6th Sunday of Easter
May 1, 2016
John 14: 23-29 You can click on this link to open the text in Oremus Bible Browser
Sara Miles walked into St Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church on a Sunday morning purely out of curiosity. A hard-boiled journalist who had been raised by parents rebelling against their religious up-bringing, she had no associations with church or any real desire to be part of one, but the intriguing building was right down the street from her house, so she stopped in to check it out. As part of the service, everyone was offered the bread and wine of communion. Sara received a chunk of real bread and a sip of wine, and felt as if she’d experienced an earthquake. “It was like stepping of the curb when you didn’t realize the curb was there…I didn’t know what had happened to me, but I knew I wanted more,” she says in her book “Take This Bread.”
“But the Holy Spirit…will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you,” says Jesus, preparing his disciples for life without him. Poor babies, they have yet to discover exactly how earthshaking the teaching of the Holy Spirit is going to be. That Holy Spirit will fall upon pagan Gentiles with their disgusting habits and make them equal to the faithful Jewish followers of Jesus from Galilee. That Holy Spirit will hear their prayers for healing and resurrection of their friends and even of strangers. That Holy Spirit will make it possible for them to preach to crowds of strangers and be understood, to figure out how to get along with people who have been their enemies, and show them new paths in life that none of them could ever have imagined for themselves. The Holy Spirit will even make it possible for them to love each other beyond the ways that they have failed each other, caused each other pain, and competed for Jesus’ blessings. Just like the Holy Spirit still does for us.
Last week we talked about how we are to live in the time between Jesus departure from his friends and his promised return when the Kingdom of God really does come and there will be no more crying or pain, no more night or chaos, and the new tree of life will heal all the damage done by humanity over the eons. We learned that we are Jesus for each other in the meantime and that our love for each other is our witness to Jesus’ presence among us. This reading today is really Part Two of Living in the Meantime, as we learn how to live in the time of the Spirit.
You should be happy for me, says Jesus, happy that I am going home to my father. If you really love me, you will try to live the same way you have seen me live, by the promises and compassion I have shown you of God’s way of loving and blessing. And then he gives them the real gift: “My peace I give to you, my peace I leave with you, not as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
The Israelites and the Jews lived with God the Father – who promised to make them a blessing, who led them out of slavery to freedom, who gave them the Law to help them remember who they belonged to and how to live well with each other and the world. In Jesus’ day, his disciples and followers had him there everyday to teach them again about the sweetness of belonging to God and the abundance that flows from God’s hand in a world of scarcity and oppression. And in the years after Jesus ascension the Apostles’ helped to create an alternative society in which the hierarchical conventions of the day were overturned and all who followed the teachings of God as revealed by Jesus were equal – slave or free, male or female. We have the record of those people in our Scriptures, but we do not live in the age they lived in. We live in the Age of the Spirit, when the Spirit of Jesus in a little piece of bread and sip of wine can turn a life around. Each of us has our own story of coming to faith for the first time, or of struggling to understand and finding a new faith that is deeper and stronger than the Sunday School faith that preceded it.
Last week we heard Jesus’ command to love each other as he has loved us, and this week we find that it is the presence of the Holy Spirit that makes such love possible. It is the Holy Spirit that opens our eyes, that opens our hearts, that teaches us how God’s love is at work for us and in us, and gives us the power to love beyond the limits of our self-centered hearts. The peace that passes all understanding is the gift that follows the release of our expectations, our fears, and our tunnel vision. So much of what I wanted in my life was just a pale shadow of the real gifts that have been given to me. Maybe you have had the same experience – that at the end of all the fretting and worry and thinking that your prayers have been unanswered you find that God had something more in store for you than you ever expected.
Jesus’ promises are not only true for you, but for the whole world. Never doubt that the same Holy Spirit is out there, inviting people like Sara to taste a new world and in her new-found faith to become a world-wide witness to how God’s love changes hearts. Never doubt that the Holy Spirit is touching the hearts of people who are the most unlikely candidates for faith and sending them to you with their questions or asking for our prayers or seeing the way our church becomes more and more inclusive and thinking they might be able to find a home with us. As we learn to love each other in the Time of the Spirit, may we also learn to look for signs of the Spirit at work in our time. Amen.