Leaving a Legacy
Passage: Acts 17:22-31; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21
Date: May 01, 2005
Preacher: Rev David Hutchinson
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A young woman had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. She was given three months to live. And as she was getting her things in order she called her pastor. And asked him to come over. When he got there she told him what SONGS she wanted sung at her funeral and showed him the DRESS she would be buried in. She described to him her WILL. She told him how it would care for the family. How her two children would be provided for. AND how instead of giving each of them $100,000 she was giving them each $95,000. $10,000 would be given to the church. She said "really, what difference is there between 100,000 and 95,000 to them. It'll be ALMOST the same. "But THINK" she said "what 10,000 will mean to the church!". "Think" she said. And he thought. Boy did he think. And she was right - it did make an impact. But that's another story.
Then she said, "OH, I almost forgot!" "There's ONE more thing". "It's very important" "What IS it ?", her pastor asked. "I want to be buried with a FORK in my right hand". "A fork I don't understand?"
She explained, "My grandmother once told me that at church potluck dinners I should always remember ONE thing. "Keep your FORK". "It was my FAVORITE part"my grandmother said to me. It was her favorite part because she KNEW something BETTER was coming. Something like apple pie chocolate cake. Something wonderful.
SO, when people see the FORK in my hand at my funeral I want YOU to say, "Keep your fork the BEST is YET to come." "The BEST is yet to come." Right there, in this playful way, she was telling her pastor more about heaven than he ever knew. It was the last time he would see her on THIS earth. But people could not stop - talking about her faith.
Her legacy was to proclaim to the world: "The BEST is yet to come."
This morning's Scripture readings all lead us to consider our LEGACY and the legacy of others. Which means remembering those things handed down from ancestors. What do WE leave behind? And what do we do with what is left to us? What impact will our life have on those around us? What will get remembered ?
In the Bible we read about two TOWERING figures in the history of our faith. Peter and Paul. Just THINK of the LEGACY the two of them have left.
Peter was called the "ROCK" on which the church was built. And one part of his legacy has to do with how we encounter SUFFERING. Certainly it's the legacy of those to whom the letter 1 Peter was written. Over and over - we read about suffering in the letter. How people have faced it and what they made of it and how they reconciled it with God.
Listen to the reading: [read 1 Peter 3:13-22]
The people to whom the letter was written remind me of some PENGUINS I once heard about from a healer named Larry Dossey. They are the "emperor penguins". And they live in the COLDEST most brutal climates. They're not persecuted for their FAITH but their BODIES sure are persecuted by the weather. And how they survive is this: They form CIRCLES. One penguin in the very center. A few circle around the one. A few MORE circle around those. And out they go like layers of an onion. The OUTER most penguins take the cold for as long as they can. When they can't stand it anymore they move to the INSIDE of the circle to get warm. And others take their place. They SHARE the suffering. And they survive - in the world's most brutal climate.
The people of the early church leave us a legacy if we will consider it a legacy of survival and of how to live during suffering. And this text doesn't answer all of our questions on this. In an Adult Education class this past few weeks we have been examining what we called, "Stumbling Blocks to Faith". Kind of like personal testimony only in reverse. Not how you found Jesus but why you resisted. And for many people the experience of innocent suffering in the world and how they try to reconcile God's role in that and God's love in the midst of that is a stumbling block. In the class we looked at some classical theological answers. We shared our experiences. And we came to the conclusion that it's just really a difficult thing. Which isn't saying much maybe. But the pondering of it IS part of the legacy of the historic Christian community. We don't let go of the reality of suffering NOR the love of God. We just hold the paradox in our hearts. And somehow doing that is a large part of what faith is. And it's part of Peter's legacy to the church.
Paul's legacy as we read about it in this morning's Acts passage is about communication. How do we communicate with those who are different from us. And this is yet another HUGE "stumbling block" for many people. And on this very point Paul's writings are a "stumbling block" for many people. But HERE in this morning's reading which remember wasn't written BY Paul but ABOUT Paul this reading gives me a little glimmer of hope.
Paul is standing in the Areopagus. In Athens. The heart of GREEK culture. A place of polytheism. Many religions. And in that context Paul COMMUNICATES. He doesn't SCOLD or become JUDGMENTAL. He listens and he communicates and he is heard. AND he is BOLD and CLEAR about his faith in Christ and about the resurrection.
Listen to the text: [read Acts 17:22-31]
Part of Paul's legacy - in this text anyway is about communication. Even though I often struggle with how strident Paul can be when expressing his opinion here there is an indication of a listening ear when he takes time to observe and consider the objects of THEIR worship.
And in this the text for today reminds me of something Leonard Sweet professor of evangelism at Drew said in his address this February to the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators. He said, that the most important tool we have when doing evangelism is our ears. Not this [hand to mouth] but these [hand to ears]. He said begin the process of communication about your faith - by listening. Shut your mouth and open your ears.
He wondered "where did Christians ever get this idea that WE were going to BRING God to anyone. Who do we think we are? God is already at work. Our job is to look and listen and to point out where we hear and experience God at work." In this morning's text Paul does that as he begins his speech in Athens.
So, the legacy of Peter and Paul in these texts touch on how Christians have experienced suffering and how we might communicate with people different from us and people of other faiths.
In the Gospel reading Jesus' legacy is the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel reading from John, Jesus is in the midst of his farewell address. Preparing the disciples for his leaving the earth. And what Jesus says is that he will NOT leave us ALONE. We will not be left desolate. The counselor will remain with us. The Holy Spirit.
The "paraclete". Which in Greek means: "someone who is called to be right next to us". ‘clete' or ‘clatos' means "to be called" or the "one who is called". And ‘para' means, "right up next to".
Now at first that may not seem like something you can get your mind around. Or more importantly your HEART. If you are feeling left ALONE what good is a "Holy Spirit"? It doesn't seem so comforting to me. But that IS how Jesus describes it. The Holy Spirit - is intended to bring us PEACE. The Holy Spirit IS Jesus Christ WITH us.
The very SAME message as Christmas: Emmanuel God WITH us. But MORE than Christmas. Now the RISEN Christ with us.
Listen: [read John 14:15-21]
The Holy Spirit the risen Christ WITH us is the SOURCE of our GIFTS. Our spiritual gifts. Teaching healing comforting these things come from the Holy Spirit IN us.
And so part of Jesus LEGACY to us is to give US a START on OUR own LEGACY. We are given the SOURCE of all our GIFTS. All that is intended for us to SHARE. It is as if Jesus legacy in part is to PLANT seeds IN us.
But remember there is another part of Jesus' legacy: We receive these gift because Jesus was WITH us. The ultimate illustration of God's love for us. As John's Gospel tells us Jesus said, "I will not leave you DESOLATE" or "ORPHANED". This is Jesus legacy.
Which somewhat IRONICALLY cannot even PROPERLY be called a "legacy". Because what Jesus LEFT us was NOT to leave. But INSTEAD to live among us. When we gather around the Word or the Table. Or when we seek to serve others.
In my gratitude for this legacy, I find myself wondering how I might live into it. And I think one way is to consider how I am with others. The moderator of our General Assembly, Rick Ufford-Chase, spoke in Eugene Friday night. As he spoke he addressed the things that divide our denomination and our country. Issues of politics, war, sexuality and ordination to name a few. Things that for many are stumbling blocks in one way or another. And he offered his vision of a way forward.
He said that before we can have a moral voice in the culture at large the church needs to claim it's vision for what it means to be followers of Jesus. He encouraged us to start right here with each other.
And to begin we have to try to be WITH each other. Not to lobby and argue but to listen and consider each other. To sit down with each other as sisters and brothers. People with whom we disagree but to whom we will listen. Not to figure out how to convince them that we are right but because God might actually be at work in them and in the US that comes when we stay with each other.
To stay with each other to hold on to our sisterhood and our brotherhood in Christ even when we disagree. And to even to say to each other "I love you". It is a bold vision I think. But what other sort of legacy would you suggest?
What sort of church will we leave behind for generations to come? I believe there is hope for our legacy and our church and our world. And we choose to hope when we LET the Holy Spirit LIVE in us./ And when we consider what it really means that the Spirit is WITH us as Jesus said.