Rector's Ramblings: May 17th

 

 

John 3:16 'God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son'

The mood around us is changing this week: definitely more busyness as people return to work and definitely more traffic. There’s more anxiety too: is it safe to go out, should lockdown have continued? There’s so much we don’t know yet, including when will church buildings be able to open and how will we be allowed to use them. Questions abound as to how the world and the church will be in the new scenario. If you listen to the pundits, you’ll have travelled down all sorts of possible roads. What will it all look like? The answer I have to keep giving is ‘I don’t know’ because we don’t.

   Perhaps we are not so different from those to whom Jesus was speaking in our gospel passage. As I said last week, they were a very confused and probably distressed group.  To this confused bunch, Jesus spoke words of comfort but then went on to say “Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. They will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father” Do you really mean us? You’ve said we’ll let you down, and now you say we’ll do great things? These words were spoken prior to Jesus’ execution but my guess is that after his resurrection, he continued to speak similar words to them to prepare for his Ascension, his leaving them physically. Very relevant to us as Jesus isn’t with us physically and as we sit with uncertainty but also with those words of challenge that we embody Jesus for today’s world. Phew!

  Jesus doesn’t give them a 5 year plan or indeed any programme at all. Instead he makes them the most amazing promises. Jesus says that they are not first of all going to ‘do things’, but God is going to live in them. Then because the Spirit is in them, they will be able to love Jesus and do the works of God.

 

Promise No 1: “If you love me, keep my commands. I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you for ever – the Spirit of truth.” If the disciples are going to do the works of Jesus, and if they are to love him and keep his commands, something needs to happen. They are very human people; they don’t really have much of a clue about Jesus and often they get it totally wrong. Something will need to happen and transform them if they are able to do what Jesus says of them.  The promise is to send the Holy Spirit.

   The Spirit living in us! That is a biggie but it is Jesus’ promise. Some Greek now: the word translated as ‘advocate’ is ‘Paraclete’. It has the sense of defence counsel: the one who defends and comforts and speaks up for the weak person. Sometimes it is translated as ‘comforter’ or ‘counsellor’, the one who answers the cry of the needy. A mother is a ‘paraclete’ to her child: she holds and comforts them. The Paraclete takes away the anguish of loneliness. The Paraclete is the one who defends us from those accusing voices from outside us and inside us that put us in the dock and make us feel nobodies. The Paraclete is the one who says to us, as Julian of Norwich learned, “there is no blame in God. You are his joy and crown.”  The word ‘Spirit’ on the other hand has more the idea of wind and breath; the Spirit inspires us and guides us forward. Two aspects of the God who comes to live in us.

 Promise No 2:  “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” Not only will the very Spirit of God come to us but so will Jesus himself. We are not alone in this.

  I recognise we can get bothered by the word ‘if’ – ‘if you love me’ and later on ‘whoever loves me’. O dear, will Jesus only honour his promises if we do this and manage that? I do not believe so. He knows our love and our actions will always be lacking in perfection. His promises are that he, the Father and the Spirit will dwell in us, not apart from us, so that we can be more like Jesus himself. We are to hear that both as a promise to us as individuals but also as Christian communities – we are called to be communities of love as well as individuals of love.

   Jesus’ promises are not conditional on us but that said, he won’t force himself on us. Our part in it all is to be open to receive, to allow Him in a bit more and a bit more. Could we ask him to help us to be open to him? Ask him to give us the desire to desire more of his many many gifts, and not least the gift of himself?

   As the disciples faced Jesus leaving them physically, they had no idea what the future held. They knew they had been told to share the good news of his life and love. How? They had no real idea but the Spirit would guide them and give them courage beyond their wildest imaginings.

   We don’t know what the future holds – we have the call to share the life and the love of Jesus with those around us. Dare we invite the Holy Spirit to come afresh to us and risk experiencing what those early Christians came to know, that he will lead us, be with us? As we wait again for Pentecost on May 31st this year of our Lord 2020, let’s pray together for our openness to be the people and church he wants us to be, to be the people and church in whom his will is done. We may find ourselves as surprised as that first bunch of followers as they were transformed from scaredy cats into those who did embody the life and love of Jesus for others.