VI Easter, Year C
Jn 14:23-29 or Jn 5:1-9
During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home." And she prevailed upon us. Acts 16:9-15
Jn 14:23-29 or Jn 5:1-9
And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.
I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day–and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
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. 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. "I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 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. 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. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids–blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be made well?" The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me." Jesus said to him, "Stand up, take your mat and walk." At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Our text for today begins in the middle as it were. Previous to this, Jesus had spoken of another Paraclete that would be given to the disciples and his own departure from them. Judas (not Iscariot) asks Jesus, “Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” Indeed, why?
Why is the revelation of God limited? And if it is limited, to whom is it limited? There is an answer given in the Fourth Gospel: revelation is given to those who love Jesus and therefore obey, to those who ‘keep’ (tereo) Jesus’ teaching. To keep something is to hang on to it, to not let it go. In the Fourth Gospel, this teaching (‘ton logon’ vs 23) is predominately the message that God is revealed in the cross of Jesus. In 13:31-35 (Year C Easter 4), this teaching is a ‘new’ commandment but is a commandment given in the light of the cross. When in 13:31 Jesus refers to the Son of Man being glorified, he is referring to the Cross (doxazo, like upsao, is an ironic term in the Fourth Gospel, God is glorified when God appears most humiliated). The cross is the fulcrum upon which revelation turns. If one cannot see God in the cross, then one cannot see God.
This is the most difficult of realities, for in the Cross we do not find a God that we recognize. We find a helpless victim, a brutal murder, a despised figure, a criminal. We would not ordinarily turn to our prison system to find God, nor would we seek to find God in victims of police brutality. We would not seek God in the homeless or in a mental institution. We would not look for God in refugee camps or in hospices. Nor would we seek God in one bound by handcuffs. Our traditional image of God is not like that. God is powerful, mighty, strong and holy. How then is God revealed in this broken man? This is the question posed to us (and answered for us) by the Fourth Gospel.
Here lies the key. Our ‘gods’ are little more than Hollywood action heroes, transcendent tyrants, powerful celebrities. Our ‘gods’ have far more in common with the Donald Trumps and the Dick Cheneys of the world than with the Desmond Tutus or the Daniel Berrigans. In short, our ‘Gods’ resemble our wishes, our upwardly mobile projections, our desires for the top. The God of the Gospel cannot be found at the top, but at the bottom. “God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us. Matthew 8:17 makes it quite clear that Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Letters and Papers from Prison). Or as John Calvin puts it, “never will faith be firm until it seeks support in the weakness of Christ.”
The Cross is the ultimate revelation of God’s character, of God’s love. It is from the Cross that is drawn all the teaching that we keep. It is the word (Logos) of the cross that we preach. Anything else is not Christian theology or proclamation. All of this is by way of preamble to what we wish to say today, for today’s text is about the peace that is given to us when the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit comes. This PEACE of the Spirit is in direct opposition to what culture (negative mimesis) has to say of the character of God and therefore our actions in following him.
For instance, the Johannine Gospel asserts that we are ‘taught’ by the Spirit. Yet don’t we automatically recognize that it is not the Spirit of peace, the Spirit of Jesus, when we hear of someone who has killed another person because ‘Jesus told them to kill’ or that ‘God told them to kill?’ People who believe such things are dangerous. The problem lies in the fact that Christianity itself has far too often taught a ‘violent Jesus,’ a Jesus assimilated to the gods of victimage. When people say God authorized killing or death they have deluded themselves or rather, they have been deluded by preachers and theologians who have not taught them ‘the truth as it is in Jesus’ (Eph 4:21). How is it that we can commit individuals who kill other individuals in the name of Jesus but when our corporate leaders kill in the name of Jesus or God, we follow them in the name of patriotism?
The boundaries between individuals killing in the name of Jesus and leaders killing in the name of Jesus are blurred but there is a clear dividing line for us. The one we abhor, the other we acknowledge, yet they are one and the same thing. If we confess the Holy Spirit to be ‘The Lord and Giver of Life’ we could never authorize violence in any fashion, no matter how great or worthy the cause. The God of the Bible is the God of life, not death. Death is what we humans contribute. This is why it is crucial for us to see that the Holy Spirit brings to our memory everything that Jesus teaches. The Spirit does not bring to our memory every bit of what ‘the Bible’ teaches without discernment. That is too ambiguous. It leaves the door wide open for all kinds of sick theology, theology generated not from the Cross of Jesus, but theology generated from the perspective of the persecutor, the perspective of the ones in power. The Holy Spirit teaches us and reminds us of Jesus, only Jesus, because the Holy Spirit is given by the Father in Jesus’ name. If what we believe is not congruent with Jesus, then we have learned from another spirit, one who is not a ‘defense attorney’ but one who is a prosecutor, in short, we will have learned from the devil, the Satan.
This is why Jesus can say that manifestation of our spirituality is a reflection of his revelation (“by this shall all people know you are my disciples…”). If our spiritualities are full of negative mimesis, rivalry and violence then they are not reflections of Jesus, they are rather sad copies of the negative mimetic ‘principalities and powers,’ imitations of the ‘prince of this world.’ If, on the other hand, we ‘keep’ Jesus’ teachings, our spiritualities will reflect the ‘agape’ that comes from the Father and is demonstrated in the forgiveness and non-retaliation of Jesus.
And so we answer our question, why is revelation limited to some? Because not everyone wants to hear what Jesus has to say, what Jesus has to teach us goes against the grain of our negative mimetic theology, christology and spirituality. This is why the world (the ‘kosmos’) does not know the peace that Jesus gives. It is completely different than the false peace generated by violent scapegoating. Yes the world has a peace to offer but it is peace with a price, the price of human sacrifice. Now in our time, due to the influence of the Gospel and the work of the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, the peace generated by violent scapegoating is less and less effective because the revelation of God in Jesus’ death has exposed the lies of our victimage. The Prince of the world has been cast out and it is only to our detriment that we have invited him back. It is time to acknowledge that Christianity is at a crossroads. Many have grown comfortable with the gospel (sic) of success, with middle class bourgeois Christianity and have little motivation to follow Jesus and to risk everything in order to bear witness to his person and work. Yet as children of God, given the Spirit in Jesus’ name, we can do no other.
By maintaining the word of the Father against violence until the end and by dying for it, Jesus has crossed the abyss separating mankind from the Father. He himself becomes their Paraclete, their protector, and he sends them another Paraclete who will not cease to work in the world to bring forth the truth into the light.
Even if the language
astonishes us, even if the author of the text seems dizzy before the breadth of vision, we cannot help but recognize what we have been discussing. The Spirit is working in history to reveal what Jesus has already revealed, the mechanism of the scapegoat, the genesis of all mythology, the nonexistence of the gods of violence. In the language of the Gospel the Spirit achieves the defeat and condemnation of Satan…history need only progress some more and the Gospel will be verified. ‘Satan’ is discredited and Christ justified. Jesus’ victory is thus, in principle, achieved immediately at the moment of the Passion, but for most men it only takes shape in the course of a long history secretly controlled by revelation. It becomes evident at the moment when we are convinced that, thanks to the Gospels and not despite them, we can finally show the futility of all violent gods and explain and render void the whole of mythology.” Rene Girard The Scapegoat
Gary Burge The Anointed Community makes a critical observation with regard to our thesis that we need to have our deluded distortions of Jesus corrected and it is the Holy Spirit who does that. Referring to the verbs related to ‘recall/remember’ as they are used in the Fourth Gospel (2.17, 22, 12.16, 14.26, 15.20, 16.4, 21) Burge rightly observes, “it is evident that this concept of ‘remembering’ is bound to the misunderstanding of the disciples in John. Their post-Easter enlightenment through the Spirit has corrected their once-distorted, earlier discipleship. This points to the pivotal nature of 7:39, not just as a road sign indicating the coming life of the Spirit, but that in this Spirit a new hermeneutical perspective will be born…Only through the Spirit was this anamnesis possible.” The only thing we would add to Burge’s thesis is that this anamnesis is co-ordinated with the glorification or ‘lifting up’ of Jesus, that is, the new hermeneutic is a critically controlled hermeneutic of the Cross, this is the real value of 7:37-39. The ‘Spirit was not yet…because Jesus was not yet glorified.” This co-ordination is of strategic importance for the larger question of the relation of prophecy and history in the Johannine literature both of which are indissolubly bound up with the crucifixion of Jesus, thus justifying the mimetic theoretical approach we have been suggesting.
Contrary to Bultmann (Commentary), we must insist that not only is the Spirit a revealer but also an intercessor. While Bultmann is correct that the Spirit is a ‘personage’ nevertheless the function of Spirit as Revealer begs the question: what does the Spirit reveal? The Spirit ‘takes the things of Jesus’ which fundamentally are all things (semeia and logoi) that are oriented to the Cross. George Johnston in The Spirit-Paraclete in the Gospel of John points out that one need not find a total disjunction between the Paraclete as Comforter and the Paraclete as Advocate, a translation problem that plagued even Jerome in the fourth century. “How can anyone miss the connection between the saying of Jesus, ‘sorrow has filled your hearts,’ and the manifold promise of what the spirit-paraclete will accomplish vis-à-vis the world? This is consolation: and therefore one cannot deny to this presence the happy word Comforter…Nothing less could be expected from the God Jesus revealed as Abba.” Good questions, we agree, but does this mean that the primary notion of the Paraclete as a ‘defense attorney’ is mitigated or subsumed under that of comforter? Is it not a comfort when a person accused has an advocate? So from our perspective, the notion that we are dealing with the royal court scene in the heavenly places, found e.g., in the Book of Job, does not seem to be far fetched. The Spirit as Paraclete in human history, as the one who bears witness to the innocence of the victim, who exposes the lies of myth, who does this all in the name of Jesus seems to us to be the most applicable model by which to understand the function of the Paraclete. The Paraclete is tied up with persecution and bears witness against both persecutors and the heavenly prosecutor, Satan.
In I John 2:2, the Paraclete is identified with Jesus. Scholars note that Jesus in the Fourth Gospel will send ‘another Paraclete’ (‘allos’ not ‘heteros’ i.e., another of the same kind, not a different kind). One would therefore expect just as Jesus in his teaching reveals the structures of negative mimesis and prophecies against them so also does the Spirit in human history.
Girard brings this together for us and we shall quote him at length: “Christ is the Paraclete par excellence in the struggle against the representation of persecution. Every defense and rehabilitation of victims is based on the Passion’s power of revelation. When Christ has gone, the Spirit of truth, the second Paraclete, will make the light that is already in the world shine for all men, though man will do everything in his power not to see it.
"The disciples certainly had no need of a second advocate with the Father, as long as they had Jesus himself. The other Paraclete is sent among men and into history; there is no need to get rid of him by sending him piously into the transcendental.” Girard goes on to point out that the Spirit will give utterance to the disciples when they are prosecuted before human authorities. But he also makes the crucial hermeneutic observation that the Paraclete does not function as an advocate for us with the father as the Accuser. This amounts to sacrificial theology. He says, “It is a question neither of individual trials nor of some transcendental trial in which the father plays the role of the Accuser. This sort of thinking, even with the best of intentions – hell is paved with them – constantly make the Father into a Satanic figure…the destiny of all sacred violence is at stake in the battle between the Accuser, Satan, and the advocate for the defense, the Paraclete.” The Scapegoat
We are not alone, we have been given the greatest gift of all, the very Spirit of the Father has come to us and is given through Jesus, in Jesus name. The Spirit is not a mysterious presence, an unexplainable alterity, but the very presence of God on our side, God for us (‘hyper hymon’), the One who creates, reveals and redeems in everlasting love.
One of the twentieth century’s most significant theologians, Jurgen Moltmann, captures this juxtaposition of persecution, cross, and the sending of the Spirit. In The Church in the Power of the Spirit, Moltmann offers a continuation of his critical thesis that God the Father is not unmoved by our human history and calls for a revaluation of our concepts of God through the insights derived from Luther’s theology of the Cross and the debates in the early church regarding patripassionism. He says,” Between the Trinity in its origins before time and the eschatological glorifying and unifying of God lies the whole history of God’s dealings with the world. By opening himself for this history and entering into it in his seeking love through the sending of Christ and the Spirit, God also experiences this history in its breadth and depth. We must drop the philosophical axioms about the nature of God. God is not unchangeable, if to be unchangeable means that he could not in the freedom of his love open himself to the changeable history of his creation. God is not incapable of suffering if this means that in the freedom of his love he would not be receptive to suffering over the contradictions of man and the self-destruction of his creation. God is not invulnerable if this means he could not open himself to the pain of the cross. God is not perfect if this means that he did not in the desire of his love want his creation to be necessary to his perfection.
The history of the Son and of the Spirit therefore brings about even for God himself within the Trinity, an experience, something ‘new.’ After the Son’s exaltation (on the cross) the relationship between the Father and the Son is no longer absolutely the same as before. The father has become ‘another’ through his experience of suffering in the world. Through his love for the Son, who experiences the sin of the world in his death on the cross, God experiences something which belongs essentially to the redemption of the world: he experiences pain. In the night when the Son dies on the cross, God himself experiences abandonment in the form of this death and this rejection. We must add that this is a new experience for God, for which he has laid himself open and prepared himself from eternity in his seeking love. God experiences the cross, but this also means that he has absorbed this death into eternal life, that he suffers it in order to give the forsaken world his life. Because of that he does not want to be glorified in any other way than through the glorification of the one who was crucified, ‘the Lamb who was slain’ (Rev 5.12, 7.14, 12.10ff). In becoming the ‘eternal seal and stamp’ of the lordship of God, the one who was crucified also becomes the eternal seal of God’s glorification and of the eschatological trinity.”
We do a disservice to ourselves and our congregations if we insist on first describing God in terms of philosophy, in terms of Hellenistic dualism, in terms in Plato or Aristotle or any of the thinkers who have grounded their thinking in the ‘violent Logos’ of Greek philosophy. The continual renaissance of Greek thought in the modern university has its counterpart in the church’s attempt to continually fit the Logos of the Gospel to this other Logos. The Logos of the Gospel, Jesus Christ is not the ‘violent structuring Logos of the ‘kosmos.’ The Logos of God and the Spirit sent in the name of this Logos, Jesus, is so fundamentally at odds with all that we humans have created and perceived that it is difficult for us to acknowledge that we have mixed them. Yet distinguish them we must. For if we do not distinguish them, we shall fall back into the trap of transcendental religion where God is the accuser of humanity and where the death of Christ on the cross is no longer revelatory but becomes instead another version of myth.
We are called today to a ‘new mysticism,’ not one that seeks that which is high and lofty but one that seeks the immanent, the neighbor, the Creation. To do otherwise will simply send us into continual flights of gnostic fantasy, where we will no longer be attached to that which God has created nor shall we be able to acknowledge that all that we have created is sinful, broken and ultimately stems from the generative victimage mechanism. God’s Spirit in our hearts bears eloquent and powerful witness to Jesus Christ crucified, nothing less. Even the Risen Christ bears his scars.
Only in this hope can we speak of the transforming power of God in our lives and seize the opportunity to break free and be delivered from negative mimesis, rivalry and scapegoating into the life of Love and healing that is of the very nature of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. May God open the eyes of his sheep to hear and ‘keep’ the words of Jesus so that with Jesus and the Spirit we too may be witnesses to God’s extraordinary forgiveness, love and future.
Some Sermon Thoughts…
The hermeneutical questions Michael asks and answers here surely belong in the Great Fifty Days of Easter!
But how do we carry all this into the pulpit?
If indeed you are convinced that this radical shift to the God of Peace manifest in Jesus and present to us in the Paraclete is the only way out of the downward spiral in which we find ourselves today, then you (and we) have to find a way to speak this word to folks for whom phrases like “victimage mechanism” or “mimetic theory” are little more than gibberish.
Here is where the power of story telling is so very important. If we try to explain what we’re talking about, we’ll generate sermons as long as this week’s page on Preaching Peace!
Jesus’ way of teaching, though, can be our model. Robert Capon, a favorite exegete of mine, has written three books on the parables (and only those in Matthew!) while, I suspect that the parables themselves would have taken up fewer than 10 pages in the first chapter of the first book. The parables speak truths narratively that we spill gallons of ink to “explain.”
Our task as preachers, especially in moments like this, is to move backwards from explanation to story. If we are to avoid falling into the trap of become lecturers rather than preachers, I can see no other way.
In a case like this, selecting a friendly anecdote from “sermonillustrations.com” just won’t do either. This is a place to take a risk, to tell your story.
How has this transition worked itself out in your life? How is that like the kind of thing your parishioners are experiencing every day?
As Michael has suggested that we re-understand “remember” in the Johannine sense, let’s look back again at our lives and see them again in light of the Cross as illuminated by the Holy Spirit.
This is a time to “witness to the power of the resurrection.” May God speak peace through your witness to the “lifting up” of Jesus, and through him, you and me.