22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Judeans gathered around Jesus and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, if you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in God’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not trust, because you do not belong to my sheep.
27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What God has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of God’s hand. 30 God and I are one.”
Please pray with me this morning, church:
Hold us. Reassure us.
In the midst of so much in our world,
Remind us that we are yours.
That we are known.
That we are loved.
One of my favorite and tried-and-true ways of clearing my head and doing a good amount of thinking is to go for a drive. Actually, before Oliver was born that’s how I would start my sermon writing process—pull through Starbucks, get the big coffee, and drive while thinking about the scripture lessons and what I might preach about. If I get super-stuck, I’ll still pull that trick out, but my schedule’s much different now and I don’t have the same time in the same way that I had before. All good, all things change.
That, and with the price of gas these days…sheesh…it would be a very expensive part of my process.
But the thing about driving for clarity and thinking is that if you’re trying to work something out in your mind, you can’t be super-worried about where you’re going. You either need to be willing to find your way back with a map, or you need to be on a road or a route with not a lot of variation. Too many twists and turns and you’re defeating the purpose. It can’t be too complicated.
And although it’s no longer part of my regular sermon writing process, I still do enjoy a good drive. It’s uncomplicated. I find it’s easy. And I don’t have to be so sure of the end result before I set off.
But again…gas prices, you know…
I’d be willing to venture a guess that you, too, could use a little less complication in your life. Am I right? A little bit easier. A little bit more clear and certain. Yeah?
“How long will you keep us in suspense? Are you the Messiah, the Christ? Are you the real deal? Tell us plainly.”
Make it clear. Make it uncomplicated for us. Tell us.
The Jewish believers in Jerusalem want certainty. They want what Thomas wanted from Jesus (…if we had heard about Thomas on the Sunday after Easter instead of me changing it the Road to Emmaus…) These people want from Jesus what I feel like most of us all want from Jesus. Certainty.
Tell me, Jesus. Tell me who you are. Reassure me that you are who people say you are.
Tell me, show me, that you really can do the things that people say you can, because truthfully, Jesus…things are starting to feel like they’re getting a little messed up around here, and I really need to know that you can do the whole saving and healing thing. I don’t know if faith is enough to sustain me in this current storm, so I’m gonna need you to do the thing everyone seems to believe you can do…I’m gonna need you to do some fixing…
We crave it.
Former Senior Pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, of blessed memory, the Reverend William Sloane Coffin said, “All of us tend to hold certainty dearer than truth.”
Wow…even if it’s not true, we’ll still believe it as long as someone tells us we can be sure about it. This is how we start taking investing and medical advice from facebook, by the way.
So how do we work it all out? How do we work out what’s true, what we can be certain about? What can make things a little less complicated than they are?
“I’ve told you, and you don’t believe,” Jesus tells the Judeans who are pressing him. “The things that I do in God’s name testify to me and testify to God…If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen God.”
In other words, Jesus says, see my body of work. See what I’ve done. Refer back to the blind beggar whose sight was restored. Refer back to the wedding at Cana when abundance was served up for the celebration. Healing. Wholeness. 5,000 people fed on a side of a mountain from 5 loaves and 2 fish, and oh, by the way, there were bushels of leftovers. Religious, gender, ethnic, social, and societal boundaries crossed and expanded at a well in Samaria.
Over and over and over again, Jesus shows us a God of abundance, of extravagance, of healing and wellness, of wholeness. Over and over and over again Jesus shows us God in the flesh, and yet we struggle to believe and trust in it because it flies in the face of everything the world tells you is the way things are supposed to work—scarcity, sickness, illness, dis-ease, conflict, war, outrage…
When we desire certainty, God refers us back to the times and moments in our lives that God healed or provided wellness or wholeness or lavished us with abundance.
God’s desire is always for life. Always, always for life, and life abundant.
It is God’s desire, and it is God’s promise.
It’s not complicated, it’s just difficult to trust.
I love that we have a baptism this morning because I don’t think there’s any clearer example of trust and faith in the face of so much uncertainty. There’s so much we don’t know about what our lives hold and what the world will be like. But for just a brief moment, God reaches into our world…heaven and earth touch…and in the simple, uncomplicated ritual of water running over her head, Ellie will hear the voice of God whispering in her ear, “My dear, sweet child…you are mine.”
And with any luck, church, you will have heard it, too.
The simple, clear, uncomplicated truth…that you are God’s. That God delights in you. That God desires life for you. That there is nothing in all of creation that can take you from God’s hand.
Because you, dear, sweet sheep, are known. You are known, and loved, and claimed, and named by God. You…are God’s.
You, Ellie, are God’s beloved. You, Augie, are God’s beloved.
You, Andy…you, Ashley…you, Joanne…you, Buddy…you, Dwight…you, Julie, Andrew, Danny, Jessica, Judy, Suzanne, Piper, Tim, Janelle, Brad, Karen, John, Beth, Abby, Mike, Wanda, Linda, Cheryl, Kim, Diane…mothers, motherly figures, stepmoms, grandmothers, dads, single parents, divorced parents, aunts, uncles, cousins…you with no kids, you who don’t want children, you who want children but struggle with infertility…you, who struggle…you…are God’s beloved.
Mother’s Day can be a complicated day, but this truth is not.
You are loved. So much. So deeply.
Please, hear me say that.
Amidst so much else going on, hear this…know this…you are known by God. You are loved by God. So much.
That’s true. That’s certain.