By Rev. Chris Jorgensen
October 28, 2018
Scripture: John 14:8-13
This is a picture of me from September 2016. I had been in full-time ministry one year and three months. I had awakened in the early morning hours with numbness and tingling on the left side of my body. When I tried to walk, I sort of tipped to my left side. Watching me, you might have thought I had a few too many to drink – but I hadn’t had a drop. So I knew something was definitely wrong.
Of course, my first thought was, “Oh no. I’m too busy to be sick.” So I walked around a bit hoping the symptoms would go away. They did not. Matt and Ruby took me to the emergency room.
The doctors did not like the sounds of my symptoms at all – because they could have signaled a stroke. So I got all the tests. In between tests, I hung out in the hospital room you see pictured here. In front of me, you can see my iPad, and there is a study bible sitting in my lap. That’s right. I was working on my sermon while I was in the hospital possibly having a stroke.
The good thing and the bad thing is that I think the whole episode was brought on by stress. The tests couldn’t make any definitive determination of what it was. And in retrospect, it is possible… maybe… okay, I am sure I was working too much, too hard, not giving myself any time to take a break.
It was a turning point for me in my professional life. I went back to my counselor to find out why the heck I was doing this to myself. I started putting boundaries on my work life – boundaries that should have been there to begin with.
I am also going to partially blame my overwork and burnout on this scripture we heard today. This scripture, when I hear it, is both exciting and overwhelming. Did you hear it? In it, Jesus says that those who believe in him are going to do even greater works than he did. And I thought, if I just work hard enough, if I am just faithful enough, I will do GREATER THINGS THAN JESUS! Because, the bible says so.
Well, it turns out I was reading it wrong. In fact, we read the bible wrong a lot because of this one small issue.
See, the English language, does not differentiate between a singular and a plural you. If you know French or Spanish, you know that there are different words for “you” depending upon if it’s one of you, or a bunch of you. In the south we have a plural you: y’all. In New Jersey and some parts of Long Island, they say yous. And in Wisconsin, it’s always you guys (male normative gender language not withstanding).
But the bible doesn’t use y’all or yous or you guys when there is a plural “you.” And in today’s scripture, it is especially relevant. This scripture is part of what is called Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse” because it is his way of saying goodbye to the disciples in the Gospel of John. And this passage uses almost nothing but the plural you. Even when individuals like Philip in our scripture today ask Jesus a question, Jesus answers not just Philip, but the whole group gathered. Jesus goes right back to addressing y’all.
When Jesus says you will do greater things than me – he means ALL of his followers – and not even just the ones gathered in that room. Biblical commentators point us to the final part of the scripture where Jesus says that these greater things will be done “because I am going to the Father.” That means the fulfillment of Jesus’ mission will happen among all the believers and all of creation after Jesus dies and rises again and then goes away in body. We all are left here to finish the work – to do together even greater things, to be the fulfillment of the acts of mercy and compassion and justice that Jesus started.
Y’all are here for that purpose. Not just you as an individual person but all of us together (and all of those billions of people outside this place) are going to do greater things than Jesus did. Because Jesus’ resurrection is just the first sign that good will triumph over evil, life over death, love over hate. But that has not fully happened yet. We are part of the process. We are tasked with helping the kingdom of God come in fullness.
And here is the good news. Because we, and not I, are doing greater things than Jesus, not one of us needs to kill ourselves saving the world on our own. Jesuit priest James Martin jokes about how one time his spiritual director pointed out to him, “There’s a savior, Jim. And it’s not you.” There’s a savior, and it’s not you. Or me. Thanks be to God.
And yet part of being saved or being liberated – is that we are liberated so that we can love and serve others. That’s what sets us free. So how do we balance that? Not trying to be the savior of the world ourselves but still trying to embrace the liberating life of love and service that we are called to?
Well, I think John Wesley can help us out here. You know, John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement. Wesley has a famous quotation that says, “Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.” Now, the first time I heard this I thought, this is unhealthy. This sounds like a recipe for burnout. He’s asking us to work ourselves to death and then just give everything away. Maybe even at the expense of our own lives and well-being.
Then one day I had an epiphany. To give all you can has two parts. First, it is a challenge to give as much as you can. But it also includes the grace to say, you can only give what you can. And it’s our job, this stewardship season, to reflect on both aspects of that saying. Am I giving all I am able to give in terms of time, talent and treasure to God’s work on earth? And as I do that, am I being mindful of my own health and well-being as I determine how much I should give?
To semi-quote Wesley again – Jesus wants abundant life for all of us – even you. Even me. I do mean that in the singular. Jesus wants abundant life for each of us and for all of us.
Now surely you know we are a long way for the kingdom of God fully realized. Maybe you think, “Why bother to give anything? I can’t give that much, and it won’t make a difference.” It may very well seem that way – if you think that you are tasked with transforming the world all by yourself.
But, my friends, YOU are not.
Y’ALL are: you here and all the people out there. With the help of God.
Thanks be to God!
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
- Have you ever let your life get unbalanced and had your health suffer for it? How did you restore proper balance and boundaries to your life?
- Is there an area in your life where you need help from others but have been unwilling to ask for help?
- How do you feel when you hear the John Wesley quote, “Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.”? Do you buy Pastor Chris’s argument that it includes both a challenge and grace?