Saturday, May 16, 2009

Today's Sermon: John 15:9-17

I had a major surprise earlier this week. And it’s a surprise that will warm the hearts of some folks in this room, who made a pilgrimage out to the Udvar-Hazy Space Center a week ago Thursday to see the premiere of the new Star Trek movie on the big IMAX screen.

Here’s the surprise: I discovered that Biblical scholars – or scripture geeks, as some folks call them – may also be Star Trek geeks, too. One of my Old Testament professors, JFW, talked last week about the new Star Trek movie and some biblical parallels.

Now if this sounds a little like those books that talk about the Gospel according to Harry Potter, let me reassure you…that’s not where I am going with this.

But J talked very convincingly about some of the physics of Star Trek and its application in the Gospel of John, and what she said had great relevance both to the Gospel passage we read today, and the ending of my time with you at St. Middle School.

So how many of you in this room know about the space-time continuum? You engineers, put your hands down…I know you know about it. But what about those of us who AREN’T engineers or rocket scientists?

Well, here’s the little bit I know about the space time continuum. We understand our world in terms of space – the three dimensions. We see it, we feel it, we are a part of it. But there is actually a fourth dimension, one that really changes our perception of our world…it is time. Time can radically shift the way we perceive the shape of our world.

Think of it like this: how many of you have given directions by saying “well, you take a right down by where the old Hecht’s store used to be?” You and I both know that the Hecht’s store isn’t there in our present time, but we alter our perception of present space by referring to another time. How many of you have said, “Well, that was before I met your father?” Who we are is the same as that person from back then, but somehow we are changed.

It’s like those episodes in Star Trek where they jump to warp speed and break all the rules of time and space, making all sorts of weird time anomalies. Here’s a really nifty bit of Star Trek trivia: in the Voyager series, the Krenim weapon ship used by Annorax worked by pushing the target outside the space time continuum, thus deleting it from history.[1]

Time changes our perception, and it changes relationships. The old rules don’t apply, or at least they don’t apply in the same way.

This is just what Jesus is talking about in this gospel today. It is nearly the end of Jesus’ time with his disciples. He is waxing almost poetic in his great love for them. He tells them that their job, going forward, is to love one another. And not just to love one another, but to love as he has loved them, to be willing to die for each other. And he talks about how their relationship is now changing, that they are no longer subordinates, but his friends. Jesus, the savior, the son of God…says they are his friends. He has entered their lives, he has taught them “everything I have heard from my Father.” They have been transformed by his loving teaching. He has been transformed by their loving discipleship. And now they are no longer teacher and student, they are his friends.

Although several elements of the story are different, we, too, have shared a transformation. I came here almost two years ago, to be your seminarian. You didn’t know me. I didn’t know you. All I knew was that there were many things I needed to learn and this seemed like a good place to do that learning.

What I discovered in this particular space time continuum was that we were both transformed. You welcomed me, you encouraged me, you told me what I needed to learn, you entrusted me with your stories, with your joys, with your secrets. I was changed not only in the ways I expected – in my learning of the practice of ministry – but also in some surprising ways. I learned to trust my instincts, to listen for the story beneath the story, to preach in an approachable way. I doubt I would have preached on Star Trek when I first got here.

We were both transformed when Pastor J left to join her husband C in Southern Virginia. My original plan – that she would serve as my supervisor in the Field Ed experience for the full two years – was thrown out the window. There was a very real possibility that I would have to leave St Middle School in January, something I did not want to do. With your encouragement, I asked for permission to stay as your seminarian, to walk this journey with you as part of my learning about transitional ministry. I got a new job description: I was to be a “continuing pastoral presence.” Some weeks, that meant proofreading the bulletin (with mixed results) over and over until we thought we had it right. Some weeks, it meant briefing supply clergy and herding acolytes. Some weeks, it meant vestry meetings. Some weeks, it meant conversations about troubles and illness and death. It was all rich. It changed me.

I hope, too, that my work among you was transforming as well. I hope that you learned a little bit. I hope that I was a comfort in a time of change. I hope that my imperfection helped you all to realize that everyone in the Body of Christ is imperfect, but if we minister faithfully, whether we are laypeople or clergy, we honor God.

I came here as a stranger, intending to be taught. I leave it as a friend, having learned much. And I am reminded of another fact about the space time continuum and Star Trek – if you accelerate to warp 10, you exist on every point on the space time continuum. Even if you aren’t there physically, you’re there on the continuum.

Sounds sort of like Jesus, doesn’t it? When he tells the disciples to “Abide in my love,” he isn’t saying “abide in it just when I’m sitting here alongside you.” He is saying that same thing he says at the end of the Gospel of Matthew: “I am with you even unto the end of the age.”

That’s the ultimate transformation that comes to us on our space time continuum: wherever we are, whenever we are, Jesus is with us. Always. Loving us. With us. It doesn’t get better than that.

And in a small way, that’s the joy that overcomes the sadness of this moment when I bid you goodbye. Our time together has been one of transformation and love. So wherever you and I go, whenever we go, we are together, bound in a space time continuum that is the Body of Christ.

You are no longer my teachers; you are my friends. It doesn’t get better than that.



1 comment:

Mary Beth said...

Speaking of ways, by the way: There IS such a thing as a tesseract.