August 10, 2008
Stories of Transformation from the Book of John
Pastor Brian Shimer
John 16: 5-33
- On Tuesday, Gail Haboush and I found some old minutes in the office from a board meeting that happened back in the late 1940s. I read the opening lines aloud and we both began laughing for other than the date they could have come from any of the current administrative council meetings. Later I found Leola reading them and laughing as she read from a council meeting back in the 50’s that they did not like the kind of curriculum published by the Methodist church so had voted to seek out better curriculum!
I said to Leola, “what do you think this means to us? I mean, what does it mean that nothing has changed?”
And she smiled and said, “Pastor, that there is nothing new under the sun. It just confirms God’s Word.”
Her comment gave me a changed perspective. I moved from speculation that we will ever arrive at a faithfulness that will bear great fruit for God, to wonder in a God who can bring transformation to people even as we are walking in the midst of what sounds like the same reports, the same difficulties, the same problems! The Spirit of the Living God was working then and is working now to bring transformation to the people involved. That’s what God does. God is always at work in and through these structures we call church.
So what is God transforming this year? Well, obviously, the building! Have you noted that every week new things have changed as many of the guys here have tirelessly given of themselves to bring renewal to this building in which we worship. But God is never just about buildings, but about hearts, so in a similar way, God is at work on our hearts too.
You see that in this passage as Jesus concerns himself with the heart, the spirit of his disciples as he knows he will soon die and leave them to deal with the hate of the world, the grief of their hearts and the challenges brought on by life. So, Jesus in these last hours with his disciples tells them they will not be abandoned, but that HE will come to them in the Holy Spirit whom He and his Father will send.
He tells them this Spirit will lead them into all truth, will remind them of what He has said, and will buoy them up as they encounter first grief and then great joy.
But Jesus also warns them that life will be filled with trouble – that you can count on trouble. It is as if he was saying, “Yes there will be flat tires, unpaid bills, huge rent payments, troubling diagnoses, and harrowing experiences in life.” He used the word translated “trouble” in v 33 previously in verse 21 and there it is in reference to the pain a woman experiences in childbirth.
Tell me women: “Did childbirth hurt?”
Most women tell me, “You guys will never know just how bad that is!” Indeed.
So, from that usage we can say that Jesus is promising pain in this life. And doesn’t life have many kinds of pain! The pain in a marriage when one partner begins to shut off communication and heart from another! The pain in life when the phone call comes from the doctor confirming that the strange ailment is indeed cancer. The pain in the heart at dreadful news, as families must have experienced this week when the phone calls came of the tragic deaths of loved ones in that plane crash in Gearhart. Wasn’t that a picture of devastating tragedy, of loss, of grief, of “trouble.”
- In the midst of life’s trouble, Jesus says, He is there. “I have told you these things…” Things causing grief, things causing despair, things related to hope and to fear, things that predict a dire future for a season, “I have told you these things…” that the Holy Spirit will move into your life and be with you and guide you, that the Holy Spirit is the Counselor, the one called alongside your life to help you, that the Spirit will confirm what has been accomplished by Jesus; “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.” Jesus says.
It is the very fact of trouble that calls us to recall the fact of Jesus – “in me you may have peace”. To believe is to dwell in a change of locations. To believe is to take heart in Jesus for he has overcome this place in which we have trouble.
So, it sounds to me like this peace in Jesus is a transforming reality in our lives – it is what changes us at our core. The outside may not change, we are still in the world, planes may still fall from the sky, however, there is another abiding place, a place of relationship with the Living God who does not fail but sustains, who was with those precious little kids as they were killed and welcomed by God into his presence, who is with the grieving families helping them sort through their ravished lives to salvage hope, who is big enough to handle tragedies even larger than that encountered in Gearhart.
- So, that brought forth in my heart the phrase from Madame Guyon a 16th century Christian mystic who wrote of how she, quote, “experienced the depths of Jesus Christ” even though imprisoned for nearly 30 years. Indeed it was in the “depths of Jesus” that she knew a peace that sustained her in the middle of false accusations and threats and prompted her to write: “Ah Lord! Who seest the secrets of the heart, Thou knowest if I yet expect anything from myself, or if there be anything which I would refuse to Thee!”
She found in Jesus the peace of His presence which granted her a changed viewpoint on the situations which she encountered in this life—she was able to view life from within Him.
On Tuesday morning Dave Burke and I were discussing the topic of the peace that is bigger than the circumstances of our lives, and as often happens with Dave God gave him a picture. It was of a lake, a mountain lake with great depths. He caught the image that this lake is our lives and that in those depths the water remains still, calm, at peace even if there is a storm tormenting the surface. The key in life is to live in the depths not just on the surface.
That idea of living in the depths seems to be the thing Jesus is inviting his disciples to do as he leaves them – you will have grief and joy, those are all on the surface of life, in the circumstances, in the trouble of life, but in me, Jesus tells them, in Me you will have peace.
Peace. The still place where there is hope when encountering hardship outside.
I know in my life the outside hardships often take precedence. I was struck with this while visiting Willa Hayes this week. For those of you who don’t know Willa, she is 101 years old, a longtime member and active leader in this congregation who suffered a stroke in May which affected her mind not her body. Because of the stroke she cannot think clearly all the time. She has moments of lucidity – as when I spoke to her about what my daughter Anna is doing in Peru. But then the fog rolls in and with me on Wednesday all she could focus on was her worry that the woman who is caring for her had left her alone and would not be back.
The worry took precedence in her mind. I could remind, and encourage, but her mind was struck on this place of “dis-ease” – this place of “no-peace”.
Now Willa is getting stuck in this rut of worry because of the stroke, but I get equally stuck and have no such excuse. I just “choose” to believe the worst, to dwell in the dark thought, to believe a lie, to stay on the surface in my life rather than diving for the depths of Jesus Christ. This week I came across a journal entry from nearly 2 decades ago and realized with a sense of horror that it sounded like something I moaned about last week. Like those church documents I seem to be processing the same thoughts, feelings and moods. But I noticed one difference. Back 20 years ago, I believed what I was writing, I believed it was the truth about me, about the trouble I was encountering in life, and I was not returning to the depths with Jesus. But now, I know the difference. I can write out the lie and return to truth, to Jesus, to the place of peace in Him.
Ah, perhaps there has been transformation!
- Jesus tells the disciples “I have told you these things” of the Spirit, of the situations encountering their lives, in order that “in me you may have peace” and to know that He has overcome the World.
So, I remind you today, to dive for the depths of Jesus Christ – this may take reminding yourself of “truth” when you are encountering your own set of lies. This may mean choosing to draw near to Jesus instead of the circumstances you are encountering.
Scripture’s famous duo Mary and Martha of Bethany form a contrast of this exercise of faith. While Mary turned to devote her attentions to Jesus, Martha was distracted by all the preparations she believed she had to do to entertain her guests. Jesus rebukes Martha telling her: “you are worried and anxious about many things, when only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken away from her.” Martha was caught by the urgency of the surface demand and choosing not to just create one simple course but a multi-course banquet. Her choice was distracting her from Jesus. It was a choice to focus upon Him, as it is a choice for us today.
This reminds me that there are some mighty grape vines in the Rhone valley high on a rocky hillside far, far above a river. They produce astonishingly beautiful grapes. There is no water source known! But then it was found these ancient vines have roots that go hundreds of feet to the great river below! They are rooted in the depths of the river as we are to find our rooting in the deep waters of Jesus.
Choose to draw near to Jesus and you will experience a changed viewpoint on life’s situations and find yourself abiding in the peace offered you through Him.