Peace in our Souls

6th Sunday of Easter
John 14:15-27
May 2014, 25                                                                           
Elizabeth M. Deibert                                                                   
Today is not Pentecost, but it is a sort of prelude to Pentecost with the Gospel’s focus on the Spirit.   The Holy Spirit was around at creation, is mentioned as giving power or direction or filling Old Testament characters like Joseph, Moses, Saul, David, Samson, Elijah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah.    The Spirit was a key player in Jesus’ baptism and his ministry.   Sometimes we forget that the Spirit was around before the Day of Pentecost.   Certainly the Spirit has been the most neglected member of the Trinity, the quiet and mysterious person in the Godhead.    The Apostles’ Creed gives a two word mention of belief in the Holy Ghost.   The Nicene Creed provides four lines with much greater description of the nature and work of the Spirit.   But the Bible mentions the Holy Spirit hundreds of times.    Sometimes Holy Spirit, sometimes Spirit of God or Spirit of Christ or Spirit of the Lord.   In the 20th Century, perhaps spurred by Pentecostal Churches who emphasized the Spirit, the whole church began speaking more about the Holy Spirit.  Our more recent affirmations of faith like A Brief Statement in 1991, are much more Spirit-filled.
Today’s reading is one of Jesus’ promise of the Spirit, which he makes several times in the Gospel of John, chapters 14-17, in his Farewell Discourse.    This coming Thursday is Ascension Day, the 40th day of Easter, when we remember Jesus’ departure from earth, yet not a complete departure because his Spirit is still here.   Let us pray (singing):  Lord, give us peace like a river.   Give us peace like a river.   Give us peace like a river in our souls…..  

John 14:15-27
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 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.

18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

The Spirit is our Advocate, someone who rises to our defense, who stands up to protect us, who has our back.   You know how wonderful it is to have a friend or family member or colleague or lawyer, who is an advocate? It is the one who always sees your side of the story, understands your perspective, appreciates what is good about you, even if he or she knows you’re not perfect.  An advocate speaks up for your value, your dignity.   The Spirit is there, not saying a word, with sighs too deep for words, praying with you, reminding you that if God is for you, who can be against you?   Advocacy.   Every human being, in order to thrive, needs to know the support of advocacy.   Those of us who were blessed with parents who were our advocates have been given a huge advantage in life.   Others have found friends, spouses, maybe a guardian ad litem or teacher or a pastor or counselor to be that advocate.   I think in adulthood, we all look for people to be our advocates because we know we function better when we have them.  When in the presence of a caring, listening friend or counselor, you can know have experienced the advocacy of the Spirit, if that person is a true advocate.  As Maya Angelou puts it, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”   The Spirit is there to make all human beings feel secured and protected.
The Spirit is defined by truth and repelled or silenced in falsehood.  In awareness of the dwelling of the Spirit, our Advocate, we become our truest selves. Our false selves are insecure, pompous, victimized, braggadocios, withdrawn, or hyper-critical.   Our true selves are confident and humble, honest and kind, resilient and courageous, always speaking the truth in love, as it says in Ephesians 4:15.  When we are functioning with full awareness of the Spirit in us, then we too are defined by the truth about us, not the lies.   We see others as their truest selves, not according to shallow stereotypes and first impressions and immature judgments.   Speaking the truth in love is challenging.   I heard a fellow pastor at presbytery say, that truth without love is cruelty, and love without truth is hypocrisy.   Do you err toward cruelty or hypocrisy?   The truth about all of us that the Spirit of truth is quietly trying to plant in our souls is that we belong to God and are valuable and called to be a blessing to others.   Nothing more, nothing less.

The Spirit is the one who lives with us and in us.   We have to train our ears to hear and our souls to feel the Spirit.  Daughter Catherine has been shadowing a speech pathologist at Pinnacle Academy, a school and therapy center for children with significant disabilities.   She tells us of all tricks the speech pathologist has for making children who have difficulty with language and with focusing get in touch their tongues and their lips.   She puts her fingers in their mouths to feel what is happening there.  She puts their fingers there.   Awareness has to be taught.  We can learn to ignore the Spirit, if we do not practice listening to the Spirit.   Richard’s alarm goes off every morning at least an hour or two before I get up.    The only day I hear his alarm is the day that I am keenly aware of my need to rise early – Sunday.   Otherwise, being a deep sleeper, once I fall asleep, I have learned to ignore his alarm.   The same is true when I need to work on a sermon.   For so many years, I have written sermons at home with young children and teens around.   So I can ignore the voices and activity when I am writing.   Now ignoring Richard’s alarm and the activity of my house while writing a sermon is healthy.   But ignoring the nudges of the Holy Spirit living in you, guiding you to make good and right choices – not good.
The Spirit will teach us everything and remind us of all Jesus has said.   For the Spirit to remind us, it is helpful to develop our ability to hear through active listening.   It is also helpful to be acquainted with the words and life of Jesus and the sacraments that he gave us to remember him.   The disciples had lived day by day with him in person.   We have the Word and the Sacraments, the witnesses and the testimonies of those who went before us, the stories of faithful Christians through the centuries.   But we do not spend enough time in them.   This week one of you told me about your father who had stopped formal education at an early age but read the Bible so regularly that he could quote it well.  

I wish that you had the same pressure I have to study the lectionary texts every week because that discipline is a gift.  It’s like eating right and drinking water, and getting exercise and sleep is good for me.   Sometimes one or two of you will let me know that you are reading the scriptures with me and whether or not you send your thoughts or questions does not matter, but that you are reading scripture with discipline does very much matter.  It doesn’t have to be the lectionary texts.   You can read any daily devotional or just read a book of the Bible.  You can set up scriptural devotions to come into your email box.   You can be part of a prayer or Bible study group.   There are any number of ways to make scripture reading part of your life.   The Spirit wants to remind you of what you know of Jesus.  You know Jesus by worship in the community of faith and worship in personal devotional time.   And then the Spirit works in you to remind you of those truths, which lead you to peace.
The Spirit fills our souls with peace, the peace of Jesus Christ who lived and died and was raised for the healing of our souls.   In that peace of Christ, the peace that passes all understanding, as Paul says to the Philippians, that we can rest secure.   It is in that peace and only in that peace that we are able to bear Christ’s light to the world, to love one another, as he has commanded us.   Having this peace is a matter of trust in a relationship, not a body of knowledge.   Stay connected to the Spirit bringing peace to your soul, so that you are not just responding intellectually to what you hear about God or about Christ, but are expecting the Spirit to transform   Cultivate your ability to recognize the Spirit of God in you and you will be changed.   Your inner being will become more peaceful. I have watched it happen with people in this congregation.   It is not an overnight experience for any of us.    It takes time and lots of practice.   It helps to have a whole team of people practicing with you.   That’s what the church is – a team working on being spirit-filled together.

At the presbytery meeting on Thursday, in our small groups, we were reflecting on an ancient prayer by St Philaret of Moscow, thanks to Bill Clough’s leadership.   I want to end with a slightly edited version of that prayer: 
Holy Spirit of Christ, grant me to greet the coming day in peace.  Help me in all things to rely upon Your holy will.  In every hour of the day reveal Your will to me.  Bless my dealings with all who surround me.  Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with the firm conviction that Your will governs all.  In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events let me not forget that all are sent by You things work together for good to those who love you.  Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering or embarrassing others.  Give me strength to bear the fatigue of this coming day with all that it will bring.  Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray You Yourself in me. Amen.