Staying While We Go
The following sermon was preached by Craig A. Satterlee, Axel Jacob and Gerda Maria (Swanson) Carlson Chair of Homiletics; Dean, ACTS D.Min. in Preaching Program, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Sunday, June 1, 2003.
"As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another."
In typical fashion, Jesus gives us contradictory instructions. "Abide in my love, " Jesus says. Abide, remain, stay. Then, a little later, Jesus tells us that he chose us to go and bear fruit. Depart, leave, go. How do we do both? How do we stay as we go or go as we stay? This is the question of the week here at LSTC.
Some among us are in the midst of leaving for CPE; some have already left. Others among us may be physically present, but their spirits are already on internship. Those of us who are anchored in Hyde Park are welcoming new communities even before we send this one on its way–summer school, youth in mission, preaching program, and, of course, next year. Many of those among us who will not return to LSTC, people rightfully sick of hearing about next year, are discovering that other gatherings of God's people have also spent considerable energy planning for next year. "You know, next year, when we have a pastor."
For some Jesus' direction to stay while we go and go while we stay is even more acute. How do I remain in my call when bearing fruit is replaced by busy work? How do I stay in my institution when I'm not sure where my institution is going? How do I remain in the church when contemporary disciples of Jesus show themselves no more courageous than the original disciples of Jesus?
For one dear to me, the question is, "How do I remain with those I love when I am called to go and die?" These days my dad periodically emerges from a dreamlike state and speaks of driving his car, something he loved to do. He says that it gets foggy as he drives along. My dad reports that the fog becomes so thick that he cannot see the road. So he pulls over in order not to crash. Then he awakens. But my dad is eager to return to sleep. And each time he, he drives farther and farther into the fog.
How do we stay while we go and go while we stay? Whether it's my dad's parable about dying or Jesus' paradox of abiding and going to bear fruit, we know the feeling. We know the transition. We know the truth. We must stay while we go and go while we stay. It is the nature of this community. It is the essence of ministry. It is the mystery of life.
In Christ, staying and going are two sides of the same coin. And that coin is love. Jesus tells us to abide, to remain, in his love as we go to bear fruit. And the fruit that we bear as we go is nothing other than tangible expressions of Christ's love. For God's uncompromising love for us, love so strong that it sent Jesus into the world, love so strong that it called Jesus to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, heal the broken, forgive the sinner, and expand God's dominion, love so strong that it compelled Jesus to lay down his life for us on a cross, love so strong that Jesus rose to say that not even death can separate us from God's love, this love is both the model of our fruit bearing and the power by which we bear fruit.
Regardless of whether we stay or go, God's love in Christ is with us. Grounding our lives, our ministries, our community and the world in this love is how we stay as we go. This love is not emotion. We are not called to swoon over each other. We don't have to agree with each other. We don't even have to like each other. Jesus knows that we can't always see the Christ in one another. Jesus knows that we aren't always friends in Christ. That's all about me and you, him and her, us and them.
Jesus doesn't ask us to be friends in Christ. Jesus doesn't ask us to be anything. Jesus simply presents us with one important fact. While we may not be friends in Christ, we are all friends of Christ. We are all fiends of Christ. We are the ones for whom Jesus laid down his life. We are the ones to whom Jesus made known what he heard from God. We are the ones whom Jesus calls friends. Our relationships transcend you and me, him and her, us and them. We are all friends of Christ. Since Jesus loves us with an uncompromising love, surely we ought to love one another. In fact, Jesus is saying that the best way we can express our love for Jesus is by loving Jesus' friends. And Jesus loves us enough that we do it.
Tomorrow is Ascension Day. We struggle with celebrating this major festival of the Church because we've been to the heavens and we haven't seen God. We haven't even seen Jesus sitting at the right hand. And yet, more important than where Jesus went or how he got there, we celebrate the Ascension because, in order for Jesus' life and work and calling to continue and to grow, Jesus had to move on. Christ's physical presence among his followers had to come to an end so that Jesus could be everywhere at once. Jesus needed to come to us in another way. When we love one another as friends of Christ, we are aware of Jesus' presence. As we love friends of Christ, we find ourselves loved as friends of Christ. We don't create it. We don't deserve it. It's simply that Christ has chosen to be among us in the love of his friends.
We could each step into that pool, but it would not be baptism. We could each say words over bread and cup, then take and eat and drink them. But that would not be communion. We could spend our lives locked away alone with a Bible, but we would never hear God's Word. Jesus is present in his friends. We need one another. Knowing this we remain. We abide, regardless of whether we're staying or going.