Randall Tremba
May 20, 2012
Seventh Sunday of Easter
Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church

John 17:6-19
As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.

Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.Paul Hawkens, University of Portland Commencement Address, May 3, 2009.

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This morning I’d like to speak specifically to our three high school graduates (Kate Byrne, Justin Kinney, Katya Quinn). Of course, the rest of you are welcomed to listen in.

But first a few select verses from the gospel lesson for this 7th Sunday of Easter. The gospel of John, by the way, is not so much an historic rendering of Jesus but rather an impressionistic portrait composed nearly 70 years after his death. In this gospel, “Jesus of Nazareth” is a kind of icon or prop to convey the mind and heart of the universe, the Logos or Tao, that evolutionary power and presence within everything. Keep that in mind as you listen.

Jesus prayed and said: "I have made your ways known to those whom you gave me from the world. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you. Now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.

Katya, Kate and Justin, today we send you into the world bearing a votive in your hands and the light of Christ in your hearts. You will graduate from high school next weekend and be done with that part of your schooling. But you’ll never ever graduate from the “school of love.” Whether you know it or not, your baptism into the Body of Christ, the community of the Beloved, was an enrollment in a life-long learning project centered on a question: what will you do with your one wild and precious life? That question is a compass for your quest. (See “Summer Day” by Mary Oliver)

We are sending you into the world not because we are done with you or you with us. We are sending you into the world with the hope and a prayer and a votive because you are now ready for deeper experiences. As you practice the listening skills we taught you, including prayer and paying attention, you will learn more and more how to reach out and touch the world with love. Again and again, you will be looking to find where your great joy and the world’s great need intersect.

As the Father has sent me so send I you so that your joy may be complete.

The world can be a dark and foreboding place. The world needs the healing light of love. Open you hands. Open your heart. See what’s there.

Four years ago some of our youth traveled to Washington DC with (our then youth director) Brandon Dennison to urge the West Virginia congressional delegation to protect more acres of wilderness in this state. Our youth stood up for the earth not because they want to get rich but because they want to be rich. The youth were sent by this church with a vision and convictions cultivated out of the Reformed tradition of Christian faith. When Congresswoman Capito was in Shepherdstown soon thereafter, she publicly commended our youth for their creative, other-centered and persuasive efforts.

As the Father has sent me so send I you.

That wasn’t the first time we traveled to DC to stand up for justice. Some of us traveled there in years past to stand up for civil rights and women’s rights. Some of us stood up in 2003 against the misuse of our nation’s military force in a pre-emptive war, which, as it turned out, would drive our nation toward the brink of moral and financial bankruptcy in less than 10 years. Those of us who went to DC were sent with convictions and a vision cultivated out of the Reformed tradition of Christian faith.

As the Father has sent me so send I you.

Next month a group of our women will travel to the nation’s capitol to participate in a lobby day sponsored by “Bread for the World.” They will stand up and speak out on behalf of poor and hungry people. Along with many others they will stand up and speak out in order to protect Congressional funding for programs that assist poor people and that address the root causes of poverty here and elsewhere. These women are sent by a vision and convictions cultivated out of the Reformed tradition of Christian faith.

In case you hadn’t heard, the Presbyterian Church is a Reformation church, which means we cut our teeth on challenging deeply entrenched and oppressive political powers in the 16th century. Not all churches have such a legacy and genealogy. We do.

As the Father has sent me so send I you.

Those words were placed in the mouth of Jesus by the composer of the gospel of John. They do not tell the full story. “Father” in this case means God. But that doesn’t mean God is a male. At the time it was a figure of speech that unfortunately got turned into a graven image with which we’ve been stuck far too long.

Of course, many people believe in God. Mitt Romney believes in God. President Obama believes in God. I’m pretty sure Lady Gaga does too. Big deal! So what? It’s not belief in “God” that matters; it’s the characteristics of your God that matters, those characteristics that ultimately inform and inspire your worldview, your attitudes and practices.

If truth be told, Jesus’ mother sent him into the world. She sent him into the world with a heart cultivated for bold and fearless love. Mary weaned Jesus on a God of compassion, a God who fed the hungry, lifted up the fallen, and put the powerful in their rightful and humbled place. Jesus was sent into the world by a Jewish mother who had given her own heart to a God of love and justice.

Mary sent Jesus into the world with a firm and clear trust in the God of love just as the church weans and nurtures her children in a certain way of being in this world, of being in love. We nurture our children and youth in Sunday School, confirmation classes and mission trips, yes. But that’s not enough. It also requires nurture at home. Day in, day out.

Next month a group of us will travel to Wayne Co., West Virginia to participate in rebuilding some homes and lives devastated by natural and economic forces. Last year we undertook a similar mission in Nicaragua, and before that in Appalachia and before that on an Indian Reservation in Arizona and before that on the Mexico Texas border and before that... Well, you get the idea.

This past Tuesday some of us traveled to the Jefferson County homeless shelter in Charles Town. We carried the makings of a warm meal provided by a dozen of you. That warm and scrumptious meal was served by three pairs of compassionate hands to 18 hungry souls—souls hungry for bread but also hungry for companionship, love and attention. Last January and the January before that and before that we undertook a similar mission in our nation’s capitol.

Week after week some of us drive disabled people to appointments. Week after week some of us carry meals to the homebound. Month after month we carry food to JCCM food pantry. Year after year we purchase life-saving blankets for Church World Service. Year after year we bag up used clothing and shoes and carry them to the Rescue Mission. Day after day some of us go into classrooms, offices, shops, clinics, factories and gardens not to get rich but to be rich—to convey the love of God to those who inhabit our own small world—fragile souls hungry for a little kindness and a word of hope.

Where do this vision and these practices and convictions come from? They arise out of Christ, out of our baptism into that community and tradition of bold, fearless, inclusive Love. Here on Sunday mornings and elsewhere we continue to learn, to learn through practice how to quiet our noisy and busy selves and to listen to the Spirit within.

Kate, Justin and Katya, we are not sending you into the world to do great things. We are sending you into the world to do many small things with great love. Listen, listen, listen to your life. Never let go of the question: what will you do with your one wild and precious life?

Open your hands. Open your hearts. See what’s there.