Letting God make God’s home with us
A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley
by Andrew McKearney on 26 May 2019.
The Gospel reading this morning is taken from St John’s Gospel chapter 14. It happens each year at this point in the Easter season that the Gospel readings at church are no longer taken from the resurrection stories as such. Instead were taken back, back to the last supper, back to four long and complex chapters in St John’s Gospel, referred to often as the Farewell Discourses.
So what’s the thinking behind this?
Firstly we’re taken back to these chapters in John’s Gospel because at one level they mirror where we are in the Easter story – saying ‘goodbye’ and parting as we lead up to Ascension Day which we celebrate this Thursday. The place where these themes are explored in the Gospels is in these Farewell Discourses round the meal table at the last supper, when Jesus is about to ‘go away’ to be crucified.
However there’s also a deeper reason.
These four chapters of John’s Gospel are probably best understood not as the actual teaching given by the historical Jesus at the last supper, but as the teaching of the risen Christ, alive and active in the minds and hearts of the early Christians as they reflect on Christ’s life and teaching, plumbing those depths that they know to be there in his life and thought.
The journey of Easter is a process of assimilation – now the disciples don’t need Christ’s physical presence with them, nor do they need the appearances of the risen Christ!
Rather the spirit of the risen Christ is alive in their hearts and lives. And it’s out of this that these four chapters of St John come:
‘We will come to them and make our home with
them’ we heard promised. ‘The Holy Spirit…will
teach you everything, and remind you of all that I
have said to you’ we heard spoken.
So this is profound teaching about the inner life of the Christian – letting God make God’s home with us. And this understanding has come from the disciples’ own experience of the risen Christ.
So we need to approach these chapters in the right frame of mind!
If we tend to be a ‘head’ person we’ll probably only get frustrated and cry out as the disciples at one point do:
‘We do not know what he’s talking about!’
Let me illustrate what happens if you approach these texts in the wrong frame of mind! It’s an historical example. There’s a little phrase from our reading this morning that was hijacked in a heady dispute in the early church:
‘The Father is greater than I,’ we heard Jesus say.
One of the key doctrinal issues for the early church was the relationship between Jesus as the Son of God, and God the Father. In comparison the Brexit debate is tame – in fact it’s only just begun!
Prostitutes were smuggled into Bishop’s bedrooms to discredit them if they were on the other side of the debate! It took years of argument and debate before any agreement could be reached! And it was then only reached because the emperor knocked heads together and forced an agreement on the church – and that’s the Creed that we recite week by week!
The accepted Christian position came to be that God the Son is not subordinate or lesser than the Father, but rather they are equal:
‘God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God’
as we shall say in a moment.
But the opponents to this, as part of their argument, usedthis phrase from St John where Jesus says:
‘The Father is greater than I.’
So how can they be equal?
Or take that extraordinary phrase that we heard:
‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’
So is he coming or going?! Apparently a complete contradiction, but is it?
These chapters are some of the most precious in the whole New Testament. They draw us into a deep place of intimacy with God – and that’s the whole point of the Easter journey!
Two further aspects of this journey of Easter that I want to mention this morning.
Sometimes we experience moments of peace that are different – there’s a sort-of-fullness to them – a sense of presence – and that’s often the best description we can give – to refer to them as the presence of God.
Many of us experience such moments here. The noise of the ring road may still be in the background but somehow it’s been pushed back and a peace has been established that is bigger and deeper than any of us:
‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you,’
we heard said. ‘I do not give as the world gives.’
And most importantly, this Easter journey is a journey from fear to trust:
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled,’ we heard said,
‘do not let them be afraid.’
When in Mark’s Gospel the women flee from the tomb on Easter Day, they say nothing to anyone – why? Because they’re afraid.
When it’s evening on Easter Day, John says that the doors of the house are locked where the disciples are meeting – why? Because they’re afraid.
But by the end of the Easter journey, right at the very end ofMatthew’s Gospel Jesus says to his disciples: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations’ Why? Because they now trust.
At the very end of Luke’s Gospel, the disciples have returned to Jerusalem and are continually in the temple blessing God. Why? Because they now trust.
This is the Easter journey that we’re each invited to make:• journeying from fear to trust• experiencing moments of profound peace• letting God make God’s home with us
Alleluia! Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!