Love Story, Part I

A Sermon on John 14:23-29

God, call us home. Christ, make us one. Holy Spirit, come. Love will be done.

On Thursday I went to an urgent care facility for a flare-up of a familiar friend, asthma – and this time, with a bronchitis chaser. On my way there I remembered that last year, at this time, I had the same kind of breathing challenge “combo.” Sometimes I make meaning where there is none, but I had to wonder: What's up with that? And I remembered a little story called “An Autobiography in Five Short Chapters.”

Here it is. Chapter One: I walk down the street and fall into a hole. Chapter Two: I walk down the street, teeter on the edge and fall into the same hole. Chapter Three: I walk down the street, get distracted, don't see it and fall into that bloomin' hole. Chapter Four: I walk down the street, see the hole, resolve to avoid it, tell myself I couldn't possibly fall in it again, congratulate myself for being so smart, decide to see how close I can come to the hole without. . .and I trip, stumble and fall into the hole. Chapter Five: I walk down a different street.

Here's another story. Actually, it's our story. It's a love story, in two chapters. I'll tell Chapter One today and Chapter Two next Sunday. It's a love story in two chapters, told through a song with four verses. Clear as mud? Here's the song, again:

God, call us home. Christ, make us one. Holy Spirit, come. Love will be done.

Today I want us to ponder how God calls us home. I want us to consider how the Holy Spirit is coming to us. And I want us to think about how love flows through everything God does, because. . .God is love, God is love.

People have been asking me “How's it going?” as I make my transition – from being rector of All Saints', Frederick, Maryland, to answering a new call to be the interim rector of St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, Louisville, Kentucky, in two weeks. My short answer is, “I'm kind of crazy, but everybody's happy!” I go on to explain, “The people who want me to leave here are happy because they are finally getting what they want. And the people who are sad to see me go are happy for me, because I'll be much closer to my wife and family.” After all, there's no place like home, like family.

I'll be six hours by car from Memphis, my family home. And I'll be living near the Ohio River, less than two hours from Cincinnati, my boyhood home. Home really is where the heart is. And for people of faith, home is where God's heart is. “At home with God” is where our hearts long to be. We can always go home to God – whatever that might mean for us. That's the home where love lives, the abiding love Jesus talks about in the next (15th) chapter of John's gospel. He mentions it about a dozen times, in fact. “Abide in me,” “abide in my love,” he exhorts his disciples, over and over again. Jesus is the one in whom God first made a human home. God made a home in Jesus. God wants to make a divine abode in us, while Jesus keeps calling us to abide in him.

He says in today's gospel account, a small part of his larger “Farewell Discourse” or goodbye speech to his disciples, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home in them” (John 14:23). Jesus is answering Judas Iscariot, who had just asked, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us but not to the world?” (14:22) The reason is obvious now. Back then, in a time filled with suspicion, mistrust, hostility and betrayal, this needed to be a privileged conversation between Jesus and his “home boys,” for their ears only.

Today, we who seek to follow Jesus need to be all ears, because we are also privy to the Good News Jesus is still sharing. Jesus' call to abide in him and his love, is, first, a call to hold on to his words and his teachings. Those words include these parting words of the One who loved his disciples more than life itself, who laid down his life for his friends (John 15:13). In this, his farewell, Jesus began, borrowing Joyce Rupp's phrase, to pray his goodbyes with his homeboys, those first disciples and friends. He wanted them to know he would always love them. With God, always, love will be done.

God, call us home. Christ, make us one. Holy Spirit, come. Love will be done.

“Peace I leave with you; my own peace I leave with you. . ..Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (14:27). These are the kinds of parting words we all need to hear when we realize we may never again see someone we love. I want you to know – both as individual members and together as part of the body of Christ we call All Saints' – I want my love for you to abide. I am going away, but part of my heart will always be here, with you. Part of you goes with me, too.

Now, I'm clear that I'm not Jesus. I am one of Jesus' friends. But there's often an obvious, even uncanny parallel between Holy Scripture and what one of my teachers calls “the scriptures of our lives.” Grief, sorrow and loss are part of the human story. And so are joy, love. . .and new life. God will send, Jesus promises his friends, a Comforter, an Advocate, a Guide. It's the Holy Spirit, who “will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (14:26). Jesus needs to take his leave, so the Spirit can do things even Jesus couldn't do, in his days on this earth.

In two weeks Christians around the world celebrate what some call the church's birthday: Pentecost! It's the day on which the Holy Spirit first came to the disciples “to teach them and to lead them into all truth” (The Book Of Common Prayer, p. 380). And we who claim the faith of Jesus rejoice in the coming of the Holy Spirit, on the day of Pentecost and on any day when we allow ourselves to remember what Jesus taught those first disciples and what the Holy Spirit keeps trying to teach us. Our Prayer Book catechism says the Holy Spirit is “God at work in the world and in the church, even now” (p. 852). My friends, we need to be open to God's Spirit! Holy Spirit, come. . .

Much of what Jesus taught, much of what the Holy Spirit keeps trying to remind us of and teach us is about forgiveness. There is no real love without constant forgiveness. Each week we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses (or sins) as we forgive those who sin against us.” And how many times do we need to forgive? Seventy times seven, Jesus said. No matter how often we trip, stumble or fall. No matter how often someone else trips us up. I'll have more to say about sin and forgiveness next Sunday.

For now, I'll say this. . ..There's a mantra from the hospice movement that may be helpful to you right now. When someone is about to die, what we really want and need to say to them, hospice teaches us, are these five things: “Forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you. Goodbye.” Both hospice and Jesus teach us that without forgiveness, there is no love; without love, no forgiveness. And without forgiveness, without love, there is no real goodbye, which literally means, “God-be-with-ye.” That's why praying our goodbyes is helpful – albeit harder – than just saying goodbye.

Today, when you leave 106 West Church Street, I want to invite you to try something different. I invite you to consider walking down what may be for you a very different street. Let's walk with Jesus down the street of love and forgiveness. Let's walk with Jesus down that spiritual street of abiding love and peace. Let's not be troubled about the times we fall into a hole. Because when we do fall, and we will, we'll know God is with us, even in our holes, even making our troubled times “holy.”

And when Jesus needs to leave us for a time, we still have the Holy Spirit of God. We can call on the Spirit to breathe new life into us and through us, to be with us, to help us out of our holes. Today, God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are here, to walk with us down different streets toward the love and the home to which God always calls us.

God, call us home. Christ, make us one. Holy Spirit, come. Love will be done.

- Gerald May (may he rest in peace and keep rising in glory)

—The Rev. Thomas A. Momberg
May 5, 2013