Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C
May 26, 2019
Lessons: Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 14:23-29 (or John 5:1-9)
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people look to Jesus for peace, wholeness, and direction.
Key Scripture: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. – John 14:27
“Now you see me! Now you don’t!” These words form one of the first games that parents, grandparents, and other adults play with infants and toddlers. Turns out it’s not just a fun game that delights and surprises the child. There’s real learning and development going on in this simple activity. Child development experts agree that the window for learning is relatively short because youngsters begin to develop a sense of “object permanence,” the knowledge that things and people don’t just disappear because they can’t be seen, touched, or heard. The benefits of the game continue with speech development, reduction in separation anxiety, and strengthening the parent-child connection.
Maybe this game can help us understand what Jesus was up to in the farewell discourse from John’s gospel—a snippet of which forms this week’s gospel lesson. The disciples are having a tough time wrapping their brains around what Jesus is trying to tell them and how he is preparing them to go forward. After all, they are really still in the infancy stage of discipleship. Plus, their expectations of the Messiah have been completely upended with the crucifixion and resurrection appearances. If they close their eyes, will Jesus disappear again? When they open them again, will Jesus surprise them anew?
It appears that for all of our theology and religious praxis, we’re still playing “peek-a-boo” with Jesus more than 2,000 years later. Even though we have the cognitive skill of object permanence more or less down pat, most of us are still infant disciples. Father Richard Rohr goes even further, suggesting that Christianity lacks a mature relational theology of the trinity. “Could this absence help us understand how we might still be in the infancy stage of Christianity? Could it help explain the ineffectiveness and lack of transformation we witness in so much of the Christian world?” he asks.
Jesus was and is always God, but he walked in human form for only a brief glimmer in time. He had to return to the fullness of the divine dance we express as the Holy Trinity. This was—and still is—Jesus’ promise to his followers:
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:26-27).
Jesus has been playing a sort of discipleship peek-a-boo with his first followers, and thanks to the record of scripture transmitted faithfully through the centuries to us. He has been lovingly teaching and nurturing us to understand that the divine-three-in-one-and-one-in-three is so much bigger than we can see and comprehend in our humanness. We have these words and glimpses to prepare us to be open to the indwelling of the Trinity, to God making a home in us and in this world.
As we mature in faith and open ourselves to the vastness of God, our job is to look around. Where do we see Jesus? The answer, of course, is everywhere in every atom and molecule of creation and in the faces of our neighbors. But like the toddler playing peek-a-boo with a beloved adult, we have to open our eyes and look. What wonders and delights await us when we do! Now we see you, Jesus! Yes, now we really do!
We live in anxious times, and as a result many in the pews are living with the effects of chronic fear and anxiety. Life is truly uncertain and precarious. Yet Jesus tells us “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27). How do we communicate this in an authentic and helpful way to people who may be living with very real dilemmas and difficulties?
How about beginning by giving worshipers an opportunity to write their concerns, fears, and anxieties on small ribbons or slips of colored paper? Weave these concerns into a lament before the sermon. Give them real space and time to be heard and acknowledged. Then, in the sermon, be sure to unpack the promises of Jesus and invite worshipers to go into the week looking for and expecting to see Jesus.
Finally, how about shaking things up a little bit and saving Psalm 67 for after the sermon? Or, simply use a hymn based on that psalm for the hymn of the day. Some options include “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” or “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” Click here for more options.
Invite youth to ponder their vision as a follower of Jesus using Acts 16:9-15 as a springboard. What do they want the world to look like? Where do they believe they may be called to go? What might God be calling them to do now? If you have congregants who have responded to God’s call in some way—seminary, short or long term mission work, or in their daily life and vocation—invite one or more to join you and share how they have seen God at work in their life. Remind youth that like Paul and his companions experienced, they too may be called to a wholly holy redirection in their lives.
This week’s focus verse is John 14:28 – You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I.
Ask the children if they remember playing peek-a-boo with parents or grandparents. Have them demonstrate the game with one of the youngest children. Share with them that this game actually helps young children develop language skills, reduces separation anxiety, and helps them access the skill of “object permanence” (knowing that someone or something will still be there if they close their eyes).
Tell them that Jesus was playing a sort of discipleship “peek-a-boo” with his closest followers. He wanted them to understand that even though he was going away again, he would still “be there” with God and the Holy Spirit—always with them.
Ask the children where they see Jesus. Affirm all answers. Tell them to keep looking all the time because they will begin to see Jesus more and more because Jesus is always with us, in us, and everywhere around us. Finish with a simple prayer, asking God to give the children vision to see Jesus everywhere they go.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Where have you seen Jesus at work this week? One of the ways that you can always recognize Jesus at work is wherever you see or experience abundance. Keep your eyes open and don’t be surprised if you begin to see Jesus more and more!
Stewardship at Home
It’s easy to be anxious and afraid when the world seems so uncertain and life feels tough to manage. Jesus tells his disciples “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” His followers were living under the oppressive thumb of the Roman Empire, and times were difficult for many people. Jesus wasn’t promising that everything would be easy and fun, but rather that his followers could rest in his promises and be assured that they were never alone.
This week spend some time in quiet contemplation, calming your mind and heart to listen for God’s voice and sense God’s presence. We are promised that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are dwelling with us and in us—right here on earth. Their presence is as near as your next breath and as vast as the stars in the night sky. Take comfort knowing that even though times may be difficult, you are not alone. The Spirit will guide you. Look for signs of Jesus all around you and believe that God is near.
2016 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2016/04/the-trouble-with-visions/
Photos: Jazleen Kaur and Ken Teegardin, Creative Commons usage license and © Maksim Bukovski – Fotolia.com. Thanks!
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