Sermon for May 20, 2012 – Defying Gravity

John 15: 5-10
“I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.

“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.

John 17: 13-19
Now I’m returning to you.
I’m saying these things in the world’s hearing
So my people can experience
My joy completed in them.
I gave them your word;
The godless world hated them because of it,
Because they didn’t join the world’s ways,
Just as I didn’t join the world’s ways.
I’m not asking that you take them out of the world
But that you guard them from the Evil One.
They are no more defined by the world
Than I am defined by the world.
Make them holy—consecrated—with the truth;
Your word is consecrating truth.
In the same way that you gave me a mission in the world,
I give them a mission in the world.
I’m consecrating myself for their sakes
So they’ll be truth-consecrated in their mission.

This past Thursday, the Church around the world observed Ascension Day, commemorating Jesus’ ascension to heaven. Jesus spent his life defying all convention, including religious institutions, political institutions, social norms, death, and finally, gravity.

The premise of the book (and musical) WIcked is that Elphaba, known as the Wicked Witch of the West, has been maligned in history by her detractors because she was actually a political activist fighting for the rights of animals to speak and have full citizenship in Oz. She was born with mysterious green skin and had an aversion to water. She was different, but she fought for something she believed in, going against conventional wisdom and being killed in the process.

In the musical, at the end of Act 1, she comes to a critical decision on whether or not to join the Wizard and try to work from within the system or go underground and fight. She chooses to go underground and performs the powerful song, “Defying Gravity.”

In the passages today, Jesus speaks of the importance of being connected to God and lets his followers know that when we pursue that connection, we will be hated by the world.

Who is the world?
I think in the context of these passages, the “world” is any person, group or institution that values themselves and their interests above themselves and God’s interests.

Why was Jesus hated?
Jesus was hated because he pointed out the thinly veiled motives of the religious people & institutions to put themselves in place of power and control rather than allowing God to be incontrol. Jesus was certainly hated by those people. They killed him. We’re probably not going to be hated to that degree today in the US.

In our context, “hate” looks like oppression, slander in person and on the internets, being told that what we are called to do is impossible, foolish, not worth it. It can also include people we love and respect actively working against us fulfilling our calling.

Right now there’s a prevailing thought in conservative Christian circles that Christians are being persecuted in the US. I disagree with this statement, especially given the fact that actual persecutions of Christians around the world is at an all-time high.

In my opinion, these folks are upset because they are being forced to allow other voices to be at the table. They are no longer the sole voice of religious perspective, so they’re crying “persecution.” I don’t believe this is what Jesus was talking about when he said we’d be hated. Being forced to be respectful of other people’s views doesn’t equal hatred.

I think, if anything, those are the people we should seek to be hated by – it would be a compliment. Sometimes, I even think we should seek to be hated by our own denomination, as long as what we’re doing is in line with what God is calling us to do.

What do we do that causes people to notice us?
The Food Pantry is an amazing ministry. What more can we do? It’s not ok for some folks to be involved and others, who have passions and gifts, to say, “Well, we have a food pantry. We’re doing our part.” The people who started & work with that ministry are awesome and powerful and gifted and an example to the rest of us of what we can do. It doesn’t have to be as large as that. I think Dene did a great job of coming up with the parents’ night out and executing that. Jeanette is passionate about our childcare is working on putting a safety plan in place. Pete has done a film night. Katie & Tammie have rocked pastoral care. We’ve done a lot both internally and externally. What else can we do?

How do we make the kind of difference that upsets norms?

What are some things that prevent us from doing what God calls us to do?

If money were no object, what kinds of things would you do in the community?

Do we think God has the power to call us and then provide for us?

I’d like us to do a meditation exercise on the John 15 passage. I’m going to read the passage several times with an extended period of silence in between. After each reading, I’m going to ask you to respond or discuss in groups your thoughts and impressions of the passage.

1. Use this reading to settle in, quiet your mind and tune in to the passage
2. Listen for and then share words or phrases that jumped out at you
3. Put yourself in the passage, see with whom or what you identify. Share that in the group around you
4. Listen for what God is saying to you and our community through the passage

During our meditation time, you will have the opportunity to add to the vine drawings at the front and back of the room. Watch each branch grow under your pen. Note that no branch is more important than another. Each branch is dependent on the main stem. Let your vine do what vines are supposed to do, and draw some fruit growing from the branch. Remember, the purpose of the fruit is to make the nutrients from the vine available to anyone who wants to partake of it. As a community moving forward into our next phase with a new pastor, keep in mind the kind of fruit you want to provide to the Excelsior and to San Francisco, and remember – we are not bound by convention, denomination or even gravity.

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