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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Jesus Has Covered What We Cannot Bear - 06/16/2019

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”

I wonder if Jesus started to really get the predicament we human creatures are in during his brief walk in human flesh and that is why he makes this provocative and curious statement during his final teaching with the disciples.

This is the last evening he spent with them before he was betrayed and arrested and hung on a cross … before those first moments when people started to grapple with the news of the empty tomb. “He is risen? Really? He said that’s what would happen, but really? It’s true?” I sometimes think we haven’t moved very far from that initial response to the resurrection all these 2,000 years later.

So I wonder if he says there is still so much more to know, but we cannot bear it because during his time on earth he saw that although each of us is made fearfully in the image of God, we struggle with seeing the world – even ourselves sometimes – with the eyes and heart of God. We struggle with holding back our judgment of others when they do wrong, when they make choices foreign and unfathomable to us. We struggle with forgiving those who sin against us or forgiving ourselves when we sin against others.  I think this might be at least some of what Jesus is getting at here. We can hardly handle what Jesus has told us and what he has commanded us.

He taught us many things about God and humanity while he was here … he taught us that we should serve each other as he washed the feet of all his disciples … even the one who had already betrayed him … even the one who would soon deny knowing Jesus when he sensed his own safety was on the line.

He implored us to not be afraid in the face of anything because God is bigger. He warned of the horror to come at the hands of the Romans and the high priests, but reminded us he would rise again and with that final act of ministry complete, the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, our friend Wisdom from Proverbs, would come into our lives to fire up our God-given faith, to guide us and help us remember what we have learned from our great teacher.

Jesus promised, with the unbreakable steadfast love of God and from the experience of human vulnerability that he prepared the way for us, if we would just believe it was true. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

And you know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1-4)

I think if we are truly honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that just these few topics from this last teaching of Jesus in the Gospel of John are an awful lot to bear.

And still I find myself wondering … “So much more, Jesus? What could it all be?” because God created us with curious intellects too. We can’t always help but go there.

Of course, this is not a question any of us can really answer, but I think we can let it push the edges of what we do know a little farther. Maybe there we can get a little more of a glimpse of the “much more” Jesus is talking about. It sets the bar of our Jesus-following ways even higher, not with the intent of hitting that bar, perhaps, but rather with the intention of continually striving for that bar and pushing our own ministries farther and wider than before.

I am convinced that one facet of what Jesus eludes to here has to do with forgiveness and judgment.

I’ve been thinking about this for several days, remembering experiences that have pushed me – or are still pushing me – into doing the work of forgiveness and letting God handle the judgment end of things. Some of them are far too personal or emotional to share from here – but I did think of one story that I think provides an illustration.

When I was a kid, my grandmother owned a restaurant for a while in Johnsburg, Illinois. It was called The Bavaria Haus and she ran it as a family business. She did a lot of the cooking. My dad tended bar. My mom waited tables. There was a little apartment attached where Grandma lived with my uncle who was wheel-chair bound and suffered from some brain damage after a bad car accident. My sister and brother and I spent a lot of time in that apartment while the family worked.

Well, one night, there was an armed robbery. A former employee, who had been fired by my grandma, came back with a friend and sawed-off shotguns.  They robbed the place, cut the phone lines, threatened to shoot anyone who tried to leave and call the police, and fled.

When they were finally caught, the police learned the intent was not just robbery. The former employee was out for revenge after being fired, so, knowing the typical schedule of the family and the business, he picked this specific time – Tuesday night, if I remember right, just after closing – to come back and kill my whole family.

However – here comes the God wink – just after he was fired, my grandma agreed to open the restaurant to a private party of square dancers after regular hours. Each Tuesday night, just after closing time, they would come to the restaurant for late dinner and drinks. I remember them well – the men in boots and bolo ties, the women in beautiful full skirts with enormous, fluffy petticoats underneath.

So when the angry former employee came in expecting to find just the family, he was rather surprised to find a room full of square dancers too. It thwarted the plan. They tried to stuff everyone in the restaurant into the walk-in freezer, but my uncle’s wheelchair wouldn’t fit. I imagine they just got frustrated with the bungled plans and so they just grabbed the money and fled.

It was a terrifying night. I was up in the apartment with my dad and siblings and I saw the guy holding the gun to my grandma when they came to the apartment for the extra cash register tills he knew where always in there. I sensed the terror of all the adults around me. I watched my dad run to the pay phone down the street after waiting awhile, still afraid the robbers were waiting out there to shoot anyone who left the building.

Those were bad men, I knew with my little-girl self. They were people on a wicked and self-destructive path, I now think with my more mature brain.

And it is hard to put aside the terror I saw in my grandma’s face that night and not wish for God to come down hard on that man. It is hard to forgive the intent he had to kill my grandma and uncle, my parents, my brother and sister, me. I can hardly bear the work of forgiveness, let alone the full weight of what Jesus has consistently hinted  at regarding how God sees us – beloved children of God, every last one of us.

I can hardly bear the idea that God sees my grandma, on one hand, and this man, on the other, as equality precious in God’s sight.

But that is indeed what this little glimpse into “so much more” calls me to do in my own quest to model Jesus and maybe see the world a little more like God does.

It is much to bear when we model Jesus and serve others in ways as unconventional and humbling as washing dirty feet, even the dirty feet of those who despise us or fail us.

Holding on to the courage and fearlessness we have in our God is not easy to bear in the face of one of our kids becoming ill, or division in our families or struggling to make bills, or ultimately in the face of our own deaths.

There is much to bear for the one who commits to the Way of Jesus and does their very best to listen and watch for the guidance of the Spirit in a world that consistently tells us we should be motivated instead by wealth and power, status, sex, drugs and a multitude of other worldly experiences and measures.

It is much to bear to truly believe with all our hearts and minds and souls that Jesus has prepared a room for us already in God’s eternal Dwelling place … to truly believe that we eat and drink our own imperishability at this communion table.

We bear a lot when we come around the baptismal font with Orrin Lewis this weekend and baptize him in the name of God who loves him unconditionally; and Jesus, whose cross is forever present upon his forehead; and the Spirit, whose presence we gladly and expectantly call into him and his experience on this planet.

Already, what we have learned and committed ourselves to in our lives as disciples of Jesus is much to bear. I think Jesus had come to a deep understanding of this by this final teaching. Even though he has so much more to tell us, even though there is so much more for us to see and feel and understand about the fully revealed Dwelling of God, he will stop now and trust that his earthly ministry is enough. God in the Spirit will sustain Jesus’ disciples when he is gone and one day – when we are ready and capable of bearing the full knowledge of who God is and who we are – we will see and feel and understand.

It’s an act of mercy, you see – “I still have so much to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.” In these words we can feel how much we are loved by Jesus. In the midst of what had to be the most frightening, horrific experience of his time on earth, it is the disciples – it is us, his followers – who Jesus thinks of in this final teaching and especially this statement – “There is so much more – but it would crush you to know it right now. Let them crush me instead.”

Jesus bears for us, what we cannot. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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