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 have kept me from fully experiencing God. So, I tried to not have an image of God in my mind. To not have absolute ideas of God’s gender, appearance, or 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 a 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.
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 are beings in God. 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.
“Paracletos” means someone who is called in. When Wicliffe translated it to “comforter” comforter had a different meaning than it does now. We think of it as a balm for someone. 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 a city council what they need from the community or they need moral support while they reveal who they really are to someone they love. When I am there, my friend can be brave. The Greeks used paracletos for a character witness in court, or for a person who plead 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 and to do brave things in Christ’s name.//
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. 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 in the 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 even more about God’s love. And sometimes people on the streets and folks I visit in jail take time to pray for me.
And, now I have been an Episcopalian for 48 years and a priest for 14-where did that time go(?) and the love I have received here has expanded beyond anything I could have dreamed. 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, Jim Campbell, and Lorraine Dierick 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 just listening for the voice of God. Christ who spoke out against injustice and oppression. Christ who saw and 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.”