Easter 6a, May 21, 2017

May 22, 2017

Collaborating With God

John 14:15-21


15 “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.”


Have you ever wondered why that online source of knowledge about everything you have ever wanted to know is called Wikipedia? And why every other online source of specific information uses that same prefix? What is it about wiki that makes it fit on the front of wikileaks, wikihow, and wikibuy?


I Googled this question about the wiki word, and of course I found some information about it in Wikipedia.


The first wiki-styled website was developed by a man named Ward Cunningham in 1995, and the distinguishing feature of that website was that it was designed to be user-editable. I don’t know what that original website was focused upon, but it was created in such a way that it could be edited by other users. Over time, some editing controls were put in place to keep it from becoming absurd, but his intention was to make the exchange of information more democratic and more efficient.


Mr. Cunningham decided to call his website WikiWikiWeb because he had travelled to Hawaii one time and the shuttle bus that carried people from one airport terminal to another was called the Wiki, and that name came from a Hawaiian word that means fast. He almost called his website QuickWeb, and while that might have made it easier for the rest of us to understand what he was talking about it didn’t have the notability of WikiWikiWeb, and that turned out to be a powerful decision. He basically changed the language we use to describe a certain type of online interaction.


Because now, anytime a website is designed to allow a degree of online collaboration it gets labeled with this wiki prefix. So whenever you read a definition of something on Wikipedia it is information that has been submitted by a number of different people, and all entries on Wikipedia continue to be adjusted. There’s some oversight in the process, but it’s a more open process than having one team of people generating all of the information.


I don’t understand computer programming, but I do understand the concept of sharing, and I think the primary intent of wikiness is this notion of sharing and interacting – which brings the scripture to mind.


What I hear Jesus saying in this passage is that a new collaborative opportunity grew out of his departure. Jesus was not going to leave his disciples orphaned. The relationship between Jesus and God and us was going to change, but it wasn’t going to be diminished. Jesus would not be with us in the form of a single person, but Jesus would be available to all of us in the form of a spiritual guide.


There is one sense in which I understand this very clearly. When there is someone around who does things for us we aren’t inclined to do things for ourselves. When my mother died I saw my father learn to do things he had never done when she was around. I had seen him load the dishwasher, but I don’t think he had ever been authorized to actually turn it on. He knew where the washing machine was, but I don’t think he had ever actually sorted laundry. I’m not sure he ever caught on to that, but the fact is that we generally don’t learn to do new things while people who are more capable of doing those things are still around.


I think I’ve mentioned before that the summer after I finished high school I took a three week Outward Bound Course. It was designed to be a personal growth experience that was set in the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico. I really didn’t know what I was stepping into, but I showed up where I was told to be on a given day, and soon after I got there I was given a backpack and other essential equipment. Our leader introduced himself and the other 8 people I would be with for the next three weeks, and then he told us to go over to a pile of food and figure out what we would need to live on for a week.


He didn’t go over and tell us what we needed. He told us to go figure out what we needed and to divide it among ourselves because we would be carrying it and we wouldn’t be resupplied for a week. So we went from being newly acquainted with one another to the exercise of trying to reason with one another. Our leader didn’t see his job as our caretaker. He was the facilitator of a group experience, and he didn’t just want to make it easy on us. It was a pretty interesting experience. We went from being newly acquainted to jokingly familiar with each other in pretty short order. Outright hostility soon followed, but so did some reconciliation.


It was a powerful experience for me, and it wouldn’t have been as powerful if our leader had not been as removed from us as he was. He gave us general objectives, and he provided some essential instructions, but he didn’t do things for us. It was messy in some ways, but it made us become as cooperative with one another as possible.


I’m seeing what God did through Jesus in a similar way. Jesus lived in a way that captured the attention of many people. The way he healed and taught was absolutely compelling to many and of course very threatening to others. Jesus didn’t set out to make a name for himself, but he became un-ignorable. Masses of people were drawn to him for help, and clusters of others were drawn together to conspire against him. Jesus became the focus of much attention in a good and bad way.  People who were looking for redemption from God found it in Jesus, while those who were using God for their own benefit found him to be in their way.


Jesus knew that this wasn’t going to play out well for him on earth. He knew how the world dealt with those who turn people’s attention to God, but he also knew that the leaders of this world couldn’t stop what was going on between he and God. And Jesus knew that something even more significant would happen for people after he was killed. Jesus could see that God was going to extend his work in a profound manner after he departed from this world. This work of collaborating with God didn’t end with the departure of Jesus – it took on a new form.


Jesus said God was going to do a new thing after he was gone – God was going to send us the Advocate. The Greek word John used was Paraclete and in Greek, the word was used to describe one who has been called to our side, and this is good news for us. And while we would probably prefer to have Jesus in the flesh, the truth is that it’s far better for us to have Jesus in the Spirit. It isn’t easy for us to follow the commandments of Jesus, but if Jesus was in the neighborhood we wouldn’t even try. We might turn out to see what he was doing, but we wouldn’t be inclined to do the things he did.


I don’t like the fact that we don’t have Jesus in the flesh, but we do have access to Jesus, and Jesus has access to us as well. We don’t have Jesus the way that the original disciples had Jesus, but we’ve got a wiki form of Jesus. We’ve got this ongoing opportunity to collaborate with Jesus. As Christians, we aren’t just people who revere the amazing work Jesus did – we’re invited to share in the work he continues to do. We’re challenged to make ourselves available to Jesus, and we’re privileged to be used by this abiding Spirit of Jesus to be used in the work of God.


Now while this everpresent Spirit of Jesus is a mysterious thing, it isn’t an arbitrary thing. John gave this Spirit a name that had some meaning to it. We call this Spirit the Advocate, which indicates that there is a certain type of work to be done – it’s the work of advocacy, which is work that’s done on behalf of others. This Advocate doesn’t just move people to do unusual things, it moves people to continue the work of Jesus to bring peace and wholeness into the lives of those who are being overwhelmed, overpowered, and overlooked.


I recently listened to a novel that was set in England during the first year of World War II, and part of the story focused on the work that was done at Bletchley Park to decode and decipher intercepted German messages. That novel got me interested in the whole story of codebreaking, so I just finished a non-fiction book about Bletchley Park. And it’s an amazing story. The Germans had these Enigma encryption machines that made it all but impossible to decipher their messages, and that’s what moved the British to put together this secret code-breaking institution at Bletchley Park that coordinated the work of thousands of people who worked in shifts around the clock to do the work of decoding messages.


Of course I’m amazed that there are people who had the minds to create those encryption machines as well as those who figured out how to create other machines that could decode the messages. This is where much of the pioneering work of computer science began, but it’s also amazing that there were these thousands of people who did really menial tasks day after day for a couple of years. It took a world of people doing mind-numbing tasks to operate these complex decoding machines and to do everything else that was necessary to carry out this massive undertaking.


And they couldn’t tell anyone what they were doing or what they did for several decades. Maintaining perfect secrecy was essential, and for the most part they were able to keep this endeavor a perfect secret. Most of the families of these remarkable people who worked at Bletchley Park thought their sons and daughters and siblings were doing meaningless clerical tasks that had no real bearing on the war effort.


I guess I’m just struck by the extent of collaboration that was in effect with this project. People were given clear tasks to do and they were conditioned not to ask why. On some level it was important that nobody really knew what other people were doing. They didn’t want many people to understand what was going on. So people were trained to do their one task with as much focus as possible and to trust that it was something that needed to be done.


I’m thinking this is the attitude we disciples are to have about our work of following Jesus, but this isn’t easy for us to do. We’re sort of conditioned to think we need to know now what will come of whatever we do. We’re living in a wiki-world, and we expect results quickly, clearly, and easily about everything we do. It’s not easy for us to be as patient we probably need to be when it comes to doing the work of God in this world, but our situation isn’t all bad.


Our computerized world has also provided us with some amazing opportunities to collaborate with people in incredible new ways. Our ability to be in communication with each other is beyond comprehension, and this can enable us to carry out God’s work in some powerful new ways. But there’s one thing the computer hasn’t provided for us. It hasn’t given us automatic access to the Advocate.


Gaining access to the spirit of Jesus Christ isn’t something we are able to do with a couple of keystrokes. The spirit of Christ has been provided for us, but we’ve still got to do the work of conditioning our hearts to understand the language of love in order to hear and understand those messages that God intends for us to get. The language of love isn’t encrypted in order to remain hidden from us, but it takes a lot of practice at carrying out the menial tasks of caring for one another to fully understand this language of the heart.


We have this opportunity to collaborate with God as those who continue the work of Jesus Christ in the world, and God will enable us to know what we can do if we will do the work that love requires. God has some unbelievable projects in mind for this world, and God is hoping we will get involved. It’s amazing what people can do when they put their minds to it, but it’s divine when people give themselves to God and do as the Advocate instructs.


Thanks be to God.




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