The Rector’s sermon for May 26, 2019                                                                                                                                      


Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22—22:5; John 14:23-29


Have you ever found yourself in the presence of someone you admired and respected so much, that all you wanted to do was hang on that person’s every word?   That’s the picture we see today in the passage from the gospel of John—sitting and listening to the powerful words of a loved one.   Jesus says:  “If you love me, you will do my will and My Father and I will live in you.  After I’m gone, my Holy Spirit will come and dwell in you, teaching you all things, and reminding you of everything that I’ve said while I was with you. But before I go, I leave you my peace, a heavenly peace, a peace you cannot receive from the world.  So don’t be troubled; don’t be afraid.  And when all this happens, you will remember that you heard it beforehand, and you will believe”  (John 14:23-29).


What an amazing message that is!  Jesus is sharing his love and wisdom with all those who will have ears to hear.  He’s laying out a pattern for life for anyone who will take the time to listen.  If you love me, you will do my will.  If you do what I want you to do, my Father and I will live in you.  What a simple yet profound thing to say!   John says the same words in one of his letter… Let what you heard from the beginning live in you.  If what you heard from the beginning lives in you, then you will live in the Son and the Father  (1 John 2:24).  And the same message appears in the book of Revelation:  Listen!  I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in.”  (Rev. 3:20)   How many more times—and in how many different ways—do we need to hear those promises…before we believe? 


But even with those promises spelled out for us, in more than one place, how often do we still think of God as somewhere out there, someone distant from us?  Somehow in our mind’s eye we put God in a place removed from us, until we come begging for something in our pain or in our need.   The God we pray to, the God we have conversations with is too often a far away God, a kind of supreme court judge or grand manipulator.   God, Jesus, is so much more than that.  He is far greater, much more expansive than our minds can understand or even accept.


And so that we don’t get the idea that God is lacking in something, he reminds us that he is all-just and he says:  If you DON’T love me, you won’t be able to follow my plan for you.


That’s Jesus’ way of reminding us of one of the greatest human gifts of all—our free will.  We have the choice to love Him or not…to follow him or not.  He will not force himself on us.  Remember the rich young man?  He came to Jesus and said, “Master, what must I do to gain eternal life?”   And Jesus says, “Keep the commandments.”  And the rich young man says, “But I have, since I was a youth.”    Now think about this:  if he had kept the commandments since he was a youth, apparently he still felt that he was missing something or he wouldn’t have come to Jesus with that question.  Or perhaps he was so proud of his accomplishments and hoped that Jesus would pat him on the back and say, “Son, you’re in!  There’s nothing to worry about.”   But that’s not what happened.   Jesus said to the rich young man.  “You lack one thing.  Sell all that you have, give it to the poor, and follow me.  Then you will have treasure in heaven.”   This is not an attack on someone who has wealth.  This is an attack on attachment to wealth.  Material things, the stuff of life, were getting in the way of this man’s attachment to God.  That may strike home for some of us, too.   And how did that story turn out?   Scripture says:  “Jesus looked at the man and loved him.  But the man walked away.”   Jesus didn’t say, “Let’s negotiate here; I don’t want to lose you; maybe I’m being too demanding.  Can we talk about it?”  No, he looked at him, he loved him, and his heart broke as the young man made his choice and walked away.   …And Jesus says: “You won’t be able to follow my plan for you… if you don’t love me more than all else.”


Don’t let anyone tell you that in the end we will all be taken up into heaven, that all will be forgiven, that God wouldn’t allow anyone or anything that He has made and loved to perish.  It is precisely because he loves, that he won’t stand in the way of choices that some will make.  Free will is an awesome, powerful gift that we need to use wisely.


And Jesus knew it would be difficult for us to choose the good all the time, so he didn’t leave us alone.  He couldn’t leave us alone—not if he loves us.  So He goes on to say:


“After I’m gone, my Holy Spirit will come and dwell in you, teaching you everything, and reminding you of everything that I’ve said while I was with you.”


Jesus is saying:  “I’m leaving you, but I’m not going to leave you alone.  You won’t be left to your own devices.   My Father will send someone else to you and this “someone” will teach you everything.  He will remind you of all that I have said.”    I want us to look at that for a moment:  My Holy Spirit will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said.   If you are ever questioned about the authenticity of the word of God—if you’re ever asked if you can believe in the authority of Holy Scripture—you can refer to this passage.  Jesus’ promise is that the Holy Spirit will come upon the disciples and remind them of everything they need to know—WHY? strengthen their faith and perpetuate the story!   The Holy Spirit will come upon them in order that they might not only tell the story over and over again, but that they might also write the story.  That’s why we believe in the authenticity of Scripture.  Yes, it was written by human hands, but those human hands and those human minds were lead, directed, inspired, and reminded by the Holy Spirit. 


Then Jesus says:  “And before I go away, I leave you my peace, a heavenly peace, a peace you can’t find in this world. So don’t be troubled; and don’t be afraid.”   He lays out the plan, knowing that it might not be easy to follow, and then he says:  “Don’t be afraid.  Call on my peace, my presence; it is within you.”  And he wraps it all up in a neat little bow with these final words:  “And when all this happens, you will remember that I told these things to you beforehand, and you will believe.”  (John 14:23-29)


Jesus knows we’re human.  He knows we sometimes question.  He knows we sometimes need more than just faith.   And it’s those times that he’s talking about.  He says:  “When everything I’ve told you happens, remember that I told you before it happened.  And then, you will believe.”   


This idea that obeying God’s word will allow Jesus and his Holy Spirit to live within us is summed up ever so beautifully in a little booklet called My Heart Christ’s Home.  It’s a booklet that I give to all those who are confirmed or received in this church.  In this booklet, the writer explains how he’ll never forget the evening he invited Jesus into his heart.  And he takes the reader and Jesus on a journey through the author’s heart, and this heart is divided up into rooms.  As they go from room to room, Jesus kisses away the hurts, heals the wounds, cleans the filth, washes away the past.   And at the very end of the story, when the writer has finally turned everything over to Jesus, when he has done God’s will, the promise is fulfilled.   And he writes: 


He took my life that day and I can give you my word, there is no better way to live the Christian life.  He knows how to keep it and use it.  And a deep peace settled on my soul that has remained.  I am his and he is mine forever!


God has a plan for you.  He has a plan for me.  Loving him is part of the plan.  Abundant blessings is part of the plan.  And he loves us enough to let us lose our way.  And when we get tired of doing things ourselves with bad results—when we get tired of hurting—he loves us enough to give us His Holy Spirit, just for the asking.   … So don’t be troubled; don’t be afraid.  Sit at His feet.  His plan, his blessings, his love are close at hand.

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