Gospel: John 14:15-21
15 ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
18 ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They 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.’
Imagine standing at the base of Uluru. The sheer rock face is so high it is half the world. The silence is alive with feelings, with awe, with spirit. There is nothing to hear, and yet everything. Like thousands of Australians, going back over millennia, this place both belittles and embraces us. Silent contemplation is our only response. And then we hear it.
"Oh, come on, Tony. It’s too hot. This is boring. I’m getting sand in my shoes, and there are flies. Let’s go back to the motel. I need a drink. This is so boring."
And their discontent whinges its way past the same rock, through the same thick numinous aura which has arrested us, completely blind and untouched. How could you be at Uluru, and be so untouched?
It’s not just Uluru, of course. We can be on the coastal cliffs, in the rainforest, held by a gallery painting, in another world with a musician’s artistry— even in church!— and hear blind, bored discontent whinging its way past, oblivious to holiness.
Jesus said, “This is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him or knows him.”
We’re living a masterpiece. We are a part of the greatest painting that ever was. Our life is being lived in the shadow of Uluru, in the same breath of holiness, even more than if our tent were permanently pitched at the edges of The Rock. But will we see?
John is pointing his own version of the masterpiece. There is the Father who is unknowable, perfect, beyond description, Great I am, God above Gods, Creator of all things, in all things, before all things, beyond all things.
There is Jesus who makes him known. If we have seen Jesus, we have seen the Father. We can stand before the masterpiece, gaze upon Jesus, and see the Father. Jesus is our Friend. He is the one alongside us, our helper. The Greek word is paraclete; it comes from the word for defence lawyer, the one who stands alongside us in the trials of life.
In John’s painting, our helper and friend Jesus is being taken away, or is he choosing to leave, or is it both? Do not troubled he says, for I am sending you another paraclete, another friend. Another Helper, called the Spirit of Truth.
In this painting we see Jesus will not leave us orphaned, in a little while we will see him. On that day, he says, “you will know that I in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”
What is it that makes the difference? What leaves some folks awestruck and enchanted by this painting of words? What is it that means others of us feel a deep chord of longing, a tug of hope from the heart, that begins to sing and yearn when we read the words? Even when we do not understand? And why do some write it off as rubbish? Not impenetrable, not mysterious, but just complete— you know the word we use.
The context of the reading is a group of people who have met Jesus. He has brought their lives together, literally and figuratively. In this group together, which is critical to see; in this group together people have found new meaning and purpose and life, in the midst of the misery, and injustice, and suffering of the world. The world goes on; there is still misery, and injustice and suffering, but the people in the group are changed. They go from lost, aimless, defeated and hopeless, to purposeful and hopeful. Life becomes positive. And within the group some of the usual misery and nastiness of life among people disappears. In this 'gathering of people called by Jesus;' where we get the word church, there is a new respect, and care and compassion; what we call Love.
And the content of the reading is also that Jesus is giving notice he is leaving. But he is telling them not to be troubled. The new life, the new gathering, the new glory they have begun to see can continue. He's saying this to us, as well.
What will let the new reality be real? What will let us see the glory around us, instead of only flies, and sand and heat? What will enable us to be the person about whom they ask, 'How can she be so joyful and alive despite everything that has happened; despite all the grief?”
John's answer is this. “Those 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.”
Understand that here in John, centuries before the doctrine of the Trinity, when we see Father, or Jesus, or Spirit, we are seeing All. We are seeing God.
So how do we see God?
By keeping the commandments... Not because God won't come to us if we don’t. But because by keeping the commandments our eyes are opened to the God who is already here. We see despite dust, flies, heat, and sand; despite misery and injustice, that God is here, loving, transforming, healing and completing. The big rock that was so boring and disappointing, becomes a holy place. The cold cliffs inspire us with awe. In the horrible hospital we meet love we never imagined possible.
The commandments, as John describes them... are only one! In the next chapter he says (15:12) “This is my commandment, that you love another as I have loved you."
When we respect each other, care for each other, feed each other, heal each other— all the things Jesus does— then we open ourselves to God. We allow ourselves to see the masterpiece that is life and creation. We let it touch us. We find beauty and holiness, not just alienation, and disappointment, and boredom and despair.
This care for each other is strangely mundane and ordinary, and sometimes hugely difficult.
All the lonesome people need is for one of us to listen. It transforms them, and our sacrifice of time begins a little transformation in us.
For others, the fact that we care enough to have cake instead of stale Milk Arrowroot biscuits, and real coffee instead of International Roast, is just enough welcome. Our sacrifice is that we think filtered coffee is a worthless waste of money.
We can sacrifice our pride and endure our embarrassment and fear, and try and talk with someone who barely speaks English, and persist with that even though we barely understand two words in three. When we do that we are pouring the love God upon them.
When we change the way we've always done things, so other people can be more comfortable, even though it costs us some of our enjoyment, that is Love. And love lets us feel the Love of God.
It’s all rather ordinary... and sometimes very hard. I find it excruciating making small talk. Some of us have a horror of hospitals. Or we’ve had a lifetime being told Catholics, or Baptists are deeply suspect, let alone people who are black, or Scottish. Some of us have deep, deep reasons to mistrust ministers, or to hate men— or women. And twenty five dollars a kilogram for coffee... is disgraceful.
We get to choose much of how life blossoms. There's not a lot we can do to influence council planning laws, or people getting ill, or who might be a visitor next Sunday. But we can do a huge amount to love each other the way Jesus does. And that will change life from a cartoon to a masterpiece. It will change a plain brick church to hallways reaching into heaven. It will change ordinary, tawdry boredom, and disappointment into Life. Amen.
Andrew Prior 2011
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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