Pep Talk

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May 6, 2018. Pastor Penny tells us today that Jesus has chosen us. When he told his followers that he would be leaving them and asked them to carry on his work, they were devastated and scared. But he reminded them and he reminds us that he chose us, and he loves us, and that carrying on his work will bring us joy.


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We begin in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It’s halftime. The team is losing and their morale is very low. So the coach gathers them all around him. And he looks carefully at them in the face, each one of them, and he gives them a pep talk. Now, have any of you ever had a halftime pep talk from your coach when you were involved in sports? I don’t see any heads nodding. Oh there is. All right. Did it work? Yes, it worked. Okay. Well, I’m glad I worked because that’s exactly what’s happening in the gospel this morning.


The followers of Jesus for three years have been with him, and when they first encountered Jesus they were probably drawn to him because he was very charismatic. He was popular, but he was a miracle worker. And not only that, but when they met him he looked at them in the eye and said, “I choose you to follow me.” Now, they might have been drawn to him because of his charisma, but they stayed with him because of his love, because of the friendship that developed over those three years as they walked from town to town, as they sometimes had to sleep out under the stars, sit around campfire at night. They could see his love for them. He listened to them and he shared his dream — his dream that people would begin to care about each other, that there would be no more hatred. And that love they had for him, that friendship also grew into admiration as they watched and saw how he was always willing to help, even when it cost him. When his feet were sore from walking or his stomach was very hungry and he’d rather eat. Or when he was so tired he could hardly keep his eyes open. If someone came and needed to be healed, he did it. He was there.


So after these three years of this love and admiration and friendship, all of a sudden there is this blow to them, to these followers, because Jesus says, ‘I am leaving you, and where I go you cannot follow this time. And I want you to carry on my work.”


Well, they were devastated like Jimmy in the puppet show. They were devastated. They were heartbroken to lose Jesus. And not only that but they were afraid — afraid to lose their leader. And then they weren’t at all sure that they had the ability to carry on his work. And it’s been two thousand years, but I think we probably can understand that feeling that they had. We have it at times in big ways and small. Our hearts are broken, when we lose someone we love or when we are afraid for our own health. Our hearts get broken when we see our children make decisions that we know will hurt them. Our hearts are broken when we see people in the inner city, innocent people living in a trap of violence with no way to get out. Our hearts are broken and we are scared too at times, sometimes with distinct fears. Sometimes just a general sense of anxiety about what’s coming next.


And I think we also do share times when we’re not sure we’re ready for what’s coming next. We’re not sure that we will handle it well, whether it’s college or a first job or getting married or being parents for the first time or a change in career or retirement or as you look to the last years of life and you consider your death, we’re not always sure we’re prepared to handle those things.


So that’s why we have these verses today in the gospel. They are for Jesus’ followers back then and they are for Jesus’ followers now. It is his pep talk to us, words of encouragement and above all words of promise.


Jesus’ pep talk starts probably differently than most coaches. I don’t think Mike Matheny would start this way. He looked at each one and said, “I love you. I love you.” And then here’s his twist on it, a strange request. He says, “Don’t just think from time to time and remember that I love you.” He says, “Abide in my love. Stay in it. Rest in it. Depend on it. Live in my love.”


You know, there’s a difference between living somewhere and visiting that place. Maybe some of you have visited a small town. Maybe a nice little town by the river. You stayed in a bed and breakfast and it was charming and quaint. It’s a whole other thing to live in a small town. And I remember being very surprised the first small town we lived in. Right away I’d walk down the street and people who I didn’t know — teenagers, adults, didn’t matter — would look at me, smile, and say hello. They didn’t look the other way or kind of shyly look back. They greeted me as if they knew me, and they didn’t.


And pretense at appearance was not as important as it had been growing up in the suburbs. I remember women could wear their hair in rollers at the grocery store and people would think nothing of it. They wouldn’t be embarrassed. And everyone knew what everyone else was doing, for better or for worse. But what I found after living there for a while is that you learn you can trust people. And their values become your values, and it changes you.


So Jesus said, “Live in my love. Don’t just visit it on Sunday morning, but stay in it. Think of it every moment of your life. Depended on it. Let it change you.” So that was his word to us. And then he went on to say, “To live in my love this is what you need to do: you need to keep my commandment.” Well now, that sounds very dictatorial, “Keep my commandments.” You know, we don’t like to hear that, and not that we shouldn’t but it really isn’t exactly what Jesus was saying. The word “keep” has a lot more meaning than we think. He was saying, “Revere my words. Treasure my words,” much as you would revere the advice of a favorite coach or your favorite grandpa. And this was the word that he wanted us to revere. This was the command: “Love one another as I have loved you, and be willing to lay down your life if need be.” Those are strong words and yet we understand, and we do. We do in small ways — sometimes in large ways — but in small ways certainly we do know how to lay down our lives for someone else.


I think of when I was a teenager and I was a nurse’s aide in a nursing home and one of the other young women thought nothing of taking her day off to go with the residents to the parade because she had so much joy in watching them enjoy the parade. Or a father who had a fairly good job, but he got tired of missing his kids’ ballgames and finally he just quit and took a job that was much lower pay, feeling that it was better to work hard to put food on the table, but to stay with his kids. Or the woman who gave up a job without another job to fall back on, because she felt that her company was asking her to do unethical things. Or the caring acts that we do, and we saw it in the puppet show where Jimmy sought out his cousin and knew how to comfort her. We know how to lay down our lives in little ways, day by day, for others.


And this is what we can expect, Jesus says, when we do it. Joy, not necessarily happiness. Not necessarily comfort, but joy. And that’s because as we risk ourselves for others, we make relationships and we learn to depend on God above all else. And I know that you have all experienced that, whether it’s tutoring children after school, or parenting foster children, or giving people rides to places like church. You know that when you risk your time and your energy for others it builds relationships, and that brings joy.


In the last council meeting we talked about how our congregation can not only give money to people who need help, which is very important, but how we can also get involved in their lives — learn from them, form relationships — because we know that it is relationships that bring joy. And above all we know that those relationships that we enter into out of love for each other bring joy to the one who gave his life for us.


And then Jesus leaves us with one last word of encouragement, and it’s very simple. He says, “I chose you. I chose you.”


And it’s good to be chosen, isn’t it? I mean don’t we all feel good about that, whether we’re chosen for the team or chosen for a scholarship or chosen for some recognition or honor. Don’t we all imagine as adults getting that phone call, “Our company thinks you would be so good when you come in for an interview,” but they would come to us that we would be chosen.


Jesus says you did not choose me. But I chose you. There is no good reason that God would become human and suffer and die to relieve us of the consequences of our selfishness. God simply chose to do that, and God continues to choose to do that in every baptism that we have. So little Paige will experience that because what happens in baptism is that God says, “I choose you. I love you. And I appoint you to reveal my love to the world. And as you do, I promise you joy. Not just any joy. My joy. Complete joy. The joy that only I can give.”




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2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, Pastor Penny Holste, transcript