The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Sixth Sunday after Easter
Some people will go to church today, because they like the people there. They feel connected. They belong. They won’t say so, but they want to know if Jesus is real and they belong to him. Other people will visit a church today as if they are test driving a new car – checking out the people, choir, sermon and building. They’re shopping. Yet deep down, they also want to know if this is a community that believes Jesus is real, and they too belong to him. Some who go to church today know Jesus intellectually – as an ancient religious figure, but that’s about it. They long for more, too. And some won’t go to church this day. Early on, they were told what to believe. So, they belonged. As they grew up, they had questions about faith, and began to ask them at church. The answer they were given – “Just believe what we tell you.” They didn’t – they couldn’t anymore. So they no longer belonged, and really didn’t care anymore. They have learned that absence doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder.
Jesus has just been asked by a disciple: “How is that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus’ response is, since some won’t love him, they won’t accept what he reveals of God. Time’s running short – and he’ll be leaving them – no more talks, teaching, meals on the run, laughter and tears.
Many of us know how this feels. A parent dies, and the world changes, no matter how ready we are, or how often we have rehearsed how we’ll react in this moment. A spouse, dear friend, a child dies. Someone will try to reassure, “You will always have her spirit with you.” But you prayed for more than to remember her spirit. Memories are nice – but not enough. We’d rather have our loved one with us in the flesh.
Jesus says a Spirit will come to fill the gap left by his absence. The difference is that this Spirit is Holy – and will remind us of more than warm memories. But we have no memories of Jesus – as the disciples did – only the words and testimony of those who were there, and those who pass it on.
You are here and together, and we too want to know Jesus is real, and we belong to him – and to one another. Well – you’ve got the Bible – testimony of those who saw him – so go read about him. But is that how we best know someone? We know more if we can observe, listen to, and be in human, bodily relationship with a person. History doesn’t give us much about Jesus. Jesus leaves no Users’ Manual or Owner’s Guide to Faith. He doesn’t say, “Remember my words, and make them holy. And by the way, write them down in red.” Certainly we need to remember his words as passed on – and talk about them, learning what we can of Jesus through them. Yet never does he say his words should be worshiped. Just believe him – love him. That’s how he and his Father can come and dwell within us. And note he doesn’t abide just in heaven, whatever that is. He comes to dwell within us – transforming us from within. The divine will come to hearts that yearn for God. Then the Holy Spirit enters to guide us – breathing the new, everlasting Easter life we long to experience, into our hearts and souls. You and I want to know Jesus for ourselves – not what mama believes or what a priest tells you to believe. Just love him, serve him by loving others. You’ll be changed. You’ll know you belong to him.
You and I are never alone – because Jesus leaves us with his peace, not the world’s peace. The world’s peace is illusive and ephemeral. It’s present when life is calm, unstressed, happy and chirpy. It goes AWOL when fear and anxiety try to move into God’s place in us. Loving Jesus, welcoming him and his Father brings a side benefit. Divine peace sneaks in, too – and sometimes surprises us – a peace beyond our understanding.
Do you believe Jesus keeps his promise – to dwell within us, send us the Spirit – be given his peace? You and I believe so – others may not be convinced. We may not love him as we could, yet just in our desire, loving him as best we can – he’s there.
Have you ever felt alone even though family and friends are there? A person of faith, facing surgery, relies on prayers of family, friends and priest. That’s nice, and the prayers are appreciated. They can’t find a substitute to have surgery for them. So – yes, you must do this alone. Those who experience the peace Jesus offers, the divine life inside theirs, know they are held in the hands of the One to whom we pray.
How do parents keep going when a child turns to drugs, gets involved with the wrong crowd, and rebels; parents reject a child because they come out of the closet; a spouse or partner walks out; your job is given to someone else? Some keep trusting and loving Jesus. They say they find peace in the eye of their storm, in moments of suffering, pain, fear, and loss. Do you? Jesus’ peace won’t keep you from feeling sometimes, that you want to die. You’ll still feel awful, numb, alone and abandoned. Yet we don’t die. We live for another day. We look back and realize Jesus has been with us all along.
Deciding to love and follow Jesus opens the valves of our hearts to divine love that moves in with us and flows through us into the world. It may feel quite crowded inside – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – along with the other stuff that fills our hearts and minds. We work hard to bring his life out into the world, because hating, criticizing and judging people feels more natural than loving and abiding with them through thick and thin. Jesus waits to reveal his love to all – no disqualifications. Each of us chooses what we do with Jesus’ gift. Those who don’t love him – well, one day we pray they will. Maybe they’ll come to love him because they see how we love him and in us they see he is real, and surprisingly they find the divine life rising into theirs – and Easter comes once again.