This week Facebook sent me a memory of something I posted five years ago. It was bittersweet to say the least. It was a collection of photos of my daughter Colleen and I as we drove from Michigan to California. It was a bittersweet because on one hand we were saying goodbye to a toxic work situation that was damaging my ministry and hurting my family. And yet, to do so, we had to say goodbye to so many people we had grown close to and loved very dearly.
Today is another such bittersweet moment in that we’re saying goodbye to something that is dear to us, our church name. Yet, in doing so, we welcome a new way to gather and live out the gospel of love together. While a part of me is excited about the new venture, there is a part of me that feels like we are abandoning our baby.
As we all know, good-byes are never easy. For those of us who follow the way of Jesus, we are given the assurance that we are never really saying goodbye. But more like saying, “I’ll see you later.” It might sound like a bit of semantic gymnastics, but it does offer us a bit of hope. Especially when the world around us seems so full of hopelessness.
I’m sure the disciples had no idea what to expect when they dropped their nets and left their homes to follow Jesus. I couldn’t tell you if it was easy or hard for them. If their life, in the short term, got better or worse. What I do know is as they stepped into that space between, they did so together, in community. Jesus knew this would be no easy task. And so, before he leaves them, Jesus assures them that he will always be with them, only in a new way.
READ: John 14:15-24
Let’s begin by setting the scene. Jesus is reclining at the table with his disciples. Their bellies are full of the last Passover meal they will share together. During the evening, Jesus has washed the feet of his disciples, including the betrayer. And he’s switched from referring to them as his students, to calling them his friends.
In the previous verses, Jesus tells the crew that he will no longer be with them. He is going away. When asked where he’s going, Jesus simply tells them “I’m going away to prepare a place for you.” His vagueness makes his friends anxious. I’m sure they have a million more questions. But John only gives us Jesus’ answer that they will not be left orphaned.
When I was looking for a passage to mark this occasion, I found myself drawn to this one because of the assurance Jesus gives to his friends and followers, who are us. A new teacher will come after Jesus who will move with us in that space between. That teacher, according to Jesus, is the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of Truth.
Some translations say Advocate instead of teacher. But I like how Eugene Peterson in the Message uses the word “friend” instead. There’s something personal about it.
Whichever way the Holy Spirit is defined, the sentiment is the same. God has given us a teacher to teach us, an advocate to stand with us, and a friend to comfort us as we face the challenges ahead. Keeping this knowledge safe in our hearts, we know we will always have Christ with us as we move together in Anamesa. Thus, Jesus isn’t saying good-bye. Simply, “I will see you later.” He might have a new name, but his mission remains the same.
So how does this apply to us, today? We know that the Bible tells us Jesus will see his disciples again – post resurrection. That’s not what I’m talking about. Nor am I talking about seeing Jesus again in that place where he said he’s going to prepared for us. I’m talking about seeing him right now, in that space between heaven and earth. In the way we walk with intention, together in Anamesa.
Let’s go back to that room, and sit around the table with Jesus’ friends. Amid the anxiety and uncertainty, Jesus reminds us all, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” The two greatest commandments, according to Jesus, are loving God and loving others. If we love him, we will make this our sole mission in life. Because by keeping his commandments we will see him, again and again, in every space we enter.
We will see him in the face of the poor, and in the eyes of the one’s crying out for help. We will see him in the line at the food pantry getting groceries for his family. Or marching on our streets in protest to the injustice that remains unbridled. For when we care for another, we are caring for Jesus. Likewise, when we show love to another, we do also to him.
So, here’s the thing…if you say you love Jesus, then you can’t help but love those who you meet in all the sacred spaces of life. The call to love is first a call to Jesus: to know him, to live his life, and to walk his path. When we walk as he walked, we can love as he loved, and see others as he saw them – as beloved children made in God’s image.
Therefore to love Jesus is to be forever connected to God. When we are connected to God, we are able to see God’s Son in all things. When we recognize this, that God is in all things, then we will be able to love others as if we are loving Jesus himself. Love is the spirit by which we must move ourselves and this church forward. God gives us the Holy Spirit to get us there by reminding us of who Jesus is. And what we are called to do.
God has given us the same Holy Spirit that was given to Jesus, who sees a person open to salvation when the world only sees a conniving tax collector.
God has given us the same wisdom that was given to Jesus, who sees someone who can reclaim a pure life, when the world sees only a woman caught in adultery, or a criminal pleading for mercy.
God has given us the same power that was given to Jesus, who sees a solid foundation for the church when the world sees only Peter, a man of flimsy faith.
This should make us all pause to wonder what Jesus sees in you and me. Or what others notice too. When a person looks at you, do they only see what’s wrong with the world, or do they see the One who redeems it?
In the absence of a physically present Jesus, our daily practice of walking in his way makes the presence and love of God come to life in the world.
This was our intention when I first gathered with about 35 other people in that space behind me to say hello to this new church plant here in Sherman oaks. Over that time we have learned the way of Jesus. We’ve learned what it means to be disciples and followers and lovers of the Christ.
Today, we gather from all over the place to say good-by to a name, but our mission remains the same. We will keep our focus on loving God, loving others and serving both. This is the Way of Jesus. The way of God’s salvation, for us and for the world. Now we are being called to live that Way so others can learn from us.
It won’t be long before Jesus’ friends realize that they too are not saying goodbye to their beloved teacher, but are in fact saying hello to the rest of their lives. And that they will always see him in all the ways they live out the gospel. Now it’s our turn to join them as we look ahead, moving forward, onward and upward welcoming every new day as a new opportunity to see Jesus and bring his way to life.
Just as we welcome Jesus into our hearts, let us welcome his Holy Spirit, the very breath of God, the creator of all life.
Just as we have opened our hearts to Christ, let us also open our hearts to the Spirit of Truth, the gift of God to empower the people of God to move throughout the world as the visible presence of God’s Incarnate love.
And let us join together, in the name of our Creator, our Savior, and our Sustainer, to not just enter the holy and sacred spaces of life, but to define what it means to live in Anamesa, the place where we can always see Jesus, and forever be with him, to the glory of his name, Amen.
Let us pray:
If you have been following me on social media, you know that it’s KNOWvember. That time of the year where I challenge myself to meet 30 new people in 30 days.
This year, I asked my friends to send me names of people, as well as places and things I should know about. Turns out, there’s a lot of stuff I don’t know.
Like Champing, which is when people will actually pay money to camp in church buildings that have been abandoned or closed down for one reason or another. I’m sure some of you see the irony here. If only they gave money while the churches were open, they could sleep there for free every Sunday morning.
Repurposing churches isn’t some new trend. Years ago, our cousin bought an old English church and transformed it into her summer home. This is happening all over the world. In Boston, the Holy Trinity church is now high-end condos. In the Netherlands, an abandoned cathedral became a beautiful bookstore. I even found a church online that became a skate park.
In my lifetime I have visited a lot of holy places around the world. But if I were to go Champing in any one of them, well it would have to be the Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona, Spain. My first time there, I just stood in the naive and wept. It is the most beautiful and colorful and imaginative place I’ve ever been.
This impressive and awe-inspiring church was the life work of the brilliant artist Antoni Gaudí, who began the project knowing he’d never see it through completion. My friend Julian once asked me “What would be that one project you’d like to do, knowing that you would never see it completed in your life time?”
He had me write my answer in a sketch book I was holding. I just recently looked in that book since writing my answer in it. And do you know what project I wrote down? “To redefine what church is.”
In two weeks, we will become Anamesa. I have no idea what it will look like or become. But I know how and where it will begin. Not inside a building. But in a faithful heart where God has been champing all along.
Today, Jesus and his disciples are leaving the Jerusalem Temple for the last time. When someone in his group makes a comment on its impressive size, Jesus had this to say:
Read Mark 13:1-2
To say the Jerusalem Temple was an architectural achievement might be an understatement. Today, it’s still considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. And for good reason. King Herod spared no expense to impress the wealthiest and most powerful rulers of his era. Scripture tells us that the Temple was the center of Jewish worship. And because of its geographical location, we could argue it put God in the center of the known world.
According to historical records, the Temple was roughly 3 football fields wide by 5 football fields long. The enormous stones of its foundation, the one’s referred to in this story, each measured 40 feet. The façade of the main entrance was covered with so much silver and gold that in the bright sunlight it blinded anyone who looked at it. It had sprawling courtyards, grand porches, covered walkways, and a monumental staircase that was a spectacular sight for sure.
The paint wasn’t even dry on the place when Jesus very publicly declared, it would “all will be thrown down.” So you can imagine the shock the disciples must have felt when they heard it. You’d think they’d be used to Jesus saying weird things like this. But back at the campsite, they press him to reveal exactly when it all will happen.
Read Mark 13:3-8
In light of all the bad news that is fed to us every day, I can see why some are uneasy with this apocalyptic passage. Like Roger Nishioka writes, “Towering buildings are not supposed to crumble. Oceans are not supposed to leap out of the sea and flood miles inland. The ground is not supposed to shake under our feet. The sky is not supposed to form a funnel cloud and destroy the town. But all who have watched the world trade towers collapse, seen a tsunami flood a nation, experienced an earthquake or suffered through the powerful tornado know that such events happen.”
If we think about all the storms we have weathered in the last 18 months, it’s hard to find any comfort when Jesus says, “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” Still, it doesn’t stop a few of my friends from using these tragic events to formulate when the second coming of Christ will happen. Many have concluded that time is now.
But Jesus said, “These are just the birth pangs.” In other words, “Something new is coming.” I might be skeptical of my friend’s predictions on the end of the world. But I do sympathize with their troubled spirit.
I was in Indianapolis with my dad for the Men’s Final Four tournament, when I thought the end of the world was upon us. We had just left the restaurant after dinner when we noticed the streets – which had been packed with thousands of partygoers – were now empty. The only thing left were massive puddles and a lingering eerie feeling in the air.
As we walked back to our hotel, we heard a sound in the distance. One we didn’t recognize until the hail started dropping. Empty wet streets. Sirens. Hail. You could say God was giving us a pretty clear warning that something bad was about to come. We needed to get to safety. And fast.
Now my real fear kicked in when I realized we were standing in the middle of an empty stadium parking lot. I could see our hotel in the distance, but it was still a couple of blocks away. With nowhere to hide, we took off running. And made it to our hotel room just as the tornado touchdown on the very spot we had been standing.
Still wet with rain, I was freaked out while my dad stretched out on the bed and began to read a book without a care in the world. To his credit, we don’t know when the end time will come. But we do know that we have been give this time to live, not in fear but in faith.
So, it’s hard for me to imagine Jesus is using weird apocalyptic imagery to scare his disciples. Perhaps they were obsessing a little too much over what he was telling them. And perhaps Jesus said those things to remind them where to place their faith and focus.
This is a wakeup call for us as well. We, like the disciples, can lose focus trying to figure out the signs of the time. We often allow politics, work, and bad news to take our eyes off the more important mission – to witness to the Good News that Jesus has ushered in.
Let’s be real, we don’t know when Christ will come again. But we do know that Christ has already come and instructed us on what we are to do today. As long as there are natural disasters and human error that cause God’s children to suffer, there’s work to be done. This is a good of place as any to begin defining what church is.
Let’s go back to the Jerusalem Temple. Again, it was an impressive and marvelous structure. Yet, just as Jesus said, it was completely destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., roughly 30 years after it was completed. And life still went on.
In the mid fourth century, Constantine built the Hagia Sophia to be the centerpiece of all Christendom. It was so stunning that when Muslim invaders seized Constantinople in 1453, they spared this incredible Cathedral, believing it was a doorway to heaven.
For the next 600 years they used it as a mosque. But today it’s a museum as life goes on.
St Peter’s Basilica, which is the home church of the Pope himself, draws millions of people through its doors every year. While it might be fun to go Champing under the roof of the Sistine Chapel, it seems contradictory to what God is calling us to do: to get out of the building and be in the world as the visible presence of God’s redemptive love.
God wants us out in the world defining what it means to be the church, the very body of Christ himself. Because the way I see it, of all the millions of churches, mosques, temples, and synagogues out there, not one is as beautiful or as impressive or stunning as you.
God doesn’t need a building. God needs bodies. God needs you and me to show up in the holy and sacred space of life where there is real hurt and real pain and a real need for God’s presence. Buildings can be destroyed or invaded or simply shut down because of lack of funds or interest; proving that things made by human hands are temporary. But we are made by God’s hands. In God’s image. And through Christ Jesus, we are made everlasting.
As St. Peter writes, we are “Living stones...chosen and precious in God’s sight...to be built into a spiritual house...through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5). No fire, earthquake, or global pandemic can destroy what God has done in the world. Nor can it disrupt what God is doing right now. With us and for us through our Lord.
In two weeks, we will kick off Advent with a new name. We chose this day, not because it’s the new church year, but because it marks a season of waiting for something greater to come. I’ll admit I have my moments of fear. I worry what changing our name might do with what we’ve already built.
I see this gospel story as a reminder to be faithful in our waiting because something new is unfolding. Weird things happen that we have no control over. We can’t predict what is to come. But no matter what happens, we can prevail because we are the body of Christ, which not even death can destroy.
Anamesa isn’t just a name. It’s a way to walk, and run, and cry, and laugh, and sing, and worship and love together in that space between. It is a way we come together in the name of Christ Jesus, to define the church, fully and faithfully.
It is a way for us to show up together, as the light and love of Christ himself to meet the needs of those crying out. It’s a way to bring hope, and peace, and healing and restoration in our divided world where today it’s needed badly.
In Anamesa, we can share our hearts and grow God’s family, as brothers and sisters, not enemies or rivals. We can be more than just followers of Jesus, we can be his church, his mission, and his salvation.
As we walk together in his name, we can and will weather the storms of life. And if we are lucky, we might even get a good night’s sleep. Be it in some old building or out in that space between.
A space we call Anamesa.
Let us pray:
Content collected from original sermons on Nov. 15, 2015 and Nov 18, 2018.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year B. Vol. 4. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009)
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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