14 May 2023 – Sixth Sunday of Easter
by The Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Sermon preached by The Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
You gotta love the gospel of John. Especially when the lectionary slices and dices the text and presents to us something like today’s reading. I spent this week reading and re-reading and wondering, what did this mean to the people who were listening to Jesus? Were they confused by it? Were they comforted or reassured by it? And what does it mean to us today? Do you find this text confusing? Or comforting or reassuring?
It’s hard to know how to respond, in part because this text is an example of a time when the lectionary doesn’t really do us any favors. We have this snippet – seven verses – plucked from the middle of the 14th chapter of John. It can be hard to follow that way. Two things can happen, at least for me, that make it harder to really understand the meaning of a piece of text like this.
First, the nature of the language can be harder to see. As a snippet, I find myself asking questions like: Who is this Advocate? What does Jesus mean? Some people can’t see the Advocate, others know this Spirit of Truth – which group am I in? What does he mean that “I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you?” How do I make sense of this?! Outside of its context, it might take longer to notice that – as with much of the language in the Gospel of John – this is poetry. It’s mystical. The more I try to approach the text in that kind of an analytical way, reaching for concrete meaning, the more it seems to slip through my fingers, as if I’m trying to hold water in my hand. But I would suggest that this text is not intended to be approached in an analytical way. What happens if we just let the words wash over us? If instead of dissecting the words to try to arrive at an analytical definition of the Trinity, we approach the text as something to be experienced. To be felt. “You know him…he abides with you…he will be in you…because I live, you also will live…I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you…” The poetry.
A second thing happens when these verses are extracted in this way: some of the meaning gets cut away. If we put it back together, though – today’s text with the first verses of chapter 14 and the last verses of chapter 14 – if we put those three parts back together again, we can begin to see the theme of this poem.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” begins the first verse of Chapter 14. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places…I go [there] to prepare a place for you…I will come for you…so that where I am, there you may be also” (14:1-3).
Then today we hear: even though I go, I will ask God to send another to be with you (parap. 14:16). “I will not leave you orphaned” (14:18)
And then, continuing beyond today’s selection, in the last verse of this movement we hear: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you…Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (14: 27).
As Jesus prepared his followers for his death, and for his ultimate departure, what they experienced in Jesus was not a diagram of the three persons of God and their individual relationship to the Trinity. Instead, they might have experienced Jesus’ desire to make sure they knew they weren’t alone: Do not let your hearts be troubled. I will not leave you orphaned. My peace I leave with you. Do not be afraid.
So here we are at this moment in our liturgical cycle – approaching the end of the Easter season, preparing for our annual remembrance of Pentecost, the founding of the church, the day the Spirit of God blew through the room where the faithful were gathered with wind and with flames, breathing life into the mystical body we call the church. Binding together in a new way those who follow Jesus. And in this moment – our approaching Pentecost – with a little reconstruction – our lectionary reminds us: Do not let your hearts be troubled. You are not alone.
It feels particularly meaningful to hear this message as we prepare for our annual remembrance of the birth of the church. Because in many ways, it feels like we’re living through a time of necessary re-birth for the church. We know recent decades have brought great change. We know change will continue. To live faithfully into that new future will demand steadfastness, and thoughtfulness, and imagination, and courage.
We have a lot of choices to make, a lot of work to do – both here at All Saints and in the broader Episcopal church and beyond. As we move forward, though, taking to heart the full message of today’s Gospel, I for one am comforted, I am reassured to be reminded that we aren’t alone. That we don’t have to know all the answers right now. That we aren’t alone. We just need to remember this message that Jesus left with his followers, this message that rings through the centuries down to us today.
Do not let your hearts be troubled. I will not leave you orphaned. My peace I leave with you. Do not be afraid. Amen.