Getting Ready for Sunday: By the Rev. Catherine Thompson

Getting Ready for Sunday

Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 1, 2016

“I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.” John 14:29

The Gospel text this morning (John 14:23-29) is preparing us for Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Jesus is with his disciples, telling them what to expect after he is no longer with them. That’s why it is called the Farewell Discourse.

In chapter 14, verse 22, just before our passage begins, we read, “Judas (not Iscariot) said to Jesus, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’” In other words, “If you leave us, how will we still feel, or know, your presence? The world will not be able to see you any longer. How will we?”

As human beings, we confront this issue all of the time. In this complex age of telecommunications, we have come to expect that we can reach anyone, anywhere, at any time. We receive phone calls, text messages, e-mails and social media updates. It seems impossible that we might not be able to reach someone instantly. It reflects a reality in which we feel the need to stay connected to the world around us, but what happens when we lose that connection?

The disciples were seeking the answer to this question as they faced the coming loss of a direct connection to Jesus. They had been following Jesus for years, and now, Jesus was telling them he was going to be with the Father. Jesus says to them, “If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father” (v. 28). I am sure their reactions were mixed. Yes, they loved Jesus, but it was difficult to rejoice at the thought of losing him.

In our gospel passage, Jesus was addressing that concern. He commits to staying connected to them in three ways. He promises to make a home with them, to send an Advocate, and to leave his peace with them.

I love the idea of God making a home within us. I am reminded of the historical precedent of God dwelling in the midst of God’s people, even on the move. While wandering in the desert, God led them with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. Eventually, the tabernacle was created so that God could dwell among them. The word “tabernacle” means “tent.” God literally pitched a tent among the people. God then came and dwelt among us in the incarnation of Jesus. And, now, Jesus was promising that God would come and make a home within us.

Jesus also promised to leave the disciples with the gift of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. “Advocate” can also be translated as “Comforter.” There is a danger, however, in embracing this notion of a Comforter. We can be lulled into the notion that Jesus is only about providing warmth, safety or security. The earthly ministry of Jesus was defined by being on the move, preaching, teaching, healing, performing miracles and changing lives - the opposite of safety and warmth. The Advocate is sent to remind us of the blessing and the challenge of being followers of Christ. We are pushed out of our comfort zones, in order to grow our faith, so we can impact the world for the One who dares to dwell within us.

Finally, Jesus promised a third gift: “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you” (v. 27). We hear the word so often, we may not hear it anymore. When Jesus speaks of the peace of God, he is not talking about the end of conflict, or the absence of suffering. Jesus is granting the disciples nothing less than the gift of salvation. It is that gift, not a false ideal of a perfect world, that will get us through the toughest trials and tribulations of our life.

These gifts - the indwelling of God, the Advocate, and peace - are the same gifts we now have to offer the world. Imagine a world where being connected is not defined by technology or accessibility, but by a life-giving relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. Now, imagine how God might be calling you to help build that world. These gifts are not ours to keep. They are meant to share. How can you share them with others?

The Rev. Catherine Thompson is rector of Annunciation in Lewsiville

Getting Ready for Sunday by The Rev. John Thorpe

5 Easter, Year C

John 13:31-35 (ESV)

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

This reading takes place in the shadow of Judas Iscariot. Judas has just left the Last Supper, and it suddenly seems that the palpable insider vs. outsider dynamic, full of uncertainty, that has permeated this unusual Passover can now be dispensed with. Jesus announces his and the Father’s glory to the eleven insiders only after the ultimate outsider has been driven away. The end of the story is the glory – but he will not say that while Judas is around.

Jesus already knows the timeline of the next few days: he had told it plainly to the disciples. He will be betrayed to the chief priests and scribes; unjustly condemned; beaten; crucified; three days later to rise again and ascend to the Father and be glorified. It is true what Paul says: For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, despising its shame. Jesus kept his eyes on the glorification to come, not on the humility in his immediate future.

Then, just as the eleven were getting used to feeling like insiders, Jesus gives them the same vague answer about his itinerary that he gave to the opposition: where I go, you cannot come. They may be insiders, but Jesus must do this task alone. What emotional confusion the disciples must have experienced! Are we in or out? Are we with you or not?

Then comes a new commandment – one which sounds suspiciously similar to existing commandments. Is this new love commandment just a rehash of Jesus’ own summary of the Law? No, it is more focused. Though Jesus certainly wanted his followers to fulfill he general obligations to love God and love neighbor, now he gets really specific: love one another, the insiders, the faithful, the Church with the same selfless, sacrificial love that Jesus knows he is about to display on the cross. This is not a general obligation, but a very specific and pointed command that his disciples of Jesus should love like Jesus, especially in-house. So important is this internal organizational value that Jesus restates it: it should be the one defining characteristic of all Christians that no matter what else is going on, they love each other with a sacrificial love.

Seventeen hundred years later, preachers George Whitfield and John Wesley, once dear friends, had become theological opponents and occasionally exchanged sharp words. Nevertheless, they respected each other. Charles Spurgeon told this story of the two: “Mr. Whitefield was one day asked by a partisan, ‘Do you think that we, when we get to Heaven, shall see John Wesley there?’ ‘No,’ said George Whitefield, ‘I do not think we shall.’ The questioner was very delighted with that answer, but Mr. Whitefield added, ‘I believe that Mr. John Wesley will have a place so near the Throne of God and that such poor creatures as you and I will be so far off as to be hardly able to see him!"’ (Spurgeon Sermon no. 2936)

Churches sometimes excel at chewing up and spitting out our own. Church splits, theological differences, even the color of the tablecloths in the parish hall can set off a flurry of demonization, fight-or-flight responses, and all-around bad behavior. In a time of political, cultural, and theological polarization in America, in Dallas, and in the Episcopal Church, what would it look like if the Christians of the Diocese of Dallas all considered that their brothers- and sisters-in-Christ might, like Wesley, be closer to Christ than they themselves? Can internal, Christian-to-Christian love become our one distinguishing characteristic?

The Rev. John Thorpe is chaplain for St. John's Episcopal School

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This is a blog of essays meant to prepare parishioners for an upcoming Sunday reading.