Loving | Sent
Over the course of the past two years we have learned a lot about one another. It was just about two years ago that I sent a video of introduction to Pastor Ed, a video many of you watched. The goal of the video was to introduce me to you before my arrival in July 2017. In that video you learned my favorite color, food, and theologians.
Since arriving, we have learned even more about one another! Through preaching it seems you are learning more about my personality, my family, and where I feel the Holy Spirit's presence. Through preaching I have learned a lot about you all as well. I have learned what you collectively consider to be a bad or unsuccessful sermon. Those sermons typically tend to be too long, dragging on, making worship more like a hostage situation than a celebration of Christ's abounding mercy and grace.
Well, today you are going to learn a little bit more about me.
I love watching Naked & Afraid. If you have not seen it Naked & Afraid, treat yourself this week.
In case you have not had the opportunity to enjoy this cinematic gem here's the Readers' Digest premise - two strangers, one female and one male, strip down to their birthday suits and try to survive 21 days in a remote, uninhabitable location, with only a fire starter and a survival tool of their choosing.
Now, to why I love this show. I am an Eagle Scout. I have been trained to survive in each of the situations presented on this show. Every time I am watching two naked people trying to start a fire with a flint and steel, in the middle of a driving rain storm, I know, deep down in my soul. I would not only survive, I would thrive, I know I would thrive, because one match fires are in my DNA thanks to hundreds of camping trips and weeks of summer camp.
As Eastertide begins to come to an end, we find ourselves not in a post-resurrection encounter between the disciples and Jesus but rather we are back in a section of John's gospel commonly referred to by theologians as the farewell discourse. Beginning in chapter 14 and concluding in chapter 17, Jesus is preparing the disciples for what is about to happen, the following day, on Good Friday. These are texts typically read and studies during Holy Week, and reserved for the Stations of the Cross.
“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 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.” - John 14:18-21, NRSV
Jesus was about to be betrayed, arrested, tortured, and killed. As far as the disciples knew, Jesus was about to leave for good. No one had been resurrected before this moment, so Jesus talking about his pending return could have been a bridge too far for some of the disciples. The disciples though, have a lot of questions about what is about to happen.
Jesus had been traveling with and teaching the disciples for three years. Over 1000 days of ministry, healing, parables, signs, miracles, and questions with vague answers. As Jesus is planning to leave and tells the disciples he will be revealed to those who follow and keep his commands. Jesus, he tells his disciples, will be revealed to those who love him.
As was the case with his teachings, after Jesus finished speaking - or often being interrupted - a question would come from the disciple-peanut gallery.
“Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world," Judas asked.
Jesus' response is where we pick up with our scripture reading.
“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you." John 14:23-26, NRSV
The Advocate of G-d, the Holy Spirit, will be sent to those who love Jesus and keep his commands (words).
Keeping and following commandments sounds more like Law to me - achieving salvation through our own works. But as Saint Matthew tells us, Jesus came "not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill the Law." If Jesus fulfilled the Law through his faithfulness, how and why does our faithfulness to the Law matter? If Jesus fulfilled it, what else is there to do?
Just before Jesus began his farewell he had gathered at a table in an upper room to celebrate the Passover Festival with the disciples. And since Jesus is responding to a question from Judas about something Jesus had just said as they sat around the Table, we cannot assume which commands Jesus is talking about keeping. When we assume what the commands of Jesus are, without looking to what the Gospel writers tell us Jesus said, we end up creating more Law and more often than not our assumed Law has more to do with counting whose in and whose out, and not experiencing the abounding grace and mercy of G-d.
"Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them."
"Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me." John 13:16 & 20
Jesus told the disciples to gather around his table of grace and in doing so, eating the bread and sharing the cup, all in remembrance of him. He told them to serve and to receive him. Jesus’ table is open to all people - the one who would betray and the one who would deny him were welcomed - and to continue to follow the commands and words of Jesus, and to love him, is to continue gathering around his table, eating the bread and sharing the cup, knowing that in doing so the Holy Spirit, the Holy Advocate, will be sent to us.
We are not expected to do this on our own.
The premise of Naked & Afraid is to find out whether or not, when someone is in their most vulnerable state, can they survive? With the bare minimum, can a team of people thrive? It is great reality television but what draws many to the show, I suspect, is that many of us expect our day-to-day lives to be like this. We feel exposed before the world and thriving is off the table because we are just trying to survive.
We keep our trousers on but we are exposed, we think, at our most vulnerable before the world and we go at it alone.
Even Jesus, the Son of G-d, did not work alone. Jesus traveled with a group of disciples but also tells us the One who sent him and the Holy Spirit, the Holy Advocate, were/are with him.
They - G-d Creator, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit - are one.
My friend and mentor put it like this:
"The Holy Spirit’s proper work never goes anywhere without Christ, and the Spirit does nothing apart from resurrecting Christ in dead sinners. The Spirit does not moonlight in any other job but to drive everything in all creation to Christ."
The Holy Spirit’s proper work never goes anywhere without Christ, and the Spirit does nothing apart from resurrecting Christ in dead sinners. The Spirit does not moonlight in any other job but to drive everything in all creation to Christ.— Jason Micheli (@JasonMicheli) May 23, 2019
We are supposed to be not doing this church thing on our own. Our lives of faith are not something Jesus never expected us to do alone. The Holy Spirit was given to the disciples long before Pentecost, the day we like to think the Holy Spirit first descended up on creation - " he breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" (John 20:22) This scene happened days after the resurrection just before Thomas became a doubter.
We are a community of disciples and no one is expect to grow, learn, or minister alone. Jesus promises us the Holy Spirit will, is, working in and through us. The Holy Spirit is working for you, in you, revealing Jesus in our midst and continuing to reveal the teachings of Jesus.
As we figure all of this out, the churchy-phase for that is "discerning G-d's will," we do not have to feel naked, afraid, or alone. The point of all this is not merely survival but instead we are invited to thrive because the Holy Spirit has been sent, is present among us. The Holy Spirit is revealing Christ's presence and teachings to us. And that friends, the assurance and sending of G-d's Advocate, is grace in its fullest. Grace upon Grace.