The non-anxious God

SERMON

Easter 6

Acts 16.9-15

John 14.23-29

Sunday 22 May 2022

The non-anxious God                                                          ©Suzanne Grimmett

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.’

It is interesting when our text for the day begins with the answer and we do not know the question. It is in response to a question asked by Judas (but not, you know, that Judas!) The question was, “Lord, how is it that you reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?”

To this Jesus says, this is how the Spirit will work. I am going away, but you will know my peace because I will come and make a home in you.

God is revealed to the world through the people in whom the Spirit finds a home.

I think the idea of home is a powerful one. Home in its ideal, is where you are safe…where you are accepted as you are and loved as you are. Home is relational, and the vision of the triune God can only and ever be relational.

There are of course many homes that are not safe. May is Domestic Violence Prevention month and we are reminded of the damaging realities of our social fabric when the dream of a house of love and belonging is broken by abuse. Such abuse is always a violation- not only of the person, but also of the sacred ties of family which should hold us in honouring of one another. We also may today be grimly aware of other divides in our community- divides often exacerbated by the hostilities that emerge in political election campaigns. Above the smell of the onions frying and calls of “Democracy sausage, anyone?” most of us who have been around here in these days will be aware of the simmering tensions created by this combative process which always pits humans against one another. We can be grateful for the privilege of voting and the promise of democracy, even as we dislike the way these times can divide us, one from one another and our shared humanity.

Too often humanity is held captive to a false vision of individualism, possession and fragmentation and it is these divided, competitive spirits which have taken up a home in us. [1] We have to remember that we, as followers of Jesus, are called to form an alternate community based not on our political allegiances or race or gender or class or on any other identity marker but on the intimacy that we all share with Christ, by the Spirit. This is the way God operates- through joining- and it is a joining which connects and binds us to God and to one another in the rhythms of our life together, in the particularity of this place and on this land. We are drawn into a deep and abiding new dwelling with one another and the God who makes a home in us. And what a mixed and diverse family we are.

It is interesting that in the offerings from the lectionary today another important home is described in the story of Lydia, dealer in purple cloth. It is a wonderful story of the potential of a moment. Paul and Silas are prompted by a vision, but are not given much detail of where exactly to go and how to pursue their mission. Lydia has gone with other women to what we are told is “a place of prayer” by the river and in this holy place her heart is open to hear the good news. She may have gone to the river looking for God, but God found her in one of those extraordinary happenstances that would lead to the spreading of the Gospel throughout Europe. Paul may have been summoned by a vision of a man in Macedonia, but he apparently begins something new in those who are gathered by the open-hearted welcome of Lydia’s home. Like Cornelius who was sent to Peter, Lydia is a person of some influence and prosperity in her community. She lives her life as a wealthy woman, not associated with a man and in full possession of her own property, but all of who she is and has been is now redefined by Christ. Her home becomes a new site of intimacy where the Spirit dwells.  Both in Jesus’ earthly ministry, and in the extension of the kingdom by the Spirit, the disciples are resourced by some faithful women who open their lives and their homes to offer the generous hospitality of God.

The way the gospel spreads is through an astonishingly domestic process of home to home, open table to open table. How is it that God is “revealed to us and not to the world? “to use the question of the unknown disciple, Judas in John’s Gospel? Because this is how God works; not in dramatic signs in the sky, but by the slow revelation of the Spirit acting in one embodied life after another, inviting others in to share the dream. It is spread by the vision of our life not always being defined by our tribe or social position but by the kind of hospitable love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things; a love that can overcome the divisions, violence and hatred that infects our world. It is such divisions that have perpetuated the anxiety which pervades our world and has settled into our bones, making us insecure and suspicious of one another. To all of this Jesus comes and says, “My peace I give you…I do not give as the world gives.”  Jesus is the non-anxious presence of God.

The counting of votes continues, but the election is done. There are so many who have been involved and under terrible pressure in this election. Many will wake up this morning feeling reactive to the hatred they have encountered and wounded by the grubbiness of campaigning. There are so many others who are fearful of the dramatic changes and enormous challenges facing our communities. To all of this, Jesus says, do not let your hearts be troubled. The world will have many heartaches, but you will never be left alone. God has set up house amongst us and is showing us how to make love real. God’s plan and way of working is like yeast in the dough or a small tree growing from a tiny seed and spreading its branches so all may shelter there or like a woman setting a large table for her friends to come and hear a new story. God’s way of ushering in the kingdom is so comfortingly domestic. It begins with a “Come and stay with me” and grows as friends gather and new members of a diverse family meet around an expanding table and break bread together. It is messy but joyful as one person after another is grafted into the new life and the anxiety of our divided life gives way to the joy of remembering that we belong to one another.

I think the poet, Jan Richardson, understands well the way unquiet, restless and anxious spirits can rule in us, and how we are so divided that we become separated even from ourselves. She writes this poem, Blessing in the Chaos which I think offers a shining hope that God’s unanxious presence is already within us and can be found in the deep quietness of our Spirit. There is peace, given with the free and untrammelled hospitality of God, and residing already with us and affirming the worth, the wonder and the freedom of every human soul, which can never be taken from us, no matter the chaos that may have laid claim to us.

Blessing in the Chaos

To all that is chaotic

in you,

let there come silence.

Let there be

a calming

of the clamoring,

a stilling

of the voices that

have laid their claim

on you,

that have made their

home in you,

that go with you

even to the

holy places

but will not

let you rest,

will not let you

hear your life

with wholeness

or feel the grace

that fashioned you.

Let what distracts you

cease.

Let what divides you

cease.

Let there come an end

to what diminishes

and demeans,

and let depart

all that keeps you

in its cage.

Let there be

an opening

into the quiet

that lies beneath

the chaos,

where you find

the peace

you did not think

possible

and see what shimmers

within the storm.

—Jan Richardson

Let there come an end to what diminishes and demeans, and let depart all that keeps you in its cage.

May we receive the peace of Jesus anew this day and share it, one to another, in this home that God makes with us here on earth.

+Amen.


[1] Jennings, Willie James, Acts, Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2017, p 250

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