Easter 6c, May 1, 2016

May 2, 2016

Accommodations for Christ

John 14:23-29


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. 28 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. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.


I think this probably goes without saying, but you don’t really know a person until you’ve lived with them for a little while. It’s probably not unusual for good friendships to become strained by the decision to become roommates. And I don’t have any statistics on this, but I’m guessing a number of marriages have actually been thwarted by the decision to move in together. Of course people who love each other always figure out how to live with each other, but it’s no small thing to make your home with another person. In both good and bad ways we are powerfully affected by the people we reside with. And you always come to know new things about the people with whom you share housing.


Sharla and I once went on a week-long mission trip to Biloxi, MS with a group of people that we hadn’t previously traveled with. We were doing home-repair work after Hurricane Katrina, and we were staying at the historic Seaside Assembly, which is a property of the United Methodist Church. There weren’t many parts of that camp that weren’t damaged, so we were staying in some cramped space, and the things we learned about each other were really interesting. I was staying in a room with a friend and his son, and this guy was always a very neatly groomed man. I would have guessed that he was a person who paid close attention to his accommodations, but this was hardly the case.


I, on the other hand, can look like I haven’t seen a mirror for a couple of days, but I’m actually very particular about my accommodations and sleeping conditions. I just have to have a shower before I go to bed at night, I want all my things to be in the right place, and I go to great lengths to make my bed as comfortable as possible. Not the case with my friend. He would take a shower before supper, put on whatever clothes he planned to wear the next day and he would got to sleep in them on a relatively bare mattress with whatever he could find to cover himself up with. I think he took his shoes off, but that was about all he did to get ready for bed. He would be asleep for hours before I would be getting in to bed.


I had often thought of he and I as being a little bit like the odd couple, but it was interesting for me to discover that I was the Felix and he was the Oscar. We had a few laughs about that.


You only think you know people until you spend time with them around the clock. There’s a great old movie called “The Defiant Ones”, that starred Tony Curtis and Sydney Poitier as two convicts who were chained together. The warden had spitefully shackled these two men together because he knew there was a good amount of racial contempt between them. As they were being transported the truck they were in had a wreck, and they were able to escape from the guards, but they were stuck together.


So these two men who hated each other were forced to work together to try to gain their freedom. It was a trial on many levels, and it could have played out in a number of ways. I’ll tell you how it ends in a moment, but for now I want us to think about the impact that those to whom we are bound have upon us.


What we have in our scripture lesson this morning is a message from Jesus about how powerful it is to love him and to keep his word. He said that when we do this the rest of his divine family will move in with us. And when you have Jesus and God and Holy Spirit as your housemates it just changes everything.


Today’s passage is in response to the question of how it is that Jesus reveals himself to believers and not to others. This is sort of a paraphrase of the question, but I think this is the question Jesus was answering when he said what he said about the great thing that happens when we love him and keep his word. Jesus didn’t want to talk about what divides us. Jesus wanted to talk about the great gift that comes to whoever is open to loving him and hearing his word. There is some judgment in these words that Jesus spoke, but Jesus wasn’t differentiating between the people who understood him and those who didn’t. Jesus was drawing the line between those who loved him and those who didn’t.


You can sort of go crazy trying to parse out what this passage is saying about the relationship between Jesus and God and the Advocate – as John describes the Holy Spirit, but that isn’t the question that Jesus is answering in this passage. What Jesus seems to want us to understand is how much more we can learn about who God is by hearing what he’s saying and doing what he said to do. The issue at hand is not the need to have the proper understanding of ultimate matters but of learning how to live in an ultimately transformed way.


I think this idea of living with a totally new and different perspective on life would have been particularly meaningful for the early Christians who were literally living under new circumstances. The community of believers that John knew and loved were probably of Jewish heritage, but their love for Jesus had alienated them from the Jewish community. They were trying to navigate their way during a time when they weren’t welcome in the synagogue – their traditional house of worship. You might say they had lost the house that was familiar to them, and they hadn’t found their new place. I think it must have been particularly comforting for these religious refugees to hear Jesus speak of God making a home in their lives. I think the truth is that it’s often easier for people who are displaced to be open to the new accomodations that come to us when we love Jesus more than anything else.


The established religious community wasn’t as open to Jesus as were those who had become touched by his love and moved by his word. Loving Jesus became a disruptive thing to that community, but it was such a redeeming thing for those who loved Jesus they found their new accommodations to be better than their old ones. It was different, but it was better. They didn’t have the kind of comfort and peace that the world has to offer – they had a far superior form of peace.


Just as we get to know people better when we live with them, I believe we come to know God better when we enter in to this homemaking relationship with Jesus, and God, and the Holy Spirit. We think we know something about Jesus when we first encounter him in our lives, but the truth is that we have no idea who he really is until we make some room for him. Like every other relationship that we have that extends over years I believe our relationship with Christ grows throughout our lives.


And another think Jesus wanted us to understand is that in order for our relationship with him to grow he needed to go away. Jesus didn’t want us to think of his death as a tragedy. Jesus wanted us to have the same relationship with God that he had, and he knew that this would only happen if he wasn’t around in the flesh. If Jesus was here in the flesh we wouldn’t allow the Holy Spirit to guide us and lead us in to the work that God is calling for us to do – we would just be wanting Jesus to come see us. We would have turned him in to some kind of celebrity, and we’d be fighting over who could get the closest to him at the rally.


Making room for Jesus to live in our hearts is a far different thing than wanting him to come stay at our house. To keep his word is to obtain the greatest privilege that is available to any of us, but it doesn’t give us access to the kind of privileges that we are tempted to seek in this world. The followers of Christ that John was speaking to didn’t obtain access to a new synagogue in a physical sense – their status in the community remained marginal, but their access to the truth of God expanded. They remained vulnerable, but their love for each other grew and their spirits soared.


I hate to be the spoiler for the end of a movie, but “The Defiant Ones” has been out since 1958, so you’ve had plenty of time to see it. If you don’t want to know how it ends you can stick your fingers in your ears, but it has a really beautiful ending. Sydney Poitier has the opportunity to jump on a train and get away, but Tony Curtis wasn’t able to make it because of a wound that he had acquired at an earlier moment when he acted to save Sydney Poitier, and Sydney Poitier reciprocates the act. They had been transformed by the experience of being bound together. The movie ends with the bloodhounds closing in as Sydney Poitier was carrying Tony Curtis and singing a spiritual. They were bound together by something far more powerful than chains.


The love of Jesus changes us in powerful ways. It provides us with the most amazing sense of security that there is, but it’s not the kind of security that you can acquire in the marketplace. The love of Jesus doesn’t provide us with protection from the world – it provides us with the assurance that our homes and our lives are the most secure when we are guided by the loving word of God. It’s not the kind of peace and protection that we get from guns and locks – it’s the kind of reassurance we have when we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.


I’m not saying we don’t need to exercise reasonable security precautions, but I am saying that the most powerful thing we can do is to embrace what Jesus says and to open our homes to the living God. Of course, he may turn the house upside down. In fact you can trust that God is out to disrupt the way we are used to living, but God wants us to understand what true peace and comfort really are.


It’s not easy to make accommodations for Christ in our lives. It’s not just the furniture that gets rearranged when God moves in, but the kind of transformation that can happen when we allow ourselves to be instructed by the Holy Spirit is a deeply beautiful thing. And this is what we are offered. We don’t get to have Jesus in the flesh living in the spare bedroom, but we can have his love in our hearts, and that gives us a place at the table of the Lord.


Thanks be to God for this gracious invitation to experience eternal peace and joy while we abide in temporary housing on this fleeting planet. May we fully appreciate the grace and guidance of the one who has chosen to abide with us! Amen


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