Beau and I were at the Quaker bridge mall the other day, frequenting our favorite guilty-pleasure coffee establishment, (cup) Starbucks. Beau stayed to enjoy his coffee while I took mine to go, so I could go shopping – a happy compromise for all. However, after I walked in a store, I realized I had a problem. A full cup of coffee, even with a cover, is not a good combination with racks of clothes that are not yet mine. What to do, what to do… ah! Look there, right behind me, a small table. Great, I can put my coffee right there in easy reach! That way, I can browse with now worries of spilling… I can look all I want…. and then when I’m all finished, I could just pick up my coffee and….
…it wasn’t there. My coffee. My beautiful, delicious, nearly full Starbucks coffee was gone. Likely picked up by a well-meaning employing in that busy store, simply trying to keep the store clean. But still. That coffee was mine. And I wanted it. And now it was no longer there when I expected it to be. And I was very unhappy about it.
But I got over it. After all, there are more important things to worry about than MY Starbucks coffee. Things like how to arrange getting MY car fixed up after a tough winter of Trenton pot holes. Things like - whether or not MY number will be called up for jury duty in a few weeks. Things like - wondering how MY sister, now graduated from college, will be able to find a job. Things like -worrying about taking care of all the stuff AND people who are “mine.”
You know that old saying about marriage, that “What’s yours is mine, and what’s mine is ours.”? No? You’ve never heard that? That’s kind of what Jesus sounds like here in this prayer – what’s mine is yours, what’s yours in mine, and him in me and I in him and I in you and God is us and yours and mine and what in the world is Jesus talking about here and can I get a translation or at least a little more punctuation please.
On our last Sunday in Easter, as we wait to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday next week, we again find ourselves in the Gospel of John, with Jesus and the disciples on the night of the last supper, the night he was betrayed, with suffering and death awaiting him. In the midst of this last meal with his closest friends, in the midst of a very difficult conversation where Jesus tries to both explain his upcoming absence and prepare his disciples for it, Jesus prays for them.
He doesn’t pause the conversation. He doesn’t say - hold that thought, I’ll be right back, and then go off on his own. He doesn’t close his eyes and pray silently. He prays – out loud – in the middle of their conversation – so that they are able to hear him as he prays. This prayer is not private. Jesus WANTS us to hear him as he prays to his father.
And during his prayer, he reminds those of us who are listening of two things – the first, which he mentions last, in typical Johnish “Yoda-like” fashion, is that those of us who follow Jesus belong to God, and God calls us his. The second thing, which Jesus mentions first, is the reminder that eternal life is not just about what happens to us when we die. It’s about knowing who we belong to (which is God) and knowing the one whom God sent (which is Jesus). Eternal life is about living into the fact that God calls you “mine.”
Two different Pixar movies have shown us what being so claimed by God both IS and IS NOT. God calling us God’s own is NOT like those really annoying seagulls in Finding Nemo - you know, the ones who say to everything in their line of sight MINE. MINE. MINE. After all, that’s how we treat things and people when they are simply a means to an end. Instead, God’s claim on us is more like in the movie Toy Story, where the boy Andy loves his toys so much that he writes his name on the bottom of their feet in case he loses them. Andy, however, did NOT know that his toys were alive and sometimes looked at the bottom of their feet for encouragement when they experienced their own toy version of “dark night of the soul.”
I showed a clip from Toy Story at this past year’s Winter Youth Assembly, and compared Andy’s care for his toys with the love God has for us and the promise that we belong to God no matter where we are and no matter what state we find ourselves in. The theme for the event, after all, was “MINE.” Later I found out that some of the girls from one church had taken a sharpie and written “God” on the bottom of their feet. As silly as that sounds, I realized they GOT IT. They GOT that God calls them his own and has claimed them and has promised to be with them, and wanted to show this in a way that made sense to them in that moment.
So what if we all lived as if “God” was written with a sharpie on the bottoms of our feet? What might our lives look like? Would your lives, in fact, look differently? For this promise – that God has written “MINE” on us – is both a gift and a charge. It means that God is going to be with us no matter what. But it also means that God might ask us to go places that we wouldn’t normally go, places that might frighten or surprise us. We are not just HIS. We are to be HIS witnesses.
On the night before his death, Jesus prays for the protection of all who belong to him, knowing that they will be called to some pretty scary and surprising places. And again, in the days before the Holy Spirit arrives on Pentecost, Jesus tells his disciples that they will be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all of Judea, and Samaria, and to all the ends of the earth.”
A witness tells others what he or she has seen or experienced. We, as Jesus’ followers, are his witnesses in all that we say and do. And this is definitely a most daunting task. And I can at least say for myself that many times I am not a very good witness. At the mall that day I felt more outrage over my missing cup of coffee than the fact that the nearly three hundred kidnapped Nigerian girls are still missing. And at our New Jersey Synod Assembly yesterday I felt more concern about where to get my next cup of coffee than the rising prevalence of food insecurity; as Pastor Sara Lilija from the Lutheran Office of Governmental ministries pointed out, using an illustration that also involved coffee.
In fact, sometimes I feel that I am what they call on Law and Order a “hostile” witness. When a witness is not cooperating in the way the lawyers expect, they often ask the judge in a very serious tone: “your honor, permission to treat the witness as hostile.”
Fortunately for us, Jesus will never treat us as hostile witnesses, even though we often DO let him down in our witnessing. Too often we forget that belonging to God is a life-long calling. Too often we forget that the mark of the cross on our foreheads given to us in baptism is still there. When the pastor said the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” God was writing on you a big ol’ M-I-N-E. And perhaps, God was writing it on our feet, too.
Today is the seventh Sunday of Easter. But it is also June first, and all too soon summer will be upon us. And before we know it, we will be pulled in all the many directions that summer takes us – sports camps, summer vacations at the shore, trips, family reunions and obligations – and it’s gonna feel like these things OWN you. It’s gonna feel like you are at their mercy, that you belong to the business of your schedule, and there is nothing you can do about it.
Or is there?
God doesn’t take a summer vacation from claiming you as his beloved child. We do not stop belonging to God, and we don’t stop being his witnesses, even if we many find ourselves in some pretty scattered places. Because you can bet that if Jesus says you will be his witnesses to the ends of the earth, Jesus is going to be with you to make sure you get to your destination. And, UNLIKE my coffee, he's not going to disappear on you. AMEN.