I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.
14:17 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.
14:21 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."
Have you ever heard the phrase: the ‘gospel’ is ‘good news?’ If you’ve heard it, what comes to mind for you? I guess the first thing you’d have to consider is: what is the gospel? This is my short answer. The gospel is God’s coming into the world in the Person of Jesus Christ (we call this God’s sending his Son), taking on human flesh (we call this the incarnation), being faithful to God his Father throughout his life on earth in how he interacts with people even to the point of death on the Cross (we call this obedience and perfect love returned to perfect love, the Father), wherein the sin that puts him on the cross (we call this an actual sin that grows from original sin we inherited from Adam and Eve), is overcome when Jesus rises/is raised from death (we call this the resurrection, where love given and love received, results in love poured out for all the things God has created): in him, Jesus, was life, and that life is the light of the world. Jesus puts it this way in our Gospel reading from John today: after I have been raised, I will ascend into heaven, “the world won’t see me, but you’ll see me, my friends.”
So what’s the ‘good news’ then? Well that life – Jesus’s own – brings the hope of life for all. That’s the basic reality: Jesus says: “you have seen my resurrected body (we know this by the Easter testimonies we have heard)” and in this way you can know that God has come for you and gathered you to him: “you will know that I am in the Father, and you in me by your baptisms. So then I will be in you.” In short Jesus declares: I am your evidence of your reconciled to life with God.
But of course we have this peculiar thing we call time! We often mark it by successive generations, you, your kids, your grandkids, you’re great grandkids. And so while the potential exists for each generation to be in Christ, a next generation needs to know that’s a reality for them, and they need to know why that potential is such great news. So Jesus gets at how that is going to happen because as he says in John’s Gospel today, “the world is no longer going to see me even though you folks do see me through your own worship and witness.” But the thing is, you need to show that to those who don’t know: to your kids and grandkids, to your neighbors, to your community because “the world cannot receive God because they simply aren’t going to open themselves to him if they don’t know him.”
So how is that going to work? Jesus says, “I’m not going to leave you orphaned and I’m not going to leave you without a guide as you proclaim my mission to your friends, family, and neighbors: “I’ll give you my Holy Spirit as guide.” He’s going to guide you as my people – the whole Church not just individuals - in following me, so that because I’m in the Father, and you are in me, you too will be in the Father. In other words, through me, as my Spirit guides you, you’re going to be a witness to God himself. And so that’s the key: we are made coheirs with Christ to the mission of God himself as he is drawing everyone to him.
Being a coheir though, means we have a task, a mission, a purpose as the Church, and each of us plays some particular role in that. But the Church’s mission, and each of our tasks in that is contingent or dependent upon one thing: obedience. Jesus says that our ability to be witnesses depends upon our willing conformance to his life. So just as he fulfilled the commandments to love God, neighbor and enemy, so he says of us: “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.” If we’re going to be successful in our vocation or job of being witnesses, we have to see and know the God who reveals himself to us, and we have to communicate that knowledge to others in all the things we say and do not just in our church services, but especially as we go out into ‘the world,’ our community.
We can see that even Jesus had to go about amongst his own people – the Jews of a particular generation – to tell them who he is, to show them that he is God, that God the Father is in him and that he is in the Father. So that what he says and does reveals the very will of his Father, of himself, of the Holy Spirit; of God himself, that is. And that’s what he goes from town to town doing. He shows how his words, his works, his miracles, his healings, his teachings, his very life all the way to his death and resurrection, are a fulfillment of God’s promises to the Israelites recorded in all their Scriptures. If you know God from your Scriptures and your teachings, Jesus says, you will see that I, your God, am here with you to gather you to me.
God has NOT abandoned us, even when – as the disciples first thought after his death, and as we probably often do in our own personal or social or work or cultural moments of darkness, our moments in the desert or in the valley of dry bones – God comes right into the middle of our lives, on a mission FOR US. He scours the fields, as we heard two weeks ago, even for one of us sheep that goes astray, that wanders off, that gets lost, that struggles with doubt or fear or frustration or anger or feelings of helplessness or hopelessness. God comes right smack into the middle of our lives and shows up, as we see Jesus do – in the most peculiar and particular of ways. So the good news is that Jesus’s life (as we hear it lived out with people) is fundamentally a mission that concerns drawing us and all people to him.
I have been talking to all of you over the last eight weeks of this pandemic social isolation. We’ve talked on the phone and I’ve heard a whole range of stories, events, worries, hopes, and coping mechanisms. I’ve not really talked much about how I’ve found this event with you, mostly because I want to listen to what you have to say. I think most of you are aware of this but being a priest really doesn’t give you a spiritual advantage in handling adversity. In fact, being a priest, and worse, being a theologian(!), can actually make grappling with who God is and what he might be doing and how to care for people and what the right Church/theological response ought to be, can add to the adversity rather than relieve it!
One of the things I’ve struggled a lot with is: what is God doing here? Because for me, that question must come before being able to determine how we should respond with respect to the ways we try to continue on as a worshipping community, and as Christian individuals. If you’re not already aware of this, there have been debates about doing ‘online services,’ about doing ‘online Eucharist,’ about how we should track or not track certain variables of interaction and church life. And all of this of course – as is the case for every single person – is having to be considered in the wake of an event of unprecedented universal/global shock at every possible level.
There’s of course the immediate threat of getting sick, or our loved ones getting sick. There are the lineups for food and basic supplies. There’s the economic impact that affects people’s savings, yours or your kid’s or grand kid’s jobs for years into the future. There’s the social distancing that for some, really is quite isolating. There’s the boredom. And out of some of this stuff I’ve heard people ask some deeper questions about life’s purpose, about whether one is really doing something valuable with their lives, about whether various things really matter at all, about whether they want to continue living or doing things the way they have been living.
Finally, I’ve heard Christians say things like, “I’ve had to stop and consider whether I have conformed God to my own desires, or whether I am waiting on God, listening to God, opening up to God and allowing God in to my life so that I can get on board this mission he’s on to gather people to him.”
You see this is really what our readings are driving at: we have been raised up with Jesus and we are being built into the house of God, as last week’s reading stated, so that we can go out and join him in his mission. There are rooms for all of us in this house, we heard last week. But the house isn’t for us to sort of sit around and watch TV in. The house is a place of comfort, of growing, of nourishment even where there is struggle in community. It’s a shelter where we find truth, even when it is sometimes hidden, and where we encounter love in many different dimensions from the perfection of God come to us in Christ, to the fragmented witness of those of us who try to follow, sometimes fail, confess and repent, knowing God is there for us, and out of that, learn how to love anew and so grow into the very life of Jesus to which he calls us.
So this is a house where we receive these things not to become complacent and set in our own comfort zones and ways. Nope. It’s a place where we are given the food and water of life, the very body and blood of Jesus, so that we can draw others into this House, which is Jesus’s own body. It is a place yes; it is also a Person, an abiding reality, that takes in billions of lives through time, where each one is nurtured into the fullness of who we are.
But that house we heard about last week is not for God but for us; a place of nourishment and care that enables us to ‘go out into the mission field of our community. The house/church is a place where we see God revealed in our Scriptures and worship; where we hear the good news that we have first been loved. I mean that. Not loved because we fit someone else’s definition of goodness or worth or value. Loved because God’s act of making us is love manifest in a particular life which Scripture and theologians refer to in various ways as an image or fragment or part of witness to the fullness of him. We are loved so deeply, despite the trials we face and the fears we have and the frustration and boredom we deal with now and in all our lives, all the way to our life’s end. If we just look at Jesus’s own life with his people in the Old and New Testament Scriptures, we will find in those people, ourselves before God, and then with God, in him, walking with him. If we can see this – if we can see the Father in Jesus’s words and acts through the Scriptures – we will see how much he longs for us, how much he desires us, and that he remains with us right to our end.
This, my friends, is good news that he wants us to share. So he gives us his Spirit, to keep us on track in following in Jesus’s own life. This is how people will see God. If we are willing to let go of the desire to control our lives, to control the boundaries on whom we let into our lives, to control with whom we are willing to share in worship and church life, to control everything so that we only get comfort, if we are willing to let go of these things and to instead seek, read, watch, listen, and go up to God with our hearts and minds open to God’s own life as he interacted with others, we will not be able to help but pour out this love to others. We will not be able to help but to open ourselves to others even when they worry us, don’t make us necessarily comfortable, or even annoy us! We will seek to live with them in the one house God has made in his Son, so that together, we can go out with Jesus in mission, to gather this community to him. AMEN