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.