April 24, 2016

Easter V

Acts 11:1-18; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35; Psalm 148


A lamp am I to thee that beholdest me.
A mirror am I to thee that perceivest me.
A door am I to thee that knockest at me.
A way am I to thee a wayfarer...

These are words attributed to a risen Jesus by second century communities said to have followed  Jesus and specifically by following John in whose name the fourth gospel is titled. These words are actually lyrics and part of a hymn known today as the “Hymn of Jesus,” and which may have been sung in a small part of the early church. It comes from the apocryphal Acts of John.

The hymn is a sort of code of spiritual truth, revealing that the depths of the soul and the Divine await us, if we choose to pursue them.  Listen again:

A lamp am I to thee that beholdest me.
A mirror am I to thee that perceivest me.
A door am I to thee that knockest at me.
A way am I to thee a wayfarer....

I do not know why, but these words comfort me in this city where storm water runoff of unthinkable proportion has soaked us, overwhelmed our homes and in some cases taken our lives. The “Hymn of Jesus” has nothing to do with solving the major and complex problems we are facing as a city today, and yet somehow it offers assurance akin to that offered by the Celtic Encircling prayer attributed to St. Patrick:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me…
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger…

Jesus does not say, “I am a life raft for the one who is stranded. I am a Wet Vac for the one whose roof is leaking. I am a rain-absorbing prairie where there is too much cement.” Rather, we rely on each other for such relief.  But when one pursues spirituality as the double helix of everything real, that person’s ability to be strong, patient or resilient is greater especially in times of trouble.

Ironically, this weekend begins the Jewish observance of the festival of Passover. This is of course the festival of freedom. In this week, the story of the Hebrew’s escape from slavery in Egypt to the freedom of the wilderness will be told to the young and old alike. Children will be at table. Families will invite guests for seder suppers. The story of Moses leading the exodus, including a parting of the Red Sea, will be primary. Jews don’t tell these stories to themselves and their children every year to foster some belief in miracles that will deliver safety or justice, but rather they do so in order that the faithful will take courage in times of great challenge.

Prophets are people – regular people - who are given special courage. The nature of that courage is to lead in times of challenge while listening always to the Spirit but with an ear to the ground. A woman with just these qualities who was called Moses by many in her day showed great skill, faith and courage as she guided the enslaved of this country from a place where they were property to a place where they were persons. Her name was Harriet Tubman, and claimed to have lost not one single passenger along the Underground Railroad. She is said to have explained her effectiveness in guiding people to safety in this way. She would listen to the voice of God as she was led slaves north. She would only go where she felt God was leading her.

We learned this week that Tubman’s image will be added to our currency, specifically the twenty-dollar bill. We learn this at the same time that day in and out on any given news outlet we are bombarded by presidential campaign rhetoric that is loaded with fear and hate based on race and nation of origin.  How is it possible that we would move both forward and backward at once? Both truths are true about us.  It would seem that now is a time in America of political overwhelment.

A lamp am I to thee that beholdest me.
A door am I to thee that knockest.

Perhaps it is the intimacy of these assertions by Jesus that makes makes them reassuring. John’s gospel for today in which Jesus’ instructs his disciples to love one another as Jesus’ loved his own conveys that same sense of intimacy. It is an intimacy that will withstand loss and travesty.

To understand this love, let me offer this. One bit of wisdom from the east is that a guru or teacher must love their disciples from the beginning and at all times. However, no love from of the teacher or master can be expected up front from the students. It must come in time. So, to take up Jesus’ invitation that his followers love one another as he loved them, imagine you are the teacher here today and that the rest of us are your students. Imagine committing to sending loving intention to each and to all, the same and at once. Now, let us actually do it. Close your eyes or keep them open.  No one will be looking at you. And for the next period of fifteen seconds, send only intentions of general wellbeing and love to the entire body of us present.

That was not so hard, was it? I do believe that this is what Jesus did at all times and that this is what Jesus was instructing his friends to do. And though it sounds very hard, it in itself is exceedingly simple. You just did it. As an effort, it takes less labor and energy than just about anything else you are likely to do as a member of this church community. I imagine that being one of Christ’s own and loving one another as Jesus loved his followers is to undertake this kind of prayer of love soberly, honestly, and with only positive intention.

Imagine holding this community daily in that intention. Now, imagine widening that circle of community to include the entire, water-soaked city. Imagine doing that once a day for one minute. Now imagine broadening that circle to the entire nation so at war with itself about who we are and who we want to be. Imagine doing those things and trust that the result will be good. These prayers may not change the state of the world, but try it and see what they do to you!