With eyes illumined by faith

John 14:15-21

Sunday Sermon

The Rev. W. W. (Tad) Meyer
Assisting Priest

May 21, 2017

As Fr. Bill mentioned last week, in the 14th chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus is addressing his disciples for the final time before his arrest and crucifixion and in doing so, he ends up fielding a number of their questions and concerns. Last week we heard him respond to Thomas’s question about where he was actually going, followed by Phillip’s plea to show them the Father. In today’s Gospel, Jesus continues telling them about how his intimate relationship with God will be revealed and known through those who keep his commandments, through those who know and embody the Spirit of truth which the world cannot see or perceive. His response elicits yet another question from the confused disciples, this time from Judas, not Judas Iscariot, but Jude the Apostle, brother of James. Just after this morning’s passage, Jude asks Jesus, Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world? Jude wants to know why Jesus does not dramatically reveal himself to the world as the Son of the Living God. Why doesn’t he manifest himself in one grand, self-authenticating, pyrotechnic blaze of unmitigated glory, an irrefutable theophany that would silence disbelievers and cynics once and for all. As with the other questions, Jesus did not answer his concern directly, but sought instead to address the confusion and fear that lay behind it.

Jesus then went on to explain, once again, what it means to be able to “see” him, what is entailed in perceiving and knowing him as the Incarnate Son of Almighty God. Those who love him will keep his commandments. They will keep his word and hence God will love them and will dwell within them. Here is the criterion for seeing and knowing the Christ, the way in which Jesus is revealed to those who have faith. Those who love him and keep his word will live with and within his abiding presence. But Jesus also knew firsthand the limits of human love and the frailty of human commitment and so he promised his disciples that God would provide them with help and assistance. Once he was gone, God would send them the guidance of the Advocate, the comforter, the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit would remind them of his words and commandments, teaching them all that they needed to know in order to see with eyes illumined by faith. Jude wanted to know why the Christ did not clearly reveal himself to the whole world and Jesus responded by promising the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The connection between the question and answer is not accidental nor insignificant for in truth, it is through the activity of the Holy Spirit that Christ is made visible in and through the world. It is through the prodding of the Holy Spirit that we occasionally catch a glimpse of the Kingdom of God and it is through the presence of that same Spirit that we learn to see with eyes of faith, discerning the resilient thread of God’s grace within the chaotic patterns of life that swirl around us. Through the Spirit’s tutelage, we learn to see signs of the Risen Lord within the fabric of our own lives and within all the relationships and events that form and shape them.

All right, you may well be wondering, all well and good. It sounds strangely feasible but how on earth does it work? How does such divine tutoring actually take place and how do we know when such spiritual lessons are in the offing. Such questions are, of course, not easy to answer because we are all particular human beings, diverse individuals who learn things differently according to our various capabilities, strengths and weaknesses. There are no formulae or blueprints for such spiritual education, for every person sees and knows differently, but there are some general observations that can be made about the teaching methods of the Holy Spirit.

In this morning’s collect, one of my personal favorites, we prayed that God would pour into our hearts such love towards God that we, loving God in all things and above all things, may obtain Christ’s promises, which exceed all that we desire. The Holy Spirit, I firmly believe, teaches us through the language of our desires, inspiring us to love God in all things and above all things. We are taught, when we are willing to learn, what it is that we want and need, what it is that we truly desire. Far too often, I’m afraid, we are blind to the presence of the living God because we are so preoccupied with our own speculations and expectations about where, when and how the Almighty should and will appear. We become so obsessed with our wishes and fantasies concerning how God should enter our lives that we simply forget what it is that we truly desire which is simply God’s graceful loving presence. In her Revelation of Divine Love, the 14th-century mystic Dame Julian of Norwich wrote of this spiritual dynamic:

It is God’s will that we pay great heed to all the deeds which he has performed, for he wishes us to(learn) from them and to trust and believe all which he will do. But always we must avoid pondering what the deed will be, and wish (instead) to be like our brothers, who are his saints in heaven, who want nothing else than God’s will. Then shall we rejoice only in God, and be well satisfied both with what he conceals and what he reveals.

It is the graceful task of the Holy Spirit, and it is truly a monumental chore, to shatter our illusions of how God will or should enter the fabric of our lives, all those dreams and fantasies of the ways we want and expect God to express her love for us. Those illusions must be destroyed so that we might learn about the real desire that lies beneath them, the desire for nothing else but God’s loving presence. We need to learn time and time again what it is that we truly desire and with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, we occasionally open our hearts and minds to that transforming reality.

The other night Ann and I plunked ourselves down in front of the television where we encountered one of the great ironies of this technological age: hundreds of channels and not one program worth watching. Desperate in our need for visual entertainment, we turned to our stash of DVDs and after dismissing any number of films as either too depressing or too serious, we finally settled on an old classic, Gentlemen Prefer Blonds. I thought that I had a pretty clear memory of the movie but as the plot unfolded, I was surprised by how many characters, scenes and songs I had simply forgotten. For example, there was a scene in Paris where Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell burst into song at a sidewalk café, performing a wonderful number entitled When love goes wrong, nothing goes right. As I listened to that song, I couldn’t help but think about the profound truth of that simple refrain. When our hearts are broken – when love goes wrong - the world becomes a sinister place. Everything seems to conspire to exacerbate our misery. A dark cloud of wretchedness casts its shadow over all our thoughts and experiences, transforming the most uplifting incident into a moment of quiet despair. We also, of course, know the truth of the mirror opposite: When love goes right, nothing goes wrong. The heart inspired by love transforms reality after its own image, finding blossoms of joy and delight in a thicket of desolation. To eyes illumined by love, the world is a beautiful place and everything and everyone seems intent on reinforcing and strengthening that marvelous perspective. For the lover, even a dark, threatening cloud has a silver lining. In a strange and wondrous way, this was what Jesus was trying to tell Jude and his fellow disciples and it is the same truth that lies beneath Dame Julian’s spiritual lesson. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is to teach us, time and time again, this simple but elegant truth. If we place the love of God in Christ at the heart of our desire, we will find our vision transformed and all our thoughts and experiences will conspire to reflect that life-giving graceful love. When we love God right, nothing goes wrong.

When we put aside our wishful delusions of how God should be present in our lives and simply know and feel our deep desire for God’s loving grace, the Holy Spirit can teach us to see wondrous things. Like a star-crossed lover, with eyes illumined with desire, we can actually learn to see with the eyes of blessed St. Peter who in today’s epistle suggests that no harm can come to those who are eager to serve the Lord. Inspired by such love, we will not fear as the world fears nor will we be intimidated by the threats and follies that flow through life. Through eyes illumined by love for Christ, even moments of suffering can be borne since we will see them through the lens of the cross and the empty tomb. With eyes and hearts anchored in God’s love, we can even see in the ranks of this rather motley band of folk gathered here, the citizens of the heavenly kingdom, the gathering of those redeemed by Christ’s love, those called to the heavenly banquet of the lamb. And at that rail, as we hold out to God hearts brim-filled with desire, God will reveal to us tangible signs of Christ’s love for us, food and drink that will deepen and broaden the depth and breadth of our loving desire. With eyes lit by lit, we will discover that we dwell within a world that is infused with the glory of God and that within the darkest of realities, even within the black reality of death, the light of Christ shines brightly, leading us toward the temple of our Living God. By the flames of our loving desire, we will see that the love of God in Christ now dwells in the chambers of our all too human hearts and we will find that love reflected in all things and above all things, fulfilling promises that exceed all that we can desire.