Weekly Seeds: Love God

Sunday, May 22, 2022
Sixth Sunday of Easter | Year C

Focus Theme:
Love God

Focus Prayer:
Loving God, by your Holy Spirit, remind us of your promise and assurance. In these troubling times, we need your peace and love to sustain and propel us in the world. Amen.

Focus Reading:
John 14:23–29
23 Jesus 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. 24 Whoever 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. 26 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. 27 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. 28 You 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. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.

All readings for this Sunday:
Acts 16:9–15
Psalm 67
Revelation 21:10, 22–22:5
John 14:23–29 or John 5:1–9

Focus Questions:
1. What does peace look like?
2. How are you seeking peace? How are you receiving peace?
3. What peace does Jesus offer?
4. How does peace intersect with love?
5. How does following Jesus manifest love in the world?

By Cheryl Lindsay

The expression “Rest in Peace” reveals an interesting perspective on the concept of peace. We seem to believe that peace remains elusive until death. There is something unattainable about the absence of conflict during our earthly lives. Suffering, acrimony, striving, and disappointment seem more accessible. We may even point to the prediction of Jesus that there would be trials and tribulations as a promise that is constantly kept.

Our expectations of peace persistently aim low. Peace as the absence of conflict is a pale echo of the full meaning of the concept. But what if we considered peace from the framework of this text from John’s gospel account? What if peace were a divine inheritance…our God-given birthright? A gift passed down from the One who gave us life rather than a consolation prize after a life of turmoil? “Peace I leave you,” Jesus says to his disciples. This is not a promise for when they join him at the time their earthly mission concludes; it’s a gift to carry with them and keep close for the rest of their days.

In this portion of the Farewell Discourse, where Jesus prepares his closest companions for his absence and their assuming leadership of his ministry, Jesus offers two gifts–peace and the Holy Spirit. The latter will become their new Companion; the former is a way of being as much as a state of being. John Hesselink helps us understand this notion of peace:

To separate “external life” or our “total being” from inner peace is to put asunder what God has joined together in the multifaceted reality call shalom. For shalom (or eirene) is never simply religious, inner peace of soul; nor is it primarily the absence of strife or war. In the Old Testament shalom connotes wholeness, well-being, the good life, all of which are a gift of God. In the New Testament the accent falls on harmonious relationships and the restoration of a right relationship, first with God, and then with others. (John Hesselink)

Jesus offers wholeness, well-being, and restoration as a parting gift. A memento of his life like a beloved relative or friend might designate a special trinket to be given to someone upon their death as a sign of their love and affection as well as a means of comforting those left behind.

Jesus’ gift on parting would be different as he ultimately departs in life rather than death. His friends, however, will still feel his loss and mourn his absence. The separation will evoke feelings of despair, overwhelm, uncertainty, inadequacy, and grief as demonstrated by their inactivity, doubts, and isolation in the immediate days following the events of the passion and the resurrection. Reflecting on the events that occurred two millennia ago, we forget that the disciples were figuring out what has been presented to us in a complete, organized, and resolved way. They did not live it in that manner however. Even as they delighted in Jesus’ resurrection, it’s hard to imagine they did not also experience some trepidation at these astonishing events.

Of course, Jesus anticipates their response. That is the entire point of the Farewell Discourse–to plant seeds of knowledge with the hope that they will bloom at the appropriate time. Jesus reveals what will happen and offers words of assurance and comfort as well as tangible promises to position his companions to carry on in hope and power rather than fear or anxiety:
For the gift of peace which is offered is the opposite of the troubled and fearful hearts of the disciples. Peace here clearly means the absence of fear and anxiety…

Peace is not only the opposite of fear and anxiety. Nor is it simply a psychological state or evanescent feeling of calmness and tranquility in the midst of trouble. It is Christ’s gift—”my peace I give to you”—the peace which only Christ can give because only he possesses it. It is found only in him (16:33a) and is inseparable from his presence. The world does not know such peace and hence cannot give it….It is Christ’s farewell gift to the church, the inheritance which he bequeaths to his children. (John Hesselink)

Jesus offers this peace repetitively. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” In the second statement, he adds the possessive “my.” This is no ordinary peace, it has been claimed and possessed by Christ. It is the peace of God and is available to God’s children.

The disciples will need it as they will not experience the more superficial definition of peace. They will encounter an abundance of conflict, both among themselves and in the world. Of course, so did Jesus. His life was full of conflict with those who were threatened by what he offered.

We scarcely need reminding that not everyone aspires to a life of peace. Some people feed off conflict as if it were air or water–essential to life. At the extreme, we observe this in Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. At the same time, it manifests in more everyday, insidious ways such as the person who eschews gratitude for constant complaint or the person who refuses to address their concerns directly with others involved in favor of gossiping behind their backs. Others succumb to the pitfall of comparison and make room for internal conflict. Hyper partisanship in politics is another example of embracing discord over pursuing peace.

The disciples may be equipped for their increasing and elevating mission, but that does not make it an easy one. Missing the presence of Jesus only makes it that more difficult. They will be empowered to do the same things–and more–that he did so it’s not the healings, teachings, and other miracles that they will lament as much as the loss of sharing those moments with him.

Ministry can be lonely even when surrounded by people. Jesus experienced that and escaped the crush of the crowd for the companionship of the Parent. Following the Ascension, Jesus will be restored to full and unrestrained companionship with the Triune God. He has to look forward to that, when his loneliness will be abated. Jesus also empathizes with his human companions who he knows will miss him in the same way. That empathy leads to action and the other gift that Jesus will bless the disciples with upon his departure: the Holy Spirit.

That’s what God’s love looks like.

Loneliness frequently surfaces in the Bible, and lack of attention to its characters’ needs leads to shallow interpretations of narratives. Causes and characteristics of loneliness emerge in John 14: abandonment (or being orphaned), fear, anxiety, a desire for wisdom in inexplicable circumstances, the comforts of home, and, supremely, a sense of the presence of God. The chapter presents an approach to this need in a way that bypasses pious platitudes; it mandates [sibling] love “with skin on it,” where hearts can rest in God’s presence. (J . Lanier Burns)

The Holy Spirit is first of all Companion. Just as Jesus first called the disciples with the simple invitation to follow, the Holy Spirit offers us the presence of God among us. Our journey was never intended to be a lonely one. We were created for companionship, with God and one another. The Holy One does not leave us even when we feel abandoned. As the Apostle Paul will later talk about considering loss as gain, here we witness that in action. The loss of the physical presence of Jesus means that he will intercede for us in the heavenly realm and the Holy Spirit will accompany us in the earthly one. God doesn’t subtract; the Creator multiplies.

And Jesus trusts that the love the disciples have for him will transcend his physical absence. He expects their love to rejoice for his blessing. He anticipates their love will lead them raise the mantle he bequeaths them. Christ doesn’t leave them an army outfitted with military tools and weapons of war. That’s not the mark of his kindom. He leaves them companionship and peace. He leaves them not with a reminder of his love. After all, he will vividly demonstrate that. He leaves them with a reminder that their love of him should manifest in certain ways. Their love of him demands something of them. This relationship is mutual if unequal. He has prepared an inheritance for them to receive but he has also prepared them to be a people who can give, who can lead, and who can live in peace. Love God.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent:
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.

“The Feet of Judas”
Christ washed the feet of Judas!
The dark and evil passions of his soul,
His secret plot, and sordidness complete,
His hate, his purposing, Christ knew the whole,
And still in love he stooped and washed his feet.

Christ washed the feet of Judas!
Yet all his lurking sin was bare to him,
His bargain with the priest, and more than this,
In Olivet, beneath the moonlight dim,
Aforehand knew and felt his treacherous kiss.
Christ washed the feet of Judas!
And so ineffable his love ’twas meet,
That pity fill his great forgiving heart,
And tenderly to wash the traitor’s feet,
Who in his Lord had basely sold his part.

Christ washed the feet of Judas!
And thus a girded servant, self-abased,
Taught that no wrong this side the gate of heaven
Was ever too great to wholly be effaced,
And though unasked, in spirit be forgiven.
And so if we have ever felt the wrong
Of Trampled rights, of caste, it matters not,
What e’er the soul has felt or suffered long,
Oh, heart! this one thing should not be forgot:
Christ washed the feet of Judas.

– William Stanley Braithwaite

For further reflection:
“I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world.” — Rainer Maria Rilke
“To love another person is to see the face of God.” — Victor Hugo (Les Misérables)
“I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, He will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather He will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?” — Mother Teresa

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.