The Sixth Sunday of Easter
The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean
John 14:15-21


“Blessed be God, who has not rejected my prayer, nor withheld his love from me.”

That sounds good, doesn’t it? That feels good.

That’s the last verse of the Psalm we read together this morning.
It is a reassuring statement about God’s love for us.
“Blessed be God, who has not rejected my prayer, nor withheld his love from me.”

How great it is that our God – the same God who took on flesh and lived among us, who was betrayed, tortured, killed, and buried – rose again and still, in spite of our continuing sinfulness, loves us. & Not only does God continue to love us, God chooses to abide within us still. It’s all good news today!

And not only is it good news, but we’re also given some helpful direction in how to share this news with others. Paul helps us with that most difficult of all church concepts: evangelism; evangelization.

Paul treats the Athenians with courtesy and seriousness. “ ‘I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship,’” He says. He didn’t march right into their space and begin tearing down what was sacred to them. Instead, Paul took the time to walk around, see who they were and how they prayed and to whom they prayed. Then, he respectfully begins to teach them about God and Jesus by seizing on an opportunity observed. “I noticed,” he says, “that you worship and have an altar ‘to an unknown god.’ Well, this is your lucky day! I actually know who this God is. In fact, This God is the one and only God, who created all things and is all things and ‘in him, we all live and move and have our being. Let me tell you all about this unknown God of yours so you may come to know him and love him and worship only him.”

Brilliant! His thoughtfulness allowed the Athenians to hear him with open minds. And not just open minds but inquisitive ones: Tell us more!

What a lesson for us all. We’ve all probably had the experience of feeling diminished or angry or even beaten up by someone who comes into our worship life, or living room, or theological “compartment” or mindset, or whatever our God space, and immediately begins to interrupt, challenge, argue what we believe as opposed to what THEY believe (and teach and demand) without even learning about us—anything about us—or why we believe as we do.

Because they really don’t care. They don’t want to hear any alternative ideas about God. Because they have God figured out and any more information would just confuse them. It isn’t about knowing God (or seeking God). It’s about reciting God, memorizing God, and how God is supposed to be (according to someone’s personal interpretation or agenda.

There is a better way. It is the way of love. If you want to show people God and teach people about God, take the time to listen first. Investigate their history—their experience—of God. Learn about the things that are sacred to them. Appreciate the things that others hold dear, even if you think, even if you know, these things need to be dusted off and fixed. Abide with them, respectfully.

And remember, God has chosen to abide within us – every one of us. & This demands that we treat each other thoughtfully and, as Peter says, “with gentleness and reverence.”

I don’t claim to be a theologian in the sense that I have a PhD in the field or write about God’s attributes in 4-page sentences. But I do think about God. I do consider my experience of God’s presence and being in my life and in our life together as a community of faith. I listen to others talk about their experiences with God—God’s presence and action in their lives and, sometimes, seemingly, God’s absence in their lives—and I study that, consider it—all of it—and try to respond to that in my concept of who God is and who I am as a Christian and who we are as a church, and who others are as children of God. My brothers and sisters.

And, ultimately, that is what we witness to others. It’s not some prescribed doctrine or centuries old tradition, though those can be informative to our faith. That’s certainly part of listening to the experiences and thoughts of others through generations of seeking to know and understand God. But it is our own experience and understanding of God that will make us true witnesses of the faith, if we’ll take our given opportunities to share our faith with others.

And to listen to them. Too often we listen to respond, when we should be listening to understand.

It is the abiding presence of God in us that helps us know God and make God known to those for whom God may be unknown.

This is the presence that Jesus speaks about in today’s gospel lesson—the Advocate, the Spirit, that resides in us and abides in all of God’s people.

And with that gift of the Spirit, Jesus also gives us a responsibility, a mission: to make God known in a world that does not know him.

How do we do that?

We do that by keeping Jesus’ commandment to love one another. That includes sharing our faith stories. Listening to others and speaking to others about God. Respectfully approaching one another’s ideas about God, helping one another with new understandings of God based on what we ourselves have experienced.

All of us, by virtue of being God’s creatures, have some knowledge of God. (we are created in God’s image.) None of us, because we are human creatures, have full knowledge of God. If we did, that would make us equal to God. & That is one thinking a little too highly of oneself. Nobody has God all wrapped up in a box, all neat and tidy.

I said earlier that I was not a theologian but that I did think about God and study God and listen to others talk about their experiences with God. I guess, really, that does make me and all of us who consider God in some way theologians. Further, if I am a theologian, I am a “process” theologian. I believe that God is still in the process of creation. That God began creation a long time ago but is still creating. And I believe that God is still revealing himself to us, constantly revealing Godself to us, as we are able to receive that revelation. And that all of us are not in the same place in that revelation.

So we can help each other. We can help each other by sharing with each other about God, by loving each other, by serving each other. By abiding in that presence of God in all of us and allowing that presence to flow out of us to one another and to a world that needs and longs for and wants to see, but cannot see, the presence of God and the goodness of God unless we show it.

“The Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him or knows him.” Can we be that window that allows the abiding presence and love of God to shine through, so that the world can see and know God?

Can we possess the kind of open minds and open hearts that will not force our views about God on others but that will welcome and engage in opportunities to share, in words and actions, the love of God revealed to us in Christ and in the blessings of our own experiences of God in our lives?

Or will we keep that abiding presence of God bottled up inside us, hidden from the world, from our friends, from our family members—maybe even from ourselves?

As the thoughtful question goes: If we were arrested for being people of God and followers of Christ, would there be enough evidence to convict us?

God abides in all of us. God reveals himself to each of us. Will we share what we have received? It really is left up to us to answer the question, just as it will be up to us to answer the question we will all one day be asked: “What did you do with what I gave you?”

“Those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

That is today’s good news. We are blessed. We are loved.
With the psalmist we can say with rejoicing:
Bless our God, you peoples;
make the voice of his praise to be heard;
Come and listen, all who fear God
And I will tell you what he has done for me.

Good news, indeed!

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.