The Ethic of Love and Living in the Spirit
June 9, 2019
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: John 14:51-31
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen
Today we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, in the Anglican tradition it has commonly been called Whitsunday. Like so many things English – this common name stems out of a need for a practical solution. In the ancient church – catechumens, that is converts to the faith would spend months preparing – the 40 days of lent would be a rigorous time learning, fasting, and prayer so that the new believers hearts and minds would be conformed to Christ.
At the Easter vigil new converts would be baptized and made full members of the church. This worked well while the faith was concentrated around the Mediterranean basin. However, when it reached England it was problematic for baptism took place in streams and bodies of water – not in a basin in the back of the church. The water would often be too cold or maybe even frozen. The church leaders in England – therefore transferred the day of baptism to Pentecost Sunday, which is just as fitting as Easter. For this reason new converts and others would traditionally wear white to celebrate their new life and so the day became known as “white Sunday” or as we call it today – Whitsunday.
Some lament the loss of this rigorous time of preparation for those entering the faith. I think there is a goodness in this lament, for we often find a soft believing, or a latitude in the ethics that we teach. This is lamentable – we do not want to find our way into a works righteousness – but the first line of our gospel reading reminds us that we are in fact called to do the commandments of God. Jesus speaks and says “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
This theme of love and obeying are major throughout all of St. John’s writings – the Gospel of St. John being written to those who do not yet know Christ – speaks all about the importance of who Christ is and why it is good to know Him. St. John’s epistles are written to those who know Christ but need encouragement in persevering through to the end and of course the revelation or apocalypse – that is the vision St. John reminds us of what is coming – that even though the world may very well seem unjust in the here and now – all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well – in the end of time.
So for St. John the test of a true disciple is whether or not he or she loves and keeps the commandments of God – the commandment of God are just that – that we love God and love each other. This love is not sentimentalism that we often associate with love today, or is it what is summarized in a love poem. No, love is Christ on the cross. We see this even in St. Paul’s exhortations to husbands in Ephesians 5 when he writes – Husbands – love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave up himself for it.
Friends – have you thought about this – your marriage love should look more like Christ’s love for the church than like a romantic comedy or one of the great love stories of the 21st century. Your marriage should look like the greatest love story ever told – the story of a loving God who sent His only son to give up his life for His people.
To love – to love in a manner that is worthy of our calling as Christians is to give up our lives – to lay them down for our friends – to lay them aside for our spouses – to die to ourselves that Christ might come alive in us and shine all the more. To exude Christian love in all we do – is a hard calling – but a very good calling. So let us lay aside our own selfish ends and learn to love well.
One of the reasons Christians get so excited about the institution of marriage is because there is no greater situation in which we can learn this act of dying to ourselves. We can see this play out dimly in the church – that whenever we are in relationship with others – our desires clash. But in marriage – you have made a vow to another person – a vow not only to walk with them through the calms and storms of life – but to walk with them closer and closer to God. Often people make the mistake of thinking that the church or even the diocese is the smallest unit of the church – but family is the smallest church.
In it men and women encourage one another – in it we learn Christlikeness – in it we seek to worship God and create beauty and these are good things.
Now – this doesn’t mean if you are celibate that all hope is lost – it doesn’t mean that if you have love and lost that you are some how a subpar Christian – singleness is a different gift – for those of us who are not in that covenantal relationship with another we do not have that tangible reality of someone who we are perpetually laying down our live for. But we are called to love the church in the same way – called to put aside ourselves that we could serve her in a beautiful and good way. We are given the gift of being single-mindedly devoted to glorifying God in all we do. In fact – St. Paul calls singleness, not marriage the better way – because we can be devoted to our service of God and his church more completely than if we have the distraction of marriage. But regardless of our state – we are called to love in a way that we lay down our lives.
In the same way – those who are married to non-Christians are not some how second tiered citizens in the kingdom – but St. Paul writes to you as well – in the same way you have the opportunity to love your spouse as Christ loves you so that your spouse may see all that you do and perhaps come to know the same gift and joy that you enjoy.
This commandment to love is the center piece of the Christian ethic – the center piece of how we are to live – and yet those who have run this marathon of life know that it is not simply a sentimentalism that fades as our looks and bodies fade – but one that grows ever stronger the better we learn to live for others.
As we love our spouse, as we love our community, as we love our brothers and sisters in Christ – all the more are we to be learning how to love God. But – friends – we have hard hearts – we know that we have failed to do this. St. Paul laments the fact that he does the things he shouldn’t and doesn’t do the things he should we echo this when we come together to pray the daily offices and make our confession. We even see evidence in St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians that even St. Peter remains continued to struggle with the same hardheartedness that he had when he walked beside Christ.
Sanctification is a long – slow process – and so what are we to do?
Christ says this morning:“I will ask the Father and He will give you another helper to be with you forever.”
This other helper is of course the Holy Spirit. There are two points to be made about the giving of the Holy Spirit that are important in the shaping of our theology before we talk about the practical application of this. First – there has been great debate whether Pentecost Sunday marks the foundation of the church or not.
Those who read the book of Hebrews literally would say no – for the church includes all those who were under the first convent and looked forward to the fulfillment of the promises made in that covenant – the promises that were fulfilled in Christ. I think this is a better reading – that all those, throughout all time who have trusted that God would bring a savior, who is Christ – are members of the church. So, the giving of the Holy Spirit is not so much the founding of the church – but the sealing of the new covenant – the agent that gives men and women new hearts that they might live fully for Christ – that they might live fully in the love that we just talked about – the love that exemplifies Christ’s love for us.
Secondly – we need to bear in mind that the spirit has operated throughout history – it was not as though the giving of the Holy Spirit to the church was a new thing. We know he rested on John the Baptist, know that he was in the Holy Prophets – what is new is that he is given to all who are in Christ – and that his gift to the vast majority of us is not going to be a prophetic ministry but rather those operations that will draw us closer to God – we will get to what his gift to individuals looks like in a moment.
Now, before we talk about what it means to reside in the spirit – I want to point out something – Christ does not say – I will give you a comforter or helper or advocate (translators find this word to be a little irksome), but I will give you another helper. For the apostles already have a helper – already have an advocate and comforter. Christ is that helper, advocate, and comforter. Remember – last Sunday we celebrated Christ’s ascension to be seated at the right hand of the Father. The sentence for the start of Morning Prayer for this past week comes from Hebrews 4 verses 14 and 16 and reminds us of why this is important “seeing that we have a great High Priest, that passed into heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in the time of need.” We find comfort in Christ because he is the great high priest – the priest not of flesh but of the spirit that sits at the right hand of the Father – that makes out petitions for us. Yet Christ is ascended and he did not leave those whom he died for without hope.
The Holy Spirit has come and now resides in us. The sacrament of confirmation is an outward sign of this inward truth. For the Anglican – it is this pledge that we do in fact want to follow Jesus – it is a time of renewing the vows we made or were made for us at our baptism. It is a time when we receive a visible sign that the Spirit is in us because we are in Christ.
So – all of this leads up to the truly important part – the part that is really what this Sunday is about – what does it mean to reside in the spirit? Some have lamented that the Holy Spirit is the neglected person of the Trinity – we know all about Jesus, we know all about God the Father, but rarely do we hear about the Spirit. Make no mistake, the Holy Spirit isn’t a sad third wheel being dragged along on some awkward date – nor is he forgotten but the Holy Spirit works quietly in the background – in three ways – guiding us in our vocational gifts, building us up in the universal gifts, and comforting, directing, and correcting us in our walk.
The Pentecostal and Charismatic movements provide a challenge for us – while we would argue that they probably get a fair amount wrong – they are also a gift – for they reminded traditions, including our own, that are stereotypically cold and “the frozen chosen” in form that the Spirit still moves in us. We want to be careful about all which they believe – but it is good to remember that He still gives vision and still moves within us – I think it reasonable to say – that all his gifts are still active today.
However, even visions are not universal gifts – each of us are called to different things – each of us were created in unique ways. Not everyone is called to be a preacher – not everyone is called to be teach - not everyone is called to be a prophet – each of us are called to unique things and it is the spirit that confirms in us, and through the church the uniqueness of each of these callings. It is good that we have a variety of callings – because, to use an example close to home, those of you who know me well, know that there are a plethora of things that I am not good at – and so it is good that there are those in our parish who are good at those things – otherwise I would be hopelessly lost. It is good that we have a variety of callings – because the church is made up of many members – but we are one body. We are not meant to work alone.
So – first the Holy Spirit guides us in our vocations.
Next – there are universal gifts or fruit of the spirit – St. Paul writes in Galatians – the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the spirit.”
These – my friends are the commandments that we are to keep – not by our works but by residing deeper and deeper in the Spirit – by preferring God’s Holiness over our fleshliness – by fleeing from our sin, and fleeing unto God. To dwell in the spirit is to grow in love – to grow in joy – to become more peaceful with ourselves and with the world – to be patient when lashing out might have been our fleshly way – to be kind – to love goodness – to be faithful and have fidelity towards the truth – to be tender and gentle – to not dwell in our passions which are so easy to let rule our hearts – but be be measured in all things. Friends – without the Spirit – even the best among us will fail at this – but glory to God that we have the Spirit and he dwells in us for these things are possible with Him.
Finally - the spirit comforts and corrects. St. John is the only writer in scripture that uses the word helper in describing the Holy Spirit. It is the word from which we get the term Paraclete which is used occasionally as another name for the Holy Spirit. There is much debate as to how this should be conveyed in English – our translators opted for Helper – others have used comforter – others still advocate. I think it is better to understand that the Spirit is there – not only to sanctify us – but to comfort and convict us.
In the dark days of life – it is the in dwelling of the Spirit that gives us peace – that we are given comfort. I think too – this is shown when those in the church sit with us and mourn with us in our pain.
Likewise – when we have wandered into sin – grievous or perpetual – the uneasiness that wakes us up at night or makes our conscience ping – that is the spirit correcting us and bringing us back to the right path. I think it is even the Spirit talking when a friend pulls us aside and gently corrects us and tells us – I think you have wandered away from the truth – come back please.
The Spirit is our comforter and helper on the straight and narrow path.
Now, I know I have gone on long enough – but I want to make one final point about the Holy Spirt and give you a note of hope. We want to understand – the Spirit is not an emotional force – he is not some high that we are seeking. If we walk away from worship today still feeling tired, or discouraged, or warn out – the spirit is not any less with us – but he was still here, he still worked in our worship, he will still comfort you. Do not mistake feelings for the operation of the spirit. Feelings can and will betray us – that doesn’t make them unimportant – simply we need to check them against scripture, and with godly friends.
The spirit is with us at all times – in the lows and highs of life. He is not there to give us a spiritual high that will wear out later in the week – but rather he is slowly producing that aforementioned fruit.
Now – I know we only made it through two verses today – but they were important verses to examine and let dwell in our hearts and minds – the Christian is called to live by love – a sacrificial love that lays down his or her life for others and to the glory of God – and we do this by dwelling in the spirit. The Spirit that is sanctifying us and calling us deeper and deeper in to a relationship with Christ.
The final thought I want to leave you with – Christ tells his disciples this – “I will not leave you as orphans – I will come to you.” Friends – we are not orphans but rather through Christ we have been made sons and daughters of God. We are sealed in this promise by the Holy Spirit. We are called to dwell in this spirit and to love one another as Christ first loved us – so that when we hear that final trumpet – when we see Christ riding in on his white horse we might join with the rest of the saints in singing praises and glory to God.
Today we celebrate that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and empowered that we might glorify God through the gift of His love that we enjoy daily. So let us learn to love one another well.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.