Sermon for the 5th Sunday in Easter

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Jesus stands among his friends and he knows. It's time. Yes, Jesus, it's time. It's time for you to go. It's time for you to say farewell to your friends, but before you do, you have a few things to say. They have been with you for a long time. You have walked with them down dusty roads on hot Judean days. You have shivered with them on cool nights when there was no place to sleep but under the stars. They have struggled with you, Jesus. They have tried to understand you--you, who were so confusing. They wanted to know just who you are and what you are doing. And even on the good days, your friends only partially understood.

But, Jesus, you struggled with them, too. You tried to make them understand that all they could ever need in living and dying is right there in you. You tried to show that YOU are enough for them, always. You tried to show them that you and the one you called Father are so closely bound together that to look upon you is to see the glory and grace of God shining in your face. You struggled to let them know that when they see you graciously, tenderly, touch someone who is sick, when they see your mercy for the suffering, even when they see your anger over all that mars the beauty and glory of God's creation, that what they are really seeing is deep into the very heart of God.

But now, whether they have understood this or not, it is time for you to go, and they are afraid. They are afraid of losing you, Jesus. Afraid of losing the touch of your hand, the memory of your smile. They are afraid of no longer being able to experience your strange and gentle ways with them. They don't want to lose the way they feel when you are near, for when you are near everything looks and feels and is different, and it scares them to think of being without you.

I understand them, Jesus. I know how they feel. I want to be as close to you as you have been to them. For to live with you is to live in a holy space--an oasis of peace, a divine circle where all things, all moments, no matter how wonderful or terrible, are colored by your holy presence. To be with you is to live in a sacred space where all things are infused with your unspeakable love for me and for all the world. I want to live in that space near you, Jesus, just as did your first friends. I want to be there where I can utterly and totally be myself, knowing that as I am--AS I AM--I am treasured with my hidden memories and secret sins, my weaknesses, foibles, my foolishness, all that which I alone know, but you know too. I want to live in that holy space where you are, Jesus, where you look at me the same way you looked upon every single person who came to you for blessing and healing. Each time, in word and deed you said, "You are mine and you are loved and you are beloved from all eternity." I want to live in that space, Jesus, where I can hear you saying that to me, for when I know it, I fear losing it.

So Jesus, I understand. I understand the fear that comes as you tell your friends that you are about to leave them, for I, too, cannot live without your nearness. And what do you say to your anxious friend, Jesus? What words do you leave with us?

"Little children," you say, "love each other. This is my new commandment. Love each other just as I love you. Do this," you say, "share this love among yourselves and others will know that you belong to me and you, too, will have the assurance that you are mine. For I will be in that love," Jesus says. "That love will be my living presence, my body, my flesh, my life that you can touch and you will know that I am not gone but right here with you." That's what you tell us, Jesus.

Jesus invites his friends--YOU--to live so closely in relationship with him that your life--that our lives together--become a holy space, a divine oasis, a sacred circle where he lives. This glorifies him, he says.

I know such holy space. Often it appears in my prayer. When I pray, I read a story from scripture, then I lean back in my chair and let it come alive in the inner eye of my imagination. I watch the story happen as if it is occurring right there in my mind's eye. I watch and listen to what Jesus and the other people in the story do and what they say. And I pay attention, also, to how my own heart responds. What bubbles up in me as I watch and listen and then I speak, asking Jesus for what I want to know, for what blessing I want or need from him. Sometimes I even challenge him and argue with him depending on the way the story moves me.

I recall a day when I was praying with the story of how Jesus fed 5,000 people with a few loaves of bread and some fish. I watched Jesus through the story. He had a broad smile on his face; occasionally, he even broke into laughter, almost uncontrollable laughter. He would take bread in his hands and feel its texture and then break it and then he would give the pieces to his disciples and they would run back and forth carrying the broken pieces to people who were sitting in groups on the ground. And I was there, too, running back and forth carrying the bread as Jesus laughed. He kept breaking the bread so that every soul there could have something to eat, and as we ran back and forth carrying the pieces from his hands, he would look at us and laugh. "Feed them," he would say. "Feed them all. There's enough for everyone. You have all you need. I have given you all that you need to share. Don't worry. Don't be anxious. Don't fret. There's enough and there will be enough, for I am enough for you always."

As I watched this scene play out in my mind's eye, I saw a familiar face step up to Jesus. It was my old friend Fritz. Now, Fritz was dying at this time. He was dying of cancer. He had been a refugee from Germany after World War II. He came to the United States and became a steel worker in Indiana. But more than this, he was the most tireless advocate for the world's hungry people that I have ever known. A common layman, he didn't have a high school education. His own schooling in Germany had been cut short by the war, and after the war he lived for months outdoors with his friends, stealing potatoes from farmers' fields and trying not to get shot in the process. After he became established in the United States, he began working with his own congregation volunteering, organizing them, and then going to other congregations to organize and challenge them to raise money for the poor, urging, coaxing, cajoling them to look beyond their own needs and to join in God's holy labor of giving life and hope to the poor around the world. Single-handedly, over the course of 25 years, Fritz was instrumental in raising millions of dollars to feed the hungry in dozens of countries. But now, in my prayer, as I watched Jesus take the bread, I saw my friend Fritz step up to Jesus and hold out his hands. Jesus suddenly stopped and stood, then he enfolded Fritz in a warm embrace and said, "Well done, my friend. Well done, good and faithful servant. You have fed my little ones. Thank you."

As I watched this scene in my mind's eye, I was awash in tears; I could not stop them. For here, Jesus' holy desire, for me, for you, for the whole human family, became clear. Jesus wants to draw you, draw us, into that holy space around himself. He wants us to live in that sacred circle around himself where he richly shares from his own heart his mercy, his blessing, so that we too might live with open-hearted generosity with each other. He wants to draw us close so that our individual lives and our communities of faith become holy places touched by his unspeakable mercy where we, too, can feed and care for each other and all of his little ones. Like Fritz, Jesus invites us to dwell so near him that you and I are transformed from competitors into companions with each other, knowing that there's always enough--enough grace, enough mercy, enough for our living, enough for our dying, enough for me, enough for you.

Jesus gives a new command to love even as he loves. His love surrenders itself to God's holy dream to love the world into life even to the point of giving his own life. Jesus' love glorifies God's purpose and mercy, and now this is his command to his friends. But the command is really an invitation to draw close to he who is always close to you. "Draw near," he says. "Come to the places where you know me. Come to those places where you know and experience the richness of my grace and the holy goodness of God. Go to those places where you know the warmth of God's love like the morning sun warming your shoulders."

Now, I don't know where those places are for you. Perhaps as you open the Bible and read stories of Jesus, you are drawn into that sacred space where you know his love for you. Maybe it happens when you sit silently and listen to the stirrings of your soul. Perhaps it is when you are with a friend who loves and treasures you so much that you know that the love they give you is more than their own--it is a love that flows from the depth of the heart of God. Perhaps you know his mercy when you go to church and open your hands to receive the Holy Eucharist, the bread of his body in communion. Or maybe it's even simpler for you. Perhaps it is a park bench, a back porch, a favorite chair by a sunny window, a stroll along a familiar street or stream. Perhaps that's where you enter that sacred circle where you draw near to Jesus and he draws near to you.

Wherever you find those loved, grace-filled places in your life, go there. Enter that holy space where you know him. Go and your life, too, will become a holy space, an oasis of grace, a place of peace, where you can commune richly with the one who treasures you more than you can possibly know. Go there and your life will become a holy space where others will receive the generous riches of mercy that Jesus has given you to share. Jesus gives a new command, "Love one another as he loves you." It's an invitation to rest deeply in his love which is always enough for you.

Let us pray.

We thank you, dearest Friend, for drawing us to yourself, for bringing us into that holy space where we can know how much you treasure us. Thank you, dear Friend, and may we stand forever among all those who love God's holy dream, chanting "yes" to all that you have done and all that you will do. Take and receive now our knowledge, our words, our skills, all that we are and possess and use them as you will. Only give us your love and grace. That will be enough for us. Amen.

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