Saturday, May 24, 2014

"Christ is risen! NOW what?"

I am indebted to the writing of Karoline Lewis and Kathryn Matthews Huey for their thoughts on this reading.

And because why not, here's an awesome version of "Kashmir:"

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 for ever. 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.”

This is the Word of the Lord.

Christ is risen... now what?

Yes, I know that the reading comes from a part of the Gospel of John that's before the Crucifixion, but remember when and for whom it was written – it was written for us Resurrection People, and, more precisely, a specific group of Resurrection People at the end of the first century.

I struggled with a word to describe what kind of situation these believers were in when they first read the Gospel of John, and the best I can come up with is, they felt alone. Orphaned. The Resurrection had happened something near seventy years back, which meant that everyone who had ever seen Jesus was very likely now dead, except perhaps for John himself... and who knows? By the time the Gospel got out to most of the body of believers, John was probably gone, too.

All they seemed to have left were the writings, the traditions, and the firm conviction that Christ had risen from the dead. And that's important, yes, but wasn't Jesus supposed to be coming back any day? Where was he? Maybe he had forgotten all of that, maybe there had been a change of plan or something, they didn't know. And the Apostles, the people who had seen Christ and heard his words, seen the miracles and felt his breath when he said, “receive the Holy Spirit,” the living connection these believers had had to the focal point of their faith, were gone.

So yeah, they felt alone. Forgotten. Orphaned. Without focus or direction.

Somewhere on a sunny, cool afternoon in the Roman province of Asia, which encircled the Mediterranean Sea, a group of people sit, huddle around the cooking fire in the open courtyard of a home. Most of them are slaves and women, and many bear the scars of persecution. Someone, likely a man, is reading from a codex – that's sheets of papyrus folded in to what you and I would think of as a book these days.

Last week, you'll remember, Jesus spoke to some of the things they had been worrying about. Already several of the listeners are looking up, listening intently as Jesus talks directly to them.

But can you imagine the feeling when Jesus says, “I will not leave you orphaned...”? When he promises, “I am coming to you”?

Faces that had been downcast, looking at the dirt, are now raised to the sunlight, and Jesus reminds them of something that, just perhaps, they had forgotten.

I think that a lot of people – preachers, at least – in mainline Protestant churches don't really know what to do with the Holy Spirit. We tend to leave talking about this Person of the Trinity to mentions in the Apostle's Creed and a sermon on Pentecost, for the most part. My own experience, coming from a decade in the Pentecostal Church of God, is to be very careful in my own approach. That tradition rather goes to the other extreme with the Holy Spirit, so I confess that it is more than a little difficult to find a rational middle ground.

But maybe it's time to let the Holy Spirit loose from the cage of Pentecost, and from the sole proprietorship of the Pentecostals.

Jesus promises to send “another Advocate,” which we know is the Holy Spirit, and he is careful in his language to connect himself with the Father and with the gathered disciples, and, yes, those believers in that courtyard and yes, with you and me. “ I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you...”

The catalyst in that connection is the Holy Spirit, unseen but active in the lives of those whose lives are in Christ.

The Holy Spirit is, of course, active in many ways, but (and I never do three-point sermons, but this is kind of unavoidable) I want to look at three specific activities that Jesus speaks of concerning the Holy Spirit in this passage.

First, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth. Last week, we read where Jesus revealed himself as the way, the truth, and the life. In the trial he will undergo before Pilate, the concept of truth will play a major role.

Jesus tells Pilate, “...the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” The truth is synonymous with Jesus. Jesus is the truth. Jesus promises his disciples, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”

Second, Jesus tells the disciples that they know the Spirit, and, we talked about this last week, the only real way to know someone is to be in relationship. The Spirit abides with you and will be in you... abiding is synonymous with “relationship” in John's Gospel. Third, the coming of the Spirit, the promise of the Spirit, means that the disciples, those at the table, those at the cooking fire, and those gathered here today, in this congregation, and in churches and fellowships everywhere, will not be orphaned.

OK, I was wrong, I don't want to talk about three activities of the Holy Spirit, I want to talk about four. Because this last one is a big deal. This last activity of the Holy Spirit keeps us from becoming a body of people intent on codifying and adhering to a strict list of rules and regulations, from leaving the worship of God for worship of doctrines, from living under the weight of condemnation for every mistake and sin we commit.

Jesus begins and ends our reading today by speaking of his disciples, those who love him, keeping his commandments. And oh Lord when we read that we can go wild with it, can't we? Over the last two millenia, we've put a lot of words in Jesus' mouth, about what day to worship on, about how wet to get when we are baptized, about what to believe when it comes to the Lord's Supper, about which people, created in the image of God, are loved by that God, and which of those created beings God despises, the kinds of war Jesus likes, what forms of government and which political parties Jesus supports...

But what did Jesus really say? What are his commandments?

Hear the Word of God from the 22nd chapter of Matthew, the 35th through the 41st verses:

“One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?'

Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.'”

Again, the Word of the Lord from the Gospel of John, the 13th chapter and the 34th and 35th verses:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

I sense a theme running through these verses, do you?

Love God, love each other, love your neighbor – and if we learn anything from the Parable of the Good Samaritan, it is that our “neighbor” is anyone and everyone.

Anyone and everyone. Dang it. I can't do that.

Some people rub me the wrong way. They do things I don't do, sometimes they smell bad, or say things that offend me, or like things I don't like, or look different than me, or act in ways that make me uncomfortable, or believe things I don't believe, or vote for people I don't vote for, and I want to close and lock the doors and put an electric fence around the communion table and say, “not you!”

It is the Holy Spirit who works through me, and through each of us, to change that. Dianne Bergant puts it like this: The Holy Spirit “strengthens us, comforts us, guides us, and inspires us. It is the Spirit who enables us to interpret the signs of the times in ways very different from the ways of the world. It is the Spirit who works through us for the transformation of the world.”

I submit to you that this desire to protect my most precious prejudices, my most beloved hatreds, to sanctify my fear, is the definition of “the ways of the world.” Over against that, the Holy Spirit seeks to take down the fences, to throw the doors wide open – no, to break the doors off their hinges, put them up on sawhorses, to spread a meal and invite all who hunger to come.

That is who we are! We are Resurrection People, and we dare to bring the Resurrection with us beyond Easter Sunday, we are bold to free the Holy Spirit from Pentecost Sunday, and to say that, in the face of the unfathomable, egregiously lavish, belligerently generous love that God has shown for us, we must take this light of Christ that lives within us as the Holy Spirit and shine it in the dark corners, we must give of this living water that flows in us to all who thirst, we must throw our doors and our arms and our hearts open wide and welcome people in to relationship with the risen Christ, we must make it clear that whoever, whatever, whenever... God loves you.

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