Sunday, May 10, 2020

5 Easter, 2020-A: Our spiritual reality

Lectionary: Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14

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En el nombre del Dios: creator, redentor, y santificador. Amen.

I’m a big fan of English literature, and in those classic novels, people sat in reflective thought for hours pondering the events of their lives. For example, in Charlotte Brönte’s novel, “Villette” the main character, Lucy, spends three hours reflecting upon a single conversation she had with Dr. Bretton. Three hours!

Can you imagine? Interestingly, the present moment of sheltering-at-home offers us the opportunity to do just that - if we take advantage of the gift of time, put down our phones, turn off the TVs, and sit in quiet reflection instead.

It is in this reflective sense that the lectionary writers revisit the Last Supper even though we are well into the 50 Days of Easter. Before the resurrection the disciples heard Jesus’ words but, we’re told, they didn’t fully understand them. On this side of the resurrection, everything Jesus said and did will have new, more profound meaning upon reflection and the church is invited to spend some time listening deeply and letting God guide our understanding of these events which will be the foundational guide for our life choices, just as it was for those first disciples.

Last week we heard Jesus teaching about servant-leadership using the figure of speech of a good shepherd, claiming himself as the gate, that is, the way to truth and life. This week, Jesus reaffirms this saying no one can come to God except through him. Then he declares in very clear I AM statements (remembering that I AM is the name of God from Exodus): I AM the Way. I AM the Truth. I AM the Life.

How are they to understand this upon reflection? How are we?

We are all being invited by Jesus into a new relationship, one unconstrained by earthly limits. We can’t listen with literal, earthly understanding because Jesus is speaking spiritually, saying things like: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

The literal listeners, like Thomas, ask, ‘Where is that place? We want to go but how can we know the way?

With amazing compassion, Jesus gently begins to address this very human hesitance to move into spiritual understanding, clarifying that the place he is speaking about isn’t a location, it’s a relationship: “where I AM there you will also be… because I AM in the Father and the Father is in me… If you know me, you know the Father also… The Father who dwells in me does his works… Believe me that I AM in the Father and the Father is in me…”

Jesus is “I AM” and God dwells in him and works through him. Where Jesus is we are also because Jesus dwells in us and we in him. It’s a spiritual reality that redefines our understanding of ourselves and our relationships with God and neighbor.

From this side of the resurrection, Jesus’ words reach deeply into his disciples, and into us, beyond our earthly understanding. We know that finding the words to describe spiritual experience is hard because they limit the truth of the experience so much.

So, how do we describe it? How can we share it and how will it be received?

The story of the stoning of Stephen is a perfect description of how earthly ears may hear and respond to spiritual experience - and it isn’t pretty. We can take heart, though, this isn’t the only response, but we are wise to remember it is a common metaphoric one.

I remember when I was very young, about five years old, and I would try to tell about my spiritual experiences of God: how the trees sang a song of heaven to me; how forest critters (including snakes) drew close and hung out with me like family; how the healing power of God opened to my awareness illness and injury in other people’s bodies, or how God my Mother would hold me in her lap and heal me from continuing abusive experiences.

I learned very quickly that my spiritual experiences were not welcomed discussions, especially my experience of God as Mother before my Christian educators taught me that God could only be Father - so I stopped talking about them. It didn’t stop them from happening - it only stopped me from talking about them.

It’s probably no surprise then how much I love the maternal metaphor in Peter’s epistle where he says: “Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk. Long for the nourishment that leads to spiritual understanding that will work and live in cooperation with earthly understanding because by it we “grow into salvation” which is eternal unity with God.

If ever you “have tasted that the Lord is good…[Peter says] let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood…” Like Jesus before him, Peter isn’t talking about a location when he says “be a spiritual house” and he isn’t talking about an ordained office when he says “be a holy priesthood.” He’s talking about the fullness of the human-divine relationship that is in all of us, because of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.

Jesus reminds us that we are built by our Creator as dwelling places for the divine. As he says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”

That the spirit of Jesus lives in us is our spiritual reality, which upon reflection, affects how we hear Jesus say,” the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” I mean, it’s hard to imagine doing greater works than those Jesus did: raising Lazarus from the dead, healing the man born blind, calming the storm on the sea… but only when we listen with literal ears and from an earthly understanding.

In fact, we’re already doing these works. When we accompany someone through a time of transition as they let go of their old life or their old self, and step into a new life, God, who dwells in us, is doing his work raising the dead back to life. When we speak the truth of God in Christ by our lives or using words, and someone finally gets it, God has done her work in us bringing sight to the blind. When we walk willingly into someone’s nightmare, bearing the peace of Christ to them by our very presence, God has worked through us to calm the storm in their life.

We all have these stories when we think about it with spiritual understanding because we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, consecrated by God to proclaim by our lives as much as by our words the mighty acts of the one who calls us all from darkness into his marvelous light.

Jesus concludes this portion of his farewell discourse with a statement that truly deserves reflection: “I will do whatever you ask in my name, [he says] so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”

When we listen deeply, we hear Jesus promising that whenever we choose to serve as he served, to be his hands and feet on earth, what we desire will reflect the desire of the One who dwells in us, and the will of God will become reality on earth as it is in heaven by God in Christ who works in us. May we steadfastly follow the one who is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life, now and forevermore.


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