St. Philip Lutheran Church
9 May 2021 + Sixth Sunday of Easter
Rev. Josh Evans, preaching
Everything is about to change…
It was the second-last week of classes. Or more precisely, the last second-last week of classes, and the last semester of our senior year, only a matter of weeks before graduation. We were sitting in the library at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. I was working on a sermon for a congregation I was guest preaching at that weekend, and two of my friends were busy with their own work. We chatted intermittently as we kept each other company – and motivated. Because the senioritis had gotten real.
Then it hit me. The line in the commentary I was reading: “Everything is about to change and yet nothing will.” The writer was talking about these few verses in John’s gospel – part of the “farewell discourse” – one last teaching and encouragement from Jesus to his disciples just before his death.
Standing on the cusp of graduation and the end of senior year in seminary, those words hit me: Everything is about to change…
It became a kind of call-and-response between the three of us, a sliver of levity in the midst of the poignant transition of graduation before we each went our separate ways as newly-minted pastors.
…and yet nothing will.
In many ways, seminary was one of the closest communities I’ve ever had. A group of classmates who grew into deep and lasting friendships in a matter of four years. In these pandemic days, we’ve even been able to keep up with each other in our shared Facebook group and over happy hours on Zoom.
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It was actually a few years before seminary when I was introduced to the concept of a “chosen family.” For better or worse, we’re stuck with the families we’re born into. We don’t get to choose our families of origin. But our chosen family is a different story. Not that we don’t experience meaningful and profound relationships within our families of origin, but I think it’s also true that, for many of us, our chosen families – our various friend groups – can be just as meaningful and profound. The shared experiences of life – whatever the context – forge deep and abiding relationships.
When I was interviewing at St. Philip and it was my turn to ask the call committee questions, one of the first things I asked was for each person to choose one word to describe the congregation. There were a variety of words shared, but the one repeated more times than any other was family. Though not specifically named as such, what I think they were touching on was the idea of chosen family. While we do have multiple generations of actual families at St. Philip, there is a deep and abiding sense of friendship in this place, rooted in years, if not decades, of shared experiences of life together.
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Jesus and the disciples only had a handful of years together, but they had been through a lot. By this point, the disciples know one of them would betray Jesus, and they’re getting the sense that the hour when Jesus will leave them is getting closer. In that poignancy, Jesus meets their anxiety with words of reassurance: He calls them friends for the first time – a new way of understanding the fellowship they all shared together, a sense of mutual dependence and trust for getting through life in Jesus’s absence.
Friends, Jesus says, I chose you – reminiscent of Jesus’s earlier call to the twelve, here a reminder of that chosen-ness.
Friends, chosen by Jesus, who exist in a community of love, rooted first in the love between Jesus and his Father, extending ever outward, as an act of intimacy between God and all of us. A relationship that nothing, not even death itself, will take away.
Sitting in the seminary library, I read the commentary’s interpretation of Jesus’s words: In these few verses, Jesus is saying to his disciples, “You know how I have loved you these last three years, these last hours. Hold on, friends. Yes, everything is about to change and yet nothing will.”
Or to put it another way: Yes, things happen, and life changes. But God’s deep and abiding love for us – the love that spills out and flows through the community of faith – will never change.
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In the past year, a lot has changed. Our ways of worshipping have been transformed. Beloved friends and members of this congregation have entered the Church Triumphant. Even the pastoral leadership of this place has shifted.
It feels like everything has changed… and yet, in other ways, nothing has. The friendships, the relationships, the community in this place, the weekly gatherings for Bible Study and GLOW, Holy Communion in the parking lot, all rooted first in the unchanging and abiding love of God.
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Seven months after sitting in the library writing a sermon, and preparing to graduate from seminary, I was kneeling at the front of the sanctuary during my ordination. As the congregation sang, a stream of pastors and deacons lined up to come forward and to offer words of blessing over me.
One pastor – one of the same friends I was working with in the library seven months earlier – was next in line. She came forward and leaned towards me, with her hands on my shoulders, and with an expectant smile, whispered: “Everything is about to change…and yet nothing will.”
Sometimes God is a seminary classmate with an inside joke who reminds you of that deep, abiding love. Or sometimes, it’s a Zoom happy hour with friends, or a phone call with a loved one or fellow church member.
Over and over, the promise of God’s abiding love and friendship with us is not an abstract concept but a real, tangible experience. We feel the water on our forehead from the font. We taste the bread and cup at this table. We hear the word proclaimed in our midst. We experience the presence of our families – chosen or biological.
In all of this, we are reminded of the promise of the risen Christ, whose love for us, his friends, will never change.
Thanks be to God.