Rev. Dr. Martha ter Kuile
Sixth Sunday in Eastertide – Ninth Sunday in ZOOM Church
Sunday, May 17, 2020
Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said,
“For we too are his offspring.”
Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’
‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
May God bless to our understanding these words from Holy Scripture.
Jesus says to his disciples that they will have an Advocate to be with them forever. Seems an odd choice of word, sounds like a lawyer. Some of the other translations say, a helper, or a comforter, or a counselor. This spirit of truth is to be all those things. It makes me think of the staff members at Christie Gardens who are called Advocates. For those who may be visiting today, Christie Gardens is a retirement residence near the church where 20 of our Bloor Streeters live. The Advocates are assigned to residents in assisted living or full care – their job is to advocate for the needs of the residents, to talk to family, and medical and administrative and maintenance staff, and make sure everyone is on the same page about the resident’s needs and welfare. They sort of run interference for the person. The Advocate for my parents is Allison, and she arranges our phonecalls, and finds hearing aid batteries, and reorganizes the furniture so that it works better, and in this lockdown even sends us photos. Our family couldn’t manage without her. Jesus is saying here that each of us is accompanied by a sort of invisible Allison, who sees our needs and cheerfully and unobtrusively attends to them. You will recognize that spirit of truth, he says, because it will live in you. It is a wonderful promise.
But this passage also includes one of those awkward sayings of Jesus – and there seem to be quite a few in the Gospel of John. These verses, like last week’s, come from the Farewell Discourses, the long conversation he has with the disciples on the night that he will be arrested. They are sitting around the table, anxious and uncertain. Jesus is saying goodbye and trying to encourage them for the difficulties ahead. Reminds them that despite everything he will be with them. It hardly seems the right moment for a little piece of emotional blackmail – if you love me, then prove it by keeping my commandments. Surely, he didn’t say that. Did someone mishear him? Misquote him? Is it a case of broken telephone? Or indeed, it may not be a quid pro quo at all, but a prediction. In loving me, you will be keeping my commandments. In loving me, you will be enabled to love God, to love the neighbour, to love the world. That sounds more like Jesus.
The words raise for us the larger question of what we expect from love, even without saying so. The question of what people need from each other. If you love me, what? Maybe, if you love me, pay attention to me. Or, if you love me, spend time with me. If you love me, take an interest in how I am. If you love me, sympathize with my troubles, listen to my dreams, put up with my bad moods. These signs of love are always important, but especially in this pandemic time, when it is so difficult to communicate with those we cannot see in person, and so difficult to appreciate those we are cooped up with. How do you show your love when you are locked down?
Offering to one another the kind of attentive spiritual companionship that Jesus promises in the Advocate should be our objective. This is the commandment that he places on his followers, and the claim that he makes for God’s love. As Ellen read in the story from Acts, God is not invisible or unknown, but right here, the love in which we live and move and have our being. God is to be known in the love which defines us – love that is seen both in the endless glory of the creation, and also in the small acts of caring and companionship and forbearance that we offer to those who share the journey.
Paul tells the Athenians that human beings are made to seek and reach out for God. Made for the love that surrounds us, and which Jesus promises will dwell within us. If you love me, he says, love one another, and love the world, and let yourself be loved. The advocate, the spirit of truth, will show you the way. And for this we give God thanks.