Saturday, May 20, 2017

No Fixed Abode But Us (RCL Easter 6A)

No Fixed Abode But Us
Reflections on John 14.15-21

RCL Easter 6A
21 May 2017

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church

                  14.15 [Jesus said,] “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.  17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
                  18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.  19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.  20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.  21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

            I recently sat down with pen and paper to figure out how many times I have moved since 1953.  The answer is twenty-four times, an average of a move every thirty-three months or so.  There have been long gaps, such as from 1963 to 1971, when I lived with my parents before going off to university, and from 1999 to 2011, when Paula, the children and I lived in the rectory.  There have also been periods of frequent change, four times during my four years in university, four times in the three years before marriage and going off to Notre Dame to study for my doctorate.

            Although I have never been homeless nor had to sleep on a friend’s couch for an extended period of time, I admit that I am sometimes tempted to tell people that I have no fixed abode.  But that would not be entirely true, not just because I do have an address, but because my fixed abode is the Christian people.

            Wherever I have travelled, wherever I have dwelt, the Christian community, particularly the Anglican community, has been my fixed abode.  Unlike many of my contemporaries I have never left the company of people who gather Sunday after Sunday to hear the Word, to offer our intercessions, petitions and thanksgiving, to break the bread and to pour the wine.  I know for a fact that some of my friends from high school and university find me just a little bit odd.

            When I think about it, the reason that this community has been my home is that the story that you and I are part of is the only story that makes any sense to me, the only story that gives meaning to my life and the only story that helps me understand the world in which you and I live.  And the story that I have heard in this community and that keeps me grounded here is an ancient story of love.

            Love is a word with many meanings.  C. S. Lewis, the famous Christian writer, once wrote a book entitled The Four Loves.  One kind of love, he wrote, is friendship, a precious gift that even Jesus could not do without.  Another kind of love is parental and filial love, the love between the members of a family, especially the love between a parent and a child.  Think of the many paintings and icons of the Madonna and Child or of Jesus’ last words from cross when he entrusted Mary and John to each other’s care.  Then there is passion, sometimes expressed in physical relations between two persons, sometimes expressed in an almost irresistible desire to accomplish a task or champion a cause.  We see this when Jesus drives the money-changers from the Temple precincts.

            But the love that makes the Christian story compelling is the love which Jesus speaks of in today’s gospel.  When someone loves in this fourth way, he or she is willing to empty herself or himself on behalf of another.  When someone loves in this way, what the New Testament calls agaph, then he or she will do everything possible so that the ‘other’, whomever he or she may be, is able to grow into the fullness of humanity that God intends for each of us.

            God empties the divine self to make room for creation.  God empties the divine self in Jesus in order to bring humanity back into proper relationship with God and with each other.  God empties the divine self in the ‘Advocate’, the ‘spirit of truth’ to ensure that we know who we are, what we are called to become and how we are to live in order to fulfill our destiny.

            I did not learn this in any school I attended.  I learned it by dwelling in the midst of the Christian community where that ‘spirit of truth’ is pleased to dwell.  I learned by listening the Scriptures, by sharing in the prayers, by partaking in the sharing of the bread and wine.  I learned by singing hymns which dared to say

And so the yearning strong,
with which the soul will long,
shall far outpass the power of human telling;
no soul can guess Love’s grace
till it become the place
wherein the Holy Spirit makings a dwelling. [1]

            All around us are people who are seeking to find what we know dwells here.  They move from place to place, from guru to guru, from self-help group to self-help group, from website to website, seeking to know where Love abides.  And all this time, wherever they have wandered, that Love has been here or in one of the other communities where Love dwells.  Love, you see, has always chosen to dwell in flesh and blood, to find an abode among real people who face the real challenges of life without fear.

            When I was a boy, our priest, Father Palmer, taught us that we were to genuflect as we left our pews to receive communion but not when we returned.  When we asked him why, he said simply, ‘You genuflect to Christ who is waiting for you at the altar.  But once you have received, Christ is in you, so there is no need to genuflect.  You have become Christ’s dwelling place.’

            Christ has no other fixed abode than you and I.  We are God’s dwelling place and we are surrounded by many who are spiritually homeless.  They believe that they are orphaned, that God either does not exist or does not care.  Perhaps they need to hear the story and find their way to their proper fixed abode.

[1] Evangelical Lutheran Worship 2006, Hymn #804, verse 4.

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