This Gospel lesson from the 14th Chapter of John is a continuation of last Sunday’s lesson. The setting is the Last Supper, where Jesus talks with his disciples about his future and their future—when Jesus says that he will depart from them but will not leave them “orphaned.” In this brief lesson of only seven verses, Jesus says that in place of himself—humankind’s first Advocate—Jesus says he will ask God to send another Advocate, the Holy Spirit. Even though Jesus cannot remain with them physically, the Holy Spirit will be with them always.
In this world, which is filled with personal agendas, prejudice and personal anxieties, most of us, I assume, are not used to having an advocate—especially one that will be with us always. Maybe someone advocates for us, or we for another, for a while, but then we tend to get absorbed in the stuff of our own lives.
I first had to seriously consider this concept of being an unyielding advocate when I did some training as a personal and business coach many years ago. In this training and in the practice that subsequently resulted, we were trained to ALWAYS have the client’s back, to never walk away, to never give up on them. We were trained to always recognize that they were making the best decisions based on the options they perceived. And so, in other words, no judging was allowed and constant positive regard was expected. As strong of an image as this is in human terms, I’m sure that this is a weak parallel to the advocacy that the Holy Spirit provides for us throughout our lifetime, and throughout the lifetimes of all of humankind.
Woven around this promise to send the Holy Spirit, this Gospel story also focuses on words about love and keeping commandments. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” At first this sounds like a statement of verbal leverage, like Jesus is saying that you will prove your love for me by keeping my commandments. But I don’t think that was Jesus’ intent; it’s not that complicated, nor is it about “proof.” This only seems to be a statement about basic relationship: “If you love me, you will honor me.” Just as others, I do my best to do this with my wife—to love and honor her. I do my best to do this with my children and grandchildren. I do my best to do this with my God, as well—to love and honor God, my neighbor and myself. When I love, keeping the commandments is a natural consequence.
When I love my wife and kids and others, I see how our lives are intertwined, just as my life is intertwined with God’s, with Jesus’ when I love and honor them. When I am out of sync with God, I fill myself up with thoughts about myself--edging God out. At those times I am more joined to the ways of the world than the way of Jesus. And like Jesus said, I cannot at that time receive the Spirit of truth because I do not see or know him. Why would I purposefully do this?
I believe that most of us do not purposefully edge God out. For the most part, we are likely even unaware when we do this. Living from our smaller selves, the ways of the world as Jesus puts it, rather than the ways of the Spirit can sneak up on us. After all, we swim in the world like fish swim in the sea. We seem to be balancing ourselves in these two worlds every day. But, rather than think of them as two distinct places where we plant a foot in each, why not recognize that God created the world and everything in it—including ourselves--and it was good! God’s creation is holy. However, we—humankind, ourselves and our ancestors before us—formed the culture of our world. Our culture is a human invention. And this is where Christians responding in truth to their faith and the good will of all people throughout the world, can make a difference. Individually and together, we can exert an influence of good will, of Christ, in the world and not live huddled, our hearts locked in fear. When we express Christ, we express love, we express forgiveness and freedom. This is a way that Christians will hopefully show up in the world.
So maybe the question is, how can I do this? How can I be more like Christ in the world? It seems that keeping love in the forefront of every interaction is a really hard thing to do. I might like to do that, but the next thing I know, I’m responding to others and situations out of fear; I drop into catastrophizing and I’m imagining the worst outcome; I feel a need to compete, even with those people I love most! If that sounds messed up, you evaluated that well! It is messed up. Consider the life that results from these kinds of interactions on a daily basis! … Really, take a moment to draw a line through a lot of these fearful, ego-preserving interactions with others and with the circumstances and situations we find ourselves in, and draw that line right to the logical outcome. And ask yourself if that’s the life you want to live. Is this how I want to be remembered? —or even regarded daily by others around you. …
And now, contrast that image with the same people, the same situations, the same circumstances we find ourselves in on a daily basis, but this time, imagine pressing the pause button. We press that pause button and do not react with our first response. We pause and decide: “How do I want to respond here? I get to choose! Nobody else is in charge of this decision point but me! Do I want to respond with grace, love and forgiveness? …but, it seems so hard to get past my anger and slight or whatever dominant feeling is churning inside … how can I simply set that aside and be this larger self that Jesus is asking of me? And, the answer is, it’s likely not easy. And, it likely doesn’t happen all at once. I don’t turn that corner once and have it mastered. But, it does likely happen by being intentional about following this path that Jesus set out for us. It does likely happen one baby-step at a time; one press of the pause button at at time, one decision at a time. And if today you are 1% better at this kind of discipline than you were yesterday, that is reason to REJOICE! And God rejoices with you. If you are only willing to press that pause button, the Holy Spirit will come to you and help shift your decision, shift your life. Amen.
~Fr. Tony Moon, Sermon Shared Sunday, May 17th 2020
Various Clergy and members of St. Augustine contribute to authoring the blog on a variety of topics.