Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
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Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 5, 2013

They say that home is where the heart is. If that is true, then my son Evan’s heart is in Atlanta. He was born and raised there, and our stints in Sewanee,TN,Columbus,Ohio and Falls Church never changed his mind about that. All he talked about was how much he wanted to go back home. He applied to several colleges, but when the envelope came sliding through the mail slot that said, “Congratulations, you are now a Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket,” I knew without a doubt where he was going to school. He was going home. And if he had his way, he was staying home. Home with the Braves and the Hawks and the Falcons. Home with the 19 streets with Peachtree in their names. Home with the dogwoods and the azaleas and the warm weather. True to his word, he went home and he stayed home. He got a job in Atlanta. He bought a house in Atlanta. And most of all he married Kristy, an Atlanta girl. Now home is truly where the heart is because it is where the love of his life is.

My experience is a little different than Evan’s.Atlanta is home to me too. I lived there the longest I have ever lived anywhere – 19 years. But I have left pieces of my heart other places too –Charleston,WV, where I grew up,Chapel Hill,NC, where I went to college. And there is a piece of my heart here in Northern Virginia too. I am also at home at my brother’s house in Maryland and my sister’s house in Virginia. Why? Because not only do I love, but I am loved. And to love and be loved is what home is all about. Whether home is a place or a person or persons or some combination of the two, home is where we feel safe and sound, secure in our experience of love.

For a long time, home for the disciples has been wherever Jesus is. They have traveled with him as he proclaimed the kingdom, taught and healed. He has taught them about God and how much God loves them. He has won their hearts with his love for them, when they did well and when they did poorly. And now Jesus is going away. He spends a long time in John preparing them for this reality, but only gradually do they begin to understand and to express fear and anxiety over his departure. They have left all they have known to follow Jesus. He is their home. When he goes they will feel empty and abandoned. But Jesus tells them “No”. He will not leave them orphaned. He will be present with them even though they will not be able to see him.

Jesus makes them three promises of presence. First he promises that he and God will come to dwell with those who love him and keep his word. Now normally, you would not want your boss to dwell with you, to be your roommate.  Do you really want your boss to see your bedhead, your old grey sweats, your sink full of dirty dishes? Do you really want your boss to hear your phone conversations about him or her, to fight with you over the remote control, to expect you to work at home at night? Of course you don’t, even if you like and respect the person.

But Jesus is a different kind of boss. He is the disciples’ loving master, the one they love and long for. If he and God come to dwell with them, then the disciples will be filled once again with the unconditional love that only God can give. If they keep Jesus’ word, God and Jesus will not just be their roommates, but their soul mates. God and Jesus are invested in the disciples becoming apostles, ones who are sent out with the good news of God’s salvation in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. They are invested in spreading the good news throughout the world, so that all may believe and be saved. They are invested in every human being on this earth sharing eternal life with God. What better way to show one’s investment than to come and dwell with the disciples. God and Jesus come when the disciples keep Jesus’ word, and they also help the disciples obey Jesus’ word. Jesus wants them to follow his example in the footwashing – to love one another as servants, to treat one another with kindness, to show hospitality to one another, even to die for one another if necessary. That kind of love is hard to do, possible only with divine help.

The disciples are confused. They do not know what they will experience when God and Jesus are within them. Being friends with Jesus has meant the world to them, but now they have to wait – to live with a promise that will come true later – and it is hard.

Jesus’ second promise of presence is the Holy Spirit, the Advocate. The Spirit’s activity is a continuation of Jesus’ teaching role. God the Father will send the Spirit in Jesus’ name to teach them everything and to remind them of all Jesus has said. The Spirit is with the disciples for the long haul, to teach them how to handle new situations that come up in their apostolic work, to say the things that Jesus says they are not yet ready to hear, and to hold up Jesus’ example again and again. Up until now, Jesus has been the disciples’ teacher. He has been the one they have learned the most from – their favorite. We have all had favorite teachers, ones who believe in us and expect the best from us. I liked Miss Ault, my fourth grade teacher. She was so kind and positive, and she decorated the “S” in her first name, Sarah, to look like a duck. There was Mr. Van Camp, my chorus teacher in high school. He believed in my ability to sing well. He once switched me from first to second soprano in the middle of a song. That is hard, and he believed I could do it. I also had a college professor, Dr. Armitage, from whom I took everything I possibly could. He liked my writing and helped me realize it was a gift I’d been given. There was also one of Evan’s teachers I liked, one of his high school band directors, Mr. Einus. Band was one of Evan’s favorite things, and Mr. Einus eased him into school when I dragged him along toFalls Church. He also talked Evan out of playing football, for which I shall always be grateful. Jesus is promising that the Holy Spirit will ensure that the disciples will still have a favorite teacher to rely on to show them what Jesus would want them to do.

Jesus’ third promise of presence is peace. Jesus gives the disciples his peace in the moment, peace that will calm their troubled hearts and help them through their grief when he goes. But there is more to his peace than freedom from war or psychological stress. There is peace that nothing can take away. No matter what situations they are in, they will feel the peace of Christ surrounding them, and they will be able to stand firm in their faith.

Jesus wants to reassure the disciples that he will not leave them. He wants them to know that they will always have him with them to teach them what to do, to help them keep his word and to give them peace always in the knowledge that they are with God, Jesus and the Spirit eternally. Wherever they go, they will be home, because they will have the Trinity indwelling them. Jesus makes these promises of presence not just to those disciples but to all disciples in every generation. Even though we have never seen Jesus,  we know what Jesus is like because we have experienced him in our lives. We know – even if we often fail to believe – God’s unconditional love for us. And we have heard the Spirit in our hearts, teaching us as we go through the situations life puts before us what Jesus would have us do. We are surrounded and indwelt by a gracious, living love that gives us the peace that passes understanding.

In the movie E.T., when the little alien finally re-engages with his spaceship and is going home, his friend Elliot wonders what he is going to do without him. “Don’t worry,” ET says, pointing to Elliot’s heart. “I’ll be right here”. Jesus is promising us the same thing. By giving us the promises of presence even after he is gone, Jesus calms our fears and gives us joy. We are enabled to keep his word of and spread his message of love for everyone. “Don’t worry,” Jesus says, pointing at our hearts. “I’ll be right here.”

AMEN

  - Rev. Ann Barker