Part of the “In” Crowd
John 14: 15-21
During my time with the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) I learned that one of their particular tenets was the importance of truthfulness and “speaking the truth” whether in religious, social or business affairs. For many of my Quakers friends this meant carefully choosing words that in order to say as best and truthful as you can what you intend to say. It was Samuel Clemens, Mark Twain (who was not a Quaker!) who said “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” But then he also said “Honesty is the best policy — when there is money in it.”
There is a nuanced power of language such that even two letter words can carry a influence greater than their size (Remember the famous “It depends upon what your definition of is is.”)
The word for you this morning is “in.”
In It’s a tiny word. Two letters: one vowel, one consonant. Basic. In many ways it seems as if it should not matter all that much. That is perhaps, if it wasn’t Jesus who uses it! But here we have Jesus , promising to be “in” the people who keep his commandments, his earliest disciples, and promising too that those disciples will be “in” him. So here are we, who may think of ourselves as heirs to those disciples, and maybe we are wondering about this little word “in” as well.
Is Jesus actually “in” us? Like in some sort of crazy SiFi channel sort of shape shifter thing? Or is it a spiritual thing like the communion elements? Or just a metaphor? How would we know?
The key maybe just be what Jesus has told them prior to this where Jesus promises the gift of the Paraclete, Advocate, the Spirit of truth, who will be with them – with us – forever. It can be easy for us to hear the word “spirit” and immediately think of warm, personal feelings – feelings of security, of connection with God. Many of our hymns seem to focus on an experience of the Spirit that is personal like that. This understanding offers many of us comfort, especially when the world around us seems to be spinning out of control.
But think about for a moment what the word “advocate” might conjure up. “Advocate” the Greek word is “paraclete,” which means one who has been “called to our side,” to stand up for us, to explain us to the court. Think of lawyer shows on television. Think of detectives and mystery and action. The Paraclete, the Advocate, is a force on the move.
Jesus calls the Spirit another Advocate. The first Advocate is Jesus himself. Our reading from 1 John states this explicitly. “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;”
And Jesus was certainly a force on the move. Think of the meals with outcasts and sinners.
Think of the moneychangers in the temple.
Think of the healings and the preaching, the travels between Galilee and Jerusalem.
The story of Jesus is a story not of private feelings and comfort, but of action.
This Paraclete, Advocate Jesus promises, “will be with you . . in you.” Jesus himself will be “in” the disciples, as he is “in” the Father, and as the disciples will be “in” him. Is it enough to imagine some kind of mystical union? Is the indwelling of Christ or the Spirit of truth like a sense of warmth or a feeling of confidence? Is it an abstract notion or a state of grace?
Remember the scene with Jesus standing before Pilate. Pilate asks Jesus “What is truth?” Jesus stands there in silence. Why does he not answer?
The answer is right there. You are looking at it, Pilate. The truth is standing in front of you. Watch him, and you will find out what truth is.
We cannot see the Spirit, but we can “see” Jesus. Through the stories of scripture we can “see” Jesus healing, and teaching, and dying in his faithfulness. Draw an outline around that moving picture of Jesus, and you have a framework for recognizing the truth Pilate was asking about. You also have a framework for recognizing the Spirit of truth, the Advocate, Jesus himself dwelling in and among us.
Throughout the gospels we can find Jesus operating in community, with his disciples and with the other people he serves. The story about Jesus is not the story of Jesus and a single disciple, like some of the prophets and holy men and women from other traditions. Jesus is present and active with groups of people – real people who sometime struggle just to get along and other times enjoy sharing their successes and resources, their hopes and their questions. So when Jesus promises to be “in” his disciples, and promises that they will be “in” him, it seems that he cannot be promising only a mystical union with individual believers. Everything we know about Jesus suggests someone who is operating as an active presence in a communal setting.
In fact, the Greek word usually translated “in you” can also be translated “among you” (plural).
How might this impact our ability to receive Jesus’ promise if we put less emphasis on our individualized, mystical interpretation and more on this communal approach? Not that we do not ever have any personal mystical experience of the Spirit for we do, I have! But if we consider it in the communal context, might it reduce our anxiety about whether we are really “right with God”? Might it, in fact, lead us to dwell less on our own, individual worthiness and focus our energy on an active life of faithful service? Believing the promise that Jesus, the Spirit of truth, will be “in” us as we are in this service to him?
I was reading recently about Mother Teresa of Calcutta and I was rather taken aback by the professed spiritual struggle she had much of her life. In Mother Teresa’s writings she tells of her lifetime of struggle – struggle with the darkness that plagued her because for more than half of her life, she did not feel the presence of Christ. *
Nonetheless, among Christians she has generally been regarded as a modern saint. Some consider her an even greater saint because in spite of the dark she continued to be faithful. Even though she had not been gifted with spiritual certainty, she steadfastly pursued the mission to which she believed she had been called, and the Christian community recognized and affirmed that mission.
Jesus clearly promises his presence and the presence of the Spirit to those who keep his commandments to love and serve one another. The love Jesus commands is not a feeling – not even a feeling of certainty about union with Christ. The love Jesus commands is about a master washing the feet of his disciples, and a king dying the death of a criminal. We have this outline around the moving picture of Jesus, an outline that can define the Spirit of truth as it appears in our own lives and our own actions.
What if we were to understand Jesus’ words this way?
What if we were to recognize that Christ is truly present among us when we keep his commandments to love and serve one another?
Look around us in our community – our church community as well as the greater community in which we live and serve – and see where you can discern that outline around the picture of Jesus on the move. See where, in the familiar life of this group of God’s people, where you can discern the presence of the Spirit of truth.
Where is Jesus? Look for the action, the movement.
There he will be in the “in” crowd! Are you?
* When Leadership and Spiritual Direction Meet: Stories and Reflections for Congregational Life by Gil W. Stafford
***Listen to Pastor Neil’s Audio version of his Sermon by selecting “DOWNLOAD FILE” below…Enjoy!