By The Rev. Sherry Crompton
May 29, 2011
The word “in” is a tiny word. It seems as if it should not matter all that much. But today we hear Jesus promising to be “in” the people who keep his commandments and promising that the disciples will be “in” him too. So, is Jesus actually “in” us? And how would we know?
The key may be that Advocate, that Paraclete, the Spirit of truth, who Jesus has promised will be with us, forever. Jesus calls the Spirit another Advocate. The earlier Advocate is Jesus himself and Jesus was most certainly a force on the move. Think of the meals with outcasts and sinners. Think of the money changers in the temple. Think of the healings and preaching, the travels between Galilee and Jerusalem. The story of Jesus is a not a story of private feelings and comfort, but of action.
This Paraclete, the Advocate, Jesus promises will be “with you” and “in you”. Jesus himself will be “in” the disciples, as he is “in” the Father, and as the disciples will be “in” him. Is it enough to imagine some kind of mystical union? Is the indwelling of Christ or the Spirit of truth like a sense of warmth or a feeling of confidence? Is it an abstract notion or a state of grace?
Actually, the Greek words usually translated “in you” can also legitimately be translated “among you” (plural). How might it affect our ability to receive Jesus’ promise if we put less emphasis on our individualized, mystical interpretation and more on that communal idea? Perhaps it is a combination of both – the Spirit is both in and among us.
What does that look like? It is Memorial Day weekend and on Memorial Day we especially remember and acknowledge those men and women who have given their lives in service to this country – for our freedom. It seems appropriate to share a story about the Navy SEALS, much in the news lately. Eric Greitens is a Navy Seal who wrote a book about his SEAL training — tough training — really tough. They started with the best — men who were track stars and football stars, championship swimmers, wrestlers and boxers — but in Eric’s class of 220 men, only 21 were still standing at the end.
Eric talks about Hell Week, when men dropped out in clusters. He asked, “What kind of man makes it through Hell Week?” First, he told about those who did not make it — “weight-lifting meatheads” — kids covered with tattoos — prima-donna athletes. They washed out in droves. But listen to what Eric says about those who did make it:
“Almost all the men who survived possessed one common quality. Even in great pain, faced with the test of their lives, they had the ability to step outside of their own pain, put aside their own fear and ask: ‘How can I help the guy next to me?’ They had more than the ‘fist’ of courage and physical strength. They also had a heart large enough to think about others, to dedicate themselves to a higher purpose.” (Eric Greitens, “The SEAL Sensibility, The Wall Street Journal, May 7, 2011)
Think about that for a moment. The guys who made it were those who, in the toughest moments of their lives, stopped to ask, “How can I help the guy next to me?” Their caring about others made them strong. They got back more than they gave away.
When Jesus calls us to love one another, it is not just for the sake of the other person. When we love one another — when we help each other — that makes us strong — strong enough to survive our own tough times.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh has said,
Love is…not a result; it is a cause….
People talk about love as though it were something you could give,
like an armful of flowers….
Love is a force in you that enables you to give other things….
It is a power, like money, or steam or electricity.
It is valueless unless you can give something else by means of it.
There was a nature show on television about a black bear that gave birth to two cubs. One cub died right away. Three weeks later the mother died and the remaining cub was left to fend for itself. An orphaned cub in that condition is like a walking buffet for predators. And of course the camera immediately showed a hungry-looking mountain lion.
One day the orphan cub encountered a giant male black bear. The little cub cowered at the bear’s sheer mass. The larger bear peered around and seemed to realize that the mother bear wasn’t anywhere to be found. He gave the little cub a friendly nudge. The camera then showed the little bear happily trailing along after the larger one. The adoption papers were signed, sealed and registered at the county seat in that nudge. Papa bear proceeded to show the cub how to grub for insects and how to catch fish and how to scratch his back against a tree.
One day the two bears became separated. The cub began to cry and looked frantically for his new father, but couldn’t find him anywhere. The cub approached a stream where he’d learned to fish and something caught his attention. He looked up to see a mountain lion ready to pounce. That same mountain lion had stalked the cub for the entire show. There was no way that mountain lion would’ve gone for that cub with Papa bear around, but now….
The camera zoomed in on the cub. He automatically mimicked the posture of his adopted father when threatened. He stood on his hind legs and bared his teeth. Then, in exactly the same way his new father would have done, this cub let loose a mighty growl that should have reverberated throughout the forest. But, only a tiny bear cub squeak came out.
Well, you know what was coming. But, to everybody’s astonishment the mountain lion lowered his head and ran off in the opposite direction.
The camera panned back to the proud little cub still standing tall on his hind legs. And then all the viewers saw what that little cub could not: a few yards behind him, at full, ferocious height, his sharp, white teeth bared in a snarl, stood Daddy bear. He may not have made a sound, but he was there.
And even though the cub couldn’t see his father, his father stood guard, protecting his young. The little cub had power available greater than anything he could produce on his own. There was a greater power watching over him.
Jesus said, “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.” Amen.
The text of this sermon is the property of the author and may not be duplicated or used without permission.