As I’m sure I’ve said before, one of my primary goals early in a preaching week is to try to figure out what question/concern/issue I think the average person in the pew will want me to address. Some weeks the answer to this question is outside of my control: Sandy Hook, the Haiti earthquake, the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Some weeks I never can figure it out because the lesson is so full of oddities or I’m so immersed in churchyness that I can’t see the forest for the trees. This week, however, the answer seems clearly divided between one of two distinct possibilities. One possibility is that Jane Schmoe is going to hear Jesus say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me.” and want some serious explanation (or they read yesterday’s post and think I’m a heretic). The other likely point of controversy is Jesus’ response to Philip where he says, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”
Greater works than [mine].
I will do it.
This is a bit of a sticky wicket. All of us know of someone who has died. It is safe to assume that someone has prayed for the vast majority of those people, and often those prayers were done “in Jesus’ name.” The truth of the matter is those people died anyway. Equally true is that the overwhelming majority of Christians have not turned water into 12 year old scotch or raised a dozen people from the dead or healed hundreds from various diseases or fed 10,000 with 2.5 loaves of bread and 1 fish. Hearing Jesus make such bold claims, right at the end of this Sunday’s Gospel lesson, will most likely raise some questions in the minds of those who are actually paying attention. I know it does for me.
So, what are we to do with this?
I wrote that question at 2:46pm. It is now 3:00 and I still don’t know. I’ve Googled “Greater Works” and found thousands of churches and parachurch ministries utilizing this phrase of Jesus to mean any number of things. I’ve read a devotional by the famous Oswald Chambers which didn’t really satisfy me.
I keep coming back to the thought that what I think Jesus means by “works” is different than what Jesus really meant, and it hinges on this line, “the Father who dwells in me does his works.” The work of the Father is the work of creation. The work of the Father through Jesus is the work of redemption. The same work that God continues to do through the Church as the Body of Christ. As disciples we are called to work to bring about the restoration of unity between humanity and God and people with each other (BCP, 855, The Mission of the Church). The greater works we do are works of sharing the Good News, caring for the stranger, loving the unlovable, and encouraging the downtrodden. Sometimes that means miracles on par with the Seven Signs of Jesus in John’s Gospel will happen, but more often, it is the miracle of light in the midst of darkness, hope in the midst of despair, or joy in the sadness that is the fruit of our work.