Saturday, April 19, 2008

Back to the Future

Trinity Lutheran Church, Crookston, MN
Easter 5/April 20, 2008
John 14:1-14

During this Easter season I’ve found myself thinking again and again about the old Back to the Future films that were popular in the late 1980s.

In case you missed these three movies starring Michael J. Fox, they were all about time travel. Fox played Marty McFly, a teenage protégé to a mad scientist, Dr. Emmett Brown, who had transformed a DeLorean car into a time machine that took McFly and others from the 1980s back into the past and forward into the future.

One of the problems with time-traveling from the present to the future, though is that your present self might run into your future self. In the movies Doc Brown always warned Marty McFly not to let this happen—because the consequences could be devastating. “You could disrupt the whole space-time continuum and destroy the universe,” Doc Brown warned.

That’s the line, oddly enough, that’s been rattling around in my head, time and again, this Easter season of 2008—“disrupting the space-time continuum.”

The reason that line has been bugging me is that that’s exactly what happened in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord.

When God raised Jesus up from the grave on Easter morning, God “disrupted the space-time continuum.” God brought the future into the present, and the world has never been the same since.

And that’s why everybody was surprised by Jesus’ resurrection. It’s not that they doubted the notion of resurrection itself. Many Jews in Jesus’ day expected the Resurrection to happen. But what they expected was a general resurrection of all the dead on the Final Day. No one, not even Jesus’ closest followers (who should have known better)….no one expected the resurrection of one person to happen before Judgment Day.

With the Resurrection of Jesus, though, God unraveled that whole scenario….disrupted the space-time continuum, bringing Someone from the future—the Risen Jesus--into the present. That messed up everything!

And that’s why the New Testament is filled with so many folks who don’t get it.

Even Jesus’ disciples were bewildered, time and again. It seems they were always trying to play “catch up ball” with Jesus. The disciples would start to get it—start to understand it—then they’d ask Jesus a question that revealed how far they still were behind him.

This happened after Jesus was raised on Easter morning. But when we read the gospels “backward,” from Easter, as we do in our appointed readings during the Easter season, we see that the whole thing was happening before Easter, as well.

Take this text from John 14, for example. We read this—as we read all the stories in the gospels—knowing how the story ends. We read about Jesus’ pre-resurrection life knowing that he will suffer, die and be raised again.

So here in John 14 Jesus is trying to lead his disciples ahead, trying to make some forward progress with them. But the going is tough. The disciples have questions.

Jesus knows where he’s heading. He’s heading into God’s future, through the suffering of the Cross, through the miracle of the Resurrection, into God’s tomorrow.

And Jesus wants his disciples to know that they’ll be making this journey, too—in their own good time. And everything will be OK! They will be cared for, every step of the way, they will be in good hands. Even if their earthly bodies die before they get to their final destination, Jesus will hold them fast, keep them in safety and care, until God’s New Day comes—until the general resurrection happens, and God ushers in the New Creation.

But Thomas--ever the skeptical “show me” guy among the disciples--Thomas says: “Hold the phone. Wait a minute. You’re going too fast for me. We’re still not crystal clear on where you’re taking us Jesus. ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’”

Thomas functions as Jesus’ straight man, here. Thomas’s question sets up Jesus for a marvelous reply. “How can we know the way?” Thomas asks, giving Jesus the opportunity to respond: “I am the way…and the truth….and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

“Hold on to your hat, Thomas, and stay close to me”—says Jesus. I have not come to give you a roadmap to the “other side.” I have come to BE the roadmap. I have come to walk ahead of you, to blaze the path where you will go, and indeed to accompany you on your journey to God’s future. Just look at me, keep your eyes on me, for (says Jesus) I am the way.

In the next breath, another realist, another guy who wants everything nailed down, Philip chimes in and says: “Show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” Peel back the veil, Jesus….give us the kind of revelation we want to have…let us experience God the Father directly….and we’ll be good to go!

And I imagine Jesus is about ready to tear his hair out as he responds to Philip. “You’ve been with me for a while now….and you still don’t get it? I’ve been revealing the Father all along. Look at me—the Father moves in me, shines through me. If you can’t see that in my face, in who I am, see it in what I’ve been doing—right before your eyes—turning water into wine, reclaiming sinners, healing blind eyes, raising the dead. What more do you need to see to know that if you’re looking at me, you’re looking at my Father?”

Pity poor Thomas and Philip. Here they were, caught in the middle of a disruption of the space-time continuum, caught between earth and heaven, between the past and the future, between this dying age and God’s new creation—no wonder they had a hard time following along!

But Jesus is not deterred. Jesus doesn’t say: stop the train, I have to get off—I have to find some faster learners, some folks who will catch on more quickly to what my Father and I are doing.

No, Jesus does what he always does—Jesus works with those who are at hand. Jesus catches us up in God’s mission—drafts us for his service.

For in the concluding words of this gospel text we hear the most unbelievable promise of all: “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.”

Now, how ’bout them apples? It’s not just that Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Jesus, but Jesus’ followers—Thomas and Philip and you and me—we get into the act too. As Jesus gets ready here in John 14 to go to the Cross, to return to his Father, to go ahead of us, to leave us behind for a while--Jesus commissions us to continue his work—the work of ushering in God’s new creation now. Jesus tells us we’ll do the same things he did—in fact we’ll do even greater things.

Isn’t that amazing. If Jesus wasn’t the one speaking here, we’d call it blasphemy. But because Jesus is doing the talking here, we know that he speaks the truth. Jesus utters a promise here that itself calls us into God’s future, calls us to live now as the Body of Christ, occupying space and time in this world, even as we await Jesus’ final coming to us.

And Jesus doesn’t hold back here. Jesus doesn’t have low or realistic expectations of us. Jesus promises, Jesus assures us that we will continue his work—we can expect even to do more than Jesus did—hard as that is to believe.

You have caught a glimpse of that here at Trinity—a “life-changing, faith-stretching” church. It’s great for me to be with you today, to stand alongside your fine pastors Randy and Marsha and the rest of your church staff, to behold here in this vibrant community the unfolding of what Jesus promised: that we who follow him “will also do the works that [Jesus did]…in fact, will do greater works than these…”

But what do those “works” look like? It’s tempting to think first of the big, splashy, breath-taking NEW things that God does among us.

But what if Jesus has in mind deeds that are far more simple, basic, yet in their own way—extraordinary-- especially when they’re done by all of God’s faithful people.

I love your emphasis on discipleship here at Trinity. You, like many congregations, have been going “back to the future” by lifting up ancient, tried-and-true “faith practices that, when embraced by God’s people, carry us forward into God’s future in Jesus Christ. I can’t help but wonder if the “greater works” that Jesus predicted we would do look an awful lot like these basic, yet amazing marks of Christian discipleship:
Daily prayer…communicating with God constantly
Bible reading….immersing ourselves in God’s word
Weekly worship…being renewed by vibrant praise, gathered around Word and Sacrament
Giving generously…freely offering our financial gifts—our money or (as I like to call it) “portable, storable love”
Claiming our gifts…identifying all the ways God calls and equips us
Serving in ministry…living the Jesus life, pouring ourselves out for the poor among us
Sharing faith stories…bearing witness by naming the ways we see God alive and active among us and beckoning us forward into Christ’s tomorrow.

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