Easter 6, A
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14: 15-21
What’s your confidence level with ancient Greek philosophy? Would it surprise you if I told you that you can all quote a Greek philosopher-poet from the 6th century BCE. Epimenides. You know his work – you just don’t know that you do. Epimenides was an interesting fellow, said to have lived for 300 years. (It’s possible that might be a slight exaggeration) Legend has it that at some point in that lengthy lifespan, he fell asleep in a cave and awoke 57 years later blessed with the gift of prophesy. It proved a mixed blessing, perhaps, as the gift of prophesy is wont to be. After being taken prisoner in the war between the Spartans and the Knossians, he was executed by his enemies for refusing to prophesy favorably for them. You know his ancient, prophetic words….
“They fashioned a tomb for you, holy and high one,
Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies.”
Not sounding familiar yet? Not an expert on Cretan moral habits? The verse continues…
“But you are not dead: you live and abide forever,
For in you we live and move and have our being.”
“For in you we live and move and have our being.”
Penned centuries before Jesus was even born, appropriated by Paul, and reported by Luke in the book of Acts, these Greek words form the underpinning of a great deal of contemporary Christian thought. Not only do we find the words in the Book of Common Prayer’s Collect for Guidance, but we repeatedly encounter the concept in the writings of theologians. It is suggestive of Paul Tillich’s concept of God as the “ground of all being”. It is easily seen in the writings of Marcus Borg: “This concept [panentheism] imagines God as the encompassing Spirit in whom everything that is, is. The universe is not separate from God but in God” (Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith)
Epimenides was writing about Zeus. The Athenians worshipped an unknown God. Paul recognized in both a more universal sense of belonging to something bigger, of an intimate relationship between creator and created. Abandoning his usual scripturally based approach to evangelism (what do pagan Athenians know from Moses and the Torah anyway?), he recognized their longing, their search, their “groping for God” as something universal. He shared his own spiritual food; his own sense of the ever-present creator God.
Some of you may know my year old. Linnaea is interested in numbers. Addition, subtraction, what is bigger and what is smaller than what. What is the biggest number, Mumma? What is smaller than zero? What is bigger than infinity? She came up with an interesting answer on her own. (No coaching, I promise) “God.” she said. “God is bigger than infinity. God is bigger than everything. God is in everything.” Out of the mouths of babes…
A correspondent of mine tells a story of a mother and child on their way home from church. Apparently the daughter has actually been listening to the service because she says to her mother, “I’m confused. You know how the pastor said in her sermon that Christ is much bigger than any of us?” “Yes, I remember,” said her mother. And she said that Christ lives in us, right?” “Yes,” said her mother. “If that is so, if Christ is bigger than we are, and if Christ lives in us, then why doesn’t Christ show through? (Pam Laing, Midrash, personal communication)
Why doesn’t Christ show through?
More philosophy – this time from the 17th century. Arthur Schopenhauer was a grumpy fellow with a gloomy if rather descriptive view of humankind. He described us as porcupines in the cold. “The colder it gets outside, the more we huddle together for warmth; but the closer we get to one another, the more we hurt each other with our quills. And in the lonely night of the Earth’s winter eventually we begin to drift apart and wander out on our own and freeze to death in our loneliness.”
Suffering happens. Peter knew it. “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil”. That may be true, but it is not terribly comforting while the suffering is happening. This is Memorial Day Weekend. We remember lives lost, lives given in service. We honor the lives of those who have died, and the suffering of those who have lost them. No one goes through this life without suffering.
We search, with all our fellow porcupines for comfort, for meaning. Jesus offers respite from the prickles. You know [the Spirit], because he abides with you, and he will be in you. I will not leave you orphaned.” Jesus asks us to embrace the love He offers. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” This is not analogous to the emotional threat of a power-based relationship – “If you are my friend, you’ll let me copy your homework”, “If you love me, you’ll keep my secret” and so on. Jesus invites us to a love-based relationship. His commandments – Love god. Love your neighbor. Love each other as I have loved you. He is not setting out conditions for love, he’s laying out logical consequences.
Father Pedro Arrupe said:
Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.
Our porcupine quills may never completely disappear. We role ourselves into prickly balls in defense, in protection. Jesus does not demand a change in sentiment, but a change in action. He would have us mindfully soothe our bristles, exposing our soft underbellies, day after day, time after time. If we love God, if we embrace that active, vital, organic love Christ gave the world; a love that fed the hungry, healed the sick, comforted the lonely, a love that treated women and outcasts with respect, a love that challenged the power structure, a love that suffered and served, even unto death – if we embrace that love, we love.
Christ will show through.