Proverbs 12:14-28; John 14:1-17
May 21, 2023
- How we can do more than Jesus
Have you ever met anyone who just really impressed you with their credentials and accomplishments in life? For me, that person is Hampden-Sydney’s last president, Chris Howard. I have never considered the current president’s achievements, never seen the no doubt impressive list, but when I saw the resume of President Howard who is very close to my age, I left my jaw on the floor:
- He led his high school football team to a state championship in Texas. He went on to attend the Air Force academy where he made first team academic all American as a football running back and received the first ever Draddy Tophy by the National Football Foundation. He was also class president and a cadet group commander. He was also inducted into the Academic All-American Football Hall of Fame.
- He was a Rhodes Scholar, attended Oxford University, received a Masters in Philosophy and PhD in Political Science. He also received a Masters in Business Administration from Harvard Business School with distinction.
- He served in the Air Force in South Africa, Bosnia, and Afghanistan and retired as a Lt. Col. in the reserves and was awarded a Bronze Star.
- While working for Bristol-Myers Squibbs, he managed a $100 million HIV/AIDS initiative in South Africa, and he created his own non-profit to help young people of color in South Africa with scholarships and travel expenses.
- He was also the vice-president of the University of Oklahoma, president of H-SC, president of Robert Morris University, and currently vice-president of Arizona State University. Whether he did a good job as president or not is not my point. I think some had issues with his leadership. Still, for someone who is just a few years older than I am, I find his life’s accomplishments pretty dog-gone impressive. He is also a husband, father, and a leader in his church, and he was very nice to talk to.
Now, how does his life with all of its impressive things stack up to Jesus’ life? If we must compare the accomplishments of Jesus and Howard (or anyone else for that matter), whose life seems to have more to offer?
If you are thinking, “Jesus, of course,” I believe you are right. I feel fairly certain any of us would pick Jesus as our lifetime achievement award winner, but then you get to John 14 and one of the passages that really causes me to wonder just what Jesus is thinking. Maybe you have the same question: we are supposed to be able to do more than Jesus – little ol’ me, little ol’ you. How is this possible? Yes, you and I are supposed to do more and greater things than Jesus himself. But don’t take my word for it.
John 14 is one of those passages that people tend to like, especially when they are facing hard times, maybe end of life times when we are thinking about travelling to our heavenly home. This is a passage of comfort, hope, and promise as we think about our earthly end. From the beginning of this chapter, this promise to go to our Father’s house is the whole frame, but that is only just the beginning of this chapter. It is really a passage about so much more. Yes, Jesus is preparing to leave. This is the beginning of his good-bye message to his disciples, but he is not taking them with him just yet. They will still be around for years, maybe decades. By tradition, John lived a good long while with his gospel being the last one written. The whole Jesus movement took decades to build steam. It was not an overnight success, so there was time to live and do and minster in Jesus’ name before things got rough.
THAT’S what Jesus is trying to tell us with this passage. Even though he is leaving, he is not leaving us alone or without help. He clearly expects the people listening to him to follow in his work. He clearly expects anyone following in Jesus’ tradition to carry on his work. And he seems certain that we will do even more and greater things than he has done, even if that just seems hard for me to believe.
It is hard for me to believe because I tend to rely on what I can do by myself. We live in a DIY (Do It Yourself) culture with rugged American individualism. We want to be self-reliant, self-sufficient, and self-supporting. In fact, it is commonly and culturally seen as a sign of weakness if you need help. This is one of the worst products of our Americanism– only weak people need help. So many sisters and brothers have suffered in isolation and loneliness when they needed someone to talk to or someone to help them. In fact, it is actually a sign of strength to reach out and seek someone else’s help. It takes courage to do that, but too many of our people succumb to the fear of getting others involved in our struggles. In 2021, suicide was the second leading cause of death for young people between 10-14 and 20-34.
That is an extreme result of helplessness and hopelessness. In the face of the world’s ways, however, Jesus calls us to something different. There is good news for those who want to see a future in God’s love and ministry. There is a future for those who need to know community in Christ, and the gift of family in faith. We have the gift of help together. While Jesus seems to be presenting high expectations for what our fellowship might do as it walks in his steps, we are never walking alone. His actual Spirit, his very presence, will be with us the whole time, and we will be able to do anything that we need to do with God’s help.
The other day as I was sharing this passage with the 30ish people in the Communion service over at the Woodland, we did a life check. We can do the same here. Just for a moment, consider how many years you have lived in your own life. Consider how many experiences you have shared, how many things you have been able to do, how many things you have done to share God’s goodness with loved ones, community folk, even people that were hard to love but you loved them, anyway. That’s just your life’s years. Add your experiences to the persons sitting near you. Add your years together and the ways you have known and shared God’s love. As Presbyterians, we have a leg up here since we understand longevity – we have lots of years between us, so when we start adding our lives together, we get exponential possibilities.
Just ten people living to 70 have seven hundred years between them. That’s staggering. Jesus in his brilliance and service had maybe 30 something. While he accomplished so much in his few years and rewrote human history with God’s grace, his few years pales when compared to the years and lives and deeds of God’s children ever since. Our mistakes cannot be forgotten, for there are many of them, but the aggregate of our good things done with the help of Jesus’ Spirit is beyond count. Yes, we are also amazing.
I saw this very clearly in the work of the folk down in Guatemala. In just a few minutes, I will be sharing a bit more about what I experienced down there, but they continue to do so much good in meaningful ways. They transform lives through education and opportunities. They confront the evil of the world, their culture, and their government with the love of Jesus. There is no turning back. They are taking on the problems head-on in love. Their motivation and commitment spoke to me in deep and sincere ways. There is no back-up plan. There is no other way forward. In countries where corruption is commonplace, there is very little hope for the people. We are not exempt from corruption here, either, but our institutions work hard to provide the checks and balances. Even with their work, we know lots of shortcomings, and we know we cannot rely on the government or those services to be the love of God in our community. I believe in people trying to do good for their neighbor. And when we combine efforts, join forces, share in the Spirit, there is much good to do.
It has always been a challenge for Presbyterians to get too excited about the Spirit. That’s our loss. We are so focused on things staying decent and orderly that we often keep the Spirit at arm’s length. Rather, we should welcome God’s creative presence. I cannot imagine anyone really believes that they will get the kind of necessary service in Christ this world needs done by themselves. We are here for the labor of a lifetime, and it is a labor that is greater than any of us can ever imagine. It is a labor that is for us all no matter how much we have or can do. We are all added into this great and glorious labor and have a part in God’s amazing collection of service in Jesus. We all have a place in the Spirit with all of the sisters and brothers in Jesus. The world can be changed with our help, but it will take all of us in the Spirit.
To God be the glory in the Spirit. Amen.