Sunday, June 9, 2019
Wendell Berry is a poet, novelist and environmentalist who lives in Port Royal, Kentucky near his birthplace, where he has maintained a farm for over 40 years (Wendell Berry, Poetry Foundation, poetryfoundation.org). He holds a deep reverence for the land and is a staunch defender of those whose roots run deep in the care and stewardship of the land. It is said that “his poetry celebrates the holiness of life and everyday miracles often taken for granted” (Op. cit.).
Among his many poems is the following (The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, ‘The Peace of Wild Things,” Wendell Berry, Counterpoint, 1999):
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake rests
in his beauty on the water
and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.
For a time I rest in the grace of the world,
and am free.
Our reading from The Gospel According to John, in its own way, reflects a growing despair within the disciples as Jesus begins to bid them farewell. It is in his presence that they struggle to make sense of what he is saying to them.
There is fear. There is grief. “Confused and saddened, the disciples are asking questions such as: Where are you going? Can we go? Will we ever be together again?” (John 13:36-14:7) (Preaching Through the Christian Year C, Craddock, Hayes, Holladay, & Tucker, Trinity Press International, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1994, page 277).
Phillip finds little consolation in what Jesus tells him. In his despair over losing Jesus, Phillip “ . . . needs more – more evidence, more comfort, more flesh-and-blood Jesus instead of spiritual-experience Jesus” (Living the Word: Reflections on the Lectionary, Terri McDowell Ott, The Christian Century, May 22, 2019, page 23). For Phillip, it is not enough for Jesus to say: “I am in the Father and the father is in me. I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:10-11,20).
He wants more. Some of us may view Jesus’ response to Phillip as a rebuke for Phillip’s failure to believe what Jesus said (Op. cit.). But for others of us, Phillip’s fear, despair and grief are what we ourselves have come to experience in our own lives when we lose those whom we love.
Sometimes we are on the receiving end of those who mean well when they say, “Things will get better. Time will heal. This too shall pass.” Such platitudes offer little comfort.
I suspect that Phillip may have felt he was on the receiving end of such platitudes when Jesus said, “Do not let your [heart] be troubled. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:20).
Jesus apparently concluded that Phillip did not believe what he was saying. But Phillip understood well enough that Jesus was attempting to comfort him and the other disciples. He just needed a little more from God because we have a sense of how he may have felt. “Show us the Father, and we will be satisfied” (John 14:8). For Phillip, it was not too much to ask.
After all, Phillip’s request lies at the heart of our reading in two ways – first, like Phillip, we hunger for the God whom no one has seen (John 1:18), but for whom to know is life eternal (John 17:3) and second, Phillip’s request looks to Jesus for a revelation of God. For the writer of John, Jesus is the revealer of God (John 1:18). (Preaching Through the Christian Year C, Craddock, Hayes, Holladay, & Tucker, Trinity Press International, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1994, page 277).
Jesus responds to Phillip by making promises to him and to the other disciples. The promises are three: (1) “they will be enabled not only to continue Jesus’ work, but also to do greater work (John 14:12); (2) they will be heard and their prayers answered to meet the needs involved in their life and mission (John 14:13-14); (3) they will be accompanied in their life and mission in the world” by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit (Op. cit.).
On this Pentecost Sunday, we give thanks to God for the Holy Spirit who comes to counsel, help, teach and remind us of all that Jesus said and did throughout his life and ministry. Jesus promised Phillip and the other disciples that the Spirit would be with them forever.
It is a promise that is also made to us. Through all our days, through all of our own fear, despair and grief, the Spirit is with us. Wendell Berry wrote, “I come into the peace of wild things.” To say that the coming of the Holy Spirit was a little wild would be an understatement.
For those gathered in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost, it was a profound moment when a mighty wind came rushing through the room where the disciples had gathered. Tongues as of fire rested upon each one of them and they began to speak in languages other than their own.
On this Pentecost Sunday, we “come into the presence of still water” and give thanks for the gift of the Holy Spirit. We come knowing, as did the prophet Elijah, that it was not only in the earthquake and fire that God was found but in a “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12, KJV).
As people of faith, we rest in the peace of Jesus Christ. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).
Let us pray: We give thanks, O God, for your Spirit who reminds us of all the things Jesus said. We also remember the words of the psalmist: “The Lord is our shepherd. We shall have no need of want. He leads us by still waters. He makes us lie down in green pastures and restores our souls” and we are free. Amen.