A sermon preached by the Rev’d Dr Daniel Dries Pentecost 22 Christ Church St Laurence – 16 October 2016 May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight: O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. Amen. From the 16th Chapter of the Gospel according to St John, we read the words of Christ: I have said all this to you to keep you from falling away. In John Chapter 16 we find ourselves in the latter part of the Farewell Discourse. At this point in John’s Gospel, Christ has now washed the disciples’ feet, and he follows that very practical sermon with a lengthy farewell speech; a speech that predicts separation, sorrow and persecution. The Farewell Discourse is a speech or a sermon encompassing four complete chapters of John’s Gospel. In a sense this speech or sermon seems longer than it needs to be; perhaps you would make the same assessment of most sermons you have heard. In this evening’s passage, Christ tells his disciples that this speech or sermon will only make sense to them much later… again, perhaps you would make this same assessment of most sermons you have heard. We are in a period during which lengthy speeches abound. The political processes of a country on the other side of the world are dominating our media. In reality, the U.S. election will have a fairly minimal effect on our own nation, and yet we seem to find it absolutely compelling viewing. The drama, intrigue and espionage being played out on the world stage could never have been imagined. But as we listen to two flawed and greatly contrasted human beings, desperately pleading for the support, enthusiasm and trust of the American people, the claims they make are essentially the same—if you vote for me; if you follow me; you will better off. The content of a farewell speech made by a young rabbi in John Chapter 16 is so different in that is predicts suffering, rejection and persecution for any who will put their trust in him. This evening’s New Testament lesson begins: I have said all this to you to keep you from falling away. A more literal translation is: I have told these things to you lest you be made to stumble. Christ is speaking of the horror of the crucifixion. He tells this frail little group that they will be expelled from the synagogue; they will become a scandal; they too will face persecution, and even martyrdom. Despite the horrors contained within this farewell speech, Christ tells them not to be led by their fear and the hatred that will surround them. Suddenly, this long and confusing speech becomes full of meaning for us; suddenly, these words become the most important words we could hear in our own time. We are living in a period of history in which speeches and political processes are absolutely being driven by fear and hatred—perhaps more so than at any time since the Second World War. It is easy to be critical of political leaders and speech makers, particularly in the current climate. However, as much as we might hope for honesty and integrity in our political leaders, it would be suicidal for any politician to seek the support of others by promising suffering, persecution and pain. John Chapter 16 cannot be read as the speech of a political leader seeking election; it is illogical, it is revolutionary. Christ recognises their inability to grasp his meaning; he is aware that he is calling them to embrace a completely different reality and abandon security. This evening’s Old Testament Lesson also contains a great speech. Nehemiah and Ezra proclaim the Law. They are calling the people of God to live according to the Law. However, running through Nehemiah, there is a sense of the growing strength and security of the institution. This sense of stability 1|Page
is not present in John 16. Instead, Christ tells his followers that they will be ostracised, and they will witness the destruction of their own institutions and religious tradition. It is a grim prediction—at least it would be without the promise that something infinitely better will emerge out of the ashes. The challenge is for them to remain faithful; the challenge will be to endure amidst great pain and suffering.
I have said all this to you to keep you from falling away. We know that many in our very secular society have fallen away. Despite the great census debacle, at some point we will certainly be told that the number of Australians adhering to the Christian faith has become an even smaller minority in our society. As we look upon a greatly flawed church; a church that is very different from the church as we would have it be, I suspect we all feel some attraction to falling away—perhaps I am just speaking as someone in the midst of our Diocesan Synod. In his great speech, Christ urges his followers to remain faithful—trusting that something much better will ultimately grow. Although we may not like it, the Christian faith is built on the premise that through suffering we mature, through pain we are transformed into holy people; through separation we are forced to grow. In his book The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis writes: “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” In his epic farewell speech, Christ compels his disciples to find meaning in the pain and suffering that they will endure. He doesn’t make ridiculous promises about security and privilege. They will soon feel the anguish of separation, but they have witnessed the living presence of God—and this will sustain them through their unimaginable pain and suffering. In a dramatic way this is played out in this place Sunday by Sunday. In Benediction, as the consecrated host is exposed, we are reminded of God’s living presence in our world and in our lives. We kneel in silent adoration, and in an unbroken circle of love and peace. But we cannot remain there for very long. There is an inevitable separation, and we are sent back into a world of pain and suffering; desperately trying to remain faithful amid the brutal challenges of life; desperately trying to find meaning in suffering; desperately clinging to hope of resurrection, even when all hope seems lost. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.