a message of hope
from Reverend David Melville
Francis Asbury United Methodist Church
Sunday, May 21, 2017
Before Jesus leaves us this Thursday … Ascension Day … and before the appearance of the promised Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, a week later, I want us to take one more Sunday to consider one of the many things Jesus said before leaving us. He said a lot; He prayed a lot; He taught a lot in a short period of time. The Gospel of John is packed full of preparation. During Sunday School this morning we heard part of the “Farewell Discourses” of Jesus, in which He is telling the disciples good –bye.
A modern — kind of morbid, but not too morbid – practice is for a terminally ill individual to record before his or her death a video for one’s family and others, preparing everyone for the end, and perhaps sharing a few words of wisdom and gratitude before it is time to go. Jesus did likewise.
Yes, Jesus did likewise for all of those who had ears to hear … then and today. Like a video, his words have lasted. I believe some of the most significant and some of the most exciting words Jesus left us are found in John 14:12, and that is our short and simple scripture to study today:
I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these.
I interpret this verse with the Good News that the best is yet to come! If you will see this and believe this, the best is yet to come for you personally – regardless of your age – and for your family, and for our church. If we are given the opportunity and the ability to do what Jesus did … and even greater things … well, the best must be yet to come!
I was struck by this spiritual truism when a dear friend of ours in Shreveport – Dr. Donald Webb – titled one of his books, written at age 80 plus, The Best Year Yet! That title stemmed from a toast Don hoisted (after all, he is a Welshman) to his wife, Renee, on their 50th wedding anniversary, “To our best year yet!” Now Renee’ wasn’t completely swept off her feet, because as she noted, “Well, Don, you say that every year.” Don confessed with those magical wedding vows, “I do.”
This can be the best day, best month or best year of your marriage, or of your parenting, or of your relationship with somebody. This can be the best year for Francis Asbury United Methodist Church, notwithstanding some pretty golden years you have told me about from the past.
If pressed for a few pointers about how the best could still be out there for us even though we may feel we’ve peaked, and are over the hill and have seen our better days, I suggest Jesus laid it all out for us before leaving to sit beside His Father in heaven. For Jesus, too, the best was yet to come!
Wash One Another’s Feet
First, Jesus asked that in the future His disciples, “wash one another’s feet.” [John 13:14] Yes, Jesus asked his disciples to do what He did on His last night on earth: wash his disciples’ dirty, smelly, cracked feet. That was Jesus’ way of saying, “Serve others.”
My friend … the theologian, the academic, Dr. Donald Webb … could have been considered to be finished with his most productive years. He had served with valor in the British Royal Navy, and with distinction as a pastor of several churches, and as President of Centenary College in Shreveport. He had done the best he could raising five young people … his and Renee’s children. Don was now in his seventies.
But in his retirement years, Don was just getting started. He dedicated the rest of his life to serving others through the wonderful national Christian organization, Volunteers of America. He raised funds for them, tutored for them, gave inspirational speeches nationwide, and in Shreveport helped raise hundreds of children other than his own by endowing an after-school academy for at-risk, inner-city students. He wrote books … the profits from which were dedicated to the Volunteers of America. He told me more than once how he was serving people in ways he never did as a senior pastor and as a college president.
Do what Don did: keep evolving, keep growing, keep peaking in your service to others because in that video Jesus said to, and because Jesus gave us the authority and ability to do so. It is extremely rare that when we serve and bless others, we aren’t blessed even more ourselves. Try it: serve others more in the future than you have in the past, and see if you don’t have the best year yet.
Secondly, the best is yet to come because Jesus promised to answer our future prayers. He said it this way: “I will do whatever you ask in my name.” [John 14:13] Prayer … now that’s a nice parting gift.
As long as we have a prayer, we might just experience the best year yet. But it may require praying more, or differently, or in new settings than in the past. I don’t know … I can’t speak for you. I do know that – as with everything in life – if we are stuck in the past … if we pray the same words in the same style and cadence – if that’s what we’re asking in Jesus’ name, then what is yet to come may not be the best, but merely the same. If we pray and stay the same – if prayer doesn’t change us – we’re never going to see our best prayers answered.
If for no other reason than I’ve been frustrated that some of my noblest and best-sounding prayers haven’t been answered after constant, disciplined prayer, I’ve about decided to simply seek and pray more for God’s will to be done. Not my will, but thine. I’ve decided to pray for not so many specific outcomes, but only for God’s will. My prayers may not be as long and as self-satisfying, but perhaps they will be better, and better can lead to the best.
Remain In Me
Another way to know the best is yet to come is Jesus’ words of assurance: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” [John 15:4] Many of us have left Jesus where we found Him at our baptism as a youth, many have left Him on May 1, 1966, thinking, “Oh well, it doesn’t get any better than this; we’ve done the ultimate: we started a church.” Many of us have left Jesus at the empty tomb five weeks ago. It’s only human nature to rest on our laurels. But when we do, we may miss out on something even better than the victory that has been won. We miss out on the future; we miss out on the best that is yet to come.
To be on the lookout for what God is offering us in the future … which may be even better than what God has given us in the past … we must be at one with Christ. We must be living in Him, as He promised to live in us. And I believe in God’s promises.
At the funeral service yesterday for Buford’s dear friend, Chalmers Wheat, the family requested the beautiful hymn, Abide with Me, be played. Here is the first verse:
Abide with me; fast falls the even-tide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
We may never reach our best potential if Christ is not abiding with and within us. Not close by, like being a member of a civic club. In us, as with genes within a family. Make Jesus not only a part of your weekly routine, no different than work, or dominoes or your favorite t.v. show. Jesus is just an add-on. Instead, make Him a part of your D.N.A. There is a difference!
Finally, we have every reason to believe the best is yet to come because we will see Jesus again. Now, that’s something to look forward to! In the midst of arrest and execution Jesus promised, “I go to prepare a place for you. You may be where I am.” [John 14:3] He went on to say, “I will see you again.” [John 16:22]
That promise alone is enough reason for us to never stay parked where we are. We are to keep moving forward toward seeing Jesus as clearly as we saw Him in our best moments of the past. Jesus doesn’t have to be in the past; the best is yet to come: heaven! Jesus has promised us heaven to replace the hell here on earth. Some critics call that “pie-in-the-sky” religion; I call it “the best is yet to come!”
I close this morning with a confession: the other night I wanted to go, and chose to go, and did go, to hear Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary sing at the Manship Theatre downtown. I was kind of embarrassed to ask Melanie if she wanted to go because sometimes she thinks artists of the past … regardless of how special and how great they were, ought to hang it up and not do the oldies circuit. Our son invited us to dinner that night, and I texted him that thanks, but we were headed to the Manship, but I didn’t tell him the reason because I thought he would laugh.
The show was well-attended, definitely gray-haired and mature. But Peter, though in his seventies, was anything but simply stuck in the past, like the needle used to be on the turntable if you didn’t pick it up after the song was over. Round and round and round. Peter Yarrow is young at heart, with the same voice and guitar finesse that meshed and harmonized so well with Paul and Mary to create the Peter, Paul, and Mary sound. He is still bringing people together through music, and through the years he has adopted a cause – anti-bullying, whether it be between children, or because of the increased uncivility in our country, between consenting adults. Peter’s efforts have spawned self-respect programs in schools and communities throughout the world. One of his songs, “Don’t Laugh at Me” is just as poignant and beautiful as any he penned and sang in the sixties and seventies. And it is changing attitudes and lives.
In sum, I’m glad Peter Yarrow has not stopped writing, singing and raising awareness of causes he believes in, and I hope he will continue doing so as long as God gives him the time and the talent. The truth is, what he is doing now by being on the road, encouraging audience participation and good will among Americans, and raising funds for anti-bullying programs, is far better than what he did by just writing and singing “Puff the Magic Dragon.” He didn’t know it, and those who are too embarrassed to attend “oldies but goldies” shows don’t know it, but for Peter Yarrow, at least, the best was yet to come.
I pray that the week ahead is the best yet for you and yours. I’ve tried this morning to give you some ways that it can be. AMEN!