Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
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Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 1, 2016

As you know, my family gathers at Christmas time. It is the one time we all have the chance to be together. It is so good to be with them, to share stories, to remember times past and look forward to future times together. One of the hardest things I have to do at the end of the time is say good-bye to Kristy and Evan. They are going back to Atlanta and I know I won’t see them for a while. Being in Atlanta makes them happy, and I am so glad for that, but they are so far away.

Thank goodness for Skype. For those of you who don’t know, Skyping is a way that you can not only talk to the ones you love over the computer, you can see them as well. That makes all our conversations better, more intimate, more personal. I can comment on how much longer Evan’s beard is getting (he looks like a mountain man now) or how good Kristy’s hair looks. I can even see my grand-dog Bella, who often noses her way into the picture when she hears me talking.

Jesus is talking to the disciples about his departure and he knows they are sad and afraid. One of the things he really wants the disciples to know is that he will not leave them comfortless. They will not be left as orphans are left, to make their way in the world without a leader or guide.

Jesus won’t be able to Skype, but he promises them three gifts to help them as they come together to be the church. The first promise is that he and the Father will come to Jesus’ followers and dwell with them. They will live with them and show them the love Jesus has shown for them. There is a caveat however. Jesus and the Father will come to those who love him and therefore keep his word. Jesus is giving this teaching in answer to one of the disciple’s questions about why Jesus chooses to reveal himself to the disciples and not to the whole world. Jesus really doesn’t answer the question, just says that those who obey his word will have his presence with them always. It does sometimes seem strange that the gospels say Jesus told the people many things in parables so that they would not understand. So right now there is a relatively small group who believe in Jesus and do his will and therefore the will of his Father. It will be left to the apostles to broaden that group, to bring both Jews and Gentiles into the church, into the group that loves Jesus and will do his word.

So is it the disciples who have to do the work before Jesus and God come or do Jesus and God come to help them do the work. We believe that salvation comes through grace by faith and not by works, that the works are a response to the grace that has been given. Therefore God has been the initial actor in the disciples’ conversion by Jesus, and God will be the initial actor in this promise too. God will give the believers the strength to do the work Jesus has given them to do and then will come and dwell with them, along with Jesus.

That dwelling in someone is very special. Our family and friends dwell in us in certain ways in our memories of them, but this is an active dwelling, one that might be compared to your favorite relative coming to live with you. There will be some adjustment period, but soon you will be accustomed to his or her presence and enjoy it very much. If you think the disciples will have an easy transition to having God and Jesus dwell with them, think again. They have never heard talk like this before. As much as they desire Jesus to be present with them, this is something beyond their understanding and will take some getting used to.

The second gift Jesus promises is the gift of the Holy Spirit, the advocate. The Holy Spirit’s function is to help them remember what Jesus has told them to do, so they have a source of knowledge when they are confused about what to do in a particular situation. The Spirit gives guidance and direction, support and encouragement. The Spirit is also there to teach about new situations that Jesus did not cover. When we discern what God wants us to do about things like blessing same sex marriages, imposing capital punishment, doing the work of racial reconciliation, we are calling on the Spirit to help us with this knowledge of how to fit Jesus’ instructions to today’s issues.

Before he departs, Jesus also promises the disciples peace. He knows that their hearts are troubled and afraid because he is going away and they will see him no longer. But he wants them to have shalom, that sense of well-being and wholeness. Jesus’ peace never promises that life will be without troubles and difficulties, but that an abiding sense of Jesus’ presence will dwell with them to bless them in their problems as well as their times of joy and happiness.

Those disciples are not the only ones who are promised these precious gifts from Jesus. Throughout history apostles have been making disciples who are baptized in the Holy Spirit to do God’s work. That includes us. God and Jesus dwell within us and the Holy Spirit gives us the guidance we need to solve our problems, reconcile our relationships and be the people God has called us to be. We are also given peace that passes understanding.

But the world is with us and sometimes we are not walking in Jesus’ ways. We get distracted by the many things we are doing. We may think about God when we say grace, when an ambulance goes by, when we’re in a situation that is overwhelming. It is good that we think about God’s will at all, but it is important that we discern what God’s will for us is all the time, how we do God’s work in our schools, our businesses, our homes, our relationships. It is important to take time to be with God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit to be taught what to do in the many situations that we face in life.

We may also be involved in purposeful forgetting about God. We decide on a plan and we want to carry out our plan, come hell or high water. And hell, that feeling of separation from God, is exactly what we will get if we try to control our lives down to the smallest detail. The fact is, we can’t, and we run ourselves ragged trying to do the impossible.

And God’s peace often eludes us. We feel insecure about our lives and we are afraid of many things, although most of the things we worry about never happen. We may be angry with God because of something that has happened to us or a loved one or in the world at large and may not feel like we can speak to God. But Jesus has said he, God and the Holy Spirit will take care of us. We can rest in this truth and feel peaceful, knowing that we can depend on God to make us whole.

Jesus promises us his and God’s presence if we do his work, the Holy Spirit’s guidance and direction and the peace that passes understanding. Our job is to discern what the work is that we are supposed to do, how we are to handle various life situations as we rest in God’s peace. That is individual work and that is community work. Our community has just embarked on a visioning process in which we hope to discern God’s will for us over the next few years. The vision committee will work for a time on direction and then present it to the congregation because whatever we do has to be a shared vision or it won’t get done.

So rejoice in the gifts Jesus has promised. Take time to take advantage of God’s constant presence with us to discern what God is calling you to do. Rest in God and feel the peace that passes understanding. Truly, we have been blessed.

AMEN

     -- Rev. Ann Barker