Posts Tagged ‘preparation’

Giving the Spirit room

May 16, 2020

Easter 6 -2020
John 14:15-21
Marian Free

In the name of God, Earth-Maker, Pain-Bearer, Life-Giver. Amen.

The liturgical season of Easter lasts for seven weeks. The chocolate may have been eaten and the hot cross buns may have disappeared from the shelves until Boxing Day but the Church continues to affirm that Christ is risen and to reflect on what that means for those who follow him. Of course every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection but there is so much of Jesus’ life to remember we, concentrate our celebration of the actual resurrection during these seven weeks. Historically – at least according to the Book of Acts – the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples on the Jewish feast of Pentecost – fifty days after the Passover. The church adapted this pattern for its liturgical calendar – celebrating the resurrection on the Sunday following the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox (similar to the dating of the Passover) and maintaining the feast until the Sunday of Pentecost.

It is not surprising then that during the seven weeks, the lectionary readings should change their focus from the resurrection to the coming of the Hoy Spirit – the readings reflecting the movement from one feast to another.

As we identified last week, chapters 14-17 constitute Jesus’ farewell speech. Jesus, knowing that he was about to die and return to God, was doing his best to prepare his disciples for life in a world without his physical presence. Interestingly the focus of Jesus’ speech is not on his impending death or on the trauma that the disciples can expect in the next seventy-two hours. Jesus’ primary concern in this speech is not with death, but with life. Jesus looks to the future. In effect he is making it clear that message that he preached, the example that he gave and the miracles that he performed are not dependent on him. Amazingly, it seems that Jesus’ work will continue through the disciples and through the church that will come into being through them. Jesus’ goal here is to prepare the disciples for his absence and for the role that they will play in the future.

What becomes clear is that the disciples are not expected to do this alone. Jesus knows that the disciples will be bereft without him. Like a ship without a rudder they will be directionless – used to being led rather than being leaders. So Jesus is speaking to this situation when he says that he will not leave them orphans but will send them another advocate – the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ absence the Holy Spirit will lead the disciples into all truth, will teach them and will enable them to testify as Jesus has testified.

Jesus introduces the Spirit by telling the disciples that the Father will send them another Advocate. There are two confusing things about this statement. One is the word ‘advocate’ which in our context relates to one who takes our part – in the court, in relation to health care or in any other situation is which we might need another person to firmly state our case. Koester points out that John uses the word in the reverse sense. The Holy Spirit does not represent us to God, making the case for our salvation, rather the Holy Spirit continues Jesus’ work of representing God and God’s love to us. Jesus first, and then the Holy Spirit bring to us the truth of God’s love – love that requires nothing of us.Though we do not require representation in the heavenly court we may still need to be convinced that God’s abundant love will never be withdrawn. The Holy Spirit, (God’s Advocate) will come to the disciples – and to all who join their number – as a constant reminder of that love.

The Spirit is referred to as ‘another’ Advocate. In more ways than one, the Spirit continues the work of Jesus in and with the disciples. Jesus and the Spirit both come from and abide in the Father. As Jesus taught, revealed the truth, exposed sin and glorified God, so the Spirit will do the same and more. The Spirit will continue the work of Jesus and will make known the presence of the risen Jesus to the disciples and to the world.

Not only does Jesus assure the disciples that they will not be abandoned and promise ‘another Advocate’ he makes the even more extraordinary claim that the disciples ‘will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you’. The intimate relationship that Jesus shares with the Father will, he claims, be extended to include the disciples. Indeed, all those who believe in Jesus will share in the mutual indwelling of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Jesus death and resurrection makes possible a relationship in which God (the Trinity) is in the believer and the believer is in God (the Trinity). It is as if the crucifixion dissolves the barriers between human and divine, just as in the life of Jesus the barriers between human and divine were broken-down.

Jesus is going to his death (and his glorification) and is returning from whence he came but the world is irrevocably changed as a result of his presence. Humankind have been assured of and been witness to the unconditional love of God as expressed through the incarnation. What Jesus has done will be continued through the work of the Holy Spirit and through the Holy Spirit, the disciples will be empowered to do the same. The world should be overflowing with the presence of God.

Isn’t it time we stopped getting in the way and gave more room to the Holy Spirit?

Looking backwards and forwards on Advent 1

November 26, 2016

Advent 1 – 2016

Matthew 24:36-44

Marian Free

 In the name of God who was and is and is to come, who has loved, does love and will love. Amen.

If you have ever had a medical procedure you will know that you will usually receive a list of instructions telling you what you must do to prepare. Some blood tests require you to fast before hand and others do not. A visit to an obstetrician will often require you to produce a urine sample. An appointment for a breast screen will come with instructions as to what to wear and the insistence that on that day you do not use talcum powder. A booking for surgery will come with pages of instructions – don’t drink alcohol, do not eat or drink for a specified period, do not bring valuables to the hospital with you but do bring your method of payment. And as for having a colonoscopy – let’s not even go there! (Those of us who have had the experience know what is involved and those of you yet to have the pleasure, will find out soon enough.)

The point is that there are many things in our life that require careful and thoughtful preparation – travel, meals, study, buying a house, getting married and so on. While some of these need more attention than others, they are all relatively easy in the sense that the guidelines are clear, others have done it before us and by and large we know what is expected or where to go for information or advice.

Preparing for eternity is a very different proposition from preparing for surgery, travel or a job interview. For a start, no one has ever come back from the dead to tell us what it is like or to give us specific instructions as to exactly how to get in. No one, that is, except Jesus and he did not give a straight forward, easy to follow list of directions or instructions. Instead he left his followers to make sense of his teachings and to put them together in ways that made sense to them.

Preparing for eternity or for the return of Jesus, is the most important thing that we will ever do with our lives, but it is easy to put it off because it seems so remote, so far into the future that we imagine that we have plenty of time to put our lives in order. Alternatively, it is possible to become complacent, to believe that we have already done all that is necessary to enter into eternal life.

I wonder how many of us put the same amount of effort into our preparation for eternity as we do for other aspects of our lives. Do we have a check list that we refer back to see how ready we are? Are we really clear as to what is required? Have we put some effort and research into the subject or do we think we already know all that there is to know?

Many of us were brought up with a Christian faith that taught us to be good, that entrance into heaven required sticking within some prescribed guidelines – most notably the Ten Commandments. Along the way, we have learned that Jesus does not want simple obedience to a set of rules. In life, he consistently chose those who did not conform to the societal view of what does or does not constitute “goodness”, he criticized those who placed weight on outward appearances, and he constantly revised the commandments in such a way as to make it clear that it was a person’s attitude to and relationship with God that was the key to eternal life. In other words, Jesus shifted the goal posts and cast us adrift from the safety of clear rules and codes of behavior and left us to find our own direction.

Jesus knew that it was possible to do the “right thing” but to do it for the wrong reasons. He exposed the hypocrisy and shallowness of those whose outward show of goodness hid a lack of love and compassion, a self-centredness and self-congratulatory attitude that blinded them to their own weakness and frailty. Jesus sought out those who knew their own sinfulness and who relied on God’s love rather than their own efforts.

If Jesus were to offer advice for living or guidelines for attaining eternity, he would probably encourage us to seek self-awareness rather than self-righteousness, to recognise our imperfection rather than aim for perfection and to understand that we are no better than the next person rather than striving to outdo them with our “goodness”.

In the final analysis, Jesus’ incarnation demonstrated that our salvation does not depend on anything that we do for ourselves, but on what God does for us. Salvation is entirely related to God’s love for us – love that entered into our existence, challenged our concepts of right and wrong, of power and weakness, of judgment and acceptance, love that endured the worst that we can throw at it, and which loves us still. Love, that on the cross overcame evil and death so that nothing might stand between ourselves and life eternal.

On this, the first Sunday of Advent, we are urged to both look backward to Jesus’ coming in love and forward to Jesus’ coming in judgement, to place our lives in the balance and to see how we measure up.

Are we living in such a way that demonstrates our awareness of God’s love and our inability to deserve that love? Have we thrown ourselves completely on God’s mercy or are we still holding something back – in other words do we completely and utterly trust in God’s unconditional love or does some part of us still believe that we have to do something to deserve it?

Christmas is a celebration of God’s incomprehensible yet unmistakable love for us. Advent is an opportunity to ask ourselves whether or not we trust that love and whether that love has translated into love for ourselves and love for others.

Perhaps, after all, we are better not to prepare, but instead to ensure that we fully accept all that God in Jesus has done for us, such that Jesus’ return will be time of rejoicing and not a time of fearfulness and that we will be truly ready to rest in God’s love for eternity.



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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