July 30, 2023 - Cobleskill United Methodist Church, Pastor Anna Blinn Cole
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’
Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.'
I have to say, Christmastime is usually a busy time for the church. Holy Week and Easter, also usually a busy time for the church. But who would have thought a random week in July would be the busiest week I’ve ever seen in this church?
I kind of thought about tell you all to bring your beach towels and saying let’s just take a nap during the worship hour just because it feels like this is one of the first times this week when we’re just sitting still.
This week in addition to our normal outreach work of sorting hundreds of donations and opening the thrift store two days a week, our food pantry had one of its biggest days on record and our basement was full of people eating lunch each day. But not only that, this church was the hub for our Operation: Home Repair. Every day a group of busy women gathered to make lunches that were taken out to 9 different sites across the county where many of you were busy making homes more livable and safe for our neighbors by nailing shingles, painting and more painting and more painting, patching leaky rooves, trimming dangerous trees, clearing brush, insulating drafty basements, and replacing broken gutters and rotting boards. I’m tired just thinking about all the work you’ve been busy doing this week. And not only mission work on homes, but our youth group was also busy taking several carfuls of Styrofoam to the recycling center in Oneonta, delivering firewood you chopped from our felled trees in the backyard to families in need, cleaning litter along village streets, helping to paint in a sister church, and documenting the stories of the mission week in interviews, videos and photos. Folks, this has been a busy week.
But that’s not all. On top of all that… we had what we will now call Operation: Chancel Remodel happening in our sanctuary (of all weeks, this is when the contractors showed up!). We’ve cleared out of our normal worship space this summer, in part, to give the workers time to do what needs to be done there. This project is adding a ramp to the main stage area of the church and creating a wider, more usable platform space. It will make that space more accessible and open, more inviting and inclusive. We are making space for God to show up in new ways.
My friends, the church has left the building this week in more ways than one. Can I get an amen?
Instead of naps this morning, though, you’ve come back to this sacred place to worship God. A God that we cannot see. A son of God who is no longer physically present with us. And yet we come together to worship what we cannot see, because we have experienced God in ways we can’t always explain or see but still know to be true.
Amy read a scripture passage just now in which Jesus’ followers are trying to make sense of who Jesus is and what they will do when he is no longer physically with them. It’s a beautiful and poetic passage in its own right. A passage often chosen for funerals and celebrations of life because of its comforting beauty. But this passage is also one of the most compelling answers in the Bible to the question, what does it mean to be a follower Jesus?
Jesus simply tells us. If we want to know God, then look at Jesus. Not just at the person, but at his actions. What has he done with his life? He has been living the way, he is the way. He used his life for good. He healed the sick, comforted the grieving, welcomed the stranger, fed the hungry, found those who needed the most help and gave them dignity. And if, Jesus says, we want to believe in God through Jesus, we will do it by also living this way… continuing the works Jesus started. But not only that, Jesus says we will do works even greater.
So in other words, you say you believe in God but if you do not love your neighbor and do not care for your neighbor when they are in need, then what good is your belief in God? Jesus came to earth to show us The Way. In that Way, God shines through us, passes through us, so that we become a reflection of Love. Our feet are Jesus’ feet. Our hands are Jesus’ hands. Our hearts are Jesus’ heart. We could sit all day, every day within the four walls of that building saying creeds and professing our belief in God, but how does that change the world for better?
After our week of mission this past week, I was writing an email to all our volunteers trying to gather feedback on what went well and what could be improved if we endeavor to do something like this again. But as I was typing the email, I tried typing this line: “It has been a blessing to see new relationships develop as we work together in mission.” Now, Gmail is always thinking it’s smarter than me with its little squiggly blue line under words or sentences it thinks need improvement. Now after I wrote that sentence, “It has been a blessing to see new relationships develop as we work together in mission” Gmail thought it needed to say “…as we work together on missions.” Subtle change, right? What was different?
I wrote “in mission” and the algorithm wanted to change it to “on missions.” But that changes the meaning, right? Sure, we were all working on different work sites but did that mean we working on different missions? No, sorry Google. There is and always will be only one mission. It’s God’s mission. And we don’t work on it. It’s perfect as is. We work in it. With each other. We’re in it together: building God’s kingdom, growing God’s love in relationship with one another, one conversation, one shingle, one load of Styrofoam at a time.
And here’s the absolutely amazing thing: When we work in God’s mission, we adopt God’s miraculous expectation that we can follow in Jesus’ footsteps and even build on what he started. We adopt this miraculous expectation that we can do anything God needs us to do, some way, some how. Like replace an entire roof in one week when only a couple people know how to roof and the sun is hotter than hot and there’s always a chance of thunderstorms. Or knowing how or where to begin when the problems in a house can seem overwhelming. Accepting that we are part of God’s mission means there will be times we think the task is too hard. But being in mission also means God sees us as partners and collaborators in making the impossible, possible. This is God’s miraculous expectation. Amazing things will happen that we could not have foreseen or anticipated. People will surprise us. Relationships develop. These hands… yours… mine… they become Jesus’ hands. His Way carries through us in our sweat and our struggle.
I could stand up here all day and talk about how proud I am of you and the work you’ve done in God’s name this week. But what I really want is for you to tell us your stories. Where did you work, what did you do, and what did you learn and experience there?
Grace and Peace,