I announced several weeks ago that I had taken a position with the Great Plains Annual Conference as the Clergy Recruitment and Development Coordinator, effective this summer. While exciting, it’s bringing a significant season of my life to an end. I am wrapping up my second stint at SC with 9 years working in Campus Ministry. To increase the intensity of this, I have spent 15 of the last 20 years here at Southwestern either being a student or working here. And yet I’m sensing God’s call in my new position in an undeniable way, so it’s been exciting to experience God’s enduring call. I preached for the last time as the Campus Minister (I’m hoping that they’ll give me an invite from time to time) last week. Here’s the manuscript that I wrote. I more or less preached it as written (with a few extra bits thrown in–at one point, one of my friends reportedly leaned over to another friend and said, “She’s just going to say whatever’s on her mind isn’t she?” I suppose that’s the freedom in the “last sermon,” right?). Anyway…here are some of my final thoughts to Southwestern College on the eve of my final weeks here. The audio of the sermon is here.
We’re finishing up our series: The Gospel According to Popular Culture. We wanted to have an opportunity to cultivate an awareness of where God is active in the world around us. As I was thinking about how to end our year together, I thought about how TV shows come to an end: The Series Finale. As shows come to an end, we grieve what we are leaving behind in not being able to gather for the reunion of the lives of people who feel like our friends.
Take the show Friends for example. Over the 10 seasons of it, I resonated the most with Monica and cheered on Ross and Rachel through all of their “breaks” and reunions. I could sing along with Phoebe to Smelly Cat and laugh at Joey and Chandler. I even had a “Page a day” Friends trivia calendar in Reid 204 during my senior year. I will never forget the closing scene of Friends when they all turn in their keys to Monica and Chandler’s apartment. It was incredibly moving.
Dramatic shows tend to really get me hooked, though…especially if they’re clever. I got totally wrapped up in a show called ALIAS starring Jennifer Garner and man, I really thought that Sydney Bristow was saving the world! She was a double agent for the CIA and what she thought was a black-ops team of the CIA but discovered WASN’T, and she solved international crises, personal crises, explored family secrets, and even showed how she was the one who was in a special prophecy. I would get so wrapped up in the show that I had an inclination to pray for her! That is some crazy stuff, y’all! I would literally have to remind myself that it wasn’t real. I have to admit, however, I was so disillusioned by the way the final season was ending that I can’t even remember the finale!
The TV show, however, that I was most wrapped up in and the Finale that I most anticipated was the TV show LOST. LOST captured my attention the entire 6 seasons and I was waiting to see how it would resolve in the last year. I don’t remember a series finale having more press and pressure than the LOST finale. It was an ambitious plot with many layers of story (parallel universe, smoke monsters, characters names for philosophers and scientists, actual historical events, love, etc.). Perhaps, however, LOST will go down in infamy for its finale, though. Whereas each season finale kept the audience returning for more and more speculation and delight, the finale left everyone: confused. Various theories abounded and the writers had the gall to say, “The ending is open for interpretation. However you want to interpret it, interpret it.”
I don’t know about you, but I want to know how the story ends. Even if it’s not “happily ever after,” I at least want to know that my beloved characters have some kind of future together. There’s always hope for a reunion show, right? We tend to want to see shows resolve well and explain those mysteries that have been confounding us. Did anyone catch the How I Met Your Mother finale? I won’t spoil anything, but the whole entire show was based on answering that question of how Ted Mosby met his two kids’ mom. The show took some twists and turns, hid some Easter Eggs along the way and then resolved into an ending that no one would have expected!
Without telling you the ending, I think that the show did 3 things that we want in a Finale.
- We want resolution—to have our questions answered.
- We want to feel like an insider—with little nods to running jokes and classic HIMYM humor.
- We want to know that our beloved characters are going to be okay—we want to be able to predict/speculate on what their future might hold since we won’t get to witness it.
We get so attached to the stories, their questions, the characters, the lessons they’ve learned, the jokes—all of it! We want…no, we NEED, to know if Ross and Rachel end up together, if the castaways get off the island, and how Ted Mosby met the mother of his kids. Ultimately, I think our interest in the Series Finale is that we realize that we’re about to be left alone with just the story as it’s told. Do we have all the information that we need in order to be satisfied? Can the story stand alone?
As we approach Easter, we’re approaching the Series Finale in the Life of Christ. I wonder if the disciples wanted the same things that we want out of a Finale: resolution on their questions, to feel like an insider, to know that everyone is going to be okay.
I imagine the writers of a hit TV show in the meeting room talking about all the things that they have to cover in the final season of a show. Which loose ends must they tie up? Which characters can just disappear without much notice? Which questions MUST they answer and which ones can they leave hanging? In our story, Jesus is like the writers and he’s finishing up his final teachings before the end of the show. It is particularly apparent in the Gospel of John. There is a section starting in John 13 that is called the “Farewell Discourse.” It is John’s version of the Last Supper—you know—the one that Leo daVinci painted and we often understand to be a Passover meal celebrated on Thursday evening of Holy Week. In the “Farewell Discourse,” (John 13-17) Jesus is doing and saying everything left on his list to do and say in his final day. Hidden in the middle of this text is our passage for today. And I think that it has some Easter Eggs in it for us.
We all know what Easter Eggs are, right? The things that we’re going to hunt on Sunday morning that have little surprises in them. Well, a couple of years ago I heard the term “Easter Egg” being used to identify insider knowledge about a TV show, or even a website. Facebook famously had several Easter Eggs that you could do to insert random pictures, change your language to Pirate or Upside Down English, etc. LOST was constantly hiding little treasures into their shows—clues for astute observers to find. In these cases, the Easter Eggs are extras—hidden gems that are mostly just for fun. But as I looked back over the Farewell Discourse, it struck me how the teaching in John 13-17 is basically all the things that Jesus wants to make sure that they remember.
- He washes their feet (John 13)
- He calls out the person who will betray him (Judas) and the person who will deny him (Peter) (John 13)
- He tells them that he is the way, the truth, the life (John 14)
- He answers their eschatological questions: they will have a home with him in heaven (John 14)
- He says that in order for them to grow as a disciple, they must remain in him (John 15)
- He gives them a new commandment: Love one another (John 15)
- He promises the Holy Spirit (John 14-16)
- He predicts that they will have trouble (John 16)
- He says that he’ll be back (John 16)
- He prays for them (John 17)
- He prays for you (John 17)
The passage that we read is what ties them all together. Remember what I said was important about a good finale? It’s something that gives us resolution, insider knowledge, and reminds us that our characters (and we as audience) will be okay. This sermon is Jesus’ finale and he wants them to know that it’s not an unhappy ending.
He wraps up the story by telling them that they won’t have to figure things out by themselves. He will be sending them the Holy Spirit. Different translations use different words: the Companion, Another Counselor, or the Comforter. He tells them the hard truth that they will endure difficulty—be kicked out of their religious community, or even killed. Jesus is leaving them an Easter Egg so that when they feel threatened, they’ll remember that they’re not alone.
Can you imagine being the disciples? They have spent all this time with Jesus, have seen miracles that he’s done, listened to his teaching, even gotten their feet washed by him. He’s supposed to be the Messiah, the one who was sent by God to save Israel! And now, he’s giving some teaching that sounds suspiciously like his last will and testament! He tells them that though troubles come their way, the Holy Spirit will be there to teach them the way of truth. Perhaps the way that Jesus will save Israel will look differently than they had expected. Perhaps salvation is individual rather than national. Perhaps Jesus hides his other Easter Eggs in teachings like “Love one another,” “I am the way, the truth and the life,” and “Serve others as you see me serving others.”
These are the Easter Eggs that we can find when we read this story. What does it mean for you to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide you in all truth? Have you recognized the Easter Eggs that Jesus left behind?
You have figured out by now that this is the last Chapel in which I get to preach as the SC Campus Minister. I was tempted to make a list and tell you everything that I had left to tell you guys, but I refrained (mostly). 🙂 I decided that Jesus’ list from the Farewell Discourse was probably better than mine, anyway. But I do have two bits of advice for you that I think bear repeating, if you haven’t heard me say them before.
The Holy Spirit is how God communicates with us. He is the voice of God. God’s voice is sometimes still and silent and sometimes overpowers us with such conviction that we wouldn’t even consider doing something another way. The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to us as we live as God’s hands and God’s feet. I remember learning as a child an illustration of how we are connected to God. We are the lamp, God is the light that shines from us, and the Holy Spirit is the cord. Only when we are plugged in to God through the Holy Spirit can we shine God’s light. It is your job and mine to cultivate practices when we are able to hear the Holy Spirit over the voices that take up residence in our heads and hearts.
This brings me to my second bit of advice that I have for you. It is my contention that Jesus has left us a number of Easter Eggs in our world today. A number of them have been left through his word—the things in the Farewell Discourse that I mentioned earlier. I think we could study God’s word and then go and do it for the rest of our lives. It’s not easy, but when we give our lives to following Jesus, we truly can find life. The secret is that we find life by giving it up. It’s not easy, but it is good. How can you cultivate practices that allow you to hear and recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit in your Life? How will you identify the Easter Eggs that Jesus has left behind for you?
I think that if we all lived our lives plugged in to the Holy Spirit and living out the teachings of Christ, the world would be a different place. Southwestern College would be a different place. We might find the ways to speak words of life into the people who are around us making choices that lead to death. We might feel less entitled and more empowered to be a servant. We might say I love you to people who need to know what it means to be loved and accepted and not ignored and overlooked. What if we all lived our lives letting the Holy Spirit lead us?
I preach this sermon with a little fear and trepidation. You see, as you all know, the Holy Spirit has led me away from Southwestern. It’s nearly unfathomable to imagine not being with you all when classes start in August. This August will be the first time in 20 years (plus 13 years of elementary, middle and high school) that I won’t go back to school—either for myself or for my job. I honestly don’t quite know how I’ll handle it. I will likely wander over to one of the universities in Lincoln, Nebraska where I’ll be living and sit in on a worship service or their move in day, just to soak in the excitement, anxiety, possibility, and sweat that represents a new year. I preach this sermon saying that the Holy Spirit leads us and guides us—sometimes into difficulty. And yet, it’s still the best thing for us to do.
I considered calling this sermon “Series Finale,” and based on what you’ve heard so far, you might think that is a better name for it. But I’ve actually called it “Season Finale.” A Series Finale implies that a show has met the end. That we’ve been given all the information that we’re going to be given and that it’s over. However, on a Season Finale, we know that it’s a cliffhanger. A complication has been introduced—perhaps even one that seems to cut off some options. But, in the Season Finale, we also know that there is hope for the story to continue to be told. We can still seek the resolution of our questions. We are still insiders to the Easter Eggs in the story. And we can have hope that everything is going to turn out okay for the people that we love.
As Lent is wrapping up and we are heading toward Easter when we will celebrate the resurrection of Christ, we are heading not toward a Series Finale, but a Season Finale. We can assume new life in Christ and that the Holy Spirit goes with us. As I’m considering the Season Finale of my life at SC as Campus Minister, I’m recognizing that the Holy Spirit is leading me and when I feel lost, I can pick up the Easter Eggs that Jesus has left me all along the way. I hope that you find them, too. God, may it be true.