Gospel: John 14:15-21
1st Reading: Acts 17:22-31
2nd Reading: 1 Peter 3:13-22
As many of you know, my little guy loves fans. He is obsessed with fans. I like to shop at second hand stores and we aren’t there very long before he usually spots a used fan on a shelf somewhere and asks for it. Sometimes, if it isn’t too dirty or too big to fit with him there in the cart, I get it down for him and let him play with it because it gives me more time to browse. Sometimes this just makes him very upset. He says, “Turn it on, Mommy!” and sometimes cries and carries on. I try to explain to him that it needs to be plugged in to work and sometimes he takes the plug and tries to connect it to the shopping cart or even to insert it somewhere near the blades.
We, too, need to be plugged in to our power source in order to come to life. Just like a fan can’t plug itself in, there isn’t really much we can do about it. God created us. Jesus came to show us life abundant. We are already plugged in to our power source. We just might not know it or feel it sometimes.
In Jesus’ time, Jewish folks believed that God’s power came down to Jerusalem and plugged in there. That was the hub. Then the priests plugged into that power source and they could decide who else could plug in to them to be connected to God. The priests were the gatekeepers. It was a similar situation in the Roman Catholic Church and still may be to a certain extent and there is perhaps still some of that residue left in Lutheranism and other forms of Christianity. For instance, we say in Lutheranism that only pastors can bless the bread and wine for communion, which is a sacrament, the body and blood of Christ. Communion gives a special access to God available only through pastors. I just call it job security, not gate-keeping or restricting access, especially since we say all are welcome to commune.
When Jesus came, it was like an electrical jolt of energy. The Disciples, Jesus’ closest followers, got used to having their power source right at hand. But Jesus was now telling them that he was going away and they were anticipating a power outage. This was an absolute disaster for them. Jesus was showing them how to stay connected, once he wasn’t there with them all the time teaching them and directly leading them in person every day. Although Jesus would die and later ascend into heaven, he would still be their power source and keep them connected to God. This way they would be able to do healings and feed people and share the good news and live abundantly and help others to do the same. In 1 Peter we get a picture of what happens to Jesus after he dies. Jesus’ job is to bring us to God, keep us connected. He held that power cord within himself as he died, linked it up with the unrighteous as well, put them on the power grid, and ascended to heaven, putting a permanent installment of power lines between us and God. That way we would stay connected forever.
So, without any initiative from us, we are connected with God. God gave us life and keeps us going, in this life and forever. And as living creatures made in God’s image, we are curious, and we begin to grope, to ask why, to look for meaning in life, to ask why we suffer, to explore how we can relate to each other and this world, to seek connection. As we seek answers to the deepest questions of life, and begin groping around in the dark, we may begin to get an inkling about this power source, this connection between us and God. And we a link, not just to our power source, but to all others who are also part of this grid. We find ourselves linked up to other people who are also asking similar questions, seeking, searching, hoping, praying for something more, looking for connection with something greater. And we even find ourselves connected to those who aren’t looking for more. We find ourselves connected to people who are just like us and those who are very different from us. We find ourselves connected to God, our power source, our source of life and love, and we find connection with each other.
When Paul went to Athens, at first he could find no connection with the people he met there. All he saw at first were these strange people who worshiped all these other gods. Everywhere he looked he saw shrines to every conceivable god, people misunderstanding their power source. But he knew in Christ he was connected so he looked harder for that connection to these strange people. He found this shrine to an unknown god. He knew these people were searching just like he had. They had all these gods, yet something was still missing. Their gods were more like people, just with a lot more power. They were like the X-Men. They had personality flaws and weaknesses and fought with each other all the time. These Athenian people were holding out hope that they would find the missing link, that they would find a connection that made a little more sense, that gave them a set of values that would be satisfying, that would explain life a little more clearly, that would show them their connections with each other and empower them to fully live. And Paul affirms their search and their openness. He found the common ground between him and these people. He related to the people he met there. He was able to share his experience of God, who God is, what God does. Paul explained that unknown god tothem, giving them all a connection to God through Jesus Christ.
The Christian slaves in first Peter knew their connection with their Creator. Even though they were far from home, had no rights, and were looked down upon and constantly discriminated against, they remembered their connection with God, their source of power and life. They never forgot that. Through this letter, they are being encouraged and built up to keep that connection open with those who oppress them. They are encouraged to keep up their hope, not in broken and damaging human institutions like slavery, but in God who frees us and loves us to live fully, to live connected. Hope was a rare thing in those times in that place where this letter was written. If their oppressors saw hope in them, with the least reason to hope, their oppressors might be inclined to ask them to give an account of the hope that is within them. Where does it come from? How do you keep going? These Christians are ready to give an answer, to tell that their hope comes from God and explain what it does for them and how it keeps them going and how they stay connected.
We live in a world that is so connected. The moment someone gets sick, a natural disaster strikes, or Justin Bieber gets arrested, we can know it. When Nigerian girls get kidnapped across the world, we know it. Yet sometimes we are so overwhelmed by all the information coming in that we can’t sort it out anymore, or we get so connected electronically, that we forget the live people right in front of us.
God dreams of a world where we tend to our connections. I can picture God’s dream where we know where we come from, that God made us in love to love and care for each other and this world that God made. I can picture God’s dream in which we tend to the connections between us, where we look for what we have in common, where we are curious about one another and ask questions and form relationships that bind us close, where we make ourselves vulnerable to each other and show who we really are, what hurts us, what gives us joy, opening fully that connection between us. I can picture God’s dream in which we truly feel one another’s joy and one another’s pain and it leads us to act to make this world more life-giving for everyone and everything that God has made good.
Today we are talking together about same-gender marriage and blessing in this church building. We’ve talked and acted over the years to be loving and inclusive of all people, to open our connections with those we’ve hurt over the years, to honor God’s values of love. We’ve studied the Bible and realized that we all pick and choose from the chapters and verses there. We know the Bible is inspired by God, but written by human hands, reworked and corrected, added to and subtracted from and then translated in thousands of different languages and translations. We know it was written in a certain time and place for a particular culture. And we know that Jesus talked about how we spend our money, that we should give it all away and that divorce is wrong, but never breathed a word about homosexuality, that was written down anywhere. And we know that we are one body, although with different perspectives and experiences, we belong to Christ. That connection between us and God and us and each other can never be severed. We belong to each other and we belong to Christ. We are connected to each other, despite our differences. And that is a good thing. We need each other to make the connection complete, because God’s love is for all—the righteous and the unrighteous, slaves and oppressors, democrats and republicans, men and women, and so forth. Let us remember our connections to God and each other as we move forward in our discussion, and see this as an opportunity to grow our faith, to give an account of the hope that is within us, and to grow into a stronger community of love.