Sermon preached May 5, 2013
Texts: John 14:23-29
An awakening of thought to knowledge, to presence, to being; to re-presentation, to knowledge, to the secret will that wills and intends in the intention, reversing the latter in an act of constitution. Is that the original awakening of thought? (Emmanuel Levinas, Alterity and Transcendence, 4) Say what?
This is not atypical of contemporary French philosophy. Sometimes the Gospel of John seems like a work of contemporary French philosophy. You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” Yet, in the midst of some jumbled and confusing language, we find moments of beauty and truth that move us, that open us to life, to love, to God.
Emmanuel Levinas: Is not the face of one’s fellow man the original locus in which transcendence calls an authority with a silent voice in which God comes to the mind? (5)
Jesus: But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
Jesus’ words here are wonderful and beautiful. The Spirit will be with us – the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus. The promise is for peace. Yet that promise does not stand alone. The Spirit will also remind us of the life and teaching of Jesus, and to be reminded of the life and teaching of Jesus is not always peaceful. Some of Jesus teachings are challenging, difficult. There seems a paradox in this saying of Jesus. Here is the paradox - the Spirit brings peace and brings trouble.
Paradox. This is not two physicians consulting on a case. Parker Palmer says that “a paradox is a statement that seems self-contradictory but on investigation may prove to be essentially true” (The Promise of Paradox, 6). And Parker Palmer argues that one of the great gifts of the spiritual life is “the transformation of contradiction into paradox” (6). Spiritual truth often seems self-contradictory when judged by conventional logic…. The spiritual life… proceeds with a trembling confidence that God’s truth is too large for the simplicity of either-or. It can be apprehended only by the complexity of both-and. (7)
We might say that the presence of the Spirit in our lives is a paradoxical presence, peaceful and troubling together, both-and, not either-or.
When the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus, is present there is peace. There is peace, a sense that our lives will be o.k, even amidst all the turbulence of the world. There is peace, a sense that our lives will be o.k., even amidst all the dislocation and discouragement in our lives. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
That peace of God, peace of Christ, peace of the Spirit is rooted in love. It is rooted in grace. For a long time I have appreciated the theologian Paul Tillich’s words about the meaning of grace. You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted! If that happens to us, we experience grace. (The Shaking of the Foundations, 162).
When the Spirit comes, the Spirit reminds us of God’s love, of God’s acceptance of us. “I love you and you are mine” in the word of the song we shall soon sing. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. This grace, this love, which brings us peace, is the heart of our faith.
Yet this same Spirit reminds us of Jesus, and sometimes those reminders can trouble our untroubled hearts. In the words of Parker Palmer: The truth of the Spirit contradicts the lies we are living. The light of the Spirit contradicts our inner shadow-life. The unity of the Spirit contradicts our brokenness. (5)
The Spirit reminds us of the life and teaching of Jesus. Jesus taught us to love our enemies. That should disturb us more than a little. Jesus told us not to be anxious, and in hearing those words don’t we become even more anxious? Life in the Spirit of Jesus is living in a love that embraces us fully, and a love that drives us out into the world to bring hope and healing, to foster compassion and justice.
The presence of the Spirit in our lives, then, is a paradoxical presence. The Spirit brings peace and the Spirit troubles our untroubled hearts. The Spirit helps us see deeply and truthfully. We see that we are loved by an unconquerable love. We are loved and are in turn to love. We see beauty, grandeur, and possibility in the world and we are awed, amazed, wonder-struck. And in the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel, “awareness of the divine begins with wonder” (Essential Writings, 51). We see pain, hurt, violence, ugliness - and human beings trapped by them. And in the words of the French philosopher Levinas, seeing the face of another human is also to bring God to mind.
When the Spirit arrives, we see deeply and truthfully. Seeing deeply and truthfully, we live differently. When the Spirit comes, we are to not let our hearts be troubled. Yet, when the Spirit comes, sometimes our untroubled hearts are troubled, the gift of paradox. That’s life in the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus. It is life that is real life. Amen.