Scripture - John 14:23-29
John 14:23-29 (New Revised Standard Version)
23Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
25”I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But 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.27Peace 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.
28You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
One: The Word of Life. All: Thanks be to God.
How many of you have tried a self-improvement plan this year? Like a new diet or exercise regimen or gratitude practice or meditation or house cleaning ritual -- any kind of routine that you hoped would lead to a healthier, more happy, more joyous, more peaceful, or a more whatever you?
And there are thousands of books and articles and web guides and YouTube videos all geared to help you create the best version of you possible, right? Most of them available in two easy payments of $19.99 plus shipping and handling, or one click away on your Kindle, or easily available in a weekly e-newsletter delivered straight to your inbox -- all there to help you have it al, that elusive, peaceful, simple life...once you follow the 17 easy steps to your best life now.
I have to say, I found myself caught up a bit in the Marie Kondo home-organization craze a bit earlier this year. I didn’t watch the series on Netflix but this idea of simplifying your stuff and surrounding yourself with the things and clothes and items that bring you more joy -- it’s not just about the best way to organize your sweaters, it’s about experiencing more joy and peace in your life. And who doesn’t want that? Especially in anticipation of baby #2 in just a few long/short weeks, there’s been this gradual purge of items in our household - but if I’m honest, the goal for me hasn’t been just to get rid of stuff so that we have room for all the stuff a second child brings -- it’s been about this quest for a simpler life -- as if I could achieve this by rearranging and organizing and getting rid of the extraneous items in my environment to experience greater inner peace.
This kind of dis-ease within ourselves we often ascribe to the culture around us. There is a kind of dislocation we experience and that our modern life exacerbates as we are bombarded with demands about being a good partner to our spouse while being a good parent to our children while being excellent at our jobs and great friends to our friends -- all while being expected to cycle through our appointments, errands, household chores, volunteer commitments cheerfully on the never-ending hamster wheel of life. Life is busy, we say. There’s a lot more going on in the world these days that demands more of ourselves, we say. And so we seek to control what we can - our weight, our schedules, our home environment, our attitude - everything within reach around the edges of our life, to bring alignment, happiness, peace, and joy.
Thomas Kelly, a Quaker missionary and writer, has something to say about this sense of busyness and dislocation within us, in his book A Testament of Devotion and offers insight that points to the heart of our scripture passage from the Gospel of John this morning . Kelly writes, “Let me first suggest that we are giving a false explanation of the complexity of our lives. We blame it upon the complex environment. Our complex living, we say, is due to the complex world we live in,...which give us more stimulation per square hour than used to be given per square day to our grandmothers. This explanation by the outward order leads us to turn wistfully, in some moments, to thoughts of a quiet South Sea Island existence, or to the horse and buggy days of our great grandparents, who went, jingle bells, jingle bells, over the crisp and ringing snow to spend the day with their grandparents on the farm. Let me assure you, I have tried the life of the South Seas for a year, the long, lingering leisure of a tropic world. And I found that Americans carry into the tropics their same mad-cap, feverish life which we know on the mainland. Complexity of our program cannot be blamed upon complexity of our environment, much as we would like to think so. Nor will simplification of life follow simplification of environment.
“We Western peoples are apt to think our great problems are external, environmental. We are not skilled in the inner life, where the real roots of our problem lie. For I would suggest that the true explanation of the complexity of our program is an inner one, not an outer one. The outer distractions of our interests reflect and inner lack of integration of our own lives. We are trying to be several selves at once, without all our selves being organized by a single, mastering Life within us. Each of us tends to be, not a single self, but a whole committee of selves. There is the civic self, the parental self, the financial self, the religious self, the society self, the professional self, the literary self. And each of our selves is in turn a rank individualist, not co-operative but shouting out his vote loudly for himself when the voting time comes. And all too commonly we follow the common American method of getting a quick decision among conflicting claims within us. It is as if we have a chairman of our committee of the many selves within us, who does not integrate the many into one but wh merely counts the votes at each decision, and leaves disgruntled minorities. The claims of each self are still pressed. We are not integrated. We are distraught. We feel honestly the pull of many obligations and try to fulfill them all.”
Sounds like he wrote this about this day and age, right? He wrote these words over 70 years ago. He talks about distractions like radios and cars -- and now we have distractions that pull us out of ourselves that we carry around with us in our pockets -- How many of us have forgotten our phones somewhere and felt like a piece of us went missing?
The problem is not with the busyness, with the complexity of daily living in our reality, with the external demands upon us -- the problem lies within us, and no amount of self-improvement strategies, of escaping to a simpler life, of controlling or changing our environment will, in fact, change us.
It’s that famous saying -- wherever you go...there you are.
Kelly referenced this idea that we are trying to be these several competing selves at once - not under the guide of one master Life, not integrated together into one. This is where I see Jesus’s words to his disciples speaking to this issue. Jesus is sharing these final words to his disciples before his death, resurrection, and ascension. He knows he is leaving them very soon, and so is preparing them for life without his physical presence. Jesus knows that the disciples will be pulled in a thousand different directions, that they will be unable to control the circumstances they are about to be faced with, and that they will need to be grounded and centered to keep his message and mission alive. And so Jesus says to them at the beginning of our reading, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
“We will come to them and make our home with them.” - for those who love Jesus.
God at home with us in the here and now, dwelling within us as our center, the ground of our being out of which everything else flows….the Life which brings all our competing selves into alignment, which gives us that otherworldly sense of peace that permeates all decisions, all the things we carry, gives us purpose and clarity so that we aren’t pushed and pulled about by the complexity of demands placed upon us. God doesn’t become one more voice among the myriad of selves within us but becomes the True Center of our lives - the basis for all our decisions, all our actions, all our words, all our hopes and dreams for ourselves and for the world.
All….if we truly, truly want it….because once we invite God to be at home within our hearts, once we have surrendered all of who we are to let Jesus be our Center, once we choose to follow the guiding and leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives - our lives are not our own; our very selves belong to God.
God comes and makes a home within us as the Holy Spirit, closer to us than the very air that we breathe, restoring us from within, bringing healing and wholeness -- and not through any five step self-improvement plan, not through us getting anything right or perfect -- but only if we make the decision to let that love in and take root in our hearts...to decide to love as Jesus loves...to let God’s priorities guide our own. And it’s not that life suddenly becomes less complex - there are still the responsibilities and commitments we make as part of families and communities - we still carry the same load…but we do so knowing what is truly important - operating out of a new center, living that new commandment Jesus gave to his disciples - love one another as I have loved you.
Jesus goes on to promise that we will not be left alone - that the Holy Spirit will be present with us to remind us and guide us in the ways that Jesus taught his early followers. Jesus promises that his peace will be ours - peace that comes not as the world gives, but that comes only from life lived in his presence. Jesus promises that our hearts do not need to be troubled - that we do not need to live in fear - all this for those who open their hearts for God to make a home.
I think about this as well for us as a congregation. What would it look like for God to truly be at home - to be present - among us as a church? Not as a place as a literal dwelling - but as a people, whose life together flowed from Jesus as the center? Churches too, as communities, aren’t exempt from being pushed and pulled by the complexities of ministering in this day and age, with worries about fundraising enough to meet the budget, with controversy around the color of the carpet, with concerns about aging buildings and aging populations and trying out church growth programs as if that is the silver bullet that will solve all our problems. We focus so much on the externals that we fail to tend to our internal life together - Jesus at the center. God at home within us. Making God’s priorities, God’s kingdom, the primary source and ground of our being as a church - the literal body of Christ, here in this place for this people at this time...so that others might know who God is when they look at us - in how we carry ourselves, in how we love one another and this island, in how we handle all the challenges and struggles of being a faith community in our world today. Again, it isn’t that the demands go away - but instead of letting our hearts be troubled or acting out of fear in response to the struggles we face - it’s God’s peace and love that form the basis of our decision-making together, it’s God’s peace and love that drive our ministry decisions, it’s wanting God’s peace and love for our community that informs how we deal with the challenges before us.
God at home with us - within our own hearts….within our church family here. All if we truly want it to be so. If we decide to let God’s heart shape ours...to let God’s kingdom reign within us...to let God’s hopes and dreams be our hopes and dreams...to let God be home among us.
And so my prayer for us this week - as we go forward from this place...as we head into the busyness of our lives - and the busyness of the summer season before us - both as individuals and as a church - is that we make that decision to let God be at home within us...to let Jesus be our Center...our source and our guide...and to let the Holy Spirit lead us and remind us to love one another as Jesus loves us….so that we might live a life of healing and wholeness…. so that God’s peace and grace might be among us….and so that all might know and experience God in and through us. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and three year old son and 6 month old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.