Sixth Sunday in Easter
Year C, RCL
May 26, 2019
North Fork Ministries
Jesus said to Judas (not Iscariot), "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
"I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, `I am going away, and I am coming to you.' If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe."
This passage is part of what is called, John’s Farewell Discourse, and is an answer to a question from Judas’ (as is specifically noted, not Iscariot, but probably the son of James), “How is it that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?”
Jesus’ reply is a message meant for the disciples, not originally intended for a wider audience. It is another one of those cases where we are “overhearing the gospel.” And keeping in mind that we are overhearing the conversation, eavesdropping, can often aid us in understanding what is going on.
As Jesus is wont to do, he didn’t answer the question they asked. Jesus offers answers on a different plane, on another dimension. Judas asks the question on the horizontal plane, the temporal, the worldly plane. Jesus answers on the vertical, the spiritual plane, on the dimension of the sacred. Jesus says to the disciples, “I do not give to you as the world gives”.
When John’s gospel was written, some 80 or 90 years after Jesus walked the earth, Jesus’ followers were no longer welcomed in the synagogue, and the Roman temples were not places they could worship. They were meeting primarily in people’s houses. There wasn’t much going on that we would recognize as “church” as it is known today. They were in the process of creating church and, in the process, finding a home. And, in John’s retelling, they hear Jesus’ promise that he and the father “will come to them and make our home with them”.
Let me remind you again, we are only overhearing this conversation. It wasn’t originally intended for our ears. But, nonetheless, it might have some relevance for our situation as well. First Jesus, says, “Keep my word”. And then later, “Keep my words”. His first instruction, “keep my word”, is another way of saying, “Make good on my promise”. And with the second admonition, “Keep my words”, Jesus is saying, “Practice what I’ve taught you. Do what I’ve said.”
Jesus told his disciples that if they do these things, “My father will come to you and build a home in your midst”.
Now this beautiful building where we worship today was built over 100 years ago, but if I read John correctly, the lesson for us today is this - if we keep Jesus’ word and keep Jesus’ words … God will build our home. If we stay true to our mission, this sacred structure will be God’s dwelling place – the Holy Spirit will dwell among us.
Dr. Lynn Bauman, one of my early spiritual teachers, says we are spiritual nomads, travelers. As Christians we, together with Jews and Muslims, are part of the Abrahamic tradition. All three religions trace their origins back to Abraham and Sarah and Hagar. Abraham and his descendents were desert people. They were nomads. They were shaped by the geography of the middle east. The arid nature of the landscape meant that these people were compelled to be constantly on the move. When the rains ceased and the grass disappeared, they packed their tents and gathered their livestock and moved on in search of green pastures. To stay in one place, to remain stationary, to choose stasis, was to choose death. So the people moved from oasis, to the desert, to the oasis, and back to the desert again, in a constant cycle, searching, always, for home.
The Exodus story is emblematic of this pattern. After finding slavery in Egypt no longer bearable, Moses led the Israelites across the Reed Sea, and into the deserts of Sinai, and eventually into the fertile hills and plains of Palestine. Dr. Baumann points out that the actual journey, if one were to walk as the Israelites did, from Egypt to Palestine, would take about two weeks. But those of you who know this story, know that the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years before arriving home. It took 40 years for the Israelites to make it to the promised land, not because they got lost, or wandered in circles, but because they weren’t ready. In the desert they were undergoing a process of formation, they were being formed as God’s people, finding their identity, learning who they were.
We may now live in this fertile coastal plain between two great bodies of water, but spiritually we are still a desert people. I’ve been thinking about our desert identity all week and what it means to us here at Holy Trinity and Redeemer. It may feel to us, particularly to those who have chosen to retire here, that we have already arrived at the Promised Land. But let me suggest to you that we all still spiritual nomads. As lush and verdant we may find our physical surroundings here on the North Fork, we are still wandering in the desert – seeking home, finding our identity, learning who we are as a people of God.
We have created a wide variety of outreach, educational, and worship opportunities. But have we have done the “soul work” that we need to do? Have we spent sufficient time in the desert to discover who we are? Has our identity as a people of God been revealed? Are we sufficiently formed? My suspicion is that this time, between now and the time we are called to greater glory, is needed for formation, to make us ready to fully receive God’s abundant grace.
In answer to the disciple’s question, “How is it that you will reveal yourself to us?” Jesus tells them to keep his word, and to keep his words. But there is more to his instruction than an admonition to keep the commandments or to follow Jesus’ example. Jesus tells his disciples, that when he is gone from them, that the Father will send in his name, an Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who will continue to teach and remind them of all that Jesus has said.
We are at the threshold of embarkation, the beginning of a process of finding our way home, of creating a new home, within the confines of an old home. Christ’s promise is that if we love him, he and the Father will make their home with us. And it is in that process of making a home for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, that we, the people of Holy Trinity and Redeemer, will be transformed.