Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Easter 6 C - The Promise of Presence

Easter 6 C * May 13, 2007 * Mother’s Day, Rogation Sunday* JTCO

Whoever thought that playing peek-a-boo would be so important? As it turns out, one of the very earliest developmental lessons babies learn is what called object permanence – that is, that a thing or person still continues to exist even we can’t see it or them. Little babies learn this through endless games and by learning to trust that when they cry someone will come. If they don’t learn it, they stay anxious, clingy, fearful every time someone needs to come or go.

In our gospel reading this morning, the disciples are having a lesson in object permanence as Jesus talked with them about his departure. This passage from, John Chapter 14, comes at the Last Supper they shared with him before his death. Our reading comes from a section of what is known as the Farewell Discourse. In some ways, it might seem that we are turning back the calendar to the events of Holy Week, but we are hearing this reading this morning – well into the Easter season – for two reasons.

The first is that we are right around the corner from the feast of the Ascension in which Jesus finally does take leave of the disciples after forty of days of being present with them, and which we’ll mark next Sunday, the day in which the resurrected Lord returns to the Father. The second reason is that Jesus is making a promise, the fulfillment of which is gift both to them and us – that the Father will send the Holy Spirit.

I am indebted to Jim Somerville,[1] who suggests the following dialogue -- questions from the disciples that Jesus answers in this section.

And these sound a lot like the kinds of questions mothers get from their children as they pick up their keys and pocketbook and head for the door…

"Where are you going?""I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am there you may be also." [14:3]

"Can we go with you?""Where I am going you cannot come." [13:33]

"How long will you be gone?""A little while and you will no longer see me, and again a little while and you will see me." [14:19]

"Who will take care of us?""I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever." [14:16]”

Sound familiar? Parents will recognize these questions and especially moms. Object permanence is one of the issues. Will Jesus continue to exist and will they be taken care off even when they can no longer see him? When little ones develop normally, they learn this, and so they can let Mom out of sight for a little while, trusting that she will return. And, it is a question for us who are followers of Jesus Christ in our own day and time. Can we trust that Jesus is alive and is actively caring for us, even when we cannot see him with our own eyes?

As happens so often, our Collect of the Day, can give us an important clue about how to approach this passage…Let me read it for you again –O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding; Pour into hearts such love towards you , that we, loving you all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire, through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

The good that God does for us …past, present and future…for those who love Him…is beyond what we can understand…(We can’t see it, but we can trust it)…and we ask God, give us such love for you that the promises you have given us will become reality…The word that struck me here as key, is the word “promise”..

My goodness, what parent doesn’t make promises to a child? And, as you know, broken promises can badly compromise any relationship but particularly with parents and children. What parents has not heard that terrible wail usually accompanied by tears…”But….you promised!”?

So, let’s take a deeper look at what Jesus is saying to the disciples as he gets them ready for his departure…Jesus gives us three promises to offset the disciples’ and our anxiety about object permanence. I’d like to add a fourth dimension for consideration. All of these speak to how we know that the Risen Lord is with us.

Jesus gives us three promises of his presence: That he is present in his Word, his Peace, and through The Holy Spirit.

1. First, Jesus promises us that when we remember and hold dear and honor his word that he will dwell in us. He says “Those who love me will keep my word….if we were doing a literal translation of this passage…if would read…if anyone is loving me, that one will keep my word. Loving Jesus and keeping his word are related…The word keep is worth considering. It goes beyond obedience and has the sense of “holding dear” “observing” “guarding” or “consider important”.

Jesus promises us that when we keep his word, we will know his living presence and the presence of Father inwardly…and it goes beyond just remembering …This makes sense if you think about it. Here I am thinking about some of the sayings in our family…from time to time, I think about or remember something a family member has said…for instance, my great aunt Fanny who died years ago at the age of 106. Aunt Fancy was a maiden great aunt – never married - , a great wit and could really turn a phrase. Here is one of our family stories about a saying of Aunt Fancy’s. My sister Susan had taken her to church – First Presbyterian Church in Columbia – she was about 92 at the time. It was after church and they were sitting in the car pick up area having a little rest before they walked to the car which was a good hike. A lady who was standing down from them leaned over and said, “I’m waiting for my husband.” Susan said, that without missing a beat, Aunt Fancy said, “I am too.” Sometimes when I hear or say the words, “I am waiting for my husband”, her words come to me. I hear them in her voice and in that moment, it goes beyond remembering into sensing that I am in her presence. So, too, with Jesus’ words when we treasure them, guard them, observe them - he is present.

2. The Second promise of presence Jesus makes is that we will know that he is with us because he gives us his peace. This is the peace that passes all understanding…the peace that can be ours even in the midst of a storm. Even when everything around us is coming unglued, we have the gift of knowing that, no matter how difficult or painful the outcome, we sense that we are not alone and that in the end all will be well.

Julian of Norwich, 14th century mystic, whose feast day we kept this past week, gets at this when she describes the following vision she had…She describes seeing God holding a tiny thing in his hand, like a small brown nut, which seemed so fragile and insignificant that she wondered why it did not crumble before her eyes. She understood that the thing was the entire created universe, which is as nothing compared to its Creator, and she was told, "God made it, God loves it, God keeps it." So too with us, God made us, loves us and keeps us.

I wonder how many of you have had that experience of the peace that passes understanding… it is not rational…this is another way that Jesus communicates his continuing love and presence with us.

3. The Third promise of presence is that He will ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit…and we will say more about that in the next two weeks.

4. The Fourth way of knowing God’s presence with us…and this is not St. John but Jennie speaking…has to do with one of the other themes for this Sunday You may have noticed in our hymns and prayers that we are celebrating and praising God for the beauty of creation. This is because today is Rogation Sunday…a day traditionally kept for a procession round the village , beating the bounds…that is marking the boundaries of one’s land, and thanking God for the gifts of the soil, the sea, and the whole of the physical creation. There is more about this on the church blog…The mystics have referred to knowing God in two ways…through the book of the Holy Scripture and through the book of Nature…Now, as anyone who has lived for any length of time, we know that the physical creation is not necessarily benevolent…we live in a fallen world , beautiful yes, but fallen…where disease, and natural disaster, and accidents, and environmental degradation take their toll…..ah, but it is beautiful…as a child, one of the places I felt God’s peace and presence most clearly was sitting up in the top of a 90 ft pine tree in our back yard…far, far above the madding crowd of my brothers and sisters..the light glistened across the tops of the trees, and the wind ruffled through and around the branches and leaves as birds winged their ways. It’s the same calm peacefulness, one can get in the marsh or on the water…or looking at the morning mist lifting from a lake or a field. God’s calm peace and presence can speak to us …through the abundance of his provision for us…the rain that falls and the fruits that grow and the marvelous variety of creatures…

So, then four ways that we can trust that Jesus dwells with us even now, will return for us, and that the Father is providing for us in this and every moment…In his living words; in his peace, in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit….and in his marvelous provision through the creation. May we ever be assured of the truth of his presence. In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.. Amen.

[1] James G. Somerville ( in "Who Will Take Care of Us?" in The Christian Century, May 6, 1998, p. 471)

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Service Schedule

Sundays - 10:00 am - Holy Eucharist I or II, depending upon the season, except for the Second Sunday of Easter which is the annual Brick Church Service and picnic. That service time is 11:00 am. The 2011 Brick Church service will be May 1. Celebrant and Preacher TBA. Please join us.

Bishop's Visitation - December 11, 2011

Sundays in Advent and Lent - Holy Eucharist, Rite I.- 10:00 am followed by Coffee Hour

All other Sundays - Holy Eucharist Rt. II - followed by Coffee Hour
Fifth Sundays - Morning Prayer, Rt. I

Program and Nursery for Children - During the service.
Village Youth Group - New Wappetaw Presbyterian Church - Wednesday evenings - 6:00 pm
Contact: April Zorn at New Wappetaw