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The Winds are Changing
May 5, 2013
05-05-2013 Sermon Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you.
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.
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.
And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
The disciples are shocked. Stunned by the realization that Christ, yes, once again, is leaving, they just stand there stunned and shocked. Quickly come the flashbacks of Good Friday.
When their Lord had died, they locked the door and stood in fear of what might befall them. They anguished in that locked room remembering the good ol’ days when Jesus healed people and people were amazed. Amazed at what the power of Christ was able to do in that place. They wanted to be amazed again. They wanted Jesus to be with them again. Some wanted a revolution, where Jesus was able to overturn the Roman government. They wanted him to fight. They wanted him to do everything in His power to keep them safe, to allow things to go as they did before. They wanted to see people’s chains drop to the floor. They wanted to see people restored. They wanted to feel the fervor of those 5,000 people that stood at a lake to watch and to listen to a sermon as Jesus had to climb into a boat to get away from them. They wanted to walk alongside him on the Sabbath and stick it to the Pharisees by picking grain because they were hungry. They wanted him to teach them because they missed his kind eyes. They missed his comfort. They missed Jesus, who gave them good news and glad tidings of great joy. But on that Friday, the joy was gone because Jesus was dead. Dead as a doornail. Shut the doors. There’s no point in us being outside anymore because our Teacher is dead.
They remembered Jesus for who he was, and were asking themselves in the wake of that, “What are we going to do now?” I imagine answers did not come so easily. They felt like they had failed to follow the right Teacher. They felt like they had failed to do what they set out to do. They felt lost.
And they stand there lost once again, just lost in grief because they know he is going away again. How could he do that? How could he go? How could he leave us again?
At times, we all have flashbacks of Good Friday. I came into this job hearing from not only members of this congregation but also people from outside that the campus ministry at UPC was dead. Dead as a doornail. Shut the doors. There’s no point in us being a university church any longer because we cannot reach this group of weird Millennials who have cell phones glued to their thumbs. I spent the first days of this ministry wondering if this could be revived. Wondering if we had tried to resuscitate this campus ministry for long enough, and it was time to throw in the towel.
I know that many of you remember the days when the campus ministry was alive, and if you don’t, all you have to do is listen to certain people in this congregation to hear the words spoken about the days when we were amazed by the number of students that were appearing. I almost threw the sign away that said Century class, when I was cleaning up my office. I knew it was an old sign, but I didn’t really want to have anything to do with the memory of the old campus ministry. I doubt we will ever have 100 students clamoring to be a part of our Sunday school class again. It was a different time, and we have to be relevant to this particular culture. Pastor San walked into my office and picked up that sign out of my trash pile. He told me a little of its history. He encouraged me to learn the history of this church, long before the new millennium, long before I was even born, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. It seemed almost like a fairy tale as I read about students climbing through windows to hear sermons or students signing up to be a part of Sunday school or students donating their own money to the church or students spending all of Sunday together in worship and service. Those were the good ol’ days.
And when I began here, I felt like I was going to a funeral of this wonderful memory of campus ministry, and in many ways, I felt like I was hammering the last nail into the coffin. I wanted that Century class sign to be away from me. I wanted to throw it away because it was a reminder of expectations that we could not live up to, that we, somehow, as a church had failed. We had 50,000 potential Presbyterian campus ministry students, and we could not get them to pass the peace with us. We could not pass along all the things we love about this place. We could not ask because we are afraid they will not hear. We are afraid they will not see us. And some voices were telling me that it was time to throw in the towel, lock the door, and call it a day. We felt hopeless. We felt anxious. We felt lost.
But, You know what happens next. You know, people of God, what happens next. We have celebrated it for six weeks. We say it all the time. If I begin, “I believe in God the Father Almighty,” you know how keep going. And you know the words about Christ, even if I paraphrase:
“I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was crucified, dead, and buried. On the third day, he rose again from the dead.” And you know that this is our story. This is our reason. This is our hope. This is our life. And if we believe in this Jesus, who could rise from the dead, then we believe that Christ can raise us up in the midst of an economic downturn. We believe that Christ can raise us up in the midst of the Protestant membership decline. We believe that Christ can raise us up in the midst of a world that says that young people do not care anymore about Jesus because they would rather be spiritual but not religious. Well, I’m here to attest to the signs of life that I have seen. I’m here to testify to the heartbeat of God that moves through the church. I’m here to tell you that God is not finished with us yet. Because, I can hear the laughter of the people of God coming from the Fellowship Hall on Sunday evenings. And I can see the servant hands of people who are in college handing bags of food to people who need it to feed their families. I can see the wheels of the college students’ minds turning as I ask them what baptism is, what salvation is, and what it means to worship God. The winds are changing and they are pounding loudly on a locked door.
The disciples don’t appear very fond of change. They ask Jesus question after question, but all amounting to something like, “Why do you have to leave?” The response we read this day from Jesus is prompted by the other Judas’ question, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” And Jesus, with his all-knowing look says, “That’s your job.” And the concerned disciples once again feel abandoned, to which Jesus replies that he will not leave us abandoned, but with an Advocate. An Advocate who will give voice to the voiceless. An Advocate who will fill us with boldness when we need it the most. An Advocate who is strange and other-worldly but nonetheless a part of who we are. And even with the promise of an Advocate, I can still imagine all their faces, the faces of anxious disciples whom Christ leaves behind just a few days later are begging him to stay. They are like puppies just watching him go out the door, while the leash dangles on the hook. They want to go with him. They want him to teach them. They feel like they still need him there in the flesh as is, with no changes. But, Christ says that things are going to be different. And these disciples’ faces probably prompt Jesus saying that the Holy Spirit will bring us peace in the in-between time. And we trust in that because he left once, and came back. And he leaves again, and promises to return. And we trust Jesus because in that in-between time, God is still revealing Godself.
We have seen it throughout history from the day that the winds changed at Pentecost. We have been witness to the revelation of God in the world, for the revelation of God comes through God’s own people, and when we gather in these moments, we see God in the faces of the people in this room. And while it may be a little unclear at times, we know that the same Holy Spirit promised in this passage from long ago is the same Holy Spirit that is still living and moving, that causes life to appear in dark places, that holds us up with the virtues of hope and peace, that causes mysterious things like that which we once thought was dead to be raised again. The winds are changing for campus ministry. This is a new time and a new generation that we have never seen before. And just as Christ called the disciples who looked to him with anxious faces about the future, Christ calls us too. Christ calls us still to be a University Church, a Ukirk. Christ calls the session to make this an important initiative for the congregation. Christ calls us to care deeply for these students, to be in relationship with them, and to worship with them. Because Christ is calling the students to a community that cares about them. And each Sunday evening, we proclaim that we believe that Christ is calling us to this community, which is changing, and we are witnesses to this change, to this resurrection. These that come to UKirk events are a minority of students but they are nonetheless a revelation of God in a Good Friday world. They are representations of the gospel of Jesus Christ in our world today because they remind us of the hope and peace that we have that God is not through with us yet. As witnesses to the resurrection, we proclaim boldly that we know God is never through with us. And you know how, Easter people, to welcome and to share the witness of Jesus Christ. You know how to offer food. You know how to lead Bible studies. You know how to worship. You know why you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. And, those are the things that this world needs to hear. Those are the things that the campus students need to hear and want to share. So, this fall, when the wind is changing, come be a part of what makes us distinctive. Come to the ministry that is the reason who we wear University in our name. Come be witness to the resurrection and share with others what you have seen and heard. God is still revealing Godself; come and see.
In the name of the God who provides for us, the Christ who redeems us, and the Holy Spirit who forever sustains us. Amen.