Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, May 14, 2023

YEAR A 2023 easter 6

 Easter 6, 2023
Acts 17:22-31
Psalm 66:7-18
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, this morning’s gospel text picks up where we left off last week, and that means that—even though we’re still in the Easter season—we’re back to hearing about the night before Jesus dies.  And to make sense of this passage, we really need to keep one foot on each side of Easter.  Because, in the gospel timeline, he has not yet died, but in the Church year, he has already died and is risen.  So, we need to keep both of those times in mind when we hear these words from Jesus to his disciples.

And then, just to complicate things a little more, I’ll remind you that this text was written more than 100 years after Jesus’ death.  AND, here you and I are today, trying to understand it 1900 years after that.  Just like last week, we’re all over the map as far as timelines, which fits perfectly with today’s reading from Acts, which we don’t have time to deal with today, so come back in three years, when it will come up again.  As Doctor WHO says, time is really just a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff.

And now, sidebar time: I will tell you that this is a good Sunday to take careful notes, in case you ever want to have me brought up on charges of heresy.   Because what I am going to say this morning may strike you as contrary to everything you have ever heard about God.  I’m not saying I am a heretic, but you may want to keep your pencils ready, just in case.

Okay, back to the text . . .  At this point in John’s gospel, Jesus is giving something of a pep talk to the disciples.  He is trying to encourage them in advance of his departure, and part of his reassurance is that he will be sending the Holy Spirit (or paraklete) to guide them into truth.  Now paraklete is a Greek word that gets translated something like, counselor, or comforter, or advocate.  It literally means, a person called to your side.  Counselor, comforter, advocate.  And to our 21st century American ears, that usually gets us thinking about something having to do with a court of law.

In fact, many people will tell you this is the way to think of it, claiming that the Spirit is our advocate and counselor before the judgment seat of God.  That is, the Spirit will argue on our behalf, so that God will not smite us into everlasting damnation.  Essentially, that way of seeing things would lead us to these two conclusions:

1. God the Father wants to judge us, and judge us harshly.  And,
2. The Holy Spirit is like the ultimate lawyer, defending each one of us against the punishments of this harsh judge.

To the first point there, about who will judge us, I will just say that we believe—as we say in the Nicene Creed every single Sunday—that Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead.  The judging God of popular imagination (you know, with the beard and the lightning bolt) is the Greek god Zeus, not the God of Abraham.  Jesus will judge us, and in case you’ve never heard it before, I’ll give you this spoiler: it turns out, Jesus loves you.  Enough to give up his life for you.  You do not need a defense attorney when you appear before Jesus, because he is the one who loves and welcomes you!

And, to the second point—that the Holy Spirit defends us in the Court of God—I want to remind you that God is united, not divided.  We do not need for one person of the Trinity to defend us against another person of the Trinity.  It is just plain silly to think that Jesus saves you from the wrath of the Father.  Or that the Holy Spirit argues God out of burning you forever.  It does not even make sense to think that the God who created you really just wants to kill you with everlasting fire, and is only thwarted by that pesky Jesus fellow.  Or that God only decides not to punish you because that cracker jack lawyer the Holy Spirit builds an amazing case that will get you sprung from the gallows.

But, to be clear, the Episcopal Church is not a “confessional church.”  And that means, I will not spend much energy telling you specifically what to believe, because we are a broad tent.  And that also means, you are certainly welcome and encouraged to disagree with me any given Sunday.

I will not often tell you exactly what you should believe about God; but I am very comfortable telling you what you should not believe about God.  And this is one of those days: I am telling you as clearly as I can . . . Do not believe that our creator God’s true nature is one of punishment and damnation.  Do not believe that Jesus saves you from the Father, as though God were somehow divided.  Do not believe that the God who created you is actually out to kill you, or that you need some advocate in the court of the vengeful god Zeus.  There is no basis for believing those things . . . except that everyone else already believes them.

So, with my haranguing out of the way, if the Holy Spirit is not our heavenly lawyer, then what do we do with this idea of the Spirit being an Advocate, or Counselor?  Well, let’s try looking at it from a different perspective.  Jesus says he is sending an advocate.  So, what if Jesus is sending the Advocate to make God’s case TO us?  What if the Paraklete comes to our side to make God’s appeal to our judging hearts? 

Jesus says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”  Notice that he says, “another Advocate.”  Seems that maybe Jesus is the first Advocate, doesn’t it?   Like Jesus came to make the case, to show us the love of God in his words and deeds, and now another Advocate will come to continue to make the case to us.  But, “the case” seems the wrong term, really.  “The case” sounds like legal talk.  No, for this, we need something much more powerful than legalese: for this we need literature!

Have you ever read the play, “Cyrano de Bergerac?”  Or, seen the movie?  Or seen the Steve Martin version, “Roxanne?”  Even if you haven’t, you kind of know the plot, I’m sure.  The unsightly Cyrano loves Roxanne, but ends up putting his words into the mouth of Christian, and he captures Roxanne’s heart through this messenger, or advocate . . . and it’s hard to tell which one is the advocate for the other, to be honest.  Now, you never want to press an analogy like this too far, but since we’re dealing with John’s gospel, let’s go for it!  The great lengths that Christian and Cyrano go to in order to win Roxanne’s heart are perhaps a good glimpse of the effort that God goes through to win our hearts.  It’s not a court of law, you see?  It’s a romance!

In this heavenly romance, the Advocate is not sent to be our helper in the courtroom, but is sent by God to win our hearts.  What if God loved the world so much that he sent his only son?  Doesn’t Jesus show the ultimate depths of God’s love for you, in that he is willing to lay down his life proclaiming the love of God?  Jesus walks among us, preaches the Good News to us, and then . . . well . . . we don’t want to hear it.  His courtship is rejected in the Court of Human Hearts.

But God does not give up.  Now here comes the Advocate to deliver the same message.  And, in a way, the Holy Spirit becomes like the Heavenly Postal-Carrier with a certified letter.  The Spirit has a message for you, and will make repeated delivery attempts throughout all your earthly days.  Neither rain nor snow nor dark of night will prevent this Advocate from Her appointed rounds.  The Spirit knocks on your heart’s door with the message of God’s love, and will continue to do so forever, because forever is how long God’s love for you lasts.

And do you want to know the contents of the letter the Spirit is trying to deliver?  Of course you do!  It’s a long message, but I will tell you the most important part of the letter.  Jesus says it himself in today’s Gospel:  Because I live, you also will live.

There’s a lot more to the message, of course, but it all grows out of that main point: Because I live, you also will live. 

And the importance of that message just increases, because of the time confusion that I mentioned in the beginning.  Jesus is talking to the disciples in that room before his death.  But Jesus is also talking to the community in which the words were written 100 years after his death.  And Jesus is also talking to us, gathered here in Massillon 1900 years after that. 

AND, he’s making a promise to all these listeners throughout the centuries that we can fully live our lives right here and now, because he lives.  And at the same time, also making a promise to us about what will happen when our lives are over . . . in all these groups of listeners, across the ages, because he lives, we live, and also will live.  All the people, of every wibbly wobbly timey wimey space will live.  Both in the here and now, and in the final judgement.  Jesus is pleading his case, which the Spirit continues to plead to our hearts:  Because Jesus lives, we also will live.  And, because Jesus lives, we live . . . right here, right now.

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, comes to each one of us, constantly and continuously delivering the most important message in the universe:  Because Jesus lives, you live, and you will live.  Everything else in life grows out of that message.  It is a message of love, a message of forgiveness, a message to live your life without fear and trembling.  You don’t need an advocate to plead your case in the judgment court of Zeus and his thunderbolts.  But you do need an Advocate to plead God’s case before the judgment of your own human heart.

We cannot come to Jesus unless the Father draws us.  And the Father draws us by sending the Son, and by sending the Advocate to plead with our hearts.  And the Father, the Spirit, and the Son together draw us to this altar today, where with the saints of every wibbly wobbly time and place—with all of them—we meet the risen Lord in the breaking of the bread.  God loves you, and is pleading with your heart, every single day.


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