Holy Trinity Episcopal Church
Wyoming, MI

Sermon: There and Back Again

the Rev. Mike Wernick                                                                                                                                               May 22, 2022

Year C

Acts 16:9-15

Psalm 67

Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

John 14:23-29-+

May the words of my mouth O God…  speak your truth…

When a baby is born…  they experience themselves as indistinguishable from their mother…  they have no awareness that they’re a separate human being…  especially when they’re looking into their mother’s eyes…  often while being fed…  and it’s in this mirroring…  that they begin to form a sense of self-worth and identity…  and as infants develop…  they begin to differentiate…  to gradually become aware of their separateness…  that’s why I label the so-called Terrible Twos…  the Terrific Twos…  because these toddlers are becoming their own people…  learning to learn how to set their own boundaries…

When I was a child…  my father would sometimes set a boundary for me…  set a limit…  tell me what to do…  or what not to do…  and sometimes I asked “Why… ” and sometimes he’d explain in ways I could understand…  and sometimes he just said…  Because I said so…  and you’ll be a happier little boy when you do as I say…  and this guidance sometimes felt like nothing less than interference… 

And many of us continue…  into our teenage years…  resisting this authority…  we don’t want our sense of agency to be challenged…  but then we sometimes also want to hold authority accountable for our actions…  for example…  those in the military can say they were “just following orders”…  others can say…  well…  so and so told me to do it…  and we might remember that famous line from Genesis…  She did give to me and I did eat

And now…  not only individually but collectively…  we continue to be in a time of transition…  we continue to struggle in many different ways…  and on many different levels…  figuring out who we ought to listen to…  and what is authoritative in our lives…  who and what to believe…  what’s true…  and what’s a lie…  figuring out what serves only a few…  and what serves the many…  figuring out how to be neighbors to each other…  and our reading from Revelation tells us that no one who practices falsehood will be able to be a part of the beloved community…

But sometimes…  some of us…  diminish…  or attack…  or kill our neighbors…  as happened in the recent mass shooting at the Tops Grocery store in Buffalo, New York…  because they’ve collectively come to believe the lies of white supremacy…  you see…  we came to this country looking for liberty…  but brought slavery…  and there are those who want to continue to believe that they are better than people of color…  and they have chanted…   You Will Not Replace Us…   or Jews Will Not Replace Us…  as demonstrators did several summers ago at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia…  and let me be clear…  these are not Gospel values…  and for any of our elected leaders to remain silent in their aftermath…  or to minimize their egregious nature…  is to be complicit in their actions…

Our Gospel reading today began with v. 23…  but in v. 22…  Judas…  asks Jesus…  Lord…  how is it that you will reveal yourself to us…  and not to the world…  and in response…  Jesus makes a monumental distinction…  he says…  my own Peace I give to you…  it’s not the peace that the world gives…  the peace that the world gives is temporary…  inconsistent…  it’s variable…  it’s dependent on changing conditions…  it’s as easily broken as cease-fires are…  it comes and goes as dictators rise and fall…  as individuals or groups vie for power and control…  or try to make a name for themselves…  that’s why one of the Beatitudes says…  Blessed are those who support God’s Peace…  for they shall be called God’s Children…  and the Peace that God gives…  is a peace which passes understanding…  it transcends human-made words and phrases…  it comes not from understanding intellectually…  but from experiencing that in spite of any external events or lack of them…  that whatever chaos is swirling around us…  we are grounded in the silence of God’s presence…  that our identity is rooted in the Ground of Being…  that we remain unshakable…  because God’s promise is not place…  but presence…  and God’s face looks like hospitality…

In fact…  Jesus says…  those who keep my word will be loved by the Father…  and we will make our home with them…  and the Greek word that’s translated as home…  is meno…  but meno also means to abide…  and this verse echoes Ch. 1:14 of John’s Gospel which says…  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…   or lived among us…  depending on which translation you use…  but the Greek word from which dwelt and lived comes…  also means to abide…  it also means tabernacled…  it also means to pitch a tent…  And the Word became flesh and pitched a tent among us… and it makes some sense…  that when a nomadic people pitched a tent…  it meant they were going to be there for a while…  and what Jesus tells them is a continuation of what Jesus said to Nicodemus earlier in John’s Gospel about needing to be born of the Spirit…  Jesus says…  the Father and I will abide forever with those who keep not my Word…  but the Word of him who sent me…  but the way we’re going to do it…  is that I’m going to go away…  and send an Advocate…  the Holy Spirit…  whom the Father will send in my name…  and the Spirit will teach you everything…  and remind you about everything that I have said…  it sounds to me like God’s Law written on our hearts…  when intuition and revelation become as common as common sense… 

Fr. John Meulendyk wrote…  perhaps we really don’t understand Spirit…  or more importantly…  how deeply frightened we are of how the Spirit might move in our lives if we allow her…  in actuality…  the Spirit exposes our deepest fears…  and longings…   and desires…  and at the same time…   opens up a way for us to heal from what frightens us…  and what frightens us the most on a spiritual level is the fear that we are alone…  so we become preoccupied with ourselves…  preoccupied with our ideas about ourselves…  our opinions about ourselves…  and preoccupied by what we think other people think about us…  we cut off our relationship with God because we think that God couldn’t really accept us just as we are…  so we try to find affirmation in another place…  person…   job…   or even in addiction…  but the Holy Spirit breaks apart that falsehood…  it’s like a butter churn where the paddle goes back and forth…  instead of up and down…  and sometimes our lives are like this…  we may take five steps forward and then slide back three…  and it can be discouraging until we realize that we’re not moving forward toward perfection…  but are making butter…  and that there’s a qualitative wisdom in this honest…  humble…  and vulnerable way of walking through our own life…  when we notice that we’re doing it in a community of people who are doing the very same thing…

When a baby is born…  they experience themselves as indistinguishable from their mother…  and as they develop…  they begin to differentiate…  but that’s only the first half of the story…  the second half of the story is about our journey towards re-unification… not as Nicodemus wondered about entering the womb again…  but so that we can experience the same unity with our heavenly parent that Jesus experienced…  and then we’ll wonder why we didn’t let go of the grip we had on our puffed-up sense of autonomy…  in favor of the Spirit’s loving guidance…  that much sooner…  since as my Dad might have said…  we’d have been happier children…  if we had just listened to the Spirit that much sooner…