6th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 8:5–8, 14–17; 1 Peter 3:15–18; John 14:15–21
Torch and bucket We can view Jesus’ commands as restrictions to freedom, guides to growth, or invitations to love.
There’s a story about a person who saw an angel walking down the street. The angel was carrying a torch in one hand and a bucket of water in the other.
What are you going to do with that torch and that bucket of water? the person asked.
The angel stopped abruptly looked at the person, and said, With the torch, I’m going to burn down the mansions of heaven; and with the bucket of water, I’m going to put out the fires of hell. Then we’re going to see who really loves God.
The angel’s point is that many people obey God’s commandments out of fear of punishment in hell or hope of reward in heaven. They don’t obey them for the reason Jesus gives in today’s gospel. They don’t obey them out of love: If you love me, Jesus says in today’s reading, you will obey my commandments.
Let’s take a closer look at the commandments of Jesus.
There are three ways we can look upon the commandments of Jesus. Take his command to “turn the other cheek.” First, we can look upon this command as a restriction to our freedom. It’s something we hate to do, but have to do. It’s something we’d rather get out of doing.
When we look upon Jesus’ command to “turn the other cheek” as merely an unpleasant restriction something we’d like to get out of we can become angered by it and even resent it, saying,
Why forgive our enemies? Why not show them they can’t push us around? Why not adopt the attitude of Nikita Khrushchev?
During a goodwill visit to France, Khrushchev, a former Russian leader, said he admired many of Jesus’ teachings. But he also said he disagreed with some teachings of Jesus. For example, he didn’t agree with Jesus’ teaching to turn your cheek when someone wrongs you.
If someone wrongs me, said Khrushchev, I won’t turn my cheek.I’ll hit the other guy back so hard that his head may fall off.
This bring us to the second way that we can look upon the commands of Jesus. We can look at them as guides to our growth. Again, take Jesus’ command to forgive our enemies.
Several years ago the American Medical Association surveyed several thousand general practitioners. They asked these doctors this question: What percentage of people that you see in a week have needs that you feel qualified to treat with your medical skills?
The answers to that question were amazing. The doctors responded that they felt qualified to treat only about 10 percent of their patients.
When questioned about the other 90 percent, the doctors said that these patients suffered from real pain. But their problem wasn’t a chemical or physical one; it was psychological. In other words, it was a “life problem” that defied normal medical treatment.
The real causes of their illness were things like anger, pent-up hostilities, loneliness, negative feelings, or destructive lifestyles. These are problems the normal doctor is not trained or equipped to handle.
Commenting on the effect these things have on health, Bruce Larson writes:
Our feelings about ourselves and others and the quality of our relationships may have more to do with how often we get sick, than our genes, chemistry, diet, or environment.
Doctors are quick to admit that there is little in their medical training to equip them to help patients with these “life problems.”
The point is that when we hold a grudge, refuse to forgive, or seek revenge, we hurt ourselves as much as we hurt our enemy. To put it in a more dramatic and vivid way, the sword we use to hurt our enemy passes first through our own body.
The ancient Chinese had a proverb that warned about this evil. It said, When you pursue revenge, dig two graves: one for your enemy and one for yourself. In short, Jesus’ command to forgive enemies is not merely a restriction to our freedom; it is a guide to our own health and welfare.
Finally, we can look upon Jesus’ command in yet a third way: as an invitation to love. This is the way Jesus proposes in today’s gospel: If you love me, says Jesus, you will obey my commandments.
Jesus presents his commandments as opportunities to express our love for him. In other words, we may not understand why we should forgive others or turn the other cheek, but we do it because Jesus wants us to. We look upon the commandments as invitations to show our love for Jesus.
Today’s gospel invites us to check our motives. Why do we obey Jesus’ commandments? Do we do it more out of fear of punishment? Do we do it more out of hope for reward? Or do we do it more out of love for Jesus?
A religion based solely on fear of punishment or hope of reward tends to seek loopholes.
For example, we hear people say, How far can I go before I sin? How much can I steal before I sin gravely? How little can I give and still satisfy my Christian obligation?
On the other hand, a religion based on love seeks opportunities.
For example, we hear people say, What more can I do to help? Is there anything you need? Don’t hesitate to call me at any time.
Love seeks only to be of service.
And so we can look upon Jesus’ command to forgive others in three different ways: as a restriction to our freedom, something we hate to do; as a guide to our growth, something we should do; or as an invitation to love, something we want to do.
How have we looked upon Jesus’ commands in the past? How ought we to look upon them in the future? What can we do about them, beginning right now?
This is the challenge today’s gospel sets before each one of us.
Let’s close by paraphrasing the words of Harry Emerson Fosdick:
Fear tends to paralyze, love releases. Fear imprisons, love frees. Fear sours, love sweetens. Fear wounds, love heals. Fear avoids, love invites.
Series II 6th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 8:5–8, 14–17; 1 Peter 3:15–18; John 14:15–21
Giver of life Scripture portrays the Holy Spirit playing a key role in the birth of the world, of Jesus, and of the Church. Years ago Dr. Lloyd Judd practiced medicine in rural Oklahoma. Many people in his area were poor and had no private transportation of their own. And so he often had to drive out to their ramshackled homes to treat someone who was sick or injured.
One day Dr. Judd himself became sick. When his condition worsened, he checked into a hospital. There he learned he had terminal cancer.
His thoughts immediately turned to his young children. There was so much he wanted to tell them. But they were too little to understand. So he arranged to record a set of tapes which his children could play back when they reached their late teenage years.
Let me read an excerpt from one of the tapes. It deals with choosing a career in medicine. Dr. Judd says to his children:
Are you willing to get out of a warm bed on a cold night and drive 20 miles to see a sick person, knowing that they can’t pay you and that they could wait until morning to be treated? If you can answer yes to that question, you are ready to study medicine.
The courageous story of Dr. Judd bears a striking resemblance to the story of Jesus in today’s gospel.
Jesus, too, didn’t have long to live. His thoughts, too, turned to his disciples.
There was so much more that he wanted to teach them, but they weren’t ready yet to understand it.
For example, Jesus said to his disciples, “I have much more to tell you, but now it would be too much for you to bear.” John 16:12
And so, like Dr. Judd, Jesus arranged for a way to continue to teach his disciples after he was gone. He promised to send them the Holy Spirit, saying, “When, however, the Spirit comes, who reveals the truth about God, he will lead you into all the truth.” John 16:13
Today’s three Scripture readings are intended to prepare us for the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, which we will celebrate in two weeks.
And so let’s begin our preparation by taking a closer look at the Holy Spirit.
Several years ago a missionary in China built a small church for his new Christians. On an inside wall of the church he drew a huge triangle to stand for the Holy Trinity.
In the first corner of the triangle, he drew an eye, symbolizing God the Father. In the second corner of the triangle, he drew a cross, symbolizing God the Son. In the third corner of the triangle, he drew a dove, symbolizing God the Holy Spirit.
After he had finished the drawing, an old Chinese woman came up to him and said:
Honorable Father and his eye I understand. Honorable Father sees everything we do.
Honorable Son and his cross I understand. Honorable Son died on the cross for us.
But honorable Holy Spirit and his bird I do not understand.
Ithink a lot of us are like that woman.
We’re familiar with God the Father’s role in the divine plan. And we’re familiar with God the Son’s role.
But we’re a little hazy about the role of the Holy Spirit.
So let’s take a quick glance at how the Bible describes the Spirit’s role in the overall divine plan.
The first thing we notice is that the Bible describes the Holy Spirit as playing a significant role in three major events in the divine plan.
First of all, the Holy Spirit participated in the creation of the world.
Depending on the Bible translation you read, the Book of Genesis says that just before creation “the Spirit of God was moving over the water.” Genesis 1:2
The point is, the Hebrew word that we translate “spirit,” or “power,” is the same Hebrew word that the Old Testament uses elsewhere to designate the Holy Spirit.
And so the Bible portrays the Holy Spirit as participating in the creation of the world. We may say that the Holy Spirit, in a sense, prepared the way for the birth of our world.
The second major event in which the Spirit played a significant role is the birth of Jesus.
Recall how the angel Gabriel responded to Mary’s question when Mary asked how she would conceive Jesus. The angel said, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and God’s power will rest upon you.” Luke 1:35
In other words, the Holy Spirit hovered over Mary, preparing her for the birth of Jesus, much as the Spirit hovered over the waters, preparing them for the birth of the world.
The third major event in which the Spirit played a significant role occurs on Pentecost.
The Acts of the Apostles describes the Spirit as hovering over the disciples like wind.
Then, suddenly, fire descended upon them, and this group of frightened followers of Jesus was transformed into a group of fearless witnesses to Jesus. They ceased being a confused body of people and became the courageous Body of Christ.
And so the Bible portrays the Holy Spirit as playing a significant role, also, in the birth of the Church on Pentecost.
In the light of these three roles, we may make one further observation.
The same Spirit who played a significant role in the birth of the world, in the birth of Jesus, and in the birth of the Church also plays a significant role in the birth of every Christian in baptism.
The same Holy Spirit who helped give life to the world, life to Jesus, and life to the Church also gives life to us in baptism. And so the Bible portrays the Holy Spirit as being closely connected with the gift of divine life.
The Holy Spirit, therefore, plays a significant role in creating the bond of life that unites every Christian to Jesus, to one another, and to the Holy Trinity itself.
This is the Spirit’s role in the divine plan. In the words of the Creed, which we will profess in a few minutes, the Spirit is called the “giver of life.”
This is the mystery we prepare to celebrate two weeks from today. This is the mystery that calls forth from us wonder, joy, and gratitude.
Series III 6th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 8:5–8, 14–17; 1 Peter 3:15–18; John 14:15–21
Holy Spirit The helper that Jesus promised us. Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another helper, who will stay with you forever.” John 14:16
There’s a story about a young priest who accepted an invitation to preach in a nearby state prison.
For weeks in advance, he tried to come up with a story or an idea that would not only grab and hold the attention of the prisoners, but also give them a message that would be genuinely helpful to them.
As the date drew near, he still didn’t have a story or an idea that he felt could accomplish this. Desperately, he prayed to the Holy Spirit for help. But no story or idea came. Finally, the day for his talk arrived. When he entered the auditorium and saw the huge crowd of prisoners, panic began to set in.
As he started up the steps to the stage, his legs began to tremble. When he reached the top step, he tripped, fell, and skidded all the way down to the floor again.
The prisoners roared with laughter. As he lay on the floor momentarily, all he could feel was shame. And all he could think was, why did the Spirit let this happen to him?
Then, to his own surprise and the surprise of the prisoners he leaped to his feet, and ran up the steps, laughing and pumping his fist in the air.
By the time he got to the podium, the prisoners had all quieted down, wondering what he was up to. The ridiculous fall you just saw me take explains, better than any words could do, the reason for my being here today.
That fall dramatizes something we humans must never, never forget. At some time in our lives, we all fall flat on our face.
I don’t care if you are a prisoner. I don’t care if you are a priest. I don’t care if you are the president of the United States. I don’t care if you are the pope in Rome. At sometime in our lives we all fall flat on our face. Sometimes it’s our fault; sometimes not. But that’s not important. What is important is what happens after we fall.
We may feel terrible shame. We may feel the world just came to an end. People may reject us and scorn us. They may ridicule us. But one thing is for sure. There is no person on earth who can keep us from getting up and starting over again.
The only person who can do that is ourselves. When Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was arrested, put in prison, and unjustly sentenced to death, it was tragic.
But then he was even further humiliated by falling on his face while carrying his cross to the place of execution.
No doubt the soldiers escorting him yelled at him and beat him. No doubt many people watching from the roadside jeered him. No doubt he himself felt like dying at that moment.
But he got up from his fall, kept going, and completed the work his Father had given him to do: the work of saving you and me. To make a long story short, the prisoners gave the young priest a long, standing ovation after he finished.
Later, as he reflected on what happened, the young priest realized, as never before, the full impact of the Jesus’ promise in today’s Gospel:
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, the Holy Spirit.
Like every other human being in the world, each one of us in the Church today has fallen on our face at some time in our life. Maybe it was our fault; maybe not. But that’s not important.
The only thing that matters is how we react to the fall or the embarrassing failure.
Almost all of us have heard of Joe Louis, the great heavyweight boxer. But few of us have ever heard what he went through to achieve what he did.
He was born in a shack in the South, the seventh child of a penniless family. Shortly afterward, his father had a mental breakdown and was committed to an institution.
When Joe's father died in the institution, his mother married a widower, who had several children of his own. Their future in the South looked bleak, so his new father moved his family North. At age 16, he signed up for an amateur boxing tournament.
He really didn’t expect to win anything, but he also didn’t expect to be humiliated by getting knocked down seven times in two rounds. No one who saw him that night dreamed what would happen to him seven years later. Joe became the youngest man ever to win the heavyweight boxing championship of the world. This brings us back to Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit. This promise doesn’t guarantee that we will end up like Joe Louis.
But it does guarantee something more important. It guarantees that no fall or failure can come our way that we and the Holy Spirit can’t handle together.
Or to put it another way, it guarantees that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can overcome any hurdle ahead of us.
This is the Good News of today’s Gospel. This is the Good News we celebrate in this liturgy. This is the Good News Jesus wants us to take forth from this Church and share with all the world.
Let us conclude with this poem:
For ev’ry pain we must bear, For ev’ry burden, ev’ry care, there’s a reason. For ev’ry grief that bows the head, for ev’ry teardrop that is shed, there’s a reason.
For ev’ry hurt, for ev’ry plight, For ev’ry lonely, pain-racked night, there’s a reason. But if we trust God, as we should, It will work out for our good. He knows the reason. Author Unknown