May 25, 2014: Forever Abiding


Sermon
The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Sixth Sunday after Easter

I’ve said that the dead don’t get up and walk around. I stand corrected. Last Sunday evening, at the Billboard Music Awards, Michael Jackson was up from the dead, singing and dancing. MJ died in 2009. And I have since learned that Elvis sang a duet with Celine Dione in 2009. He died in 1977. I thought you people like me? Why didn’t someone tell me these two guys are back?

Actually, I’m pulling your leg. MJ and Elvis, bless their hearts, are still dead. Their appearances are holographic. God raises only Jesus from death to appear on earth, so far. Jesus is not a hologram, a sweet memory, a vague spirit, or a mystical idea.

In today’s gospel, Jesus continues to prepare his disciples for his death, and how the world as they know it is about to change. But fear not. But who wouldn’t be afraid? “You won’t be left adrift to pull off my mission by yourselves.” A soon-to-be-dispatched Spirit of truth will come and assist. The world, or that part that resists and opposes Jesus, won’t be able to see, or know the Spirit. They can’t because they won’t see Jesus as Jesus really is. The divine will is never imposed on the unwilling. We who love Jesus and keep his commands do so willingly, because the Spirit abides in us to awaken the presence of Jesus and the Father to us.

I grew up in a church that rarely mentioned we belong to Jesus. They told us to behave, go to church, accept Jesus, which meant “get saved,” be baptized, and then you belonged – to a church. It sounded an awful lot like the opening verse: “You do this for me, and we’ll let you belong.” That routine was deeply ingrained in me – so it made some sense. That’s how God is with us, I thought. You see, God blessed my mom with the spiritual gift of guilt. She perfected guilt distribution to an art form. She’d tell my sister and me, “If you really loved me, you’d treat me better; pick up your room; do as I say.” I’d think to myself, “Yeah, if you loved me, you wouldn’t say that.” I hoped to live to be an adult. So I kept my thoughts private.

Jesus comes into this world to live and declare that God so loves this world and we belong to God. That’s the starting point. We don’t gain or acquire what we have been given. We accept the gift, and when we “see” we respond in thanksgiving by living a life God desires. “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Keeping Jesus’ commands is just logical, not a condition that demonstrates love. If someone says they love you, but pay little attention to you, or act as if they could care less about you, what do you conclude? Sadly, some people want Jesus when it’s convenient or they need something. Belonging to and abiding in Jesus is not a part-time relationship. Jesus gives us all – but what about our part? Jesus can’t abide in us if we are not willing, accepting, and attentive. Think of it this way: “If you love me,” the divine can draw you into God’s life and realm. It’s a relational world of life in the Father and Son, awakened in us by the Spirit. As we abide and belong, we love as Jesus loves us.

The Spirit, known for its role as paraclete, or advocate, works on our behalf. Jesus says the advocate’s role is to give comfort and support when the incarnate Jesus leaves. Some think this role is as an attorney who pleads for mercy before a harsh judge who’s ready to lower the boom. Jesus has a different idea. Here the Advocate is the spirit of truth, bringing God’s love and life alive in us, advocating for God, telling us we belong to God. The Spirit draws us into newness of life. Baptism is the entrance. Keeping Jesus’ commandments to love God and each other shows where we abide and to whom we belong. The Father, Son, and Spirit abide in us – never to leave us, even if we can’t keep up our end of the bargain. God so loves, and we love others as Jesus loves us.

I once visited regularly with a devout old Episcopalian, who, for those who understand this – hadn’t yet take the brand new 1979 Prayer Book into her heart. She’d been an elegant and prominent woman in this community, but now her mind was gone, and she was bed ridden. Her communication patterns were limited to shrieks, stares, and sometimes a slight grin – never sure what that meant. Supporting her family was easy. I didn’t know how or what good I did for her. So I started reading the Evening Office with her, which I figured at least would comfort me. One evening, while reciting the Apostles’ Creed, she started saying the Creed with me – the first words I had heard from her. And when we got to the Lord’s Prayer, she said that as well. And each time we read the Office together, she’d join me in the Creed and prayer. She entered a different place – a place where she knew she belonged, with a loving presence she knew well, a Spirit who speaks truth, touching that place where Jesus always abides.

On that day – no day in specific, but each day God sends the Spirit to awaken us to see what really is. We abide in divine love, and we can’t help but love with such love toward all others. And some day, we’ll all finally see and know. “I am in my Father, you are in me, and I in you.” The crucified Lord keeps revealing the eternal and everlasting by the coming of the Spirit of truth, and Easter comes again, as if for the first time.


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