Posts Tagged ‘Peace’

Peace, peace, peace

April 27, 2019

Easter 2 – 2019

John 20:19-31

Marian Free

In the name of the Prince of Peace, who bestows on us that peace that the world cannot give. Amen.

Yesterday I was listening to Saturday Extra on the ABC. Even though it was off topic, Geraldine Doogue could not help sharing something that she felt was the most extraordinary piece of news. Apparently, South Korea has built new hiking tracks which take walkers up the hills and to the edge of the de-militarized zone. These tracks are to be called ‘Peace tracks’. That said, hikers will need to be accompanied by several armed soldiers and they themselves will be equipped with bullet proof vests and army issue helmets! For most, if not all of us, the equipment would be suggestive of anything but peace.

Last year we marked then100th Anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles which exacted such a toll on Germany that is could be said that the cost of peace was the Second World War. The 2nd of September, 1945 is the date on which WWII officially ended, but that date does not accurately reflect the end of various conflicts that continued throughout Europe for decades as a result of the hostilities. ISIS has been defeated in Syria – in the sense that it no longer has control over any territory but the recent acts of terror in Sri Lanka are clear evidence that ISIS is far from being a spent force.

All this begs the question: What is peace? Is it the defeat of the known enemy? Is it the reclamation of lost territory? Is it the complete cessation of hostilities or simply the end of hostilities between the major players? Does peace require the humiliation of the vanquished or the payment of reparation? In most cases peace does not mean the settling of differences, nor does it mean reconciliation. At best, the end of war signals resentment and distrust – I remember returned soldiers who absolutely refused to buy anything Japanese such was the depth of feeling of those who had suffered at their hands. On the other hand, within decades, if not years, the past is forgotten as economic interests forge new relationships with those who once were the enemy.

Peace on the world stage is a very different beast from the inner peace that faith offers. We speak of “being at peace with ourselves and with the world”. By which we mean being content with who and what we are and with the situation in which we find ourselves.

Three times in today’s gospel Jesus says to the disciples and to Thomas: “Peace be with you.” Frank L. Crouch suggests that each time Jesus uses the words they have a slightly different meaning. My interpretation is different from his, but it is helpful to speculate on what Jesus might mean by repeating the phrase.

It is hard to imagine the scene. The disciples fled in fear when Jesus was arrested and now, even though they have heard reports that Jesus has risen, they are in hiding for fear that they will be arrested and killed as known associates of Jesus. They are still in Jerusalem and have locked the doors to give them some sense of security. I imagine them huddled together, going over the events of the last three years and in particular the events of the last week. What did it all mean? What should they do next? How could they safely leave Jerusalem? Who could they trust?

Suddenly, despite the locked doors, Jesus appears in their midst. Instead of recriminations he offers them peace. “Peace be with you.” There is no need to berate yourselves for what you did and did not do. The past is the past. There is no need to be anxious or afraid, I am with you. In the midst of their confusion and fear, Jesus offers peace. Now that they know that Jesus is not holding their cowardice against them, the disciples do not need to dwell on the past. Now that they are confident that Jesus is alive, they can have confidence that, whatever the future holds, God will bring them safely through. In other words, they can be at peace with themselves and at peace with the world.

A second time Jesus says: “Peace be with you.” This time the peace that Jesus offers is less comforting and more challenging. Having reassured the disciples that they still have their place among his followers, Jesus tells them that he is commissioning them to carry on his work. The disciples’ relationship with Jesus has been restored, but the story does not end there. The peace that Jesus offers now provides reassurance. Jesus’ confidence in them extends to his confidence that he can send them to continue his mission. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Jesus cannot promise the disciples that the road ahead will be smooth, but he gives them peace – the knowledge that they can and will manage whatever difficulties confront them.

Finally, Jesus says: “Peace be with you” when he appears to the disciples a second time – for the benefit of Thomas. Peace is offered not just to Thomas but to all the disciples. Perhaps this time Jesus is addressing tension within the group – after all Thomas was not able to believe that the others had seen Jesus. Perhaps this third time, Jesus is gently chiding the disciples and reminding them of the prayer that he had uttered in their presence before he died: “that they may all one. As you Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us that the world may believe” (17:21).

Restoration, challenge, command – the peace that Jesus offers is all these things. When we feel that we have let Jesus down, he will come to us and let us know that all is right. When we are unsure what to do next, Jesus will nudge us in the right direction. When our relationships with each other are stretched Jesus will remind us of the command to love one another.

Jesus offers the peace that the world cannot give – a peace that quietens our nerves and reminds us that God does not abandon us though we might abandon God and a peace that gives us courage to step out in faith in response to God’s call. In return Jesus asks us to be at peace with one another so that the world seeing our unity with one another, may see in us the unity between Jesus and God and so come to believe.

Keeping faith with God

October 15, 2016

Pentecost 22 – 2016

Luke 18:1-14

Marian Free

 In the name of God, who is patiently waiting for the world to come to its senses and to allow the kingdom to come on earth. Amen.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel as though my prayers fall on deaf ears, or perhaps more accurately that no matter how much or how regularly I pray, the world will still be blighted by greed and the desire for power that leads to oppression, injustice and war. Surely there must be millions of people praying right now for an end to the bombardment of Aleppo – and yet the shelling continues, the hospitals have been destroyed, food has run out and those who are not yet dead are injured and/or starving. Week after week we pray for the leaders of the world, for care for the environment and all for what? The world seems to go on much as before, people selfishly getting on with their own lives, heedless of the cost to others or to the consequences of their actions for future generations.

We pray, but to be honest, sometimes it feels as though we are banging our heads against a brick wall. Does it make any difference? Will the world ever change? Is God listening? Does God even care?

Luke seems to relish complex, confusing parables. Not so long ago we grappled with the parable in which the actions of the dishonest or unjust steward were commended. Today we have another difficult parable. This time God is being compared to an uncaring, obstructionist judge who only responds to injustice when he is at risk of receiving a black eye. What are we to make of such a comparison? Are we being told that God will consistently put off our requests for justice until we are finally able to wear God down? Are we being warned that we are as vulnerable and defenseless as a first century woman who has no one to stand up for her?

It is a shocking thought – an indifferent God, unconcerned with the injustices that plague the world, getting on with goodness knows what while we bang futilely at God’s door.

I suspect however, that none of us really think of God this way and that we simply put this uncomfortable parable to a side (much in the same way that we try not to puzzle too hard over the parable of the dishonest steward. It seems that Luke (or the Jesus of Luke) uses shock intentionally. It is an attempt to get our attention, to make us think a little bit differently and to ensure that we absorb and remember the point that is being made. The parable rewards us with new insights if we take the trouble to unpack it.

In this instance Luke, instead of allowing the parable to speak for itself, gives us an interpretation before the parable begins – it is about persistence in prayer.

In the wider context of the gospel, the parable follows Jesus’ teaching about the coming of the Kingdom. Jesus has just warned the disciples that the kingdom is not coming with signs that can be observed and that when it does come it will come without warning.

This parable then, and the one that follows, are intended to teach the disciples how to pray in the “in-between” time – the time between Jesus and the coming of the kingdom. Remember that Luke is writing sometime between 80 and 100 CE. The Temple has been completely destroyed, the Jews have been forced out of Jerusalem and those who have accepted Jesus as the Christ are experiencing a degree of hardship and ostracism because they no longer belong anywhere. Those who were Jews can no longer associate with their fellow Jews and those who of Gentile origin have likewise set themselves apart from their neighbours. It is not a comfortable or easy time to be someone who believes that Jesus is the Christ.

The world, instead of being dramatically changed by the death and resurrection of Jesus, continues much as it did before – perhaps worse for those who have chosen to follow Jesus. What are they to make of this? Surely the world be a better place as a consequence of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Today’s parable then, is intended to help believers make sense of the present, to pray in the face of apparent inaction on God’s part and to retain their faith despite the fact that nothing seems to have changed.

So back to the widow. Widows, as I am sure you recall were the most vulnerable members of first century society. Without a male family member to support them or to speak for them, they were thrown on the mercy and charity of those around them. At the same time they were, after orphans, the ones to whom most care and compassion was meant to be extended. It is the judge’s responsibility to take a widow’s concerns seriously, to give her needs priority over those of others. His disinterest in her case serves to highlight his callousness. It is only when he becomes afraid that the widow will give him a black eye that he relents. He doesn’t want to lose face in front of everyone.

Jesus suggests that if someone as base as the judge responds to the widow’s plea, how much more will a just and compassionate God respond to us if we continue to have faith that God is listening and if, despite evidence to the contrary, we remain confident that God is active in the world, working to establish God’s kingdom.

So rather than comparing God to an unresponsive judge, who will only act when his honour is threatened, the parable encourages us to be confident that God will respond if we persist with our pursuit for justice and peace in the world. Even if it appears that nothing is happening, we are to go on praying, believing that God is acting in the world to bring about justice and peace.

In this time – the “in between” time, we are called to keep faith with God as God keeps faith with us, believing that humanity is capable of better things, convinced that humanity is indeed worth saving, and confident that no matter how selfish, unjust and hateful we are, that God will never ever abandon us, but will keep on hoping that we, with God, will continue to work and pray for peace and justice until at last God’s kingdom is established on the earth.

 

 

We can’t change the world, but we can change ourselves

April 30, 2016

Easter 6 – 2016

John 14:23-29

Marian Free

 

In the name of God who gives us that peace that the world cannot give, so that we might give peace to the world. Amen.

When I was confirmed my priest suggested that I, along with the other candidates, create a rule of life. It was his hope that, having been confirmed, we might all become people who took our spiritual growth seriously. The problem with this approach was that we were twelve years old. Many of the children in the group were being confirmed because it was the thing to do, rather than because they were making a commitment to the Christian faith. His idea was destined to fail, either through lack of interest or because it was an ambitious task to impose on children about to enter high school and their teenage years. I did take the idea seriously. I remember trying to accomplish what I set out to do and giving up early because I failed spectacularly. That said, it obviously made an impact on me, because I still remember writing the rule for myself.

A rule of life is a monastic principle and it involves making a commitment to a number of spiritual disciplines – prayer, bible reading, giving and so on. It is “an intentional pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness.[1]” The reason for taking on such a rule is that it helps us to work on and to dRule of Lifeevelop our relationship with God, to create a rhythm to our days that enables us to focus on the presence of God in and around us, to be nourished by the grace of God and to be transformed more closely to the image of God.

A Rule of Life then, is intended to be a help not a hindrance, a pleasure not a burden. Just as physical exercise improves our physical health, so spiritual exercises are designed to improve our spiritual and emotional health. We take on spiritual disciplines to ensure that we grow and develop spiritually. A rule of life therefore has to be tailored to the individual. What works for one person may not work for another, what one person needs will not be the same as what someone else needs. What is life-giving for one person, might be stultifying and limiting for another so it is important for each person to discern what might and might not suit them, what will assist growth as compared to something that over time will become an empty practice.

It is clear that the fact of being baptised does not in and of itself infuse us with holiness. Few of us from birth truly embody all the characteristics of divinity that were displayed in Jesus and that are, ideally, are required of us. It is too easy for most of us to get caught up in the distractions of the everyday, to be absorbed by our own needs and bound by our own fears. Surrendering our lives entirely to God, allowing our lives to be completely directed by the Holy Spirit, freeing ourselves to be transformed into the image of God takes practice and discipline. This is why we use expressions such as “practice”, “exercise” and “discipline” when we are talking about something as indefinable as spirituality.

Prayer, bible study and spiritual reading all draw us closer to God, but the ways in which we can become aware of the presence of God in our lives and allow ourselves to be transformed are many and various. They include silence, attention, gratitude, forgiveness, generosity, being present, being compassionate and developing an attitude of openness to God’s abundant love and goodness. Such practices are not always part of our daily life or of our nature. For this reason it is important to identify those aspects of our lives that we need to work on and then adopt a practice or a habit that enables us to change. We may find that we need to learn for example how to stop and listen or to find out how to forgive or how to show compassion. There is no magic formula. If we want to truly reflect the image of Christ to the world, we must discipline ourselves to become like Christ. Just as we practice to become a better cook, a more competent cyclist or a more knowledgeable doctor, so we must practice those things that make us a better, more competent, more knowledgeable Christian, so that our lives are transformed and that Jesus can known through us.

It is not all hard work – we do not develop a rule of life or take on spiritual exercises to mortify the body or repress our God-given human nature. Spiritual exercises include play and rest, an appreciation of beauty and moments of pure joy, time to build relationships and time to dream. Our practices have to be onerous or time-consuming. I have heard of someone who places a coin on a lintel in her home. Every time she passes through that door, she remembers to be thankful. Another makes the sign of the cross before he gets up each day as a simple reminder that he belongs to God. Whatever we chose to do, it is important that it is achievable. Starting small and building up is much more likely to succeed than being too ambitious then failing and giving up.

In today’s gospel we hear the familiar words of peace. Jesus bestowing on the disciples that peace that the world cannot give.

The peace that Jesus offers is not a peace that ends world strife, or family discord. It is a peace deep within that transcends whatever is going on around us, a peace that enables us to be calm in the midst of the storms of life, a peace that fills and surrounds us no matter what else is going on. Sadly there is far too little evidence of this peace in a church that continues to argue and posture on issues such as theology, the ordination of women and the marriage of homosexuals.

It is easy to despair, to wonder what we can do in the face of what sometime seem to be insurmountable odds. True, we can’t change the world or the church, but we can change ourselves – by adopting spiritual practices, by working on spiritual exercises and by disciplining ourselves to be constantly aware that it is what we do and what we say that determines how non-believers make up their minds about God.

[1] The CSLewis Institute – http://www.cslewisinstitute.org. Other websites provide information about a rule of life: http://www.northumbriacommunity.org, http://www.westcott.cam.ac.uk are a few. A physical example can be found at https://ruleoflife.com/2015/03/10/paul-clarks-rule-of-life/. Images for Rule of Life provides an interesting example of how different Rules of Life can be.

Being truly whole so that we are wholly free to love.

April 23, 2016

Easter 5 – 2015

John 13:31-35

Marian Free

 

In the name of God whose love is as strong as death, passion as fierce as the grave[1]. Amen.

She loves you

She loves you

I can remember, as clearly as if it were yesterday, the Christmas that I received my first ever record. It was the year that the Beatles had come to Brisbane and I was nine years old. Even though I didn’t listen to the radio and my parents did not own a TV I was caught up in the hype that surrounded their visit. One of my classmates had even taken the day off school to line the street to the airport and welcome them to the city. Another friend used to sing the song: “Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you”, the song with which a popular TV show of the day concluded. My nine-year-old self knew that she had to be a part of this phenomenon. So when I was asked what I would like for Christmas, there was no hesitation: “I would like a Beatles record.”

My mother and I went into the city to a record shop. In those days the counters were about four-foot tall so I had to stretch to see. “I’d like a Beatles record please,” said my mother. “Which one?” the assistant replied. Mum looked at me, I looked at her. I had no idea that there would be a choice. Helpfully I replied: “One with ‘Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’ on it.” So that is how I came to own this – an EP with ‘She loves you’ on one side and ‘I’ll get you’ on the other. I’d have to say that the lyrics of these and many of the early Beatles songs are not particularly edifying. ‘She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah, she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah’, and, ‘Love, love me do, you know I love you, so please, love me do’ and yet another, ‘Love is you need, love is you need, love is all you need.’

Love was in the air in the 1960’s and 70’s. Flower children preached it, bumper stickers proclaimed it and popular music extolled it. The problem was that the atmosphere of the day made love sound all too attainable and all too easyms – the answer to all the world’s problems.  Love was not enough to stop the Vietnam war or to bring an end to apartheid and global poverty.

In today’s gospel Jesus enjoins his disciples to love one another in the context of his farewell speech. This includes instructions and warnings, the promise of the Holy Spirit and prayers for the disciples.  The tone for a future without Jesus is set right at the beginning: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

As I have loved you. If love was all that we needed, why do so many relationships end acrimoniously and why are so many families torn apart by disputes? The answer is that while there are good reasons for marriages to end – domestic violence being one – many people have a simple and idealistic notion of love.  Some expect love to fill deep needs of their own, others confuse love with control and its opposite subservience and there are those who expect that the simple fact of being love will ensure that their story will be happily ever after.

Jesus apparently has no such illusions, which is why he adds the rider: “Just as I have loved you.” As I have loved you. This is very different from the commandment that asks us to love our neighbours as ourselves. Jesus’ command forces us to consider his life and example and to model ourselves on him.  I quote: “Christ commands us to love as he did, putting neither reputation, nor wealth, not anything whatever before love of our brothers and sisters.” (Cyril of Alexandria)  In a culture in which honour meant everything, Jesus mixed with the disreputable and the outsider, chose poverty over wealth and acted as a servant to his disciples. Though he was divine, Jesus allowed himself to endure all the indignities of being human. In other words, Jesus’ love was a love that thought not of himself, but only of others.

The love that Jesus insists that we show to others is the sort of selfless love that enables us to give up all thoughts of our own needs and desires – for recognition, comfort, satisfaction and instead to ensure the well-being of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

What this entails in practice is being at peace with ourselves and God, being so sure of our place in the cosmos that we do not need to compete with others in order to feel good about ourselves, recognising that we do not need the world’s approval in order to know our own worth, that we do not need to measure ourselves and our worth according the standards of those around us, but  to only according to the standards that Jesus modelled and that Jesus encouraged. For some of us, this means first of all letting go of our own baggage, seeking wholeness and healing for the hurts we carry and the insecurities that drive our behaviour. In some instances it may mean that we take advantage of professional help to lay aside fear, resentment and anxiety or to let go of our sense of inadequacy because ultimately, we are only able to love selflessly from a position of confidence and strength, from a place in which we are completely free of restraint and in which don’t need others to affirm us so we are free to affirm them.

Only when we are absolutely confident in our own worth can we affirm the worth of others. Only when we are completely sure that we are loved and love

able can we selflessly offer love to others. Only when we are truly whole can we wholly give ourselves away.

“Love one another as I have loved you” – it makes the rest of the commandments look like a walk in the park. First of all we have to do everything in our power to accept Jesus’ love and then we have to do all that we can to give that love away.

 

 

[1] Song of Songs 8:6

At peace with ourselves – with the world.

April 11, 2015

Easter 2 – 2015
John 20:19-31
Marian Free

In the name of God who gives us all that we need, if only we were ready to accept what God has to give. Amen.

Of course, I don’t need to tell you that the news is full of bad news stories. This morning for example , I woke to the news that in my own city, less than twenty miles from my home, a man of fifty-five had been killed – his neighbour was upset by the amount of noise that he was making. Later in the day, I heard that a young woman had been arrested for the murder of her father-in-law (her husband having already been arrested for the same offense). The newspaper provided an update on the man who had nearly killed his brother, by knocking him to the ground after they had visited a nightclub together and there was also a report on the guilty verdict for the “Boston bomber”. I could go on – the litany of crimes committed in anger, frustration, greed or need for power is just appalling.

Despite Jesus’ resurrection gift to the disciples, peace and harmony seem to be illusive even on the domestic front. The problem of course, lies with us – with the very human needs to be in control, to feel important and to put ourselves first.

What that means is that as long as there are people who are filled with anger and insecurity; as long as people feel entitled to do what they want and to behave how they want to behave; as long as there are some who are so concerned with their own comforts and own desires that they are able to disregard the concerns and interests of their neighbours: as long as some are filled with self-doubt: as long as there are some who feel that the world owes them something; there will be people who will resent any attempt to limit or curtain their activity, those who vent their fury in violent actions; those who seek to build their own prosperity with little or no regard for the cost to those who labour makes them rich or to consequences for the environment or the wider society and there will be those who will seek to diminish others in order to prove themselves smarter, better, stronger.

It is all too easy to imagine that such people are very different from ourselves – that we are above such petty, nasty, aggressive behaviour. But I wonder, are we really so different? Are we, those who profess the faith, perfect examples of the peace that Jesus gives? When others look at us, do they see our deep contentment with life our satisfaction with who we are and what we have? Are we so secure in our (God created) selves that we have no need to fill our emptiness with possessions, achievements or comparisons with others? Do others looks at us and see in us anything that separates ourselves/our lives from their own? Do we really stand out from the world around us?

Let me be clear that I have enormous respect for members of the Parishes in which I have served. Their life and their faith has often challenged my own. In general though, I suspect that too few of us find our meaning entirely in Jesus, that not enough of us seek above all that peace which only Jesus can give and that not all of us really believe that we can trust God with every aspect of our lives.

For the world to be a better place we would all need to find our meaning, our hope, our security and our peace in the Trinity – in God our Creator, Jesus our Redeemer and the Spirit our enlivener. As long as we look elsewhere we will not be at peace and our striving, our frustration, our fears and our anxieties will be taken out on others (intentionally or otherwise).

As I write this, the words of a well-known hymn are repeating themselves in my head:

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace,
the beauty of thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
thy coolness and thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still small voice of calm,
O still small voice of calm. John Greenleaf Whittier

May we together seek the beauty of that peace which Jesus alone can offer, and in relinquishing our striving to be other than who we are, find our true selves and know the presence of God there.

The Holy Spirit – wild and exuberant or quiet and restrained?

June 7, 2014

Pentecost – 2014

Acts 2:1-21, 1 Corinthians 12:1-13, John 20:19-23

Marian Free

In the name of God whose holy Spirit energises, enlivens and empowers us. Amen.

 

We have a feast of readings today. They reveal, among other things, a variety of ways in which we can think about the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. Of course, there are other readings that would shed a still further light on the subject and give us an even wider perspective. Today however, let’s just look at those we have heard this morning – Acts, John and 1 Corinthians. The first two provide us with two different accounts of the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples whereas the letter to the Corinthians gives us a glimpse into how the Spirit was experienced by at least one early community.

The descriptions in Acts and in John are so different that we could be excused from thinking that they were accounts of different events. In Acts the Spirit is explosive, uncontrollable, empowering and life changing. The Spirit appears out of nowhere and yet is visibly and audibly present to the disciples in the violent wind and tongues of fire. Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would give the disciples power that would enable them to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, still I imagine that the actual event took them by surprise. Whether it did or not the effect was immediate – without warning and without years of study – the disciples discovered that they could speak in the variety of languages represented in a cosmopolitan Jerusalem. As a consequence of their newly acquired skill 3000 people joined the believers on that day.

In contrast to the very dramatic and public event described by Luke, is the report in John’s gospel. Here the coming (or the giving of the Spirit) is quiet, discrete, peaceful and controlled. In Acts, the disciples are depicted as a confident community – they meet together to pray and sing. They have just elected someone to replace Judas which suggests some sort of leadership structure. This more settled situation may reflect the fact that in Luke’s account the Holy Spirit comes to the disciples at least forty days after the resurrection. They have had time to get used to Jesus’ risen presence and to think about the future. John’s version however, takes place on the very same day that Jesus rose from the dead.The disciples have heard the reports of the empty tomb, but they are yet to see Jesus for themselves. They are frightened and disorganized and have no apparent plan. Into this fear filled situation Jesus (not the Spirit) quietly appears. He offers them peace and breathes his Spirit on them. There is no wind or fire, just the gentle breath of the risen Christ. The event is private and personal and the consequences subtle and indeterminate. Instead of being given the ability to speak in difference tongues, John’s disciples are empowered to forgive or to retain sins. No converts are added to John’s community on that day, but the disciples have been armed with an important tool for the formation and building of a community of faith – the forgiveness of sins. The giving of the Spirit and Jesus’ resurrection appearance occur concurrently. Frightened disciples are not only assured of Jesus’ victory over death, but are powerfully reminded that, as promised, Jesus will not leave them alone.

Finally (for today) the reading from Corinthians provides us with an insight into the experience of the Spirit in one particular situation – the community in Corinth. Here the work of the Spirit does not equip the recipients for mission. Rather the Spirit endows members of the community with the gifts that will enable them to play a variety of roles within that community – the use of unintelligible language to worship God and to prophesy, the ability to utter wisdom and knowledge or to work miracles and heal. If we read further, we discover that the Spirit also empowers those who teach, lead and administer. In this fledgling community the Spirit seems to be inwardly focused rather than outwardly directed. The Spirit gives to members of the community different skills and these are to be used within the community for the building up of the church. As in Acts, the impression here is that the Spirit is exuberant and unable to be contained and that it leads it recipients to behave in ways that they would not otherwise behave.

What are we to take from all this? It seems clear that we will be able to build a coherent or accurate historical picture of the sending/receiving of the Spirit or that from today’s readings we will be able to neatly sum up the way that the Spirit is manifested in the communities that made up the early church. What we can do is to use all the information that we have to hand to help us to understand and to interpret our own experience. In so doing, it will be important for us to hold together the various biblical accounts and to allow each to inform the other, to recognise that just as the first Christian communities experienced the Spirit in different ways, so too, our experiences may differ one from the other. For some the presence of the Spirit might be wild and unrestrained and for others it might be understated and contained. Some of us will be gifted with the more extraordinary gifts and others will have to be content with those that seem to be less glamorous.

As we try to interpret our experience and to recognise our gifts it is important that we heed Paul’s caution and understand that the Spirit is of God and cannot be used or manipulated for our own ends, nor should the Spirit provide us with a means to compare ourselves favourably with others. The Holy Spirit is not something that we own or control, but a gift from God – the presence of God with and in us that prods us to take risks, that reveals skills that we did not know that we had, that gives us courage in the face of persecution, provides us with wisdom and understanding and opens us to new things, new teaching and new experiences and helps us to build and sustain Christian communities.

As we seek to recreate and renew the church both here and elsewhere, let us be alert to the Spirit in and among us, open to the Spirit’s leading and willing to be led into whatever future the Spirit has in store for us.

 

 

Peace the world cannot give

May 4, 2013

Easter 6  – 2013

John 14:23-29

Marian Free 

In the name of God in whom we live and move and have our being. Amen.

We prepare for all kinds of things in life: weddings, holidays, the birth of a child, moving house, entertaining and so in. In many instances we don’t have to start from scratch. Instructions abound. One can download detailed wedding plans and buy any number of books on child-birth and child-raising. Some recipe books will even give you a helpful timetable so that you don’t have to be overwhelmed when catering for a big event. As a result, I suspect that most of us are not too bad at planning for the expected and preparing for something that we have chosen to do or that we expect to be enjoyable. On the other hand, most of us are not so good at planning for disasters or for the unexpected. Floods and earthquakes often find us rushing to the shops for such basics as water and batteries for our radios (that is if we have been sufficiently prepared to have battery operated radios).

Preparing ourselves and those whom we love for our eventual death is something that some of us find easy and some of us do not. There exists a kind of superstition that suggests that even writing a will or planning a funeral might in some way be an invitation or  encouragement for death to overtake us. Some people don’t like to talk about death because they find it distressing, or because those with whom they want to share their thoughts cannot bear to discuss the possibility of their absence. This can leave family and friends unprepared both for the reality of loss and for the responsibility of continuing life without their family member or friend.

Old Testament figures had no such scruples. It was not uncommon for a father, before his death to give each of his sons a blessing. At the conclusion of Genesis for example, Jacob blesses each of his twelve sons and through that blessing indicates the future he sees for each of them. He has given instructions about his burial and can leave this life confident both that he has left nothing undone and also that his children can move forward with their lives after he has gone, equipped in some way for what lies ahead. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses does something similar. He reminds the Israelites of their history and of their covenant with God and gives them instructions on how to live in the promised land. Moses himself will not lead them into Canaan, but he prepares the people as best he can for a future without his leadership

This practice of a Farewell speech is well-attested in ancient and first century writings which means it is no surprise that John uses it as a template for Jesus’ farewell speech to his disciples. Our Gospel reading today is a small part of that speech which, in John’s gospel, replaces an account of the institution of the Eucharist and extends from the fourteenth to the seventeenth chapter of John’s Gospel.

Jesus knows that he is “going away” and that his death will mean that his disciples will be left leaderless and without direction. They still do not fully understand who he is or what he is about. Without Jesus to guide and teach them there is every possibility that they will return to what they were doing before – as indeed they do – if briefly

On this, his last night with them, Jesus tries to prepare the disciples for his departure. He does this in a number of ways. He begins by telling them that he is going away and that he is going to the Father. Then he assures them that he is going to prepare a place for them and that he will come back for them. The disciples’ distress at his going can be tempered by the knowledge that they will be together again. Thirdly, he promises to send the disciples the Holy Spirit. This means that even in his absence, they will not be alone – the Holy Spirit will be with them. What is more, the Holy Spirit will continue Jesus’ teaching because there are things that they need to know, but are not yet ready to hear. The Spirit will guide them in the truth and testify on their behalf. There is no reason for the disciples to be concerned about their ignorance or failure to understand what Jesus has taught them. It is in fact to their advantage that Jesus goes away, for only if Jesus goes away will the Holy Spirit be able to come and to empower them with the truth.

Jesus not only prepares the disciples for his imminent departure, he also tries to give them some guidance for their life together once he has gone. This includes instructing them how to be a community in his name, providing an insight into what the future might hold for them, and giving them some tools for living in the world without him. Jesus gives the disciples a new commandment – to love one another. He hopes that their community will be recognisable to others by virtue of this love. He encourages the disciples and builds their confidence by telling them that not only will they continue his work but that they will do greater works than he himself has done. Aware of the hostility that he is about to experience Jesus also warns the disciples that those who have rejected him might also reject them. Finally he prays for them, asking for God’s protection for them and for those who will believe as a consequence of their work.

By preparing the disciples for his departure, Jesus gives them hope for the future, a task to complete, courage to face the difficulties that might lie ahead and the assurance that they will never be alone.

Words that are centuries old, continue to challenge and reassure us long after Jesus’ death. Thanks to Jesus’ farewell speech, we know that we are not alone. We are challenged to be a community that loves each other. We depend on the Holy Spirit to guide us into the truth and we understand that our faith in Jesus might lead to hostility from others. There is no need for us to be afraid in the present or worried about the future because we know that Jesus prayed for us and that he has a place prepared for us. This is Jesus’ gift – a gift for every age – a peace that the world cannot give, the assurance that, whatever storms surround us, we are safe and secure in God’s love, supported by the Holy Spirit and awaited by none other than Jesus Christ himself.


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