YOU MEAN THERE’S MORE?[1]

John 16: 12-24

A sermon by Thomas R. McKibbens

May 26, 2013

 

I still have many things to say to you, said Jesus to his disciples.  After all that he had said, all that he had done, and all that he was about to do, the disciples must have been thinking, “You mean there’s more!”  Yes, he seemed to be saying, there is more, much more.  And it would evolve over the centuries until the “more” came right down to us in Worcester, MA on the 26th day of May, 2013.

The message of Jesus is not stuck in the past; there is more to his story.  He could surely stand before us in this post-modern time and say, I still have many things to say to you.

I

            Among the first things I believe he would say to us on this Memorial Day weekend is this:  take courage!  Take courage, FBC Worcester!  We have been blessed beyond measure.  We have been filled with the living spirit of Christ, and we gather on Sundays to worship the God who knows our every weakness, yet loves us still.  Take courage!

Ethicists have often spoken of different types of courage.  There is, of course, physical courage, the courage of those who face fear and the threat of pain and death.  This type of courage is the virtue of a soldier entering battle, a courage that even the most ardent pacifist recognizes and honors.  This is the courage we remember this weekend.

Then there is a form of courage we call moral courage, which is the courage to stand for what is morally right in spite of personal consequences.  This is the courage of a Rosa Parks refusing to sit in the back of the bus.  It is the courage of many people in this very room who face life’s challenges with an equanimity that defies understanding.

Then there is a third form of courage which the theologian Paul Tillich called “The Courage to Be.”  It is the form of courage required to go on living in the face of inevitable death.  It is the courage to live meaningfully even if you have suffered a moral failure of judgment.  Suppose you have harmed or brought injury to another.  You have betrayed your best and true self, and the illusion of your perfection lies in ruins at your feet.  It takes courage to go on in the face of private guilt or public shame.

But I suggest this morning a fourth kind of courage:  the courage to live joyfully in spite of heartache, to live thankfully when great challenges are still before us, to live with kindness when rudeness is all around us, to live thoughtfully in a superficial world, and to live graciously in a rude and harsh world.  This is courageous, counter-cultural, and Christ-like.  And it is precisely what we are called upon to do and to be in our day. 

            I still have many things to say to you, said Jesus, and I am convinced that one of those things is to take courage.

II

            But along with his call to take courage, I believe that Christ is calling us to ENcourage.  It is never a wrong time to do the right thing, and a little encouragement can be a powerful thing.  We are surrounded by heroes and heroines, people who live with courage and good cheer while enduring loneliness or rebuilding a life or fighting addiction or embarrassment or pain.  They don’t spend their time cursing their calamity or complaining or moping.  They live their lives with amazing good cheer and humility.

I can’t help but think of one of America’s great novelists, Reynolds Price.  In the spring of 1984, Price was at the height of his career as a writer and professor at Duke University.  He reported difficulty walking and underwent testing at Duke Hospital.  What they found was a pencil-thick and cancerous tumor that was ten inches long and intricately braided in the core of his spinal cord.  Surgery managed to remove the tumor, but he became a paraplegic and required a wheelchair for the rest of his life.  He lived with what he called “colossal, incessant pain,” but he also wrote in his memoir the following:  “I’d have to say that, despite an enjoyable fifty-year start, these recent years since full catastrophe have gone still better.  They’ve brought more in and sent more out—more love and care, more knowledge and patience, more work in less time.”[2]  He would look at the healthy-bodied who loomed around him and call them “temporarily abled.”

If you are among the “temporarily abled,” one of the most important things to do is to offer a word of encouragement.  It can make a world of difference to the many people who have tied a knot in their rope and are hanging on for dear life.

I still have many things to say to you, said Jesus.  And among those things is his call to encourage others.

III

            It is impossible for me to know where these words find you.  Perhaps you suffer with a boss that only parents could love (and they would be sorely tested!), or perhaps you have a body that is piece by piece falling apart, or a family responsibility that is a long and exhausting ordeal.  Or maybe you have the job from hell, or no job at all.

Whenever we have national crises like the Newtowne tragedy or the marathon bombings or the Oklahoma tornado, we always see great acts of courage and kindness from strangers.  And always, someone asks, “Why can’t this kind of caring and sensitivity happen all the time, and not just in a crisis?”

In answer to that question, we can truthfully say that this kind of caring and sensitivity does happen, in small and unnoticed ways—it happens all the time in church, in this church, in our time.  That’s one reason church is so important.  When you get exasperated or frustrated over a personality or predicament in church, remind yourself that such acts of kindness happen all the time here.

IV

An inscription on the parish church in Northampton, England, says, “In the year 1654, when throughout England all things sacred were either profaned or neglected, this church was built by Sir Robert Shirley, whose special praise it is to have done the best of things in the worst of times, and to have hoped them in the most calamitous.”

What if you were to insert your name in that inscription?  What if you were to call out your own name and follow it with these words, “…whose special praise it was to have done the best of things in the worst of times, and to have hoped them in the most calamitous.”

If you can do that today, you will have shown the most beautiful kind of courage:  the courage to be faithful, the cou



[1] ©Thomas R. McKibbens, May 26, 2013.

[2] Reynolds Price, A Whole New Life (New York:  Scribner’s, 1995).

Dr. McKibbens is a friend. He was the speaker for the 325th. anniversary celebration of First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina and for the John Hamrick Lectureship.