Families Called to Hope

Following is a sermon that I delivered on May 13, 2012 at Pocatello First United Methodist Church.

John 15:9-17

How many of you read the newspaper today?  Watched the morning news?  Looked at headlines online? It seems that we are inundated with bad news.  The world looks hopeless. Every day there is a new crisis. A new reason to panic.

Was it always like this? Is there really more bad news than there used to be, or are we victims of a 24 news cycle, where everything is an emergency … but it will wait until the top of the hour or until after “a few words from our sponsor.”

If there is good news, it usually gets tagged onto the end, almost as an afterthought.  And yet, there are terrible things that are going on in our world every day: Financial markets just reported a 2b dollar loss at J.P. Morgan. Who can tell what will happen in Greece? Or Spain?  But that’s only money right?  What about war?  There are new reports of increasing violence in the Middle East. Unfortunately, there’s nothing surprising about that.  But, just a few weeks ago, there was a rocket test in North Korea. The good news is that it was unsuccessful, but does anyone think that they’re quitting?

But Wait, There's More ...



But what about here at home. Every night we hear about car accidents, shootings … There’s a fire, a friend has lost their job, we’re concerned about our own job. We get a disturbing diagnosis from our doctor.

It’s just One. Thing. After. Another. Sapping the hope right out of us.

Just about a week and a half ago, we had a bomb scare at ISU, and later that week Rigby High School was on lockdown on another bomb threat.  It’s scary enough when we hear about things happening half a world away, but when things are happening right in our own town. It’s almost enough to make you throw up your arms, and say, “What can I do? When will this end?”

In today’s Scripture, basically in the middle of the Last Supper, the disciples were not yet aware of how low they would go, of how much of their hope was going to be drained from them.  But Jesus knew, and he was in the process of preparing them.

However, the disciples were probably still high from the triumphal entry of Jesus on Palm Sunday.  They were celebrating the Passover, the festival celebrating when God had delivered the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt and the Pharaoh, and they must have thought that the overthrow of the Roman Empire was only days away.  After all, Jesus was the Messiah, the Savior, the one to deliver them from their oppressor.  And they, the disciples, were his servants, his “court.” They were going to be on the inside when the change happened.  How little they knew what was really going to happen in the next few days.

But Jesus knew. He knew that this would be his last chance to make them understand how he was really going to save the world.  Despite all the time he spent with them and the warnings he gave them, they didn’t quite get it, yet.  In the face of Jesus’ arrest, “trial,” and crucifixion, the disciples were going to have all of their hope hemorrhage out of them.

In the midst of this preparation, Jesus talks to them about love.

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you, abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.

Just as a side note here for a second, with this word “abide.” It gave me trouble for the longest time, and if you’re reading out of the New Revised Standard Bible, you’re going to see it a lot.  The Greek word can also be translated as “remain,” and some other Bible translations use that word. So, let’s listen to that again, substituting “remain” for “abide.”

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you, remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.

In other words, they are to love one another. Over the time that they’ve spent together, they have become a family. Not necessarily a family of flesh and blood, certainly not the idealized family of the 1950s, but a family none-the-less. They bicker and fight about who’s Jesus’ favorite (James & John, Mark 10:35-45), and the other disciples get mad at them.  Jesus tells them that stop their bickering. (How much like a parent does that sound like? Don’t make me come up there!  )

Unfortunately, we had a bit of that within our UM family during General Conference a couple of weeks ago.  Fighting and hurt feelings, but we remain together, as a family.

The disciples even talk back to Jesus, like when Peter chastises Jesus for talking about his death.  Can you imagine that?  Criticizing Jesus, and right after you have just proclaimed him Messiah and Son of God?

But in today’s passage, Jesus talks about another aspect of families, love.  Making them a cohesive unit that will be able to stick together and support each other after Jesus’ crucifixion. And where do we find the disciples on the day of Easter, the day of Jesus’ resurrection? Huddled together in the upper room, supporting each other, figuring out how they are going to go on; fearing that they, themselves, may be under attack, as followers of Jesus.

And that is how families can give us hope as well. Regardless of the day-to-day bickering or bumps and bruises, our families are the people we can count on when things are at their worst. It is less about what that family looks like, whether it is your flesh and blood, the family given to you, or friends, the family you choose.

This time I won’t ask you to raise your hands, but do any of you remember the tv show The Walton’s? Every week there was a new crisis, a new problem that had to be solved, but the family would come together to solve it. They could have hope because they knew that they had each other.

A more recent show is Royal Pains. I have to admit that show was a bit of a guilty pleasure when I had access to cable.  This is a story of two brothers, Hank and Evan. They couldn’t be more different. Hank is solid and dependable, always does the “right” thing.  Evan is more spontaneous, more willing to try new things.  They are always fighting like cats and dogs, but when Hank gets into trouble and the bottom falls out of his life, Evan is there to extend a hand and pull him out of the pit of despair. In the crisis, the bickering goes on the back burner, and they are there for each other.

When my father died, we had been living in West Texas, and my closest relatives were about 1200 miles away.  I was used to being independent and taking care of things myself. I was the person who took care of other people. I didn’t need to bother anyone with my own problems, but this time I knew I was over my head, and my work family surrounded me and helped me. They were people that I could really lean on. I had no idea how much love was there for me, and I was so thankful.

In today’s passage, Jesus says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” I pray that you are never put in that position, but ask yourself  … Who are you willing to die for?  Who are you willing to live for?  That is your family.

This isn’t the feeling of love. This isn’t the sensation that can come on like a ton of bricks and fade away. This is the verb “to love.”  This is a love of action. This is a love, a family that can give hope.

And of course, there is your church family, people who are there to comfort and care for you in times of trial. To walk with you through the pain. To give you hope that the sun will come out again.  The family who will also be there to celebrate with you in the good times.  Like today with our promotion Sunday and Mother’s Day.

Together, we can have hope. Hope for a brighter tomorrow. Hope as we remind each other of God’s love for us.

As Jesus says in vs. 12, “This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.”

Jesus loves you so much that he was willing to die for you!  God invites you to be a part of God’s Family, to be the Children of God!!!

Amen!

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