Monday, April 9, 2012

Sunshine  and  Rainbows
First Congregational Church, Rock Springs
May 29, 2011

     I want to open today's sermon with a movie quote, just in case anyone is missing Pastor Steve. “You ain’t gonna believe this...but you use to fit right here. (Rocky holds up his right hand) I’d hold you up and say to your mother, this kid is gonna be the best kid in the world. This kid is gonna be better than anybody I ever knew...and you grew up good and wonderful it was great just watching you everyday it was like a privilege. Then the time come for you to be your own man and take on the world and you did... But somewhere along the line you stopped being let people stick a finger in your face and tell you you're no good...and when things got hard you started looking for somethin' to a big shadow. Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows, it's a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, nobody is gonna hit as hard as life! But it ain't about how hard you can hit, it's about how hard you can get hit and keep movin' forward, how much you can take...and keep movin' forward. That's how winning is done! Now, if you know what you're worth then go out and get what you're worth! But you gotta be willing to take the hits and not pointin' fingers sayin' you ain’t where you wanna be because of him or her or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain't you! You're better than that!”
       That quote was from the movie “Rocky Balboa” the final installment on the Rocky series. This is widely recognized as Rocky's retirement speech. Though it was delivered on a wet street corner, not at a press conference, it was his farewell address. To illustrate that Gos is still speaking, and speaking through many different outlets, I included it this morning.
     Rocky gave this speech, this advice, to his son. I think he realized that we would not be able to be around for his son as much as he would have liked. The years of epic battles in the ring had taken a heavy toll on the champ, and he was facing his greatest fight yet. Rocky is taking this opportunity to say goodbye to his son, and the movie audience.
     Although The Rock was never considered to be the shiniest penny in the fountain, he does serve up some pretty stellar advice. He is telling us that the world is going to be a difficult place. Life is not easy for anyone. A lot of bad things can, and do, happen , and it is our job to get through it. “Life is not all sunshine and rainbows”, he says. We have to rely on what we have been taught during our lives and use that to rise up and persevere. That is a pretty good, pretty ancient message.
     In the gospel readings last week and today, Jesus has essentially given his own retirement speech to the disciples. Of course, Jesus had done this before. He was a little like Brett Favre in that respect. In the garden of Gethsemane, the last supper, when he met good ol' doubting Thomas. This, however is his final farewell.
     In a similar fashion to modern day retirements such as Lou Gehrig, and many departing Presidents, Jesus summarizes the work he has done. He reiterates his instructions to the disciples, reminding them of their duties after he has gone. They have to understand that he is really leaving this time. I imagine that a few people were thinking, “Yeah, he'll be back.”
     In a similarity to Rocky, Jesus is addressing his own children in this farewell. He is reassuring them that they are not being orphaned. Making sure they know that he has given them all the tools they are going to need to survive in the world. Jesus even tells them that the world is not going to be all sunshine and rainbows.
     "I've told you this ahead of time, before it happens, so that when it does happen, the confirmation will deepen your belief in me. I'll not be talking with you much more like this because the chief of this godless world is about to attack.
      The disciples are a lot like children. They were feeling a sense of loss as their beloved teacher departs. Many times children today feel that same way as the school year ends, as graduation sinks in. They are afraid of being left alone, and for good reason, “the chief of this godless world is about to attack.”
     The Romans were very good at killing people, …. publicly, …. as a way of sending a message. The disciples yearn to know that someone greater, smarter and stronger than them is going to be in charge. That there will be someone to fall back on. And, just like children, they need to know that greater someone, that greater power loves them.
     They must have been terrified. Hardly anyone likes change. Not many people enjoy uncertainty, and no one wants to be killed. The Romans were poised to seek out and destroy every last remnant of this Jesus Movement as soon as possible. Their goal, to get these people to renounce Jesus. The Romans failed in their mission. They failed because Jesus had given the disciples the final piece to the Holy Puzzle.
     "If you love me, show it by doing what I've told you. I will talk to the Father, and he'll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can't take him in because it doesn't have eyes to see him, doesn't know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you!”
     Jesus lets the disciples know that there is something greater. Something ore powerful than them, more powerful than the Romans. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, will be with them always. Always, no matter what! With that kind of knowledge, with that friend in my corner, I could step up and fight Rocky Balboa himself. Even if Jesus retires, even if a church's beloved pastor leaves, we have the strength to get back up and keep moving forward.
     Jesus was really the first pastor of the church. Interestingly enough though, he was only an interim pastor. I shouldn't say that. I always get my feathers ruffled when people say, “Are you just a substitute teacher?” Jesus was our very first interim pastor. When he started his ministry, he always told people he was going to have to leave. He told them right from the start that he would not always be their teacher. He knew that the fully human thing was a temporary position. Yet, many of the disciples refused to believe it. Jesus told them that he was there to prepare them, get them ready to do this work themselves. They didn't believe him. I think there are still people hoping for another Rocky movie, but it isn't going to happen. There may be people who think our own search committee is wasting it's time....
     I have commented before how wonderful it is that so many gospel stories over the last few years seem to pertain specifically to our church. The entire Book of Acts is almost precisely what we went through when Harvey left. And now, consider this:
     After a period of suffering, a congregation finds itself a new leader. People quickly grow fond of him. His methods are sometimes a bit unorthodox. He does things in worship that people are not used to , and make some people uncomfortable. Still, more people come to church. There is a stronger feeling of The Spirit in the place. However, from the very first day he was in town, everyone knew he was an interim. He was not going to be the permanent pastor. Everyone knows this! Still, whenever he mentions it, people shrink back. They do not want to even think about it. They wonder, if he leaves, where will that leave us?
     Does that sound like any congregation you know? Now, I realize the monster that could be created by spending too much time comparing Steven to Jesus. His ego is pretty fragile, after all, right? But look at the two stories! Most of us are very pleased with Steven. He does things differently, and they work. There really is a stronger sense of The Spirit in this place, and, we all know that he was brought to us on a temporary basis. Many of us, myself included, do not want to think of, cannot imagine, him not being here. One day though, we may be hearing Steven's farewell address. It would do us well to remember Jesus words to us today, if? That occasion presents itself.
     “The person who trusts me will not only do what I'm doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I've been doing.....The person who knows my commandments and keeps them, that's who loves me. And the person who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and make myself plain to him."
     “The person who knows my commandments and keeps them, that's who loves me.” These are not words laying down a challenge. These are words used just state a fact. You will know who loves me, because they will be following my commandments. They will be following my commandments because it is the natural thing for them to do. They are going to building upon what Jesus started. They are going to be out there making sunshine and rainbows.
     The disciples meant as much to the future of Christianity as we do to the future of First Congregational Church of Rock Springs. Sooner than I care to think about, we may very well - I originally wrote we will be, but I couldn't add that finality to it – we may very well be faced with the departure of our beloved teacher. And like those first disciples, we have to put our faith in the teachings and press on, keep moving forward, no matter how beaten we may feel. We know the power that Jesus gave us in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth.
     A few weeks ago, Steven gave a sermon in which he tossed out a challenge to us. He said there were three things we could do, and if we did these three things, we would see our membership rise.
     I would like to respond to that challenge this morning. And I will do it with another movie quote. Wouldn't Steve be proud of me? In Rocky III, Rocky suffered a terrible defeat at the hands of Clubber Lang. Rocky challenges Clubber Lang to a rematch. A reporter asks Clubber if he accepts this challenge, and Lang replies, “I reject the challenge, because Balboa is no challenge.”
     Well, Steven, I reject your challenge, because it is no challenge. If the members of this church love Jesus, we will naturally go out and do greater things than he did. If we love Jesus we will pray and have fellowship with each other. These things are not difficult for followers of Jesus. Followers of Jesus make Sunshine and Rainbows.
     At the end of Rocky's speech, he dishes out some great advice, words that could have been spoken by Jesus. Rocky tells us, “I'm always gonna love you no matter matter what're my son, you're my're the best thing in my life.”
     Jesus loves us, no matter what, no matter what happens. We are his children, we are his blood. Let's try to be the best thing in his life.

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