Scripture: John 16:12-15
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
What is right? What is wrong? These are questions that many ask today. At times they couple this with a statement that everything is relative. Meaning that they believe that they can determine their own truth and path. These statements have deep roots, roots that unfortunately we all have creeping into our lives, even though we may not recognize it. The philosophy of relativity has roots that stretch back through modernity, through the enlightenment, on down through the ages to the dawn of time.
As Friends we do not speak much about the origins of sin. We do not often get into deep debates over many of the finer points of theology, but this does not mean we do not have theology. Friends have a very broad base of understanding, our theology is not often found in the published works of scholars, but is more often found in practical places. Our theology is in the realm of experience and observation.
No matter what background we have, each of us have a theology. We have come about gaining our understanding of God from many different places. For some of us we have gained it through the study of the works of various scholars and for others we just know things. At times these two very different paths seem to conflict in our minds especially when our personal experiences or testimony of faith and our knowledge seem at odds.
For me personally, I struggle most in the area of war and peace. There is an experience or knowledge that I have as I life in a world of conflict. It is difficult to say I have a testimony of peace when my emotions want to silence the enemies of my nation.
This struggle is one we all face. Each of us has a different struggle a different cross to bear. In this point the philosophy of relativity is real in our lives, because our struggles are our own and ours alone. None of us have the same personalities or gifts. We each have a different way of looking at the world around us. Some of us have similar views, but they are each unique to each of us. Some of us look out at the world around us and we see the creativity of a master artist, while others see the opportunity to amass greater business opportunities for the future.
I mentioned that these thoughts of relativity have deep roots that have wrapped around us each. I said that these roots stretch back as far as the dawn of time. Some have said that Genesis is not history but a theological reflection by the people of Israel on the reality of good and evil. Many of us flinch as I say those word, but remember that we all approach life from different perspectives. History in itself is a reflection, or an interpretation of what took place. What we learn from Genesis is that we have great freedom as humans. The freedom to live and act, we sometimes choose to abuse that freedom by trying to put ourselves at the center of creation and displacing God. This is sin.
As we displace God we begin to do things to bring order back into the world around us. We each have ideas as to what that might look like, using our own perspective or understanding of reality. We draw lines and make claims of truth we use words to shame and convict others around us. But each of those views has an opposite that is just as true.
In today’s passage Jesus said that there are many things that he wants to say but the disciples were not able to beat them at that time. Does that bother anyone else? Jesus is essentially sending the disciples out without being fully trained. His disciples were to go out preaching the gospel and they are sent knowing that they do not know everything. How many of us have thought that we cannot do something because we do not know how, or that we do not have all the answers? These disciples were going out into a community that had centuries of knowledge written down in scrolls, they had theologies that could boggle the mind and Jesus sent them out into that world filled with answers to minister. But He gives them the assurance that he will not send them out alone. He will send them with the Spirit of Truth.
Today we have a world filled with relativity, and a world filled with answers. It is similar to various past ages in one degree or another but also differs in so many ways. We feel like we are walking out into a world unprepared and without answers. Many of us can be gripped by emotions of fear. We have fear because we have abused our freedoms as a society and culture. We have claimed truth but our lives have not been reflecting a better life.
We claim to know God but how well do we know? We claim to know the truth but how do we discern the correct direction?
George Fox lived in a time not too different than ours. He lived in an England that was divided on the brink of civil war. He lived among people that had several truth claims. They had built schools of learning and in these schools theology was the science that trumped all others. Yet in all of that He was hungry for something more. He says. “For though I read the Scriptures that spake of Christ and of God, yet I knew Him not, but by revelation, as He who hath the key did open, and as the Father of Life drew me to His Son by His Spirit.” (page 9).
In this culture of study and war, of competing truths, George found his hope. He explains it as a key that opened up a new life, and he was drawn into it. He met the Spirit of Truth. This revelation allowed him to know and live a life of hope and peace even in a nation of war. He goes on to say in his journal, “And as the Lord spake, He opened it to me that people and professors did trample upon the life, even the life of Christ; they fed upon words, and fed one another with words; but they trampled upon the life; trampled underfoot the blood of the Son of God, which blood was my life, and lived in their airy notions, talking of Him.” (page 11).
This seems confusing at first, but what George is saying is that in the world around him, the people were all caught up in being right, and fighting for control over others. They were using their knowledge and twisting words to prove that others should follow them, yet in the process they were trampling life. It did not matter to those that sought power that they were draining their nation and their people of all hope, resources, and life. They thought they were right and they were going to impose their ways on others at all cost.
How do we know what is right and wrong? How do we proceed into the future that is filled with so much chaos? How do we advance the kingdom of God without trampling on the very life of Christ? Discernment.
Jesus said that the Spirit of truth would guide us into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak what ever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
We discern truth by seeking the Spirit. This comes through a rhythm of worship, prayer, and service. The three things that Jesus himself spent his time to training the disciples to do. This rhythm of life allows us to let go of the things that are distracting us from God and it opens our eyes to the things God is trying to do for and through us.
It is a process of prayer, study, meditation, and ministry. For George, he went out to pray in the fields, he would also read and seek understanding in scripture. As he said in his Journal, “Yet I had no slight esteem of the Holy Scriptures, bit they were very precious to me, for I was in that Spirit by which they were given forth: and what the Lord opened in me I afterwards found was agreeable to them.” (Page 20)
God does not leave us alone. If He is guiding us in a direction there will be confirmation in scripture. If we seek him he will find us and meet us. He will teach us and guide us. But we must take time to open our lives to him.
We cannot hear the voice of God if we do not make time to build the relationship with him. We cannot be bearers of light in a dark chaotic world if we ourselves are not focused on the light. We cannot bring hope in ministry if we do not acknowledge the life of those around us.
As we prepare to enter into our time of open worship I want to conclude with a longer quote of George Fox. This is a letter that he wrote to some Friends:
“All my dear friends in the noble Seed of God, who have known His power, life, and presence among you, let it be your joy to hear or see the springs of life break forth in any; through which ye may have all unity in the same, feeling life and power. And above all things, take heed of judging any one openly in your meetings, except they be openly profane or rebellious, such as be out of the truth; that by the power, life, and wisdom ye may stand over them, and by it answer the witness of God in the world, that such, whom ye bear your testimony against are none of you: so that therein the truth may stand clear and single. But such as are tender, if they should be moved to bubble forth a few words, and speak in the Seed and Lamb’s power, suffer and bear that; that is, the tender. And if they should go beyond their measure, bear it in the meeting for peace and order’s sake, and that the spirits of the world be not moved against you. But when the meeting is done, then if any be moved to speak to them, between you and them, one or two of you that feel it in the life, do it in the love and wisdom that is pure and gentle from above: for love is that which doth edify, bears all things, suffers long, and doth fulfill the law. So in this ye have order and edification, ye have wisdom to preserve you all wise and in patience; which takes away the occasion of stumbling the weak, and the occasion of the spirits of the world to get up: but in the royal Seed, the heavy stone, ye keep down all that is wrong; and by it answer that of God in all. For ye will hear, see, and feel the power of God preaching, as your faith is all in it (when ye do not hear words), to bind, to chain, to limit, to frustrate; that nothing shall rise nor come forth but what is in the power: for with that ye will hold back, and with that ye will let up, and open every spring, plant, and spark; in which will be your joy and refreshment in the power of God.
“And, Friends, though ye may have been convinced, and have tasted of the power, and felt the light; yet afterwards ye may feel a winter storm, temptest, and hail, frost and cold, and temptation in the wilderness. Be patient and still in the power and in the light that doth convince you, to keep your minds to God; in that be quiet, that ye may come to the summer, that your flight be not in the winter. For if ye sit still in the patience, which overcomes in the power of God, there will be no flying.” (The Journal of George Fox, page 140-141)
We do not know where all are on their spiritual journeys; we do not know where they have been. We do not have all the answers. But we do have the Spirit of Truth ready to guide us if we are willing to let him. Today, let us seek the truth together, encourage one another, and let us love the lives that God has placed around us and direct them to the hope we have found in Jesus Christ our Creator, Savior, and Friend. Who came to live among us, and to shed his blood for us, and who lifted us out of the chaotic darkness into his glorious light.
*quotes are from: The Journal of George Fox; ed. Norman Penney; Cosimo Classics, New York (2007).
Scripture: John 14:23-29
The past few weeks we have been hit with a lot of weighty things to consider. To be asked if we truly lived as if the resurrection happened is hard to take in. I have asked this knowing full well that everyone here believes this whole-heartedly or else we would not be here. Like the apostle Paul says, “without the resurrection our faith is in vain.” And to me we are not people that live in vain. Vanity is not a testimony of Friends, the opposite where we like to hang our hats. We have a core value of simplicity, simplicity does not mean stingy or cheap, but honest and truthful, without pomp or vanity. This simplicity can be difficult to live. To be simple in speech and deed can be offensive to many. To speak the truth in all cases takes tact and a lot of practice, we must be slower to speak and quicker to observe.
So when I ask if we live as if we believe in the resurrection, I ask with full knowledge that offense could be taken. I take that risk because I want us to truly consider and examine our lives. To take a step back, out of our current situation to see if our words and actions match.
Jesus understands that He taught weighty things. He understands that it is difficult to live a life as His disciple. Difficulty is not an excuse. The most difficult things in life are often the most important to us. Marriage is difficult. Parenthood is difficult. School is difficult. Life is difficult. Jesus begins this passage saying, “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.” That single verse sums up the entire purpose of our existence.
When they began telling the story of our beginnings, the story was told that in the Garden, Adam and Eve lived at peace. Their needs were met and the desires fulfilled within themselves and the plants of the garden, and God would walk with them in the cool of the evenings. God would walk with them. The same concept is spoken in this statement of Jesus, “we will come to them and make our home with them.” Our first parents would live their day just to take that walk in the evening. They enjoyed this cool walk after spending their day tending the garden, and listening to the word of God. As long as the followed or kept the word, God would meet with them.
The story takes a drastic turn when they stopped keeping the word and decided take a route where they had the knowledge of good and evil. From that moment on there were two paths in life: one path would lead to ruin and the other to grace. One of the pathways seems right because the way is well traveled and the other is difficult, but only one pathway leads to God. The pathway that is easy leads away from God, that easy path is a life where our own self-interest is the focus of all of our efforts. And when our interests take the lead in our lives devastation is in the wake. Life is built in the relationships we have with each other, we were made to be social beings, created to live together with each other and with God. Sin happens when we put ourselves before our relationships, ourselves before the community. Sin is the “I” before the “We”. God cannot make a home with the self-centered because there is no room.
Jesus came to live among us to exemplify a life devoted to sacred community. He made it His custom to worship in the synagogues. He made it His custom to join with others in worship. There is power in the corporate worship experience. It is in these places where the community can encourage and support each individual. Jesus also would serve people in the community. Often He would serve the ones that everyone else would reject, the people that could do nothing to advance His own status, and in many cases relating to them would actually cause cultural harm. Both worship and ministry or service are done in community, we do these together with and for others. Jesus would also withdraw to a desolate place to pray. This on the surface may sound like a very self-centered discipline, but this is still a “we” oriented activity. Prayer is the place where we meet with God, where we provide a space for God to come to us and make a home in us. Prayer is where we relate and build our relationship with God. It is in that desolate place away from other humans where we can examine our lives, listen to the voice of God, and reengage in worship and service with and for others.
Worship, service, and prayer are disciplines. Disciplines are difficult; they are things that take practice. It is when we practice and engage in these activities where we begin walking that pathway that leads to God. The second verse in this passage says, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words…” Love of God requires something of us. To love God we must keep His word. This is a loaded verse, it takes us back to the question I have asked nearly every week in this Easter season, “do we truly believe and live as if the resurrection happened.” Our actions reflect our true belief. The simplicity testimony of Friends covers actions more than declarations. Simple dress and simple speech are testimonies of action not just confessions of devotion. They took this testimony of action because they wanted to keep His Word, to live the Word. They lived witnessing how religion could become dry and empty, they witnessed professions of love for God without the keeping of the Word of God in the lives of the professors.
We have a dilemma. Do we live as if the resurrection is real, do we keep the word of God, or are we professors without the reality? This is the dilemma that faces each and every human everywhere in the world. It was a dilemma that faced the Jewish people in the first century during the ministry of Jesus and later the apostles. How do we know which pathway we are on? How do we know if we are keepers of the word or just professors of the word? One way is to study the witness of those that have gone before us. People throughout history have studied, memorized, and interpreted sacred scriptures for centuries. This is an important discipline. If we want to keep the word of God we must have a place to start, and that place is in scripture. The bible is the witness of human interactions with God; sometimes those interactions were a witness of human failure or greatness. Through the reading of scripture we can develop a theology or an understanding of God, but we can also remain void of any relationship with God. The study of scripture is a foundation but scripture in itself is not the full word of God. The word of God is relational. We can pound the bible and quote chapter and verse and be just as far from God as Cain. This is why the ancient theologians of the Christian tradition did not call scripture the word of God, but Jesus the Word of God.
The ancient understanding of Word in the case of the use in scripture is knowledge or wisdom from God. Jesus in this passage states that, “if you love me you will keep my word.” In essence Jesus is saying to them that He is the wisdom of God, if you follow him then you are with God. If you reject him then you do not only reject him but the one who sent him. This is powerful in that day and age, the study of scripture and theology was at the pinnacle in the first century. But Jesus takes it a step further, not only should you know the words but the person.
To be a true follower of God, a true lover of God; Jesus says that we must keep his word or wisdom. Wisdom that has been written for us to study, but how do words written thousands of years ago apply today? That is where the Advocate comes in. In the first century Jesus taught and explained, today we do not have that luxury because Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us. How do we continue to keep the word of God without the physical presence of Christ? The Holy Spirit is our advocate. The Spirit of God meets us in that quiet place of prayer, it intensifies when we gather together in worship, and it is directed when we serve those in our community. The Holy Spirit is the life and blood of God connecting persons of God together similar to how our blood connects our body together. Jesus says that this Spirit will teach and remind us of all that He has taught.
This is where the Society of Friends found its place in history. George Fox truly believed that the Spirit of God was active in the world just as much in his day as in the days of the apostles, and even today. Fox and the other early Friends were not the first to believe this; they only reminded the religious world of the things that they already knew. That is the problem with knowledge; at times we get used to doing the same things and forget. We stop listening for the Spirit and begin trying to control things ourselves. The disciples were all too aware of this; this is the pride of the Pharisees that Jesus would often preach against. The Spirit will teach and remind, we will begin to gain confidence and then we leave the Spirit behind as we walk forward. This is why Jesus would worship, serve, and withdraw to pray. This is why George Fox would encourage his Friends to meet in silence, and why the various monastic orders would call their members to prayer. Jesus then says, “peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Do not be afraid; do not let your hearts be troubled. When George Fox was in a period of seeking his heart was troubled. He wanted a relationship with God but he was not able to find it in the methods that were taught by the professors of his day. In distress he wondered England and finally took his bible and climbed a hill. On that hill he heard the voice of God saying to him, “There is one, eve Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.” And George testified of this event, “and when I heard it, my heart did leap for joy.” Peace and Joy came when George found a rhythm of worship, prayer, and ministry.
To live a life with God, a life keeping the word of God is difficult. It requires each of us to engage in a lifestyle where we too keep the rhythm of prayer, worship, and service. A lifestyle of simplicity, and community, where we think less of our own needs and consider others needs as more important than our own. In this lifestyle we find something different, a life that is both different than the world around us, but also more satisfying. We lose ourselves but in the process we become gain our true identity. As we more fully engage in the rhythm of Christ we are taught and reminded by the Spirit of the wisdom of God and we are joined more fully with the God who created us to worship, serve, and relate to Him. A life with Christ is one that requires an investment of our total mind, body, and spirit. And the return of this investment is peace, not of this world. A peace that will overcome the greatest loss and highlight our greatest joys, a peace that will carry us through the difficulties of our relationships as well as drive us into greater challenges.
We face a changing of an era, the end of one stage of human history and the beginning of another. As we enter this time of open worship, a time where we wait in holy expectation let us seek the peace of Christ, let us listen to the reminders of the Spirit, and let us experience the joy of life with God. As we become a people who are defined and know for loving God, Embracing the Holy Spirit, Living the Love of Christ with others.