The Sixth Sunday in Easter
[St. Columban’s, Karlsruhe, Germany] “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.” John 14: 23-29 One of our confirmands said yesterday that she has trouble believing in a god “up there.” It has been a long time since people believed that God was actually “up”.
So where is God? In heaven, we say. And where is that? In the prayer that Jesus taught us, we say, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (I always like the German here: “wie in Himmel, so auf Erden…”) We say this prayer so often by rote that we seem to skip over what we are asking. We ask God to bring heaven to earth, to do God’s will in us here on Earth.
Elsewhere Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21) Furthermore, in John, he promised that springs of “living water” will well up from inside us. And to top it all off, today’s Gospel says that God the Holy Trinity will come and make their home with us.
So there really is no point to thinking that God is up there in heaven somewhere. God is right here! God is among us, around us, and actually, in us. In a moment, we will promise once again to “seek and serve Christ in other people”. In other words, just as Christ is in us, so we are to seek Christ in those around us, those we encounter, those whom we love. And those we don’t… For the fact that I have Christ does not mean that I am better than the next person. It means that in order better to know the Christ in me, I need to seek and serve the Christ in others.
Now you might say, “Bishop, this is all very pretty, but frankly I don’t see anyone else inside me.” Perhaps you don’t even see yourself inside, the person you really are. But that is the promise God makes to each one of us in Baptism: “I am with you always.” It has long been recognized that to know God is to know yourself, and to know who you are is also to know God.
Let’s try something. Imagine a forest, very green and lush, like those here in Germany. Think of the canopy of leaves, the trunks and roots of the trees. Imagine the birds flying, the squirrels jumping from branch to branch. The forest floor is a soft carpet of old leaves and plants. Imagine the sounds of rustling branches, birds singing, insects buzzing.
Now imagine that deep below the roots, deep below the earth, below the bedrock, there is a river flowing in deep darkness. You cannot see or hear it. But the whole forest testifies to its presence, for water is life.
Now the forest is your life, the one you see and hear and taste and smell and feel. The presence of God is the deep river, living water moving slowly but powerfully deep within your heart. There also in the depth is your true self, your soul, and there it is, with God.
“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.”
Today you four are renewing promises made at Baptism. For the three confirmands, this means that you recognize within you that the water of Baptism continues to flow, and you are committing your life to it. You can sense the presence of God, the realm of peace and joy and love for which you were created to enjoy forever. For the one being received, this is a moment of refreshment, as you embrace a new community of faith within the holy catholic Church to which we all belong.
And for the rest of us, as we hear these promises renewed, and make once again our own baptismal covenant along with these four people, this is a time to stop our busyness and attend to what is happening deep within us. Our times are full of distractions, a lot of colorful images on screens for us to gaze at. You all know I love my tech, but it is a real problem if we use it to distract us from what’s important in life.
For God has promised we will never be alone. We will never face life and death by ourselves. And as we seek to love God more, and to keep Jesus’ word by following and emulating him, we will become ever more aware of the life flowing in our hearts. And that will give us the peace that Jesus promised, a peace that will allow us to face whatever life and the world throw at us, the assurance that no matter what happens, we will emerge victorious, for Jesus Christ has already won the victory for us, and planted it deep in our hearts.
This is eternal life. This is heaven here and now. This is our home, this is our family, here is where we belong.