John 15:26-16:8. 12-13 (NRSV)
South & New Life Presbyterian Churches – May 22, 2016
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift
John 15:26-16:8, 12-13 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.
16 “I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. 3 And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me. 4 But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them.
The Work of the Spirit
“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment. … 12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
I was doing some reading this week when I ran across a quote from one of my ancestors, Jonathan Swift:
Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.
It reminded me of a print that captured me several years ago on a trip to Disney World. I’ve reproduced it on your bulletin cover and I’ve also brought my framed version from home in case it’s easier to see as you pass it around.
It’s Walt Disney – creative genius that he was – overlooking the land that would become Disney World in Florida. How many of you have ever been there? Apart from the parts that are designed for children or young adults, there are many, many parts that are really for us who are older. There are scientific experiments going on there with hydroponics and important wildlife observations by world-class veterinarians and research personnel in Animal Kingdom.
But this print shows Mr. Disney standing with his hands in his pockets … on a barren Florida landscape and superimposed over that is the Magic Kingdom as it would be built DIRECTLY. ON. THAT. SITE.
His vision of what could be … of what was possible … had no basis in the current reality as it appeared.
Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.
Jesus did that.
He saw a new way of being in relationship with God and with each other. He did it in the context of his Jewishness. He was a Jew and he lived and died his whole life as a Jew who was exploring what that MEANT … what it REALLY meant to him and to all those who lived in the oppressive Roman occupation. And in so doing, he hit on some universal Truths. Many are the same as what other religious leaders around the world were led to embrace or invision in their OWN religions. After all … Truth is Truth. A rose, by any other name still smells as sweet.
Jesus’ context was that of a Jewish man in Palestine 2,000 years ago.
And his Truths are STILL true today.
Now last week in our continuing Sunday morning story – did you ever think of church like a SERIAL? We’re sort of like General Hospital or The Secret Storm … we continue the story of Jesus and his teachings week after week. (Ok … so just a quick trivia question … which long-running soap was originally all about a minister and his flock???? This is true … not a joke … The Guiding Light.)
Anyway, last week in our continuing story, the Holy Spirit was sent by Jesus (who had ascended before that and when he did he had said that he’d send the Spirit as a Holy Comforter and Advocate to be with us always) and this Spirit came over everyone on Pentecost so that they each heard the message of God’s love in their own language.
TODAY we honor the fact that the Holy Spirit is part of God, as Jesus is. This is traditionally called Trinity Sunday when the church around the world lifts up the Great Mystery that God – Jesus – and the Spirit are all ONE. They are different ways of picturing or interacting with God, but they are all God. Each one. This is not polytheism.
Kind of like calling your mother “Mom” or “Mother” or by her given name … in my case, “Norma.” Your mother was known by some as a friend … maybe by others as an employee … maybe as an aunt or a wife. She was the same person but with different aspects of her life highlighted depending on the relationship she had and the role she served with each.
That’s the concept of the Trinity and it makes it a great Mystery (with a capital M) because a lot of people think, “Well, God is God. Why do we need the other names?”
But we have them anyway.
More on that in a minute.
So back to us and where WE are as a church … and this whole VISION thing.
It is the Holy Spirit that leads us in our VisionQuest to determine what God is wanting us to do … it’s the Spirit that becomes our Guide to where God wants us to be.
And that’s true as a PEOPLE and not just as INDIVIDUALS, too.
I think about Walt Disney in this picture and that’s just who WE are invited to be right now in the life of the church – not just New Life or South Church, but THEEEE Church. The expression of God’s love in the world.
What does it LOOK like?
How will it change the landscape of the world … of our neighborhood … of our own LIVES? Cinderella’s Castle in the Magic Kingdom at Disney World. Just think of that sentence for a minute.
Cinderella’s Castle … an old, old folk tale, Cinderella. Brought to life for a whole new generation through animated DRAWINGS. That’s what Disney did. (And yes, I know there is controversy about his politics and more, but I just want us to stay focused today on the practice of VISIONing a future and its limitless possibilities because that’s what WE are being called to do.)
He created one thing … the updated Cinderella story, and then it’s like he climbed into it and adapted and built a whole KINGDOM around it. The MAGIC Kingdom. Then he populated it with OTHERS that his imagination and vision brought to life. Until finally he had a whole WORLD of science and imagination … of vision and story-telling … a place where EVERYONE from around the world could find SOMETHING to make them feel good.
If we go back to Jonathan Swift’s statement (Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others), then the next logical question is: OK. How do we DO that? How do we LEARN to see what’s invisible to others? How do we TRAIN ourselves in that skill? How do we get past the FEAR of being ridiculed OR of being WRONG that what we see might just be STUPID and people will laugh at us?
Disney tried to get work as an animator for YEARS and people didn’t think he was good enough … not talented enough … he had no promise.
When he was standing on the flats in central Florida … there had to be others there. The photographer for one. Did THEY get it? Did they see what HE saw? Somewhere along the line, others HAD to have embraced it to say yes and commit the money to the land’s development. Who WERE those people??? How did they catch the vision? And where did that vision COME from in the first place? I would think it has EXCEEDED their wildest imagination.
We have a lot to learn from him … from them … because we are part of a movement in the 21st century that is trying to do exactly the same thing … to see something DIFFERENT … to create a world that is NOT like the current landscape … to populate that NEW world with OTHERS who share the same vision.
And as Christians, we believe that the vision for what CAN be … for what WILL be … comes from God. It comes when we invite the SPIRIT to come into us and act THROUGH us … to SHOW us what God would have us see.
The church landscape is changing all around the world … and in THIS country it is the discontinuation of the building-centered church where 90% of a city’s or town’s residents all show up on Sunday morning. That is NOT who we are as a PEOPLE anymore … and it’s not where the CHURCH is anymore.
The vision that many of us are getting these days is kind of like BEADS … centers of people and activity that are strung together … loosely connected … by an almost invisible filament of SOMETHING … let’s call it the Holy Spirit. These loosely connected groups are all connected by the gossamer thread of the Spirit that brings life and healing and hope to everyone it touches.
And TOGETHER … these CENTERS … these collections of people with a mission to reach out to others like Jesus did … TOGETHER we are the church.
TOGETHER … all of the centers (or what we call our Acts of Faith) … are under the over-arching title of CHURCH. (It’s like having the different Kingdoms under the title of Disney World … there’s Magic Kingdom … EPCOT Center … MGM … Animal Kingdom … Downtown Disney They’re all connected by the Monorail and ground transportation, but each one if its own place. It has its own IDENTITY.)
Each Act of Faith has its own identity. And some people may only want to come to Prayer-on-the-Lawn and that’s it, while others will want to do that plus, maybe, Sunday Worship.
It’s ok to spend all your time in Animal Kingdom and not go to the other places. It’s ok to have your connection to church be just Back2Center and nothing else. It’s still Disney World. It’s still Church.
The VISIONING that has to take place in order for us to grow into our full potential as Christians today is based on using the imagination. We become Co-CREATORS with God. And we have to do our part.
As I was reading about imagination this week, I found this writing that says: (slowly) “Imagination is play for the brain. It is a form of artistry and a state of putting pieces together in new and unique ways.”[i] Well, if that isn’t us as a church, then I don’t know what is … putting pieces together in new and unique ways.
The author went on to liken it to jazz, “an improvisational ability where musical masters are able to intuit the next note, the next phrase. But you can only improvise after you’ve mastered the instrument. … As the great jazz saxophone player Charlie Parker describes it, ‘You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.’ [By THAT time, the mechanics of the instrument have become so common place to you that you don’t even THINK of it anymore. You just BECOME the instrument.]
“In order to put things together in new ways, we’ve GOT to be acquainted with them. This requires that we gain an intimacy [with them … that they become so commonplace to us] in our subconscious [that we can] imagine something new. [We have to learn the basics so that we don’t even have to THINK about them anymore. They’re just second NATURE to us. And in order to do that,] we need to play with [the] concepts … [experiment … try new things]. This allows us to understand what we know, and strengthens our ability to imagine something NEW down the road. Not having some degree of comfort with concepts puts [us] at a disadvantage for using [our] imagination.”[ii]
And THAT, my friends, is why Bible Study, small group discussion, prayer, meditation, all of that is so IMPORTANT. We can’t DO it by ourselves. Christianity was never meant to be a solo practice. It’s about COMMUNITY.
That’s why we have the Trinity … there is some role that God plays in each person of the Trinity that you can relate to. God, the Father or Mother … the Big Kahuna … the Creator … the Source … the origin and destination of all that ever was and ever will be.
Jesus … the human … brother … teacher … mentor … friend … Savior … Prince of Peace … sacrificial lamb … victim and ultimate victor.
And Spirit … moving … creating … comforting … healing … the glue that binds us all together … dancing … laughing … singing … loving …
We each have our favorite entry point to this undefinable GOD … this thing that is too great for us to be able to wrap our brains around. We each have the comfortable place where we latch on to God. When you pray … raise your hand if you usually start your prayer with “Dear God” or “Lord.”
How many of you usually begin with “Jesus?”
Anybody go to “Holy Spirit” or just “Spirit?”
Your assignment for this week … your challenge … is that every single day I want you to say a prayer when you wake up … before you’re even out of bed … before your feet hit the floor … and I want you to begin it with a different name for God than you usually use. If you’re a GOD person, pray to Spirit. If you’re a JESUS person, pray to God. Mix it up.
The reality won’t change because they’re all One.
But I think you will be surprised at how it will change how you THINK about and RELATE to that prayer. We’ll talk about it next week.
Changing something that simple will change your VISION of God … and all of us need to do that.
That’s enough for today.
We’ll continue our serial next week.