Sixth Sunday of Easter
God of presence, who created heaven and earth, dwells within us
- Acts 17:22-31 In God we live and move and have our being
- Psalm 66:8-20 Bless and praise God, O peoples
- 1 Peter 3:13-22 Do not fear what they fear and do not be intimidated
- John 14:15-21 If you love me you will keep my commandments
Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed!
We live in an age where so many people either veer into the ditch of making exclusive truth claims (my truth is the truth) or making no truth claims (another way of saying my truth is the truth but without imposing it on everyone else). In this Easter season we are reminded every Sunday that there is no truth more profound, promising, prophetic, or powerful than the truth claim we just echoed: Christ is risen! For Christ is risen indeed!
Let us pray: God of unconditional love and boundless mercy, through your incarnate, crucified, and risen Christ you have shown us how to live in loving obedience to you in Christ. Confirm in our hearts that Jesus’ promise to be present with his disciples as an Advocate is as true today as it was for the first disciples. In Jesus and your Holy Word teach us what it means to love you and keep your commandments. Amen.
In our call to worship today we proclaimed that “God made the world and everything in it.” This was the Apostle Paul’s proclamation in front of the Areopagus in Athens. We went on to proclaim that God is also “not far from each one of us.” God is entirely with us and yet wholly beyond us.
In the opening prayer, Amy prayed that in God “we live and move and have our being.” This too is a powerful proclamation of Paul’s that we claim and proclaim today.
Amy went on to pray that “our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” This is one of Saint Augustine’s great lines on the very first page of his great book The Confessions of St. Augustine. I have long found Augustine’s confession to be an inspiring proclamation: “Our hearts is restless until it rests in you” our God.
All our hungers are hunger for God. We are bombarded with other possibilities to feed our hungers. But they are all false gods.
Paul is speaking to people who have many gods. It is a word we need to hear today when many god’s vie for our attention and allegiance. These god’s that try mightily to draw us away from the One True God in whom “we live and move and have our being” can be summed up as materialism, militarism, nationalism and many other isms. Paul is directing our hearts to God rather than to all the false gods tugging at our heart strings.
1 Peter 3:13-22
Peter’s words to us today in his first letter, follow up with Paul’s words in Acts. Peter asks the question: “Who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?” But then he does a reality check and goes on to say, “But even if you suffer for doing right, you are blessed.”
No doubt we would quarrel with Peter over that line. I suspect he got a few questioning challenges in his day. Is all suffering for doing right really blessed? We know too much suffering and ill will in our world including by those who claim to be doing right.
Mike Yarrow and others in Seattle are working on a Religious Coalition Against Torture and calling churches to display a banner that says “Honor God, say no to torture.” It is a tragic testimony to our idolatrous and imperial national ways to claim to be the good guys and insist on using torture.
Torture is not only a violation of law, morality, and sanity, it is a means to dehumanize and isolate a person so they have no genuine human contact which is an ultimate dehumanization and sin.
Peter gives us a good word of response immediately following his word about doing good and being blessed. Do you remember what it was? Peter says, “Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated.” What would happen if ever Christian in our country truly heard those words and took them to heart? Who can believe that it would not change the course of our country and even of the world?
A week and a half ago I had the privilege of joining people from 17 different faith traditions at a breakfast with Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. Both Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama have known suffering, especially suffering by their people. Yet both are filled with such joy and good will that I have no doubt they consider themselves blessed even while they grieve for the suffering of their people.
Peter goes on proclaim that ‘it is better to suffer for doing good than to suffer for doing evil.” After all Jesus has suffered the ultimate innocent death on the cross on our behalf to call us all to God. Peter calls us to have our hearts be transformed by the risen Christ and to ‘Always be ready to share the hope that is within us.’
After hearing Paul and Peter, we turn to John’s Gospel for God’s Living Word for us today. John’s Gospel is not an easy Gospel but it is a beautiful and eloquent Gospel. It offers us challenging words of insight and inspiration.
In John 14, we are listening to Jesus speak to his disciples in what is known as his “farewell discourse” or teaching in John 14, 15, and 16. He is preparing his disciples for his death, resurrection, and ascension to come. But they are not ready.
Jesus is telling them that God has no orphans. God also has no grandchildren. We are all children of God created by and called to be faithful to God. Jesus assures them that while his death, resurrection, and ascension are to come, he won’t leave them as orphaned children with no parental care. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” But that “coming to you” will be in a new way. Jesus says “I will ask God who will give you an Advocate, to be with you forever.”
The word for this Advocate in Greek – paraclete — has a rich range of meaning all of which fit or fulfill what Jesus is telling the disciples that God will send in his place. The paraclete or Advocate is one who exhorts and encourages, one who comforts and consoles, one who can be called upon for help, one who makes an appeal on our behalf, that is one who will serve as our defense attorney. (Gail R. O’Day, John , NIB, p. 747).
John’s Gospel is a kind of courtroom drama. That courtroom drama is particularly evident in this part of chapter 14. Jesus is promising the disciples to send them not just any lawyer but a really good lawyer who cares about them and makes that caring real (Laurel A. Dykstra, “Living the Word,” Sojourners , April 2008, p. 49, citing Wes Howard-Brook, Becoming Children of God, John’s Gospel and Radical Discipleship ).
In a few confrontations with the law for civil disobedience we have usually had a good attorney giving us advice. But if you’re poor or on the street it is almost impossible to have a good attorney defend you in a court of law and care about you personally. I say “almost impossible” because I am grateful for those of you who are attorneys and do look out for the legal and personal interests of people who suffer and need your help.
But the big question for the disciples is “Can they still love Jesus if he leaves them?” John’s Gospel answers with a clear “Yes.” Jesus’ answer is that it all comes down to love and obedience. Yes, they can love him but not by clinging to Jesus or to cherished memories of Jesus or by retreating into a private relationship with Jesus. They can love Jesus by keeping Jesus’ commands beginning with the love command. This is where Jesus so clearly fulfills the law rather than abolishing the law. Jesus knew well the great commandment to love God, neighbor and self to which he added to love the enemy.
Jesus says it so simply: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” How can
Jesus be any clearer than that? In love Jesus’ life is continued in his followers.
Last Sunday, Amy challenged us to “follow boldly” as our Easter discernment and commitment to the Risen Christ. When we hear Jesus continue his long teaching discourse in John’s Gospel as we do in chapter 14 this Sunday, we hear the specific way to follow boldly. We are to follow boldly with love obeying Jesus’ command. But that isn’t as simple as it sounds.
To love and follow boldly is a public love not a private life. It is to love in the world
where loving gets hard and is unexpected. This divine promise that Jesus makes with the disciples is a communal love and presence. Jesus is not promising the Advocate as an exceptionally good and caring lawyer to individuals but to the community of faith. Jesus is calling the community to love and obedience. It is a love and obedience that often takes us where we are not ready to go or don’t expect to go.
To love Jesus and keep his commandments is also a wider and deeper love than to keep the 613 conditions of Old Testament Law or even the Ten Commandments. It is simpler and yet far more challenging than keeping those laws. The law of love is far more than another law or moral code to keep. (D. J. Harrington, “Love and the Holy Spirit,” America , 4/21/08).
Last weekend at the Connecting Families retreat we sang the hymn, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.” This week one of my monastic friends from Saint John’s Abbey, wrote a column on this song for an Abbey publication. The monk Bob Pierson lamented that most hymnals leave out an original verse of this song. I am very grateful that our Hymnal includes this verse that is usually left out. It is verse 3 of hymn #145 in our Hymnal : A Worship Book. Turn to this hymn and read verse 3 with me.
But we make God’s love too narrow
By false limits of our own,
And we magnify it’s strictness
With a zeal God will not own.
Do we believe that? Jesus is calling us to a love that is as vast and unconditional as God’s love and yet less strict than our own ways of turning love into a law to keep others in line with our truth. Bob Pierson asks why this verse is often left out of the song “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy?” He answers his own question. This verse is left out because we really don’t want to love like Jesus loves. “We really DO make God’s love too narrow, [because] we really are uncomfortable with a God whose mercy is so all encompassing” (“Spiritual Life,” Abbey Banner , Spring 2008, p. 31).
Jesus is alive for us today in the Living Word of scripture and in the living community of faith, the church. What Paul and Peter and Jesus tell us today is that “In God we live and move and have our being” and that calls us to a life of love of God, Christ, ourselves, everyone including the enemy and, yes, also the world, God’s whole creation.
May we truly hear Jesus today saying, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”