now

preachinga sermon, based on John 14.23-29, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 6th Sunday of Easter, May 1, 2016

Teresa of Avila, Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), 1615, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

Words attributed to Teresa of Ávila,[1] the 16th century Spanish saint and mystic, are, for me, an Easter meditation on the life and labor of any Christian:

Christ has no body now but yours.

No hands, no feet on earth but yours.

Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.

Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Now, on earth, Jesus, crucified, raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven, has us. We’re it! A point driven home in this morning’s gospel passage.

Before exploring this point, for three reasons, I digress. First, note that our gospel, removed, uprooted from its context, begins rather oddly: “Jesus answered him…” Second, note that your bulletin insert reads, “Jesus said to Judas (not Iscariot)…” The replacement of the word “answered” with “said” and the identification of the person to whom Jesus spoke is necessary for purposes of reading and listening comprehension. Third, as a side note, Jesus had two disciples named Judas; Judas son of Simon Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus, and this Judas son of James.[2]

Now, that Jesus answered Judas son of James begs the question: What did Judas son of James ask Jesus?

Our gospel passage takes us back to the night before Jesus’ arrest and trial, crucifixion and death. Jesus, knowing what is to come, prepares his disciples for life without him, teaching them many things; one being the connection between loyalty and love: “They who…keep my commandments are those who love me…and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”[3]

Now, Judas’ question: “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” Jesus, is the revelation, your revelation of who you are only for us, your disciples, or for everyone? And if your revelation is for everyone how will it be revealed? Who will reveal it?

Now, let us revise Teresa’s words:

Christ has no body now but ours.

No hands, no feet on earth but ours.

Ours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world…

the feet with which he walks to do good…

the hands through which he blesses all the world.

Ours are the hands…the feet…the eyes, we are his body.

Christ has no body now on earth but ours.

Big job? Yes. Immense! Impossible job? To reveal to the world the nature and wonder of God in Christ? Also yes. Then, have we been set up for failure? Blessedly, no. Though a cursory glance at the history of Christendom and the innumerable incidents of violence, duplicating the crucifixion, perpetrated by Christians against others, demonstrates there is plenty of failure to go around! But it ain’t Jesus’ fault, for “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name (and, for us, already has sent!), will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.”

The Holy Spirit, God’s indwelling[4] presence and power, inspires us, inspirits us, breathes in us the peace of Jesus; the shalom of God, that sense of wholeness, wellness, rightness with God that empowers us so that we are able (we now can) and willing (we now can choose) to speak and act as Jesus in this world.

The Easter season or Eastertide, also called The Great Fifty Days from Easter Day to the Day of Pentecost, offers an annual opportunity for Christians to deepen our understanding of the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus; the central claim of Christianity without which there is no Christianity.

Christianity is an incarnational religion about God, who is Spirit, taking our human flesh to abide with and within us in time and space. Therefore, I believe it is essential for us as Christians to reflect on what it means for us to be Christ’s body, hands, feet, eyes. Now, paraphrasing Judas’ question to Jesus, I ask: How will you, how do you reveal Christ to others and to the world?

As I never ask you what I will not ask myself, I share with you my answer. As I read and interpret the gospel of Jesus, he is the embodiment of love and justice, unconditional benevolence and fairness for all. As I live, I am conscious of loving you and being fair with you, even and especially when we disagree or fail to fulfill our expectations of one another (and if none of this has happened between and among us yet, it will, for we are human). For by faith I trust the Spirit to revive in me the power to love and to be just so to forgive and to be forgiven and to try again.

That’s what it is for me. Now, what is it for you?

Christ has no body now but ours.

No hands, no feet on earth but ours.

Ours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world…

the feet with which he walks to do good…

the hands through which he blesses all the world.

Ours are the hands…the feet…the eyes, we are his body.

Christ has no body now on earth but ours.

Illustration: Teresa of Avila, Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), 1615, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

Footnotes:

[1] Teresa of Ávila (March 28, 1515-October 4, 1582)

[2] See Luke 6.16 and Acts 1.13

[3] John 14.21a,c

[4] Regarding the nature of God’s empowering presence within us, I refer to Jesus’ testimony: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth…(whom you know)…because he abides with you, and he will be in you (John 14.15-17a, c) (emphasis, mine).

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4 thoughts on “now

  1. This is what I call a “right on time” sermon for me Paul. So thank you!!! Your answer to your congregation on how to reveal Christ to others and to the world reminds me of one of the many lessons I learned from my mom, namely that if at first you don’t succeed try, try again. I love your stick to it attitude and I’d say it’s necessary for all of us to be successful with the charge you’ve laid out for us.

    Every day I actually do ask myself what I accomplished that day that would be considered “Christ-like”….some days I like the answer much more than others!! It can be really hard to find compassion these days. It’s there but at times you have to look hard to see it. And it can be difficult to wonder what Christ is seeing and feeling when looking through our eyes.

    I think of MLK who probably did everyday what you speak of! I know that I need to not be afraid of where my feet take me. I have to not be afraid of not being accepted in strange new places. With Christ by my side, what’s to fear!!?? You’ve given us a huge task, but I’ll get out there and keep trying! I’ll print this sermon to remind myself that I should be using my body as a representative of Christ. It’s always great to be reminded! Thanks again Paul!!

    Like

    • Thanks, Loretta. With the holy hell of the Spirit, we are able to keep trying to be the eyes and ears, mind and heart and mouth, hands and feet of Jesus!

      For me, the most important part of the sermon is my attempt to describe the work of the Spirit. I do not believe (or recall) until this sermon and the study and prayer in preparing it that I thought of the Spirit’s empowerment of peace, God’s shalom, as the “engine” of our ability and willingness to be and do as Jesus is. I’ve oft described that empowerment in others ways, but not this. I shall need to explore this more fully.

      Liked by 1 person

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