Saturday, May 12, 2007

Our Holy Babysitter of Shalom

13 May 2007 * Easter 6C

John 14: 23-29 * The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

Our Holy Babysitter of Shalom

There would be three observations I would like to make about this lesson from John on this Sixth Sunday of Easter Season. It is the Sunday before the Feast of the Ascension – the commemoration of what I like to think of as the birth of the church since with Jesus leaving after 40 days of resurrection appearances the disciples are at that point on their own.

So the lectionary is anticipating Jesus leaving and gives us a reading from what is known as “the Farewell Discourse” in John’s gospel. In the gospel Jesus is addressing issues of his leaving the disciples the next day, Good Friday, when he was crucified by Pontius Pilate, suffered death and was buried. Now it is being applied to the Ascension, forty-some days later, and more particularly is meant to address what might be interpreted as his conspicuous absence to this day.

Point number one: the church always reinterprets scripture. There is no single reading of scripture. As the letter to the Hebrews so eloquently puts it, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and discerning the intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

That is, God’s word is not dead and static, rather it is instead living and active and thereby always new! There are always new ways of reading the texts in new contexts and new situations. This is precisely why I love studying the Bible – not to find out “the truth” as if there is only one reading and one truth, but to find the new “living and active” truth in God’s word today. It has always been a fundamental aspect of Judeo-Christian culture to reinterpret scripture.

Secondly, what this portion of John’s gospel means to convey to Christians in all ages at all times and in all places is that Jesus does not leave us alone – he sends an advocate, the Holy Spirit. Now the word for Spirit in Hebrew is ruach, and in Greek is pneuma – and in both biblical languages these words mean breath and wind as well as spirit. We cannot see our breath as it comes in and goes out. We cannot see the wind. We can see the effect of the wind as it moves trees and messes up our hair, but we cannot see it, yet we know it is there.

So, suggests the Bible, it is with the Spirit of God, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit – we cannot see it. Jesus wants us to know he never leaves us alone – the Holy Spirit is always in our midst wherever two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name. This Holy Spirit is kind of like our spiritual babysitter taking care of us while Jesus is off doing other things. So point number two is: we are not alone. The Holy Spirit is present for those who are attentive to its moving in and out and all around us. It is this Holy Spirit that will teach us “everything.”

That is an awful lot – everything! Wow! Yet, point number three sharpens everything just a bit. Point number three rests with one more thing Jesus leaves us, something that seems to summarize this “everything” the Spirit will teach us – Peace. Now we all know that this is not just calm, quiet, stillness and tranquility. But it does have a lot to do with concord, harmony, the end of war, reconciliation and freedom from strife. It is a Peace that surpasses all understanding. It is helpful to know that the word Jesus really uses is Shalom. Shalom in the Bible is a wonderfully fruitful word. In fact, I would even assert that when John the Baptist speaks of our bearing fruit worthy of repentance, he is talking about Shalom. Shalom is the very essence and at the very center of all biblical Hope – it takes a cluster of words to express the richness and depths of its meaning: love, loyalty (to God), truth, grace, salvation, justice, blessing, to name but a few.

Shalom is nothing less than the dream of God, described by the great African-American poet, theologian and mystic Howard Thurman as “a friendly world of friendly folk beneath a friendly sky.” Or, as we heard Isaiah recently proclaim a world where we study war no more, turning our swords into plowshares, and our spears into pruning hooks.

When Jesus gives us his peace (“my peace I leave with you”) this means the sum total of his entire life, death and resurrection as a means to reconciling the world – the whole world, so that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.

That is, in giving us the gift of Shalom, Jesus is giving us work to do. Earlier in this same fourteenth chapter of John Jesus says, you will “do the works that I do; and greater works than these will you do, because I go to the Father.” That is, Jesus leaves so that we can get on with doing greater things than he does.

Do we understand this? Probably not. But with the teaching of the Holy Spirit, which like the word of God is living and active, there is a chance, just a chance mind you, that one day we will let ourselves be blown on by the wind and breath of the Spirit. There is a chance we will hear God’s Word in a new and enlivening way. We will hear something new in God’s word that has not been heard before and may never be heard again!

I recall walking along a stream bed with a friend who is an artist – a painter and a sculptor. Gerald Hardy had literally excavated a silted-in stream bed in his back yard, restoring it, recreating it, as a living, running stream. As we walked up-stream stepping carefully from rock to rock in the midst of the water, Gerald stopped. He leaned over. He pointed to a colorful fall maple leaf that had with the water adhered itself to a rock in the midst of the flowing stream. “That will only be here today,” Gerald said. “Tomorrow it will all be different.”

Reinterpret the Word of God. Be attentive to the movement and teachings of the Holy Spirit. Become an instrument of Christ’s Shalom – an instrument for the healing of the world so that God’s dream may one day come true – a friendly world of friendly folk beneath a friendly sky. Know, my sisters and brothers, that tomorrow it will all be different! Amen.

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