6 Easter – May 22, 2022
Today’s reading from John’s gospel is rich and complex. Jesus speaks of love and peace and the Holy Spirit. In this case, love is not the romantic, affectionate kind of love. It is not about emotions. It is what in Greek is called agape love. It is a loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another. Agape love involves faithfulness, commitment, and an act of the will. In short, this kind of love that Jesus is speaking about, is extremely difficult for us, for human beings. But Jesus calls us to strive for a love such as this. And Jesus tells us that the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom God will send, will teach us and remind us.
But, these days, it seems that the world tells us to be afraid, to be very afraid. And for the most part, the logic of the world wins out, and we are sore afraid. We worry about everything. We are afraid of stuff our ancestors never even thought about.
There is a comic strip called Calvin and Hobbes that some of you may know. One day Calvin and Hobbes come marching into the living room early one morning. His mother is seated there in her favorite chair. She is sipping her morning coffee. She looks up at young Calvin. She is amused and amazed at how he is dressed. Calvin’s head is encased in a large space helmet. A cape is draped around his neck, across his shoulders, down his back and is dragging on the floor. One hand is holding a flashlight and the other a baseball bat.
“What’s up today?” asks his mom. “Nothing, so far,” answers Calvin.
“So far?” she questions.
“Well, you never know,” Calvin says, “Something could happen today.” Then Calvin marches off, “And if anything does, by golly, I’m going to be ready for it!” Calvin’s mom looks out at the reading audience and she says, “I need a suit like that!”
I think that’s the way many of us feel as we see the news and deal with life. Sometimes this world seems quite violent and people seem to be at each other’s throats. A suit like that would help, so we can say with Calvin, “Whatever may come my way, I’m going to be ready for it! Bring it on!”
Today Jesus tells us that the Advocate, the Holy Spirit will come. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. …do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” So, we do have a version of Calvin’s suit, if only we can let go of our fears and be open to the Spirit’s presence. Again, the reality is that this isn’t easy. The disciples themselves kept failing to recognize their risen Lord after the resurrection. And surely if they couldn’t fully grasp the truth and the meaning of Jesus’s passion and resurrection until after Pentecost (with the help of the Holy Spirit), no wonder we’re sometimes slow to identify or understand a vision that has been given to us.
Becca Stevens tells this story in her book Hither and Yon: A Travel Guide for the Spiritual Journey:
“There is a little town in Tennessee called Bon Aqua—literally, “good water”. I traveled there one day with friends and found a field where we dreamed of building a church. We imagined it over a well where you could sit and pray and look deep into the water. It was a sweet idea. Then we started wondering where the water was. One of the men offered to make a divining rod. He cut two pieces of thick wire, bent them at a ninety-degree angle, and held them straight out in both hands. Slowly he began walking across the field; and when he got to a certain place, the wires turned toward each other. “There’s water here”, he said”.
Becca was shocked and excited, and he had her try it herself. When she reached the same spot, the wires turned toward each other as if drawn by a magnet.
She continues: We never did dig for water. If we had, I believe we would have found it. I believe that because I felt the pull in my chest. We are made to feel the pull. We can tell what’s under the surface and where the Spirit is living. As I make my way on the journey, when I feel them pull I need to dig there and find life-giving water.”
Wendell Berry, a Kentucky farmer, agrarian poet and author, wrote this short poem, titled “February 2, 1968”:
In the dark of the moon, in flying snow, in the dead of winter,
war spreading, families dying, the world in danger,
I walk the rocky hillside, sowing clover.
This is an example of defiant hope in a world gone mad. In a world filled with so many reasons to despair, Berry tills the soil and sows a crop. Exiled to an island prison, John in the Book of Revelation, writes of the new Jerusalem, where the tree of life will be available to all who are hungry, its fruit for food and its leaves for the healing of the nations.
God is able to bring good even out of the worst evil. John’s Gospel sees the death of Jesus in the light of the resurrection, in the light of God’s triumph over evil and death. The incarnation, the ministry, the death and resurrection of Jesus, the sending of the Spirit—all of these events together demonstrate the depth of God’s love for the world. For us.
Above all else, it is this profound love of God that Jesus has made known to his disciples and that the Holy Spirit continues to make known to us. The Spirit assures us that we are never abandoned, even in the midst of the loss, pain, and sorrow that are part of life in this broken world. The Word who became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14) continues to make his home with us (14:23), even as he prepares our eternal dwelling with God (14:2).
Our Psalm 67 this morning is a blessing. And so, I close with a blessing from Esther de Waal’s book Celtic Vision (2001).
The love and affection of heaven be to you,
The love and affection of the saints be to you,
The love and affection of the angels be to you,
The love and affection of the sun be to you,
The love and affection of the moon be to you,
Each day and night of your lives,
To keep you from haters, to keep you from harmers,
To keep you from oppressors.
These simple words are a sacred act. They’re both tender and profound. When we bless another person, we’re not wishing them good luck, as if they had sneezed. Rather, in the words of another Celtic blessing, we’re commending them to a Father who wants “to do excelling good to me.”
May we all be open and available to the power of the Holy Spirit moving in and through us, because God loves us with an endless love. Amen.