Easter 6A; John 14:15-21
On this Sixth Sunday of Easter our gospel lesson continues in John's Farewell Discourse. Why, we may ask, in this Easter season when we spend 40 days with the resurrected Christ, are we hearing pre-resurrection stories and not post-resurrection stories? I think the answer is that, like the disciples before us, we also need to be prepared to be on our own.
Last week Jesus told us that he was going to prepare a place for us in his Father's house. After that departure we are told that he and the Father will give us another Advocate. This is the Holy Spirit who, like Jesus before, is unable to be received by the world. This is the gift given to us by Jesus and the Father to ensure that we will not be abandoned and orphaned.
I want to focus on two things one of my commentaries brought up: the first is the focus of, “you,” and the second is the subject of, “witness.”
Throughout the Farewell Discourse Jesus uses the word, “you.” I go to prepare a place for you; you know the way; I will do whatever you ask in my name; if you love me, you will keep the commandments; because I live, you will live; and others.
The authors of this commentary point out that this is a plural, or corporate, you; not an individual you. Why is this important?
This is important because we are reminded that Jesus is talking to the body of believers and that the gift of the Holy Spirit is a gift for the body of believers. Neither Jesus nor the Holy Spirit are private possessions of any one individual. Yes, we may be called individually each by name to Christ. Yes, we may each receive a particular gift from the Holy Spirit. But those callings and those gifts are always made in the context of community.
When Jesus says, “I will do whatever you ask in my name,” we need to understand both that this is not an individual wish granting, and we need to ensure that what we ask for aligns with the will of God. This would explain why the prayer of Janis Joplin (O Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz) isn't a valid prayer, as well as why we need to constantly measure our values and mission against God's will.
Two good examples are a person who says, “I believe God wants me to do X.” Done properly, this is checked out by the community to help discern God's call. Or our kitchen project. Are we doing it because we want something shiny to keep up with other churches? Or are we doing it as a measure of good stewardship and giving us the ability to more effectively feed people?
What we do will be supported by Christ if we do it corporately with kingdom values.
The second part of this is witness. I spoke about being a witness briefly to the kids last week, and I'll elaborate on that here. Going back to my commentary, it says that this Spirit is a gift to all disciples, witnessing to the life of Christ.
What does it mean to be a witness? One meaning is to have seen something. We witness a car accident. We witness a great performance. We witness the sacrament of baptism being administered. We witness how Christ is active and present in our midst.
Another meaning is to be the person who testifies to what has been seen.
We are all witnesses in the first sense of the word. We have all seen the face of Christ in this place, as well as the workings of the Holy Spirit. We see the face of Christ in the people who are fed at the Community Cafe. We see the face of Christ in our visitors, showing hospitality and welcoming all. We are also the face of Christ to those people when we do those things.
The Holy Spirit is present here when we love each other and respect the dignity of every human being. The Holy Spirit is present here when we correctly balance our internal desires with external needs. And when we see these things we are witnesses to the presence of God.
But we could all probably do better at being that second type of witness – the witness that testifies to what you have seen. This isn't necessarily about going door-to-door with little episcopal tracts. It isn't about standing on the street corner with a big, floppy Book of Common Prayer . . . I mean, Bible. This is about looking for opportunities to testify to the faith.
Say grace at meals with company. Tell people about our involvement with Micah's Backpack, Bester School, Community Cafe, Mayfest, and others. Know why you are here and don't be ashamed to be that witness. As our Presiding Bishop reminded us, we pray for that opportunity every Sunday: “And now, Father, send us out . . . as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.”
So here we are on this Sixth Sunday of Easter. The Feast of the Ascension and Jesus' departure is imminent. Shortly we will be on our own, trying to live the best we can into the words of Christ.
Let us remember that the gift of the Holy Spirit was given to this community. Let us continually work to align our life together and the goals we set with the will of God. Let us always reflect kingdom values.
Let us remember that we witnesses the presence and workings of the Holy Spirit in this place. Let us be witnesses of Christ's presence to the world around us.
We are a community of Christ and we have much work to do.