Search This Blog

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Coloring Outside the Lines

Each week we have a Wednesday evening service at the church I serve. Often I will deliver reflections on one of the lessons I will not be preaching on on Sunday. Sometimes I will reflect on one or another themes that my preparation for preaching the upcoming Sunday has turned up. But this coming Sunday's lectionary offers a choice of texts for the Gospel, so this Wednesday, my homily was based on the gospel text we will NOT hear on Sunday.

John 14:23-29
Jesus speaks of his word in our text today. Just what is the “word” of Jesus? Jesus’ word is truth.
But then that begs the question: What is truth?
Here is truth – the gospel of John has spoon-fed it to us over the past several weeks.
The truth is that God is love. The truth is that God loves us and that God loves the whole world. The truth is that God desires that all people know the life-giving mercy and grace made possible in Jesus Christ.
The truth is that the love of God is for all people.
The truth is that Jesus shows us and calls us to servant love – love that places the needs and good of the other before our own.
The truth is that if we follow the first and most important commandment, to love God with all our being ; to love God above all else and then to follow that with loving our neighbor as ourselves, then God makes God’s home with us. 
But there are so many competing voices in our world who want to define the truth of Jesus by their own self-serving vision of holy hierarchy, where their own needs and desires, status, prosperity or whatever it is that is most important in their lives must be met and anything that threatens or impacts acquisition of the same creates fear and animosity. Those voices all too often seek to place boundaries like lines on God’s love, and color it in.
When I was little, I loved to color. I’m not sure that kids today color the way we colored. It was a major activity and we had loads and loads of coloring books and crayons – good, old0fashioned crayons – in our house to prove it. I was a perfectionist even then. I abhorred coloring outside the lines. So, I discovered that if I outlined the portion of the picture I wanted to color first, then I was more likely to be able to keep within the lines of the picture and not cross the crayon boundaries I had created.
The competing voices that confront us in our daily lives are a lot like the coloring pages I created, and the theory behind my outlines. They declare that all God has drawn borders around us. God wants our individual happiness and well-being, and Jesus came to achieve that for us. Since Jesus died on the cross for it and for us, we’re all good, right? We can color away – just stay inside the lines.
And anything that might threaten our personal goal of happiness for ourselves at all costs – even the cost paid on the cross, is what extends past the lines, and induces deep fear in us.
Next week we will be observing the ascension of Jesus into the heavenly realm, and once again in our text tonight, Jesus is in preparation mode. Not preparing himself – but preparing the disciples for what is to come.
Following the crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus spent some time with his disciples in the time between Easter and the ascension. But this time, when Jesus leaves, they will not see him again on this side of glory. We will not see him again until his return.
After the ascension, no longer would Jesus walk in the world and continue to school his disciples as he has done since the resurrection.
That might have been a really scary realization for the disciples. Jesus is leaving them with an enormous mission, and it’s up to them to carry on this work of loving and caring and showing what godly compassion and mercy look like.
Jesus is leaving them with a message for those in the world that will be cherished by some and despised by others. It will be dangerous at times, and it will be challenging, but it’s a vital message and will also be work worth doing; and Jesus promises they will not be alone in it.
Once again, Jesus wishes the disciples peace. It is the thing that they need the most, perhaps because Jesus will be sending them to color outside the lines. Jesus eradicates the boundaries we place in order to keep our lives neat and pretty. They – and we – will need the peace of Jesus when we are going to color outside the lines. So, Jesus wishes them peace – so that their hearts will not be consumed by fear and grief once more. Indeed, they need peace, and they need faith. [which the Holy Spirit will grow in them as the Holy Spirit does in us.]
It might feel like a pretty tall order that Jesus is leaving them with, and that by extension, Jesus give to us. But Jesus reassures them that it really will be okay. Because Jesus doesn’t leave them – or us – alone. God sends the Advocate – that pesky and wondrous Holy Spirit, to guide us in the ways of truth, to us them, and to remind us of what it is that Jesus commands of us.
This promise that God will be sending forth the third person of this symbiotically working godhead, the Holy Spirit, is God’s investment in the continuation of the work of Jesus in the world.
This Holy Spirit will, teach, remind, console, empower, and enliven the work they – and we - will do in Jesus’ name . The Holy Spirit is, in fact, God’s power unleashed in us, enabling us to tell truth, to show love, to invite in, and to go out.
The Holy Spirit inspires us all to share God’s word.
The Holy Spirit empowers us to speak truth to the powers of the world.
The Holy Spirit gives each of us gifts to use to further the work of the Kingdom of God.
The Holy Spirit comes to us and goes forth from us in prayer, in sighs too deep for words.
Keeping Jesus’ word is the primary point of order for disciples, and will be the proof of our love for Jesus. It’s all about keeping Jesus’ word. And therein lies the rub, because we human beings are so good at deceiving ourselves, and convincing ourselves that keeping Jesus’ word as Jesus’ gave it is negotiable. It is hypocrisy to claim to know and love Jesus but to act in ways contrary to the ethic of love of neighbor and care for all people that Jesus himself illustrated with his life.
This text appears in what is known as the Farewell Discourse of Jesus. Because Jesus knows that following his word and speaking his truth will get us rejected at times, thrown out of the groups to which we belong at times, and will make us hugely unpopular at times. So, Jesus drives home again and again this truth: “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”.
Because here’s the thing: abiding in Jesus’ love and keeping Jesus’ words are the only things that will make it possible to withstand the rejection that comes with believing that God really does love the whole world – that God loves all people, and all means all. Those people who are inside the drawn lines and boundaries of our society, and those who are outside. Those who keep the little world we try to create around us neat and clean, and those whose inclusion makes it a bit messy.
But Jesus reminds us that we are created for this, and so we are not left alone to be the hands of Jesus in the world. Jesus came that all people might have life in his name, and Jesus shines the light on us, as we carry out life-giving love and mercy through sharing the truth known through Jesus Christ. through the power of the Holy Spirit.
So, dear friends, we are encouraged, empowered, and strengthened through the Holy Spirit to keep Jesus’ words. We are not alone. The Holy Spirit will teach you everything and remind you of all the words Jesus has spoken to you. Let it be so.