May 21, 2014 | Posted in Sermon

A Blessing
“I bless you. I unconditionally and from the deepest part of my being want God’s abundant and unrestricted good for you and for your life. I bless you and ask for Christ’s divine care to be upon you. I bless you, and I pray that I will be blessed by seeing Christ in you, and I pray that you will be blessed by seeing Christ in me.”

Sunday, May 18, 2014, Elaina’s baptism,
5 Easter, John 14:1-14

The Rev. Dina van Klaveren, preacher

Isn’t it nice to return to a happy place in your life?
A place of belonging, a place of relationship and dwelling and being and abiding with others in special, memorable ways. That was what it was like for me to spend a day in Yosemite when I was an adult, after spending a week there every summer as a child. Maybe you’ve returned to a special place – a summer cottage, a particular beach or summer camp or even your childhood home.

Last Sunday in the evening I returned to a familiar place – I attended the closing film of the Maryland Film Festival which was shown at the Maryland Institute, College of Art, where I worked before seminary as the Associate Dean of Students. It was nice to be back on that campus. It was familiar to me, but there have also been many physical changes to the space, and I really don’t know many people there anymore, so I felt like I didn’t belong there anymore. Which is good. Together we have discerned through the Spirit that I don’t belong there- I belong here. With you.

As we left the film I saw the unmistakable curly gray hair of the college’s president, who is retiring this month after 36 years of incredible leadership. Fred Lazarus IV is a creative, smart, no nonsense, committed visionary, and it was an honor to be on his staff. After growing a small but excellent art college into a thriving institution ten times its original size, I’m sure that folks are really worried about what comes next for the college. Well, I walked over to Fred, and his back was to me, and I wasn’t sure if he would remember me or not. I placed my hand on his arm and he turned, looked surprised, then smiled and said my name, and gave me a warm embrace. And here is what that embrace taught me – Belonging isn’t always about a place. Sometimes it is about relationship, being recognized, about recognizing another person. It’s about hearing your name, knowing someone and recalling that relatedness.

In a way, our Gospel text is a bit of a retirement speech by Jesus. The disciples who are talking with Jesus in John chapter 14 are being instructed by their teacher on what will come next for them when he goes. Jesus is telling them how they will live without him, how they will find that joy they know in Jesus after he is no longer standing right beside them. This is a really important text for the early Christians to read in the Easter season. Their ancestors in faith had the presence of Jesus in the flesh, dwelling among them, then they lost him on a cross. Then he came back to life and they had him present again. Then he ascended into heaven and they wondered – now what? John 14 gave them an idea of the answer to “now what?” Now what do we do?

You see, John is writing this conversation down for the early Christians at a time when they have been really displaced- physically displaced. The early Christians reading John’s Gospel initially are APOSUNOGOGA, out of the synagogue. For years they stayed in the synagogue community, worshiping in the traditional Jewish ways, studying the Torah, then going home and telling the stories of Jesus, and sharing in the bread and wine of the Eucharistic Feast. The very early Christians were Jewish Christians, and there were also Gentile Christians. At some point, the Jewish synagogue leaders want the Jewish Christian sect out of the synagogue. It’s understandable. Sometimes factions within an institution split apart and that’s not always a bad thing, in the end. Institutions are like the humans that inhabit them. It must have been tough for everyone involved – as break ups and kick outs always are. It must have been especially tough for faithful Jewish Christians to be displaced from their spiritual home.

They must have wondered if they could still be faithful. If they could still access God outside of that special place, that synagogue building that they loved. About 10 years before John is writing this Gospel, the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman authorities in response to a Jewish revolt. Faithful Jews felt unsettled, displaced from their place of worship in Jerusalem. And then the Jewish Christians are displaced and must have felt like they didn’t belong anywhere anymore. The temple was gone and the synagogue kicked them out. Imagine these displaced Christians, kicked out of the synagogues, hearing this text from John 14. I wonder if they heard it, and looked at each other, and imagined a place where their longing to belong, their dream of joy, could be fulfilled.

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. I go to prepare a place for you.”
I wonder if they heard these words, that Jesus is the way, and understood: This isn’t just about a nice place to hang out in heaven after we die – this is about NOW! This is about US! The synagogue building didn’t define the dwelling – it was US! The people, the relationships between us, the way we, together, are in relationship with the Risen Lord! These are the dwellings Jesus prepared for us! So, what now? What do we do now that Jesus is ascended and we are kicked out of our religious buildings? We will BE the church. We will dwell with Christ and BE the Church. That’s how we do this- by abiding in him, by relating with him, by allowing Christ to dwell in us. That is our way to belonging – it is in Christ, not in a building. And we can’t be kicked out of it – ever.

Jesus makes a place for us to dwell.

Imagine that this place is not only the space that is our heavenly home – imagine it is also the spiritual space where we know God most deeply.

Jesus makes that place for us. For you, for me. For little Elaina about to be baptized.

And we know how to find Jesus, how to find the way, how to arrive in the place of dwelling with God. It’s in the Baptismal Covenant in the Book of Common Prayer … Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, and respect the dignity of every human being? This is how we dwell with and in Christ, we seek him in one another. It is part of our baptismal promise to God and to one another. We will, with God’s help, seek and serve Christ in all persons, and respect the dignity of every human being.

Even when someone has really blown it and we want to stay angry. We seek Christ in that person.
Even when we have ruined a relationship and are ashamed. We seek Christ in that person.
The jerk who cut you off on the road coming to worship – we seek Christ in that driver.
The goofball co-worker who gets on your nerves – we seek Christ in that co-worker.

And we work out the difficult task of forgiving and asking forgiveness. We look for ways to serve them, to serve that which is Christ in them, broken as we are, broken as they are.

One of the best ways to seek and serve Christ in a person is to bless that person. Let’s try it right now. Close your eyes just for a brief moment and see the face of someone who troubles you, or someone you have hurt. See the face of a person with whom you have a troubled relationship. Take a deep breath and visualize the person. Now imagine in your mind and heart, that you are saying to this person the following words:

“I bless you. I unconditionally and from the deepest part of my being want God’s abundant and unrestricted good for you and for your life. I bless you and ask for Christ’s divine care to be upon you. I bless you, and I pray that I will be blessed by seeing Christ in you, and I pray that you will be blessed by seeing Christ in me.”

Open your eyes. Take another deep breath. You can bless your way into the presence of Christ by softening your heart to others, by blessing them.

If we want to get where Christ is going, we must follow in his ways. He was not quick to judge, but rather quick to bless, to embrace, to heal and to instruct. When we seek to bless, when we seek Christ in one another, we burst out of the prison of Good Friday and really abide in the Easter joy.

And here is the thing – we have some control of whether or not we will see Jesus in others. The Spirit is at work, drawing us toward the divine Truth, the presence of Christ in our midst. We can resist and stay safe, which is actually spiritually dangerous!, or we can be bold and move with the Spirit toward seeking and serving Christ in all persons.

When we feel awash in the abundant grace and love of Christ, we are dwelling with Christ. When we bless instead of judge, when we burst out of the prison of brokenness and burst instead into blessing, we abide with Christ, we have found him to be the way. No one can take that away from us – no one can kick us out of THAT. No one. No church or club, no synagogue or workplace or building or place of business. Nothing we do or fail to do gets us kicked out of the presence of God. When we belong to Christ, and see that belonging manifested in our earthly relationships which are marked as Christ’s own forever, we belong anywhere that we find ourselves. Anywhere. And wherever we are, there God dwells among us.