Posts Tagged ‘in-dwelling’

A relationship that endures

May 13, 2017

Easter 5 – 2017

John 14:1-14

Marian Free

In the name of God in whom and with whom we abide both now and for eternity. Amen.

Some images stay with you forever don’t they? One that comes back to me from time to time is that of the actor Kris Marshall curled up in a baby’s cot sound asleep. Now Kris must be about six-foot tall so it is hard to believe that his character fit in the cot, let alone fell asleep, but it was a convincing enough image. The scene I am referring to comes from a British sitcom, My Family about the family of Ben Harper a dentist who is married to Susan who is a control freak who can’t cook. They have three children: dopey Nick (played by Kris Marshal), shallow Janey and clever Michael. Nick has no sense of direction and no career path. Janey is at University but is more interested in boys than study and Michael, who is much younger, is at school and is the intellectual of the family.

In the programme that I am recalling, Nick has moved out of home and Susan and Ben have been fighting over who will use his room and for what. Before they come to any agreement (which was unlikely anyway) Janey announces that she is pregnant.

From Susan’s point of view it is quite clear that now there is no question – Nick’s room must be turned into a nursery. Nick is devastated by the news. The room that he has decorated to his bizarre taste represents more than just a physical space. It’s black painted walls, black furniture and bedding are all a part of his identity. As long as the bedroom remained his bedroom there was a place for him to come home to. Irrationally, he feels that a part of his life is being taken away from him. All the warmth, security and sense of belonging that he associates with that room will disappear if it is redecorated and given over to someone else. Despite his protests, Susan is unmoved. The black paint is stripped, the black furniture removed and the black bedclothes are sent away. Susan spends the day happily painting and Ben spends the day struggling to assemble the flat pack cot.

The next morning, when Susan comes in to admire her handiwork and to complete the redecoration there, curled up in the cot, is Nick – making one final claim on his space and his place in the family. I suspect that it is because he seems so vulnerable that the image has stayed in my mind for so long.

For those who are lucky enough to have a room of their own, it can take on a special significance – it can be a place to escape to, a place in which to express oneself without fear of criticism or a place in which, surrounded by things a person loves, a place of safety.

It is no wonder that John 14 is such a popular reading and that it is the reading chosen more often than not for a funeral. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places” or as it was once translated “in my Father’s house there are many rooms.” For those of us who have had happy homes, this image appeals to our comfortable memories and provides assurance for the future and for those for whom home has never been a happy place, it is an image that holds the promise of a home that is warm, safe and secure.

The first century was vastly different from the modern world. Most families lived in one or two room homes. A room of one’s own was a luxury that only the very rich could afford. Jesus’ followers would never have known what it was to have a space that was one’s very own so it is striking that Jesus should use this image to describe the heavenly realm as a house.

Chapter 14 begins what we call Jesus’ farewell speech. In the previous chapter John describes Jesus’ last supper with the disciples. Jesus has washed the disciples’ feet, announced that one of the assembled few will betray him and Judas has gone out into the night. No doubt the disciples were already feeling a little confused and uncertain when Jesus announced not only that he was going away, but also that the disciples would not be able to go where he was going. Their relationship with Jesus has provided a sense of security and a feeling of belonging. Now this has been placed at risk. Jesus is going somewhere and they will not be able to follow.

It is little wonder that Jesus seeks to reassure the disciples that they still have a place with him: “I go to prepare a place for you,” he says. Their sense of belonging and their feelings of warmth and security are dependent, not on bricks and mortar, but on the relationship that they have with Jesus, a relationship that will not be broken or changed by his going away.

One of the dominant themes of John’s gospel is that of dwelling or remaining or abiding. The Greek word μενω (remain, dwell, abide) occurs 40 times. Jesus abides in the Father and the Father abides in the Son. Jesus says to his disciples: “abide in me as I abide in you”. In this gospel dwelling or abiding doesn’t refer to a physical space, but rather to a relationship that is so intimate and so intense that it can only be described as mutual indwelling. It is a relationship that is so close and so personal that Jesus can claim that to see him is to see God. The relationship is so intense that one cannot be separated or distinguished from the other. This is the relationship that Jesus offers to the disciples – they are to be one with him as he is one with God. They need not fear his going away because what unites them transcends time and space and knows no separation either now or in the future.

It is easy to imagine, like Nick, that our security is dependent on a particular space or a particular group of people. Jesus challenges us to see beyond the purely material to the spiritual and to find there a sense of wholeness, meaning and well-being that is not reliant on the things of this world and which endures for all eternity.

 

“People can’t talk about God from the outside”

May 18, 2013

Pentecost – 2013

John 14:8-17, Romans 8

Marian Free

In the name of God whose Spirit moves within us so that we might know God as we are known by God. Amen.

There are so many books in the world that I tend to read most books only once. However, there are some exceptions, some (to me) iconic books that I return to time and again. Sometimes I re-read them in their entirety because the story is just so imaginative or moving and sometimes I just dip in and out looking for that brilliant idea or expression that made a difficult concept much clearer to grasp. One such book is called Mister God This is Anna[1]. It is the story of an unlikely friendship between a nineteen year old boy, Fynn and a five year old girl – Anna.  Their lives collide, when late one foggy night, Fynn sees Anna sitting alone on a grating down by the docklands in the East End of London. Fynn sits beside her and offers her his hotdog. Initially hesitant, Anna gradually loosens up, laughs and plays, finally deciding that Fynn loves her.

At ten thirty, it is time to go home. Fynn asks Anna where she lives. She announces that she lives nowhere, she has run away. She flatly refuses to tell him where she lives and absolutely refuses to be taken to the cop shop. On being asked about her parents she states firmly that her mother is a cow and her father is a sop. She is, she says, going to live with Fynn. It is late and so Fynn takes her home with him. At home the whole household is awoken by their arrival and they busy themselves preparing a bath for what is – after three days on the streets – a very dirty little girl. It is only when Anna’s clothes are removed and she is sitting naked on the table that Fynn understands why she cringed in fear and whimpered piteously when she accidentally blew sausage in his face while blowing out his match. It is clear that she had expected him to thrash her for the perceived offence. She is used to being beaten – her whole little body is bruised and sore.

Despite all their efforts, Anna never tells the family where she comes from and she simply will not go to the cop shop. So it is that Anna joins this warm, welcoming family. Anna is bright, curious, unconventional and engaging and her relationship with God, which is what draws me back time and again to the book, is direct, personal and insightful. For example, when the parson asks her why she doesn’t go to church, she responds: “Because I know it all!” “What do you know?” “I know to love Mister God and to love people and cats and dogs and spiders and flowers and trees,” and the catalogue went on, “- with all of me.” (33)

Another time, Anna is pondering the nature of love, especially God’s love. She fills Fynn with despair by claiming: “Mister God doesn’t love us. I love Mister God truly, but he don’t love me!” Fynn needn’t have feared. Anna has not lost her innocent faith, she has simply taken it to a different level. “No he don’t love me, not like you do, it’s different, it’s millions of times bigger.” “People can only love outside and can only kiss outside, but Mister God can love you right inside and Mister God can kiss you right inside. Mister God can know things and people from the inside too. So you see Fynn, people can’t talk about God from the outside; you can only talk about Mister God from the inside of him.” (40-43)

It is an extraordinarily profound insight, one that – had Anna been versed in the Bible – could have come straight out of Paul’s letter to the Romans or from the gospel of John, yet stated with such simplicity and such clarity that it needs little further explanation. God’s love is incomprehensible, God can only be known through the presence of God in us and our being in God.

It seemed to me that this was a useful way to think and speak of the Holy Spirit, who to my mind is the most elusive, the most difficult member of the Trinity to describe.

Few of us have felt the Spirit as a violent, rushing wind or seen it as tongues of fire. I don’t know about you, but I have never seen the Spirit descend like a dove. We imagine that we can see God the Creator in the world around us. We can come to know about Jesus’ life and teaching through the words of the Gospels. The Holy Spirit is much harder to pin down because the Spirit has to be experienced, to be felt by us and to be known in us and in our lives. The Holy Spirit moves within and among us.  At our best, the Holy Spirit informs, inspires and directs us. It is the Holy Spirit who fills us with the knowledge and love of God and who is, in fact the presence of God dwelling within us.

In John’s gospel the presence of the Holy Spirit is expressed in this way: before he departs, Jesus tells the disciples that the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, will abide with them and in them. The in-dwelling Spirit will take what belongs to Jesus and declare it to them. The Holy Spirit will teach them all things and remind them of all that Jesus has taught. The Holy Spirit, who is indistinguishable from Jesus, who in turn is indistinguishable from God will make a home within the disciples – will indeed “know them from the inside out”, and help them to know God from “the inside of God.”

Paul too claims that the Spirit of God dwells in those who believe. In Romans he says that the Spirit will give life to our mortal bodies and bear witness with our spirit that we are children of God. “Those who live according to the Spirit, set their minds on the Spirit,” Paul says. (8:6) What is more, the “Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints, according to the will of God.”(8:26-27)

The Holy Spirit then, is God dwelling within us, enlivening us, revealing God’s love to us, reminding us of all that Jesus taught us, enabling us to be children of God, searching our hearts and speaking to God for us. To use Anna’s insight, the Spirit who is God knows us from the inside out and the inside of God enables us to speak about God.

If we are open and willing, we will learn that the Holy Spirit fills us with the presence of God, so that we can know and talk to God from the inside, because through the Holy Spirit God is already inside us. God who has already given us everything through Jesus Christ, gives us this one thing more – God’s own self as an integral part of our being, an essential part of our lives – that is how we know the Holy Spirit, through the Holy Spirit knowing us.


[1] Fynn. Mister God this is Anna.  London:William Collins and Sons Co Ltd, 1974.


%d bloggers like this: