Tuesday, 22 May 2012 00:00

“Sending Forth”, May 20, 2012

“Sending Forth”
John 17:6-19
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
May 20, 2012
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

Today we bid a fond farewell to Déadra Moore who has served UBC so well in this past year.  We will miss your smile, your attentiveness to a healthy spiritual life, your sense of humor, your passion for reclaiming a progressive Baptist voice in the Christian landscape. While we all would like this relationship to continue, we know that to everything there is a season.  And this is the season to end this formal relationship and send you forth with our good wishes, affection and prayers.

Jesus’ words to his disciples might be good to remember as we send you forth.  For he had to send the disciples into the unknown waters of a ministry that had yet to be defined. In John’s Gospel, Jesus gives an extended farewell address to his disciples.  Today’s scripture is even known as the high priestly prayer.  It’s when Jesus longs to have the disciples and by extension all of us, carry on his work.  I imagine Jesus giving this prayer, wondering if it was all for naught.  And it is unless someone else carries on our story.  What story or stories outlive us?  In what way are we part of the cold of witnesses that draws us forward?  In what ways do we remember the fools in the eyes of the world who point us to a better way?

Now, John’s language is pretty high-falutin’.  We remember that each Gospel writer has a different idea of who Jesus was. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus was a Priest. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus was a prophet.  In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus was a social reformer or a shepherd.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus was and is God.  So John wanted those who followed him to know exactly who Jesus was.  But whichever gospel writer we follow, all have the same problem or challenge.  Their story needs to take root and bear fruit in our story.


U.A. Fanthorpe wrote a poem about this called “Getting it Across.”  Jesus is speaking in this poem:

This is the hard thing.
Not being God, the Son of Man,
—I was born for that part—
But patiently incising on these yokel faces,
Mystified, bored and mortal,
The vital mnemonics they never remember.

There is enough of Man in my God
For me to construe their frowns. I feel
The jaw-cracking yawns they try to hide
When out I come with one of my old
Chestnuts. Christ! Not that bloody
Sower again, they are saying, or God!
Not the Prodigal…Son,
Give us a new one, for Messiah’s sake.

They know my unknowable parables as well
As each other’s shaggy dog stories.
I say! I say! I say! There was this Samaritan,
This Philistine and this Roman . . . or
What did the high priest say
To the belly dancer? All they need
Is the cue for laughs. My sheep and goats,
Virgins, pigs, figtrees, loaves and lepers
Confuse them. Fishing, whether for fish or men,
Has unfitted them for analogy.

Yet these are my mouths. Through them only
Can I speak with Augustine, Aquinas, Martin, Paul,
Regius Professors of Divinity,
And you, and you.
How can I cram the sense of Heaven’s kingdom
Into our pidgin-Aramaic quayside jargon?

I envy Moses, who could choose
The diuturnity of stone for waymarks
Between man and Me. He broke the tablets,
Of course. I too know the easy messages
Are the ones not worth transmitting;
But he could at least carve.
The prophets too, however luckless
Their lives and instructions, inscribed on wood,
Papyrus, walls, their jaundiced oracles.

I alone must write on flesh. Not even
The congenial face of my Baptist cousin,
My crooked affinity Judas, who understands,
Men who would give me accurately to the unborn
As if I were something simple, like bread.
But Pete, with his headband stuffed with fishhooks,
His gift for rushing in where angels wouldn’t,
Tom, for whom metaphor is anathema,
And James and John, who want the room at the top—
These numskulls are my medium. I called them.

I am tattooing God on their makeshift lives.
My Keystone Cops of disciples, always
Running absurdly away, or lying ineptly,
Cutting off ears and falling into the water,
These Sancho Panzas must tread my Quixote life,
Dying ridiculous and undignified,
Flayed and stoned and crucified upside down.
They are the dear, the human, the dense, for whom
My message is. That might, had I not touched them,
Have died decent respectable upright deaths in bed.

In today’s scripture, Jesus was praying to God and we are in on the conversation.  Jesus starts out by having compassion on us.  Jesus tells how much it hurt when we didn’t understand.  We didn’t understand who God was, but we didn’t understand who we were either.  We didn’t understand that we were blessed and powerful beyond measure.

We didn’t understand that we were protected by Jesus.  And Jesus asks God to protect us.  “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I don’t belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.”

Déadra, you have come from a conservative Baptist community in which you gained knowledge of God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  You were given tools for ministry.  And you have used them well.  But there was a part of you that was deemed unworthy to live into your full calling.  In your community, you saw your role and lived it as a clergy spouse and an educator.  But after that known world came crashing down, you looked at yourself with new eyes, dare we say God’s eyes, the scales having been removed, and you emerged from the ash heap with a calling and a voice.

You embraced the call of God in your life.  You remembered that God calls each of us, and God calls some of us educators, and some of us evangelists and some of us coaches, and some of us economists and some of us politicians and some of us computer geeks and some of us chaplains and some of us pastors.  And you have dared to try on that latter role here among us for nine months.  Kinda like pregnancy.

When you leave here, you take a piece of us with you, you know that.  It was here that you donned that black robe for the first time.  It was here that you preached and danced and led us around a labyrinth.  It was here that you heard the secrets of our people.  It was here that you tried out your public praying and worship leadership.  It was here that you sang and preached and prayed and laughed and cried among us.  You are woven into our tapestry.  So like it or not, you are a part of us.  Hold tightly that which feeds you.  Let go of that which holds you back.  Embrace the fact that we send you with our love, our gratitude and our prayers for your next step on the journey.

But this is not only about Déadra.  Many people come into and out of our lives, especially at this time of year.  It’s hard to say goodbye, and yet it’s part of the student life cycle.  Folks finish up their education and move on, taking a piece of us with them across the miles.  So, we do not mourn so much.  For we remember that a piece of us lives on in Massachussetts, and Rhode Island, and Florida and California and Kentucky and New York and Philadelphia…  It’s part of our DNA as a church.

So, we send forth people all the time, giving thanks for the time we have had together and hoping that they remember the best of us, not the worst of us.

Jesus prayed to God “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”  This is where we come perilously close to embracing the fact that we are called by God to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.  We don’t need to wait for Jesus to do it.  Jesus has sent us all forth with a ministry to share.  What is your ministry?  What is the message you wish to pass on to those who you encounter?  How would you want to be remembered?

Let me close with a poem from a seminary classmate Ann Keeler Evans.  She sends these out each day on line.  This is the one from yesterday:

Season of Seeds and Furrows
May 19
Ann Keeler Evans

Someone pointed out that many
Personal troubles are often
Hiding public issues.

Our reactions to challenges in our lives
Are important.
Taking responsibility when
Our risky behavior has landed us in hot
Water matters as well.

But it’s also imperative
To notice when we
(the great individuals)
Are simply part of a large
And discouraging trend.

The shame we heap upon ourselves
When we fail
Can make it impossible to
Tease out how we might have acted
Which gives strength and direction
To begin again.
But it can also isolate us.
When we hang our heads
And wring our hands in despair
We might just overlook the fact that others
Are doing the same thing.

That works to the advantage
Of the big decision makers.
If you and I don’t recognize one another
And join forces,
I don’t know who wins (Evil?),
But I do know who loses.

What, if in the midst of our fear,
We reached out to one another?
What if we began to tell the same story?
What if others joined us?

This would be a crop worth sowing.

When the fields are cleared and plowed
The furrows beautifully opened —
When the dreams are planted,
Carefully spaced and watered —
Can the nurturing of a better world begin.

If we don’t do this work,
Our harvest might be bitter indeed.

Ann Keeler Evans, M.Div., is the Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Susquehanna Valley. You can find us on line at uucsv.org

Let us plant our stories in the fields of blessing and hope.  May we water them with tears.  May we fertilize them with prayers.  And as they grow, may they send forth joy and challenge and seeds for new stories to be planted and nurtured by another generation.