Greater Works Than These
Updated: Dec 20, 2022
One of my favorite movie cartoons from my childhood is The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Do you know it?
It’s in the movie Fantasia and Mickey Mouse is cast as the apprentice to the great magician. Like every young trainee, Mickey wants to do magic, but instead he is instructed to fill the great cauldron with water in buckets from the well. Then the sorcerer goes away on a journey. Mickey puts on the sorcerer’s hat and casts a spell on the broom so that it will fill the pot. He puts up his feet, watching the broom do his work, and falls asleep.
In his sleep, Mickey dreams of oceans and lightning and storms. Suddenly he awakes, only to see that the room is full of water— the broom hasn’t stopped bringing water though the pot was full long ago.
He tries to undo his spell on the broom and make it stop, but the broom keeps marching -
So he grabs a hatchet, and chops the broom into a thousand pieces.
All is silent. Mickey breathes a sigh of relief. He turns to begin clean up.
And the audience hears...Mickey turns around, and can’t believe what he sees!
The shards of the broken broom have turned into an army of brooms.
They are all sloshing water from the well and tossing it into the overflowing bucket!
Mickey is almost drowning when the sorcerer returns, but the magician is able to banish the water and brooms with his powerful spell and set all to right.
I think of this story when I hear Jesus’ words in our Gospel lesson today, “the one who believes in me ... will do even greater works than these.” Jesus was talking with his disciples on the last night of his life, giving them last minute instruction and encouragement. He was trying to prepare them for his imminent departure
so that they could carry on in his absence. But the disciples really weren’t getting it.
They couldn’t understand what Jesus was talking about when he said he was ‘going to the Father.’ They kept asking, “Where are you going, Lord?” They couldn’t see how they were to do the miraculous works Jesus had done, let alone greater things, if Jesus wasn’t around.
Jesus had forecast great magic from them, but they didn’t see how it was possible.
The deal is the disciples were more like Mickey than any sorcerer Many of the stories in scripture show them struggling to prove themselves, saying foolish things, or just not getting what Jesus was about. And immediately preceding these words of our lesson, Jesus predicted both Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial of him.
Jesus knew the disciples would be scattered and paralyzed with fear in a mere few hours. But Jesus was nonetheless unequivocal: his followers would out-perform him. They would do the works he did, and even greater things. How was it possible? That was surely the question his disciples were asking. But the amazing thing is that these words were not only meant for the disciples— Jesus’ words about doing greater works than his were aimed at “the one who believes in him.” That included John and his community, for whom this gospel was written. John’s community were people much like us At 60 years after Jesus’ death, they didn’t know Jesus firsthand—
Like us, they hadn’t seen his miracles, they just had stories to go on. Like us, they had doubts and distractions and were likely to mess up rather regularly. And so when Jesus said that anyone who believes in him will do even greater works than he did, That ‘anyone’ includes us. (So what do you think, confirmands? Can we do it?) And so we find ourselves asking along with the disciples, How is it possible? The thought that we might do even greater things than Jesus just seems preposterous. Jesus was a miracle worker who fed 5000 and healed people with a word. It’s like trying to cast a powerful spell when we really only are qualified to sweep the floor. But when you think about it, believers have done greater works than Jesus. Jesus did feed 5000, but think of the millions that are being fed through non-profits like Bread for the World and Unicef that had their start in Christian communities. The ELCA hunger appeal sends food and supplies to disaster areas and provides agricultural training, development, and supplies so that people can feed themselves. Locally we partner with Grace Lutheran in Hartford, Gifts of Love and Canton Food Bank and hundreds are fed every week. (Our confirmands helped pack meals for food pantries and served the homeless at Church by the Pond.)
Likewise, Jesus healed hundreds, perhaps thousands of people. But consider the Christian based hospitals, the medical schools and missionaries— in sheer numbers, modern believers surpassed Jesus long ago. Our confirmation students visited Luther Ridge, a senior care facility in Middletown run by Ascentria, Which is part of Lutheran Social Services in America, one of the largest charities in the country. And due to improvements in public health, people live longer and healthier lives today than any time in history.
We could attribute this to the ingenuity of the human spirit. But Jesus attributes it to the work of the Holy Spirit. “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” The word for the Spirit in Greek, Parakletos, can be translated not only as advocate, but also as “counselor", "helper", “encourager,” or "comforter". No matter how big the challenge, the Spirit guides, support, and even stands up for believers.
And this Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus.
Jesus promised to live within each believer.
Like Mickey’s broom dividing into a thousand magic brooms,
Jesus’ Spirit has been placed in our hearts, multiplying his efforts to bring abundant life over and over again. In our community conversations, our congregation has been talking about its priorities. One goal is to make necessary changes to reach out to youth and young families Today is confirmation Sunday, so it’s a good time to consider,
Who better to know what to change than our youth?
They have direct access to the people we want to know.
They can help us leverage social media and technology
They have a natural desire to serve and make a difference
Their hopefulness is a gift to the community.
If we are serious about reaching out to younger people, then we need to know the young people who are here. Each week there is an announcement in our bulletin about you can be involved in Sunday school. It isn’t just for parents of young kids.
Each week there is a plug for the 5K and youth group. It isn’t just for cool young adults.
The Spirit has been poured into our hearts and together, we have all we need to accomplish the work God calls us to do. (Brady, Amelia, Reed and Ben, you are uniquely posed to help us do greater things. Our congregation has expressed a desire to make necessary changes to reach out to youth and young families Who better to know what to change than you, who are youth?
You have direct access to the people we want to know.
You can help us leverage social media and technology
You have a natural desire to serve and make a difference
Your hopefulness is a gift to the community.
The Spirit has been poured into your hearts
and together, we have all we need to accomplish the work God calls us to do.)
On this Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate the Spirit’s moving among us.
Each time we pray about taking on a new endeavor,
we are trusting that Jesus will give us whatever we ask in his name.
Each time we take a step our goals, we are allowing the Spirit to work in us.
We are and will do greater works than Jesus,
because we are Pentecost people, and Jesus is living in us.