Thursday, April 28, 2011

Greater Works Than These

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

We say those words, and we believe them. In reflecting on John's Gospel, and specifically on 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 and John 14: 8-14, I've been pondering our calls to ministry in the public world, particularly when we move from place to place. I have been in Philadelphia this spring, teaching at the ELCA seminary here, which has given Burton and myself opportunities to get out and visit places on the Eastcoast. We've spent time with old friends, and walked around where we used to live.
So, here are some reflections on scriptural words and ministry.

“If in my name you ask me anything, I will do it.”
“Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.”
(What we will not do: refuse to minister manipulatively or falsify God’s word. We will not proclaim ourselves. We proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.)
“For it is the God who said: Let light shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in face of Jesus Christ.”
“Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” (James 2:18)
“We have heard with our ears, O God, our ancestors have told us what deeds you performed in their days”; “God knows the secrets of the heart.”; "Rise up, come to our help. Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love.” (Psalm 44: l, 26)
So, what have you seen?

What have you heard with your ears? What have those who have labored before you told you of God’s steadfast love?
Where have you seen the light shine when there seemed utter darkness? When have you felt the light shine in your heart giving the light of the knowledge of the glory of God? And given what you have seen and, and what God in Christ has done that you have not seen, what do you believe about the now risen Jesus Christ?

Philip(we, too? )wanted more, or thought maybe he was missing something. Maybe there was more that he hadn’t even thought to ask about. Jesus: look, look right here. Right here, where you’ve been.

Believe in me Thomas and Philip and……. We can go even further with Jesus. The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and in fact, will do greater works than these. Not that we presume to be greater than nor do greater works than Jesus, but than the works in the short time Jesus would have been ministering here on earth. But when I think about it, I cannot begin to comprehend the magnitude of the works Christ has and is and will do among and through the body of Christ throughout the globe all these centuries.

Jesus in the midst of the disciples, in the midst of us here at noonday says, “In my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” We do ask, or course. We pray for those dear who are sick, who grieve, for war-torn countries. We pray diligently.
But listen: “In my name you ask for anything, I will do it.

Psalm: Our ancestors have told us what deeds you performed in their days. What will be said when we are the ancestors? What deeds did God performe in those days? What deeds live on? What deeds will live on in the ministries we have not yet done but Christ says we will?

This is way beyond our comprehension, but not beyond Jesus’ vision. This was not merely a prediction of possibility, but a statement of belief, a commitment to how ministry was to continue through the disciples, through the church, in and through us. (Risk and promise and responsibility)

What have you seen? Heard? Touched? Been touched by?

I am touched by the scene from our apartment window looking out on Germantown Ave. I don’t know where all those people going, doing. How is God among them?

And an early weekend in April my husband Burton and I went back to New Haven, Ct. where we had lived, learned and ministered for nine years, in the l970’s. Decades ago. Visitors now. Return. What would we see? What God had done there? What still exists? Change? What about ministry there—here-- will it last? Grow? Jesus says to us, “I have been with you all this time.” And we still ask. “How did you, are you, will you do in and through us these works of ministry?”

What greater works have you seen? What works of ministry seem to have faded away? How might Christ still be at work?

In New Haven we walked up Ward Street. The church building where Burton served as pastor is still there, but the parsonage, the home where we lived with our family is gone.

We were not totally surprised because a year or so ago, when there had been a murder at one of the Yale NH hospital labs near our inner city Zion congregation, we, wondering which building, had taken a Google map walk up the street and wandered onto Ward street. We had known every the family on that block. Now they and their homes were gone. Where were they? Had they been replaced, in the name of progress, gentrification? But there was a new building here now. What was it? We had zoomed in through the Google lens. It looked like a school. Our and our neighbor’s children had attended an officially condemned school across the street. We researched further and found on this land now a new charter school. So, on this spring car trip, we literally walked in. An eighth grade student gave us a tour. Questions remain, would neighborhood children really be given preference now that a “good” school replaced their old one. The work for justice continues.

And then we walked to the end of the block. Christians Community Action is still here, a store front ministry begun in the 1960’s out of ecumenical living room dialogs. Our children from Zion used to take the weekly food contributions next door to CCA after each Sunday’s offerings. These movements often die young, but CCA, still a storefront, continues to feed and house, well now thousands after almost 50 years.

And on. Sunday we worshipped where we, now the ancestors, had worshipped, at the church, now named Resurrection. Again no surprise as we have continued as mission partners through the years. But doubts and wonders and questions, and fears, of disciples of all times and all places continue. “We don’t know where you are going, Jesus, how can we know the way?” “We don’t know where this ministry will go after we’re gone; how can we ever leave?” “Lord, show us, give a guarantee that this work is of God.”

And in a few weeks we will pack up our car and travel back to Iowa and to Wartburg Seminary (without blizzard we trust). And you? Some of you will remain where you are. Some don’t have any idea about which direction to turn your steering wheel. Questions, fears, doubts. I don’t need to name them, do I? But just a little guarantee, Jesus. Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?

And, of course there are no guarantees like that. We come to places of ministry unknown; we will be unknown again. We will never be alone, even when the works of ministry seem to have disappeared. We will never be alone when overwhelmed with the newness of it all, when doors are shut, locked up and no one has thought to leave us a key. And in the midst of things when buildings and ministries are demolished in fear or in danger, Jesus comes and stands among us, “Peace be with you.” Have you believed because you have seen me? Jesus says. I am the way, the truth and the life.”

We experienced that life, that real presence at Resurrection among the people. A small number but beautifully diverse. Absolutely not one of them was unnecessary, merely audience that day, as lessons came alive in participatory worship, intermingled with people’s real life. Real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and beyond.

We worshipped that Sunday night at Yale Lutheran campus ministry, which through the years has grown and waned and grown again, now lead by a campus pastor who was student with us over 35 years ago. We are graced to journey along together as disciples, to be parts of each other’s lives. We worshipped Monday morning at Yale Divinity School chapel sacred worship space during my years there as student and teacher. No one there would remember us today. It was April 4, now 2011, 43 years since death of Martin Luther King Jr. Who remembers the dream today? Surely racism…that’s long gone. But new Gospel music rang through that light-filled chapel. Let light shine out of darkness in this world which continues to invent new ways to manipulate and falsify and keep people oppressed. Guest preacher Rev. James Forbes asked,”What does the Lord Require?” Let Justice Roll. Keep on marching.
And the ministries in which you have been, are and will be engaged. Christ said, “I will do whatever you ask in my name.” (Risk and promise and responsibility.)

Sometimes we can’t remember where the streets were, or can’t find the place anymore or won’t recognize the ministries or be recognized. Some will fade. And in the ones that have grown, flourished, do we see the Christ in the midst? Greater works than these, Christ is yet ready to do in that out of the way place, that I don’t-know-how-to-pronounce-the-name place to which we have not even been called yet. What doubts do you have in the present about what is real? The risen Christ is real.

“Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.”