Sermon, Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 9, 2010 at 3:32 pm Leave a comment

Have you ever heard somebody say – or have you said it yourself – I just don’t know what I’d do without the Lord? I don’t know how people face life without God? I hear it especially from people who are going through a tough time –illness, grief, or some other trial.

But as we are coming to the end of the Easter season, we read, as we do every year, from the 13th through 17th chapters of John, and in those chapters we find the apostles saying, I don’t know what going to do without the Lord. How do I face my life without Jesus? For this man had totally transformed their lives, he had become the center of their existence, and now he was leaving. “Where I am going, you cannot come.”

But at the same time that Jesus says, “Where I am going, you cannot come,”he says, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” And in a strange way, this presence will be more palpable, more powerful, more present, for its being tied to the absence of Jesus’ physical presence.

“Those who love me will keep my word.” The words of Jesus, remembered by the apostles, recorded for us in the Gospels, the word of Jesus, preached on every page of the Old Testament and of the New Testament, which those who love him keep ever in their minds. “Love one another as I have loved you.” “Neither do I condemn you; go your way, and do not sin again.” “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” “Truly I tell you, this day you shall be with me in Paradise.” Even as we keep and reread letters which fade, and tell old stories to keep the memories of those who have gone on alive, so did the apostles treasure every word of their Lord who had gone beyond death and left them on the other side.

“And my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” This is a truly amazing promise, and to believe this amazing promise is to be opened to amazing possibility. Jesus tells us that he and his Father are not remote, are not removed, that the presence of God is not simply reserved for some unimaginable future. The apostles will experience the presence of Jesus and his Father not when they arrive at the Pearly Gates, but in the present. One does not have to die first to experience heaven. And indeed, it is an open question whether one can experience heaven without having experienced it on earth.

To love the risen Jesus and to keep his word is to be opened to the possibility and power of communion on earth with the living God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is this communion on earth which is the goal of life. Neither wealth, nor health; neither status nor station; neither entertainment nor accomplishment can compare with the transforming experience of communion on earth with the living God.

But paradoxically, this experience of communion never happened for the apostles when Jesus was walking the earth. Oddly enough, the apostles after the resurrection would never have gone back – never would have traded their existence for another pre-Resurrection moment with Jesus. It was only after the Resurrection, only after Jesus had ascended into heaven, and no longer appeared to them, that they experienced the peace that Jesus promised, the peace which the world could not give them.

The peace that the world gives is related to external events – are things going well, are things going badly – am I comfortable, am I healthy, are all my desires granted, and so the peace the world gives is always elusive, always for the moment, always threatened by forces beyond our control. The peace that Jesus Christ leaves us is related to his life – He is risen, He is glorified, He will never leave us, and so the peace he gives is certain, never threatened, even though the storms of the world rage around us, though we be uncomfortable, unhealthy, with no desires granted.

For a Scriptural example of what peace looks like in the world, we look at our first reading, at Lydia. She is well-off, well-dressed, the head of a household, running her own business, and yet the world will give her no peace; she is searching, in the midst of the pagan world she is a worshiper of the Jewish God and yet not a Jew. God opens her heart to hear Paul’s message about Christ, and she receives peace that her family, business, and religion had not given her. It is peace that immediately flowers into evangelism, as she has her household baptized with her, and hospitality, as she invites the apostles to stay at her home. And so began the church of Christ in Philippi. No miracles, no manifestations, just a searching woman and the good news of Jesus was all the Holy Spirit needed to bring peace – not only to her but to many through her.

This peace Jesus leaves with us is an anticipation of the perfect peace we will experience when the words of John the Divine’s vision in Revelation are fulfilled. John, who writes from imprisonment and exile on the island of Patmos, finds his freedom not in his external circumstances but in his faith that God’s perfect freedom is coming, that the new Jerusalem will be the fulfillment of every hope that God’s people have ever had. This new Jerusalem is a delight to the senses, a true return to the lost Eden which was humanity’s first home. “On earth as it is in heaven” this is the prayer our Lord has taught us to breathe daily.

But we don’t have to wait for John’s vision to be fulfilled. If we’ve believed with many others for years that we read the Bible, pray and go to church so that we can go to heaven someday, let’s start believing once and for all that we do these things so we can be in heaven today.

“But what do I care about heaven,” said St John Chrysostom, “when I myself have become heaven?” Heaven is not a place far beyond the reach of telescopes – it is a reality, a living reality, where God dwells – and if God dwells in us, in the Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, then as we listen together, and sing together, and pray together, and eat together, by the grace of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the kingdom of God dwells in us, the peace of God embraces us.


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