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Easter 6- 5/17/2020 – St. Paul’s

A grumpy 19th century philosopher Schopenhauer drew a very stark portrait of the fate of the human race.  He compared us to a bunch of porcupines huddling together on a cold winter’s night.  He said, The colder it gets outside, the more we huddle together for warmth; but the closer we get to one another, the more we hurt each other with our quills.  And in the lonely night of the Earth’s winter eventually we begin to drift apart and wander out on our own and freeze to death in our loneliness. (cited by Wayne Brauner, Leadership Journal, Vol. 17, No.2)

What a powerfully sad image.  And the saddest thing about it is that all too often it is all too true.  We draw together for comfort; we prick each other, and then we pull away into loneliness.  In everything from international politics to pandemic shelter at home stays; over and over again we see this sad scenario come true.

Almost half of all marriages end in divorce, friendships fail or fade away, churches fight and split, neighbors squabble, local government is awash in a sea of contentious contrariness, the federal government can’t stop name-calling and finger-pointing long enough to actually run the country.  Indeed, we draw together for comfort, we prick each other, and then we pull away into loneliness.

Sometimes this feels like an inevitable and incurable state of affairs.  We seemed to be doomed to a recurring cycle of false hope, shattered dreams and near despair.  Yet the Gospel says no, this is not our necessary future.  There is hope and that hope is Jesus, the Christ of God.

Jesus the Christ has broken into our downward spiral of spite and has transformed it into an ever ascending circle of love.  Jesus the Christ has appeared in the midst of our prickly huddle and has pointed us on the way to the peaceable Kingdom of God.

John 14:20-21: On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them. John lays before us a description of circle of love, a cycle of care, an upward spiral of gentleness and commonality.  

A new community, built by the work of God in Christ and bound together in a web of love.

How do we become this community?  What do we have to do to make this happen here, here in our church? And the answer is:  nothing.  We don’t do anything to become this community; because we are, already, this community. We don’t become it; we are it.  It is already here, here in our midst.  It is a gift of God.  Our call is to learn to pay attention to our community, to look at it with love and nurture it with care.  To see within this uncomfortable time of a pandemic and the huddled pile of prickly porcupines it produces…..to be able to see the already present body of Christ.

A young mother of four recently told me about something that happened in her family almost ten years ago.  Hers is a military family, her husband is an officer and they have had frequent moves around the country, most of their postings lasting only two to three years. They are people of faith, church people, and they always seek out a church and get active wherever they find themselves.  At the time of this incident they were in a wonderful church, a church that was particularly good for Jay, their five year old, who was extremely shy and awkward at the time.  His Sunday School teacher was another military man, a father of three himself.  He was a man who lit up a room with his smile, who made everyone he was talking to feel like the most important person in the world.  He was the perfect teacher for Jay, and the boy loved church because of that man in that class.

There came a time when Jay’s father was on a year-long deployment.  Those times are tough, tough on the military person, tough on their families.  The Sunday School teacher and his family were great about including my young friend and her three children in their family activities while Dad was away.  They were military, they understood.  In particular five year old Suzy knew how to get shy Jay out of his shell and into their activities. She would grab him by the hand and lead him into the midst of their play.

But, in January of that year a tragedy happened. The Sunday School teacher was killed in a training exercise. The community and the church were devastated.  As his widow and her children adjusted to their “new normal” (if you can even say something like that) they were noticeably absent from gatherings.  And the rest of their friends were heartbroken, too.

A month later for Valentine’s Day, one of the young mothers decided to host a party for all the kids the Sunday School teacher’s children knew from church. Their mom dropped them off as she was just not quite ready yet for a public appearance.

The house was swarming with happy kids, and chatty moms, and every surface was draped with red and white and pink and purple banners and hearts and the word “Love”.  The sad little girls entered our friend’s home with downcast eyes.  Their anxiety was palpable. Then, an older boy waltzed up to them and said, in that nasty, sing-songy way that bullies seem to perfect, “Nice of you to show up since your dad died.   The older girl burst into tears.  There was stunned silence, then a flurry of activity as mothers rushed to discipline the one and comfort the other.

In a heartbeat, my young friend found herself alone with grief-stricken, abandoned little 5-year-old Suzy and silent, wide-eyed Jay.  She wanted to walk over and console that beautiful little lonely girl, but was afraid that Suzy wouldn’t recognize her.  She was so little and had been through so very, very much.  My friend remembers feeling as though the world had frozen around her, and she couldn’t move to help.

And then, and then…she watched as her child, her sweet, shy, little boy walked over to Suzy, put his arm around her shoulders and whispered, “I miss my dad, too.” They stood there in the kitchen holding onto each other with thumbs in their mouths, heads together, loving one another through the pain of separation and the sting of death. (Much of this story has been told in my friend’s words, not mine.  I changed names and pronouns for privacy.)

Jesus promised his disciples that he would not abandon them to the loneliness of the world’s dark night. In John 14:16 he said, “I will not leave you orphaned.”  And he has not.  He has come to us in the visible Body of Christ in the world, the church – which in this case was a shy little five year old boy reaching out with arms of love and words of comfort.

We are called to be the church in the world.  We are called to stand up and stand out in the midst of the world’s cold and prickly winter of loneliness disease and division as a unique and warm place of community and acceptance, of forgiveness and love.

The Good News is this….We don’t have to love all by ourselves.  We don’t have to do the impossible on our own.  Jesus’s desire is not that we wear ourselves out, trying to conjure love from our own meager resources. Rather, this gospel passage has a promise in it: I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 

The Advocate is God’s own Spirit, God’s own heart, living within us.  This Spirit, Jesus promises us, will be in us, making possible the startling, counter-intuitive way of bringing love to our world. This Spirit will abide within and among us, creating holy places where authentic, self-sacrificial human love can take root and flourish.  The Spirit’s resources are inexhaustible.  Long after our natural stores are depleted, the Spirit of God will love in, among, and through us.

As is so often the case in our lives as Christians, Jesus’s invitation this morning leads us straight to paradox: we are called to action via rest.  Called to give the love we receive.  Called to become the beloved children we are.  The invitation — is to drink our fill of the Source, spill over to bless the world, and then return to the Source for a fresh in-filling.  This is our movement, our rhythm, our dance.  Over and over again.  This is where we begin and end and begin again.

We love because we are loved.  We obey Christ because we are in Christ.  The love we are commanded to share is the love we are endlessly given.  You in me, and I in you.  The definition of love.

BY Stephen Brown…….

loving Jesus 

is loving our neighbor 

loving Jesus 

is being loved by God

loving our neighbor 

is being loved by God

who would have guessed 

that the kid next-door was divine?