Acts 17:22-31; Ps. 66:7-18; I Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21
I found some rich material in today’s readings. Paul’s apologetic sermon to the Greeks, a hymn of deliverance, Peter’s discourse about suffering, and Jesus’ promise to send the paracletos. We move from contemplating Jesus’ resurrection appearances to meditating on the continued presence of Christ in the Church through the Spirit. We are leaning toward Pentecost.
I was really touched as I read Paul’s discourse. I saw it again much as I had seen it before: Paul using the Greeks’ own ideas to explain the one God to them. But as I read the bit about “we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals,” I looked at it in a new way. Instead of looking at it as pointing to the Greeks’ errors in viewing God, I thought about how my own imaginations of God keep me from fully experiencing God. I have tried to not have an image of God in my mind. To not have absolute ideas of God’s gender, appearance, and especially God’s practices. I have tried to understand God as an entity of love--and more, the author of love.
Paul talked to the Athenians about groping for God and finding God because God is never far from any of us. It made me think of the story the teacher told at the centering prayer workshop I attended. A young monk went to his abbot and asked, “Why can’t I find God--I have searched and searched?” And the abbot answered, “I can no more show you God than I can show water to a fish.” For in God, we live and move and have our being--as I often say in the final priest’s blessing of the church service.
All of what is exists within God. So, Jesus said, “Love me and if you do love me, you will keep my commandments.” By loving Jesus and God, we are acknowledging the importance of the trinity in our lives. Like fish in water, we recognize that we are beings in God. And maybe as we miss one another during this time of “staying at home”, we can recognize that living within the one God we are all connected to one another through this invisible bond.
The Psalmist said, “Come and listen, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for me.” God listened, God heard, and God loved. And Jesus tells us if we follow him, we can receive the paracletos and have God within.
What is it with this Greek? Every time I see any reference to the meaning of a Greek word, it seems that the translator always says, “Well, you really can’t translate that one into English.” So, I guess it is Greek to us.
“Paracletos” means someone who is called in. When Wycliffe translated it to “comforter” comforter had a different meaning than it does now. We think of it as a balm for someone grieving. But, fortis means brave and the original meaning meant someone who enabled another to be brave. I guess it’s like sitting next to someone while they tell the police about an assault or have a meeting with their CPS worker. When I am there, the survivor or the parent can be more brave than when alone before such a force.
The Greeks used paracletos for a character witness in court, or for a person who pled the defendant’s case--like a defense attorney, or it was also used for an expert adviser, or a motivational person to lift the spirits of soldiers who were depressed and demoralized. The Holy Spirit, our paracletos, lives within us to enable us to cope with life. Let us all lean heavily on this advocate during this time of separation when we don’t get to hug folks or even let strangers see our smiles.
This passage from John has a classic Johanine spiral. It starts with a concept and circles around until it is almost back where it started but not quite. First, if you love the Christ, you will obey his commandments. Second, a promise of the Paraclete sent by the Father in response to the prayer of the Son. Third, the Spirit will not be received by the world, but will dwell in the community of Christ. Fourth, when the Spirit comes it is equal to Jesus being here. Fifth, the world will no longer see the Christ, but the community will see him, live because he lives, and know the mutual indwelling of Christ with the Father and of Christ with the community. And, Sixth, cycling back to the beginning: The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a relationship of mutual love that includes obedience to Christ’s commandments.
Within the Church, the Holy Spirit is given and shared. What this means is we are connected in unity with this apostolic community Jesus was speaking to in John 14--the eleven who were left after Judas Iscariot left the upper room. We are in union with the ancient church in Jerusalem through this indwelling Holy Spirit. And, though we can’t meet in person, we are still a community that cares about one another. This Holy Spirit places us in communion with the Father and the Son--the triune God. This Holy Spirit helps us to keep the commandments in the love of Christ.
So, one of my non-images of God is the love I experience in this community and that I have experienced in the church communities of my past. I have been loved and prayed for by the Methodists who baptized me as an infant; by the Disciples who taught my first Sunday school classes; by the Baptists who gave me such a rich Hebrew Bible background; by the Disciples, again, who helped me bloom in love into a full partner in community by allowing me to think for myself and listening when I expressed my beliefs; and by Christian Student Fellowship where I learned that God’s love is unconditional.
And, now I have been an Episcopalian for 45 years and the love I have received here has expanded beyond anything I could have dreamed. And here I learned about the communion of saints which I had felt in my heart all along.
And, in this love, I am connected to St. Peter and St. Paul and Julian of Norwich and Martin Luther and St. Mary of Egypt and Cora Belle Fisher and The Reverend Doug Dickey and Rozena Walker and Spencer and Brian and all the other saints who have passed before me.
And, in this love, it is my deepest desire to live as Christ lived. For though I try to avoid an image of God, I have this image of Christ. Christ with open arms who would include anyone in his embrace. Christ who spent time listening for the voice of God. Christ who spoke out against injustice and oppression. Christ who touched the sick, the friendless and the needy. The power of this love and the indwelling Holy Spirit is just what we need to live in obedience.
And this is what God has done for me: “I called out to him with my mouth,…in truth God has heard me; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, who has not rejected my prayer, nor withheld his love from me.”
Blessings on you all--I miss your love so often expressed in person in grace and actions.