WORSHIP - MAY 17, 2020

FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH ~ JANESVILLE WISCONSIN
Sunday, May 17, 2020
Sixth Sunday of Easter

May this service find you as happy as one can be in our present situation. And may you be in good health. Be safe, be well, and blessings always. -Pastor Lee

THE OPENING PRAYER
O God, reveal yourself to us. We know that you are not an unknown God, but that you desire to be in relationship with us. May we hear your word in order to go into your world and reveal your presence to others. Guide us now in this time of worship and open our hearts and minds to your Word today and every day. We pray in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

HYMN                                                                                      “There’s Within My Heart a Melody”
                                                                          There’s within my heart a melody Jesus whispers sweet and low:
                                                                          Fear not, I am with thee, peace, be still, in all of life’s ebb and flow.

Refrain
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, sweetest name I know,
Fills my every longing, keeps me singing as I go.

Soon he’s coming back to welcome me far beyond the starry sky;
I shall wing my flight to worlds unknown; I shall reign with him on high.

THE CALL TO CONFESSION
Sisters and brothers in Christ, God not only asks us to repent, but also assures us of forgiveness. Therefore, let us confess our sins to the one who is steadfast love.

THE PRAYER OF CONFESSION Loving God, we do not always keep your commandments; we fail to love you; our conscience is not clear. Wash us in the water of life that we may live again through the grace and mercy of Jesus, our resurrected Savior. Amen.

THE WORDS OF ASSURANCE Sisters and brothers, God forgives, restores, and strengthens us through the risen Christ. Know that you are forgiven and be at peace. Amen.

THE OLD TESTAMENT READING                                                                                                                                                                             Psalm 66:8-20
Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip. For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs; you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place. I will come into your house with burnt offerings; I will pay you my vows, those that my lips uttered and my mouth promised when I was in trouble. I will offer to you burnt offerings of fatlings, with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams; I will make an offering of bulls and goats. Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for me. I cried aloud to him, and he was extolled with my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has given heed to the words of my prayer. Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me.

THE NEW TESTAMENT LESSON                                                                                                                                                                                  John 14:15-21
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This
is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

THE SERMON                                                                                  “Robots and Religion”
Here is the latest news from the scientific community. A poll taken by the Center for the Governance of Change in the United Kingdom revealed that 25% of European citizens believe that robots and artificial intelligence algorithms would do a better job of making policy decisions than politicians would. Either they didn’t take a similar poll in this country or they were afraid to report it. Polls in this country show an almost total
lack of confidence in Congress and in many political leaders.

In Germany and the Netherlands, the figures are even higher. According to this poll, citizens throughout Europe are so disillusioned by their political leaders that they believe robots and computers would do a better job of governing their countries than humans would. That is a sad commentary on our lack of trust in leaders. We wonder when this distrust came about. Is it just something that slowly crept in or was it always there and no one noticed or cared? Could it be that some of the politicians have brought this on themselves and the political system?

Richard Daly was mayor of Chicago for 21 years (1955-1976). Mayor Daly was known as a rather forbidding guy to work for. One story goes like this. One of Mayor Daly’s speech writers came in and demanded a raise. Mayor Daly responded as would be expected. He said “I’m not going to give you a raise. You are getting paid more than enough already. It should be enough for you that you are working for a great American hero like myself.” And that was the end of it ... or so the mayor thought.

Two weeks later Mayor Daly was on his way to give a speech to a convention of veterans. The speech was going to receive nationwide attention. Now one other thing Mayor Daly was famous for was not reading his speeches until he got up to deliver them. So there he stood before a vast throng of veterans and nationwide press coverage. He began to describe the plight of the veterans. “I’m concerned for you. I have a heart for you. I am deeply convinced that this country needs to take care of its veterans. So, today I am proposing a seventeen point plan that includes the city, state and federal government, to care for the veterans of this country.” Now by this time everyone, including Mayor Daly, was on the edge
of their seat to hear what the proposal was. He turned the page and saw only these words: “You’re on your own now, you great American hero.”

I don’t know if Daly learned anything at that moment. With his great ego perhaps he did not. But he should have learned that all of us, no matter how great we think we are, need help. We need advocates who work behind the scenes to make us who we are. God has an advocate for us and that is the Holy Spirit.

As much as I disagree with some of the political decisions that are made I’m not quite ready to trust a robot or an artificial intelligence program to make policy decisions that decide our laws and regulations and how we run our society. Not yet, but I’m getting close. And if you think robot politicians are a little bit scary, then what about robot religious leaders? According to recent news stories Buddhist, Hindu and Protestant Christian communities in Japan, China, India and Germany are now experimenting with robot priests who can provide pre-programmed blessings and even deliver sermons or perform funeral rites.

What are the benefits of having a robot spiritual guide? Some people say that they won’t have the biases of human beings and of human emotions. They can learn and update their software, so that they can improve their interactions with humans. A Buddhist temple steward in China had this to say about the robot priest who presided over his temple services, “This robot will never die; it will just keep updating itself
and evolving. With (artificial intelligence), we hope it will grow in wisdom to help people overcome even the most difficult troubles.”

Interesting …. A spiritual leader that will keep updating itself and evolving and never die—does anyone see a problem with that? Well, I do. Artificial intelligence may be able to evolve, but it will never know the power of the Holy Spirit guiding it. It may be able to update itself, but it will never have the Spirit of truth living inside of it. And a spiritual leader who never faces his or her own death can’t offer us an example of wisdom, grace or courage when we wrestle with the meaning of life. How do you live fully and faithfully in the limited time you have on this earth? Can
a software program relate to the internal struggles of facing your own mortality? Can software experience happiness, sadness, grief or excitement? If not, how can it guide humans?

In our scripture lesson from John’s gospel, Jesus knows that he is heading toward his death. He needs to know if his disciples trust his leadership. What will they remember of his message and his mission after he is gone? What is the one thing his disciples will need to carry on his work and transform the world?

Jesus had a good reason to ask this question. In chapter 13, the passage leading up to this one, Jesus had knelt down like the lowliest servant and washed his disciples’ feet. These men were in shock, humbled, confused by his actions. But we only know for sure how Simon Peter and Judas felt. Simon objected and tried to stop Jesus. And Judas Iscariot simply left the group. He never returned to the disciples.

We can profess our love all day long—but how do we prove it? Judas had lived with Jesus and eaten with him and ministered with him for three years. He had all the marks of someone who loved Jesus. But, in the end, he betrayed the Master.

This was Jesus’ last major rallying cry before his arrest and crucifixion. He needed to know which of his disciples would tough it out and follow his example, and which ones would give up and walk away. Which ones would fall on their sword for him and which ones would fall to pieces?

And that’s a question we have to answer in the church today. It’s so easy to be a Christian in our culture. Why? Because we don’t face significant persecution or risk by declaring our faith. There are Christian churches in almost every community in our nation. There are Christian television stations, Christian radio stations and Christian movie streaming services and Christian book clubs. Celebrities give interviews on their faith in Jesus. Just about every major presidential candidate claims to be a Christian, or at least to respect Christian values. Christians in our culture
look and act just like everybody else. So how do you tell the difference?

Jesus said the difference is found in this: “If you love me, keep my commands.” That’s easy enough. If we love Jesus, we keep his commands.
So if we don’t keep his commands, no amount of Christian t-shirts and Christian podcasts and soul-searching small group discussions will help. If we love him, we will keep his commands.

A little boy was riding his tricycle furiously around the block, over and over again. Finally a policeman stopped and asked him why he was going around and around. The boy said that he was running away from home. The policeman asked why he kept going around the block. The boy responded, “Because my mom said that I’m not allowed to cross the street.”

The point is clear - obedience will keep you close to those you love.

So what are Jesus’ commands? We could look at the very first command Jesus made in the book of John 1: 43 when he told Philip, “Follow me.” Or we could look at his last command in John 21: 22, when he told Peter, “You must follow me.” But in between these first and last chapters, Jesus gave a crystal-clear command that was at the very heart of his ministry 2,000 years ago and is still the heart of his ministry to this very day. It’s in John 13: 34-35: “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

It’s interesting what Jesus left out here. He didn’t command the disciples to be eloquent preachers or skilled leaders or courageous witnesses to an unbelieving society. He commanded them to love one another just as he had loved them. A commandment, coming from God in the flesh, is non-negotiable. It’s not what Jesus wished for us or recommended for us. It’s what he commanded us to do.

Actually, every one of God’s commands is a challenge to us, but it’s also a gift to us. God’s commands protect us from harm and provide order and justice in human relationships. So we can hear the word “command” as a burden or a challenge, or we can hear it as a gift. And I think that’s what Jesus intended with his new commandment.  Loving like Jesus loves is the central requirement for discipleship because it gives our life purpose, it requires a sacrifice, and it changes lives.

Loving like Jesus gives our life purpose. In this sense, Jesus’ command is a gift. How many of us know people who are never satisfied, who are always chasing after some accomplishment or milestone that will give them a sense of purpose? It’s exhausting and frustrating to build your life around titles or accomplishments or image. When Jesus commanded us to love one another as he loved us, he was removing our own agenda and priorities and replacing them with his own. The moment you accept Jesus as your Lord, your life purpose becomes loving others like Jesus did. No title or accomplishment can provide the joy and satisfaction of putting love into action on behalf of others.

When Roger was in junior high his parents divorced and he moved to Ohio with his mother and siblings into a crowded house. He spent most nights sleeping on a cold floor or in a tiny closet. “It’s just the situation we were in,” Roger remembers. Roger’s childhood struggles taught him to be sensitive to others in need, and to build his life around something more than his own happiness. Then one day Roger came across a statistic about how many children didn’t have beds in his home county of Lorain, Ohio. Stunned by this information, he decided to do something about it. He found a nonprofit organization in Idaho called Sleep in Heavenly Peace that makes bunk beds for children in need. Roger flew to Idaho to learn how to make the bunk beds, then flew back to Ohio to start a chapter of this non-profit in his hometown. He recruited a team of volunteers and sponsors, and they began making bunk beds for children in need in Lorain, Ohio. “It’s all worth it when you see the smiles on the faces of these kids,” Roger says. “There was this one little girl who asked: why are you doing this? I told her, because we love you.” Roger found his life’s purpose in building bunk beds for children who didn’t have a bed. In other words, he found his life purpose in loving others. And his commitment to this purpose brings him great joy and inspires and touches the lives of others. Jesus’ mission and message live on in his work.

Loving like Jesus also requires sacrifice. Sacrificing some part of yourself for something or someone you love only enlarges your love and
grows you into the person God created you to be. In fact, I would argue that sacrifice is the greatest proof of love. Jesus told his disciples in our passage for today that if we love him, then he will show himself to us. What an astounding promise! Jesus will show himself to those who love him. And Jesus gave us the ultimate example of sacrificing himself for those he loved. So when we sacrifice ourselves in an act of love, we are letting the spirit of Jesus come alive in us.

A Christian woman by the name of Maria Dyer was born in 1837 on the mission field in China. Her parents died when Maria was young, and she was sent to live with relatives in England. But Maria caught her parents’ missionary spirit even though they were no longer with her physically.
At age sixteen, she and her sister returned to China to serve as missionaries themselves.

A few years later, Maria married a missionary named Hudson Taylor, a name that many of you will recognize. The two of them worked to disciple the Chinese people in Ningbao, and to care for many destitute Chinese children. Their ministry together was powerful, but tragically short. Maria died of cholera at the age of forty-three. But her tombstone bore these words: “For her to live was Christ, and to die was gain.”

Maria Dyer Taylor understood the sacrifices God was calling her to make. Her parents had died on the mission field. Four of her children died
on the mission field. Other Christian organizations often criticized the Taylor’s ministry. None of these heartbreaks or frustrations affected her commitment. She always knew that she would give up her life to spread the message of Jesus to the Chinese people. Loving like Jesus requires sacrifice.

And loving like Jesus changes lives. Love is the most powerful force in the universe because it has the power of life in it. It has the power to create new things, to open minds, to heal hearts, to unite enemies, to make a difference. You cannot carry the power of love in your heart and mind and not be changed. This is how Jesus fulfilled his promise that he will show himself to those who love him. When we love like Jesus, he changes our identity and our priorities into his identity and his priorities. And that change doesn’t just affect our lives. It affects all those around
us too.

Peter Marshall was Chaplain of the U.S. Senate a half a century ago and died an untimely death. His wife, Catherine Marshall, writes in her
classic book, “The Helper,” “In the early morning hours Peter awakened with alarming pain in his chest and down both arms. The doctor came; the ambulance arrived and Peter was rushed to the hospital. I had no way of handling this crisis, but to drop to my knees in prayer. My knees
had no sooner touched the floor than I experienced God as a comforting mother. There was a feeling of the everlasting arms around me. It
was the infinite gentleness of a loving God touching my heart. In the days following Peter’s death, the Spirit carried me over and above the circumstances so that I could actually be used to bring strength to the Nation’s Capital as they mourned his death.” We are not alone, not even
in our hours of sorrow, not even in the shock of grief, not even in the midst of loss.

How did Jesus prepare his disciples to carry on his mission after he was gone? The same way he prepares us today. By giving us a singular purpose that requires sacrifice and that will change our lives. “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” Amen.

Below you will find three illustrations of how God through the Holy Spirit is with us. I think you will find them interesting.

Years ago I read something rather odd: “The reason mountain climbers are tied together is to keep the sane ones from going home.” Whoever said that was playing with us a bit, for we know mountain climbers are tied together to keep from getting lost or going over a cliff. But there’s another piece of truth here. When things get tough up on the mountain, when fear sets in, many a climber is tempted to say, “This is crazy! I’m going home.”

The life of faith can be like that - doubts set in, despair overwhelms us, and the whole notion of believing in God seems crazy. Jesus knew his disciples would have days like that. So he told them we’re tied together like branches on the vine - or like climbers tied to the rope - tied together by the Spirit, to trust in one who is always more than we can understand, to keep us moving ahead on the journey of faith, to encourage us when believing seems absurd. “I will not leave you orphaned,” said Jesus. “I am coming to you.”

Mee Spousler, a mother in Aston, PA, tells how she was trying to put her three-year-old son to bed for a nap. When she was unsuccessful, she put him in her bed and laid down with him to encourage him to rest. She fell asleep, but he didn’t. When she woke up, she saw him sitting on a chair at the end of the bed, and asked, “Luke, what are you doing?” “I’m playing God,” he replied. “Playing God?” she asked. “Yes,” he said. “I’m watching over you while you sleep.”

Children understand more than we do sometimes. God IS watching over us. Jesus gave that promise here in talking about the coming of the Holy Spirit. Not only will God watch over us but through the presence and reminder of the Holy Spirit, we will be reminded of what it means to “Love Jesus and keep his commands.” And God will help us to create the environment of love, grace, faith and security that we need for our homes today. Our challenge is to listen to the Holy Spirit and to trust Christ.

A student named Steve Winger from Lubbock, TX was taking a challenging class in Logic. The course and teacher were known for exacting and demanding exams. The final exam was looming, and the professor mercifully told the class that each student would be permitted to bring in a single 81/2 x 11 inch sheet with as much information as they could put on that one sheet for help during the test. On exam day, each student came to class clutching their precious pieces of paper with as much information as possible. Some students had crammed lines and lines of font so tiny and so numerous onto that single sheet that you had to wonder how they could read it. But Steve walked in with a single blank
sheet along with a friend who was a senior student and who had an ‘A’ in logic. Steve bent down and placed that single, blank sheet of paper
on the floor next to his desk. His expert friend stood on the paper.

The professor noticed the extra body in the room and asked what he was doing. Steve piped up, “You said we could bring in whatever we could fit on a single piece of paper for help on this test, well, this is my help and he can fit on the paper!” He had followed the instructions to the letter and was the only student in that class to score an ‘A’ since he had his expert friend standing alongside him. The Holy Spirit is like that friend, standing alongside us, supporting us, and guiding us.

A TIME OF PRAYER Dear God, whose way is mercy and whose name is love, stand among us today in one of the many ways you come to encourage your people. We do not ask for complete knowledge, but we pray to know enough to be saved from complete ignorance. We do
not pray for a blinding light, but enough light to keep us from being blind. Help us open our lives to the gifts of wisdom and insight you know
we need. We sense the hurts of people around us and pray for the wisdom and insight to reach out in your name to touch and heal and we especially think of those who have been affected by the coronavirus that surrounds us today. Bring healing, comfort and strength in the midst
of this pandemic. Give wisdom and insight to those who are working on a cure. We pray for peace in the world, peace in our nation, peace in the Church, and peace in our hearts. Save us from our inclinations to solve problems with violence that can only be solved by love. We pray for the Church, the body of Christ that is found throughout the world. Give it strength and courage to continue sharing the Good News of the gospel. Be with our church and enhance our mission and ministry in our community and beyond. We are a family of faith and as a family we pray together the prayer that Jesus taught us: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgives us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us
from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

THE BLESSING
May God who creates redeems, and sustains, keep you steadfast in faith, buoyant in hope, and abounding in love. And the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you forever. Amen.