrote, “Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show
us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.’” [John 14:8-14] Now that’s what Jesus said to Philip.

And again, that’s really good news for us. You see, when you’re talking about that special place, something we’re going to sing about is just a little while, man, we’re going to know it when we find it. And I’ll tell you how that’s going to happen; it’s all connected with what Jesus said about himself, you know about being “the way, and the truth, and the life.” You see, when we claim the life he offers, and it’s really as easy as just doing it, we’re going to enter a brand new relationship with God, one that’s grounded on his love not just for us, but for the entire world, a love in fact that was most clearly shown when Jesus gave his life for those whom he loved, in other words, for us. And when he trust the truth that Jesus revealed when he came, we’re going to understand a whole lot of stuff we didn’t understand before, and I’m talking about both his unconditional love for us and our responsibility to love one another. And you know, once we’ve claimed the life and trusted the truth, I’m telling you, we’ll be well on our way, and I’m talking about our way to the kind of peace and rest that only Jesus offers. And isn’t that exactly what we want from the places we seek. You see, we can know what’s going to happen in that place Jesus has prepared for us. And that’s the third thing we can know.

Which, I’ll tell you, puts us in a much better position than Tony and Maria in West Side Story. I mean, in the end, Tony dies and Maria is left alone, still hoping that their special place exists somewhere. But I’ll tell you right here and right now, that’s not the way we should feel. You see, as we look for that special place of peace and rest, we can know three things. I mean, first, we can know it exists. And second, we can know how to get there. And third, we can know what will happen when we find it. And for that reason, if we choose to believe, God has freed us from having to look into our lives and our future and to wonder if somewhere actually exists.

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