Sunday, May 26, 2019
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Someone once said, “I want to you imagine or visualize a monkey with a red face.” “Do you have that image clearly in your mind? Just a monkey with a red face.” “Now that you see a monkey with a red face, imagine the monkey is gone. The monkey with the red face is no longer there. There is no monkey with a red face.”
But the truth is the monkey with the red face is still there. No matter how hard we may try to erase the monkey with the red face from our minds, the monkey with the red face will not go away.
In our reading from The Gospel According to John, Jesus prepares the disciples for his departure and his return to God (John 13:1-17, 26). They are mad and aware of his impending death.
It is in that context that he says to them: “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27c). In a way Jesus acknowledges that the disciples are troubled and that they are afraid.
And then he says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid!” Like our inability to stop thinking about the monkey with the red face, so it is that we are unable to stop ourselves from being troubled or afraid when we lose those we love.
Jesus does not demand that they disregard their anxiety or fear. He is aware that his departure, his death, will overwhelm them.
So he reassures them that love will be the key that will set them free from their anxiety and fears. Our reading from The Gospel According to John contains three lessons worth highlighting and they include: “love [is] the bond joining God, Christ, and the disciples (John 14:23-24); there is the promise of the Holy Spirit (John 14:25-26); and there is the peace and joy that will come with the return of Christ to God (John 14:27-29)” (Preaching Through the Christian Year C, Craddock , Trinity Press International, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1994, page 257).
So often, we are inclined to think that our relationship to God and to Christ as one that is based on faith and hope. However, our reading this morning teaches us that our relationship to God and to Christ is about God’s love for us and about Christ’s love for us. We know from our reading last Sunday that Jesus pressed the question when he asked Simon Peter, “Do you love me?” (John 21:15-19).
It is a question asked of us as well.
God is love, and all relationships derived from our understanding of that love is the key to overcoming our anxiety and fears. It is a love that is made known to us through the promise and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our world.
There are five statements in Jesus’ farewell speech in which the Holy Spirit is promised (John14:16-27, 25-26; 25:25; 16:7-11, 13-15). The Bible teaches us that God will send the Spirit. We do not have to do anything to “get the Spirit” (Op. cit.). The Spirit will be in Jesus’ name. The Spirit will teach us (John 16:12). The Spirit will bring to remembrance the words of Jesus.
The promise and presence of the Holy Spirit has been a great source of comfort for me since Kiko, my dog, died a little over a week ago from complications following surgery to repair a perforation in her small intestine. The image of Kiko and life we shared is embedded deep in my mind and even deeper in my heart.
It is impossible for me not to think about her. It is like thinking about the monkey with the red face and then trying not to think about the monkey with the red face. It is about trying not to think about Kiko with the black spot on her white head.
When I first read the words Jesus uttered to the disciples - “Do not let your hearts be troubled” - I thought, “Are you kidding me? My heart is troubled. Yes, my heart is troubled over the death of a dog.” How dare you tell me not be troubled!
And how dare you tell a young mother who has just lost her newborn baby “Do not let your heart be troubled!” How dare you tell a man mourning the death of his wife; or a child estranged from a parent; or someone whose health has declined, “Do not let your heart be troubled!”
If that sounds like the voice of someone who is angry, well I am. A few days ago, I thought about the verse in Psalm 30:5 which reads: “For God’s anger lasts only a moment, but God’s favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”
I recall seeing an interview of a parent who lost her son in a school shooting several years ago. She made reference to Psalm 30:5 and said, “For me, the morning has not yet come.” Sometimes it can feel that way when we are overwhelmed by loss. There is only weeping.
But now I realize that whenever we experience loss, whenever we experience death the Holy Spirit reminds us that for a time, there will be anger and weeping. Yes, there will be times when we are troubled and yes, there will be times when we are afraid. “The peace that we are given is the confidence that God is God, that God loves the world, that God is for us and that God makes that love real in acts of self-giving” (Op. cit.). Whatever our troubles or fears may be, whatever our pain or sorrow may be; whatever our anxieties or losses, they do not annul, they do not nullify the peace that is ours in Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives (John 14:27a).”
To know this, to understand this, is to free our hearts from all our troubles and fears. To know this, to understand this, is cause for us to rejoice.