Here is a link to listen to the sermon by The Rev. Edwin Chinery on May 26, 2019, the Sixth Sunday of Easter. There is also a link to the scripture for this Sunday and the text of the sermon below.
In our gospel passage for today, Jesus talks with the disciples about the time after “his hour” – after he goes to his father. Jesus doesn’t speak about his passion in John’s gospel anywhere near the way he does in the synoptic gospels. Oh there’s frequent mention of his detractors wanting to kill him, but he mostly talks about going to a place where “you cannot come”.
We’re in that long conversation between the Last Supper and Gethsemane. Jesus has washed everybody’s feet and he’s given the new commandment to love one another. Then his speech becomes even more confusing than usual – with circular language that seems, at first, only puzzling – meant to knock both his disciples and us a little off-kilter. He even sort of acknowledges it himself, “You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you’”. God’s tendency to speak in paradoxical ways through the fourth evangelist is, understandably, difficult to get comfortable with. That might be the whole point. There really isn’t any walking away with an easy understanding we can neatly tuck away and move on feeling resolved. No. This stuff wants to stay with us. And if we stay with it, we begin to understand the poverty of language – it’s inability to capture, contain, or clearly describe to our brains the points Jesus tries to make – the points he seems to know must land in our hearts if we are to know him in our lives. Sticking with him – keeping his word – is a little like encounter with poetry or music. If we don’t try to impose meaning on his words, sometimes what begins to float up through them are little glimmers of impressions about God. And if our approach is very generous, we might begin to perceive that Jesus is referring to what will always be a powerful and unfinished encounter with God – that this encounter is not exclusive to himself – and that it transcends linear time, physical presence, and even language. This is not so much about brain learning. It definitely wants to be more about heart and spirit.
Some time ago – this past Ash Wednesday, actually – we talked about giving up contempt for Lent. We reflected together on how it’s become apparent – politics being the point around which our observations moved – that large parts of our national and world cultures promote a dynamic grounded in something called “motive attribution asymmetry”. That’s a very fancy way of saying that my ideas are based in love and yours in hate – where I believe I’m driven by benevolence and you by evil and animosity; therefore, you are an enemy with whom I cannot negotiate. We also explored what it means to think no so much about eliminating disagreement, but removing contempt from it so that we might “disagree better”.
I confess I came away from the pulpit that day feeling pretty good. Not because I’m so brilliant – far from it – but because it felt like I’d been able to say out loud what’s truly and deeply in my heart. And I was able to do so in a way where I got the impression that you understood, because you felt that way too – for whatever the reasons.
It’s not always easy to do that. Sometimes the process is stimulating, sometimes it’s frustrating. But only if you take it seriously. And I do. And it is abundantly clear that my clergy colleagues do too. But, speaking for myself, I do it, in part, for my sake – for the sake of my own spiritual consciousness, because it’s important for me to be able to put into words how I’m able to know God in this world. And I take it seriously, maybe even more, for your sake – for the sake of your spiritual consciousness and how you’re able to know God, and maybe even find some useable language about it.
So, this being said, for the next several minutes, I’d like to invite you to consider your own spiritual nature. To be conscious of your own spirituality. That’s all. Do it any way that seems helpful. There are no guidelines. There’s no wrong way to do it. Close your eyes if that makes you comfortable. Relax. Have a little fun. This won’t take too long. But there’s a chance we’ll wind up doing it all our lives.
Let’s begin by consciously recalling moments where we gain impressions of God through scripture.
We know, for instance:
• That we’re commanded to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength
• That we’re also commanded to love our neighbors and ourselves equally
o What impression about God does this make?
• We also know, from Jesus’ words before and after the resurrection, that God wishes for us to be at peace
o Why would this be important to God?
• And yet we also we know – as we see a bit later in this same conversation between Jesus and the disciples – that “(we) will be persecuted on account of (Jesus’) name”
o That there may come times when, as we do our best to live out the love that Jesus models for us – that we’ll experience turmoil – inner…outer…both
o What does that say to us about God?
That’s what I’m searching in my heart. It’s what I’m lately inviting myself to attempt to put words to. Jesus offers us peace. And yet we’ll experience great trials in his name. I can’t help but find conflict here. Do you? Do you find yourself asking “How am I to find God in that tension”?
Now. Can you think of a moment of turmoil in your own life experience? It doesn’t have to be a major issue – it could be a petty annoyance. Do you ever wonder how God is present in those places? Don’t answer, but hold that thought for a moment. Because I’m going to ask you to do something with the awareness that comes of holding that thought in a few minutes.
And while you’re wondering, let me share this:
I’m experiencing a rather significant conflict at present. It’s become clear to me that someone I love very much holds political and social views to which I am diametrically OPPOSED. And while I’m not prepared, as yet, for fruitful dialogue about it, I find myself dwelling on it a lot. Turning it over in my mind and heart as I search for God’s presence. As the search progresses, I confess I’m not finding great clarity or relief, but I am beginning to gain some impressions about God.
You see, in the matter at hand, there’s great love. If there wasn’t love there wouldn’t be any conflict. I could easily become dismissive. I’m finding I’ve done that more than I’d like to admit these past few years. But this time I can’t. And I wonder if God is telling me that the time has come – that I’m ready to go deeper.
This feels like genuine discernment, which usually bids us try on the various realities of a matter. So, in one of those moments where I may try to tuck this away and move on, I naturally drifted into recalling a similarly powerful conflict in my life that discombobulated me many years ago. Another disagreement with a very important friend. Vastly different specifics. I recall sharing my churned-up feelings with a trusted confessor – my older sister. And when I threw up my hands and grumbled about how this relationship might not be right for me, she paused. Long enough for me to look up at her, and, smiling, she said, “Huh…” “What?” said I. “Well…it just seems that these issues are so right for you”. Which really pissed me off. But she was right.
As I recalled that moment, it felt like my heart cracked open just the teeny bit, and a little shaft of light peeked in. I could almost hear a voice – I think it was Jesus – saying, “…you poor thing…you worry so”. He often starts that way with me. “Just because there’s turmoil in your heart – it doesn’t always mean there’s something wrong. Sometimes it actually means that something is right. Because if it’s love that’s brought you to this place, I’m here to tell you…that turmoil is the right thing.”
Can you think of a moment of turmoil in your own life? If you haven’t in this moment, then perhaps the question is meant to follow you around for a while. How about, next time you catch yourself struggling with a painfully familiar uneasiness, I wonder what it could be like for you to just stop. Stop and take a few deep breaths in the presence of the unrest in your spirit. And then, with the kindness and care you reserve for someone you truly love, gently see the way love is woven through that uneasiness. It’s definitely in there. Then see if you begin to experience that conflict as the rightest thing you could be doing, and ask yourself, “Does this bring a kind of peace?”
“Peace I leave with you; my own peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” “The Holy Spirit…will teach you everything, and remind you of all I have said to you.”
It’s almost as if Jesus offers us a formula for keeping his word. Stop. Breathe. Be still and invite the Holy Spirit to bring into your own creative presence the person of Jesus. You see the Holy Spirit isn’t simply a substitute for Jesus – not a cure for his absence. Rather she lives in your bringing him to mind and heart, because this introduces the possibility of his creative presence being expressed through you. This is the sense of peace Jesus leaves with us, not a sense of peace that relies solely upon the absence of conflict.
Now when you think of conflict or turmoil in your life, will you gently allow your thoughts to be woven through with threads of spiritual consciousness – a lively consciousness of your own spirit and how it moves in rhythm with the Holy Spirit?
OK. Here’s what I invite you to do with this awareness. Because this is not one of those moments like in the gospels where Jesus sends a healed leper or demoniac away and says, “Whatever you do, don’t tell anybody!” No. This is something you must talk about. But I don’t know if you have to talk about it with words that try to compete with the language used by “religious” folks who seem to want to divide. I’m always afraid of people who are that sure of what’s on God’s mind especially if they know how and why God loves some of us more than others. Your speech about peace in the presence of your own conflict doesn’t have to be God-speak or even Spirit-speak. Try Heart-speak – talk about what’s going on in your own heart. Say what’s truly and deeply in your heart. The one with whom you’re speaking – perhaps the one around whom turmoil swirls – may just understand something new and wonderful about you, about themselves, or both – maybe even about God. Because like God, your heart has the capacity to transcend time, physical presence and, yes, even language. Which suggests that, if you speak about your own heart, you really will be using the language of God.
“Let’s do this”, he said. “It’ll be fun”, he said.
And it just may begin to help our world to heal in some of its darkest corners.
Peace, my friends.