Sermon for June 12, 2022

God is With You

John 16:5-15


In a game of chess usually the most powerful piece is the queen. The queen can move in any direction and as many squares as are open. However sometimes it is possible to create a situation where your opponent has no choice but to sacrifice the queen to avoid being checkmated or even simply to trap the queen so that there is no move that won’t result in the queen’s loss. If a person can take his opponent’s queen off the board with a lesser loss, then the momentum for winning the game is on your side.

This can be a metaphor for life. Are you on the winning or losing side of the game? How is your momentum in life? Are you taking advantage of the turnovers, or are occurrences putting you at a disadvantage?

Life has its ups and downs. The disciples had come to rely upon Jesus as their teacher and guide. They believed that he was the messiah, and would assume the leadership of their nation. But instead of hearing good news about how Jesus was going to accomplish all of this, Jesus began to warn them that he would be leaving them. He also warned them that the world will become hostile toward them. They will be hated. They were going to suffer loss, persecution and even death, and to add insult to injury those doing the killing will claim that they are the righteous ones and serving God.

This was not a good sign that their hopes would be fulfilled. How could Jesus be leaving them? If you are in a chess game, that is like bringing the queen out early and losing the piece on your third move. The momentum of life is not your favor. Advantage is going over to the other side, and it looks like it is going to be a rout. Jesus comments that he said he was going away, and no one asked him where he was going. Could it be that they just could not process that reality? They did not even know what to make of the possibility. It was in these moments that Jesus shared with them and us valuable truths for this journey in life; especially when we feel that the future is uncertain, or we are living behind the proverbial eight ball.

Annual Conference leaves us with the question about the greater future of the United Methodist Church. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that this is not a contentious and polarizing issue. The only certainty that exists is that the church will not be the same in the years ahead as it is today. The changes that are taking place will greatly impact the nature of the local churches, and we must answer for ourselves and as a local church what our core values are and what will be the nature of the Christian faith that we will follow.

Beyond this our world continues to challenge our understandings about life. What laws should govern gun ownership and what laws should be put in place that can reduce the widespread shootings taking place in our country and at the same time guard individual liberties. And again, looking at our world, what will be the outcome of Russia’s war on Ukraine and the rising cost of gasoline, and food? There is so much we do not know.

So, we struggle to know what is right and true. We struggle to cope with life. Where are answers, hope, and the right path to be found? Is it better to stay as a United Methodist Church or should we be thinking about separating and the quicker the better? Will tomorrow bring peace and life, or should we brace ourselves for more war and death, both abroad and here at home?

Jesus disciples put their hope in Jesus’ presence and then that was taken away. However, the good news is that he did not abandon them. He does not abandon us. In the midst of this game of life where we may feel at the disadvantage, the momentum not being on our side, and the growing questions of what is right and true, we are not without hope. We are not alone.

Jesus promised the disciples and us the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Greek word used to describe the Holy Spirit is paraclete. It basically means one who walks along side of you. One who takes up your cause. There is a legal sense of the word in which the Holy Spirit represents your case about the truth of God within life. When you feel the world is standing against you, remember that it is God who will stand with you. Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will “…prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.”

Ultimately what does it mean to be living in a true relationship with God? What does it mean to truly be living a right life, and what kind of a life will bring to us an abundant life; eternal life? Are these not the real questions that matter? Regardless of all else, if life is really about more than what we can see, how can we live according to what we can’t see? What can move us from the bottom of living to the top; regardless of what the world may do to us?

In all of this Jesus is the foundation that we need to be standing on. The nature of sin, the hope of righteousness, and the reality of judgement are defined through nothing else then Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Jesus is the truth and the truth of life is in him.

How do we overcome sin? Through being politically correct and socially woken? Through declaring that we shall be radically inclusive and define that inclusiveness through a radically left political stance? Why do I have my doubts? The human effort of laying down the law has never gotten even one person right with God.

At first the Apostle Paul followed the Jewish law with an incessant effort, only to finally declare that the law cannot save anyone. Paul proclaimed that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Sin cannot be overcome by one’s own strength. A relationship with God cannot be accomplished through one’s own work, but the way to God has been given to us through Jesus. Through believing in him we are considered as righteous in God’s sight. That is why the world is wrong about sin because the world has failed to believe in him, and salvation only comes to us in Jesus’ name. If the church places its hopes in human strength, public policies, and political correctness, and fails to accomplish the simple task of lifting up the name of Jesus to a weary world then the church will not succeed. A personal faith in Jesus for the salvation of your soul is what can turn our world around and restore life into every moment. This is what eliminates every matter of sin. All the rest is commentary.

Closely associated with this new life in Christ is how we live out our lives. What makes for a proper and righteous life? You say that you are a Christian, (good) but what defines you as such? Do you pray? (good) Do you come to church? (good) Do you give of your possessions and time? (good) Do you serve others? (good) Do you tell others about your church? (good) (Prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness; those are your church vows) But what really makes you a Christian is this: That the Holy Spirit is a part of your life and that the gifts of the Spirit are alive and active in your life. Jesus said that the world is wrong about righteousness because he was going to the Father. In Christ going the Holy Spirit came. In the Spirit’s coming we enter into a new relationship and fellowship with God. It is this joining that defines a righteous life. Righteousness does not come from us but from God. What counts is not so much what you do, but what you may allow God to do through you. Where do you end, and God begins? It is hard to tell, but what counts is just how mixed up your life is with the nature of God. It is when you just can’t tell the difference that the righteousness of God’s life is active in you.

Finally, we are victors through him who loves us. Jesus said the world is wrong about the judgement because the ruler of this world has already been condemned. A lot of times we think of the judgement of God as that which is to come. We think that it is a future event, but John has a different perspective. John seems to argue that the judgement is already a done deal. John 3:18 reads, “Those who believe in (Jesus) him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Perhaps one can argue that the judgement is an eternal moment and the decision for a person or against a person is already decided, based upon what decision a person makes with regard to a belief in Christ. In truth there is no life to be found within the organizations and things of this world, but eternal life is found only in Christ. This is the judgement, and it is accomplished in the here and now according to what we believe in and rely upon.

You will not find what you need through human means and worldly actions. The Holy Spirit proves his case against the world by being the conduit through which every good thing of God is given to us, and we discover that it is within Christ that we have a great hope and a great confidence despite what seems to be the world’s advantage. In the end the things of a temporary nature will be consumed and vanish, but that which has be built upon the grace and glory of God will last forever. God will redeem and vindicate all who call upon the name of Jesus. Not even death will have the last word, because God has already spoken life into us.

Since I began with a chess illustration, I will end with one. If you know the game, then you know that toward the end there is a surefire way to win. Of all the pieces on the board the weakest and most plentiful is the lowly pawn, and yet if a player can move the pawn all the way to the opponent’s side of the board, that pawn can be promoted to any other type of piece. Even if you have one queen still on the board, your pawn can be turned into a second queen. Usually with most other pieces removed by that point in the game the new queen rules the entire board and soon wins the game.

As Christians we need to realize that in the end game God has placed all of us on the last square and promoted us to all power. Perhaps life is uncertain and not easy. Sometimes we may think we are disadvantaged, or that the momentum of life has left us, but all we really need to do is to wait once again to feel and be empowered by the Spirit’s wind and breath within our lives. It is then that the promises we have been given are again fulfilled and we have hope to spare. God will empower us according to His holy will. A life in the Spirit is our promise, our inheritance, and our eternal hope. Amen.

Published by Rev. Russell

Pastor at the Lake City United Methodist Church in Lake City, Michigan.

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