May 21 2017
Readings: Acts 17:22-31 ~ 1 Peter 3:13-22 ~ John 15:15-21
Last week, we listened in as Jesus tried to comfort his disciples on the night before his death. Let not your hearts be troubled.Believe in God and trust in me.Death is not the end of the story. I’m just going ahead to prepare a place for you in the room enough for all of God. This week, we listen in on the next part of that same conversation as Jesus gives his disciples some clear direction as to how he wants them to live when he’s no longer with them. Knowing they will be anxious, he also promises to send an advocate – the Paraclete – the Spirit of Truth – to help them along the way.
First up: directions for life. If you love me, you will keep my commandments. Now, we tend to equate that words love with some warm fuzzy or self satisfying feeling. A few weeks ago, we heard a rabbi speak about fish love. When someone said that they love the fish, the rabbi said, Really, so that’s why you take it out of the water, kill it, cook it and eat it – because you love it? That’s not love. That’s satisfying our own appetite.
When Jesus says, If you love me, you will keep my commandments, he’s not talking about fish or fuzzy love. He’s talking about making a decision to honour him by trying to follow his way of life, even when it’s hard to do so. Jesus’ commandments are all about love of God and love of neighbour. Not just about taking care of our own personal wants and needs. Which is why our baptismal covenant includes promises to seek and serve Christ in all persons; to love our neighbour as ourselves; to strive for peace and justice for all people and respect the dignity of every human being; and, to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation. This is the covenant relationship we enter into with God in baptism. It’s a covenant relationship we renew every time we repeat our baptismal vows.
As theologian Richard Rohr reminds us, Christianity is not meant to be a self-serving religion. It’s not about what’s in it for me? What do I get out of it? It’s meant to be a mature, life changing faith.
Consider the Apostle Paul. He was once a fire-breathing Pharisee who loved to persecute the Christian community. But after his Damascus road experience, he becomes a faithful follower of the way of Christ. And as he sets to speak his faith to the people of Athens, he begins by observing their culture and getting to know them.
This Paul approaches the people of Athens with care and respect. Then, recognizing both a spiritual hunger and an opening for conversation in the altar to an unknown God, Paul adapts his message and shares his experience of the way Jesus and the nature of God. He speaks of an all-encompassing God in whom we all live and move and have our being. How different the story might have been with our First Nation brothers and sisters if settlers and the church had arrived here with a more open and respectful attitude. Rohr points out that Paul brings a deep new sense of the inherent dignity of every human person to our story. Jesus did the same. So to follow in his way means we have to try and keep our egos in check. And that’s easy enough to talk about but not so easy do.
Jesus knew that living his way was not going to be an easy ride – not for those anxious first disciples, and not for us. Which is why he comforts and encourages them and us with the promise of a helper, an advocate, the Spirit of Truth. The Spirit of Truth is a not just sent to help us endure but also to discern what is truth and what masquerades as truth but is not.
I suspect that one of the hardest parts of our journey is being honest with ourselves about own motives. Trying to find a way to get out of doing something we know we should but don’t want to do, or justifying why it’s okay to do something we know is inconsistent with kingdom values or our baptismal covenant seems to come naturally.
But the Spirit of Truth not only advocates for us. It also shines a light on self-deception and lights a path through distortion and uncertainty. In a world of fake news and misinformation, we need help to discern the truth and navigate a path as we journey together. That is the role of the Holy Spirit.
Today, we begin to turn our faces towards Pentecost, and join those early disciples as we pray for the Spirit of Truth to come and guide both the inner and our outer journey of life. And we celebrate the baptism of Jack and pray for him and his parents, Ian and Kelsey, and his sponsors, Karen and Paul, as they help him set out on this road.