An order of worship bulletin for this reflection can be found here: Bulletin-05-14-2023 Easter 6 YA
Scripture References: Exodus 16; John 14:15-31
Adapting a poetic prayer of Ted Loder, Let us pray:
“[Divine Love], we believe our lives are touched by you; that you want something for us and of us. Please give us ears to hear you, eyes to see the tracing of your finger, and a heart quickened by the motions of your Spirit.” Amen.
Even as the caterpillar cannot go back into its cocoon once its wings are unfurled, so Israel could not go back to Egypt once they were free. But did you catch how long it took them to learn that lesson? 40 years of eating quail and manna in the desert. That’s plenty of time for a new generation of leaders to rise up among the newly freed people and consider their next step forward into community – and eventually independent nationhood. That is also enough time to clean house – discarding much of what initially held them back along the way. It was more than enough time to grieve the passing of the old way of being victims and doing slave work – and to begin to enact new ways of being God’s community and doing the work of God’s love. Like any true transformation, I imagine it must have been hard work.
First Pres is also in the midst of hard work in this time of transition. Thankfully, I suspect it won’t take 40 years for new pastoral leadership to emerge. It will require taking a look at what needs to be discarded from the old ways of being and doing – and what could be reimagined: how to become the Church in a very different world from only a few years – not to mention decades – ago. The question for us is how to live into our community of worship and practice in this time and place?
Maybe we can take a lesson from the butterfly; when the chrysalis is discarded for the freedom of the sky, the butterfly’s newly unfolded wings stretch and unfurl slowly with fluttering effort as blood seeps into the wings, preparing for flight. How do we know if our wings are ready? Like the butterfly, the time arrives with our own effort of preparations; then we can allow the Spirit Wind to bear us up and onward. But what do we do?
John chapter 14:14-21 could be summarized into one word: Love. Love is the greatest power of all. Love is at the root of truth, honesty, integrity, mercy, compassion, and service. In loving others, we live into the River of Love that is God. It flows deep and wide; to all, in all, and through all. If we can sense our tributary in the one great river of Spirit and Life – if we can join in the one flow by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God, then perhaps indeed we are beginning to understand love.
Picking up from last week’s teaching, how does Christ’s final teaching from the table relate to the realities of relationships among us, within us, and between us? In an effort to find a few more clues, reading ahead through verses 22-31 provides some hints. In these last nine verses at the table, Jesus once again teaches: those who keep his commandments and love him are loved by God, and will have Jesus revealed to them.
Whoever loves Jesus and keeps his word, God and Jesus will come to dwell. Like the butterfly fluttering its wings to fill with strengthening life-blood, when we as believers allow God to seep into our own beings fully, then we can see the world through God’s eyes. In so seeing, we can become so moved by the impulse of Love that our own actions will be Christ’s hands and feet in the world.
Rev. Dr. Jill Duffield, Sr. Pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Greensboro, NC, and past editor of the Presbyterian Outlook, once put it this way:
“This cycle of love from above and extended on earth grows as it is put into practice. It becomes a force aided and advocated by the Holy Spirit. This loving obedience to the love of God invites the presence and power of the Triune God within us, through us and around us. … God is not far from each of us, God abides not only with us, but in us.”
Commentator Nancy Ramsay, among others, reminds us that the setting of this passage is in sharp contrast. She writes,
“John’s Gospel was written in an age of empire, for people surrounded by agents of the emperor, images of imposed dominion, and the weapons to enforce the imperial power. We find in John’s Gospel this strikingly different claim about the power and order that love brings to life and relationships.”
It isn’t too hard to draw some uncomfortable parallels with contemporary events in the world. As such, Jesus speaks as clearly into our reality today as into the reality of John’s gospel. Ramsay goes on to point out,
“The love Jesus wants his hearers to embrace is not an abstract philosophical concept but the lived reality revealed in … life, relationships, and actions… He feeds the hungry, touches lepers, heals the sick, and speaks and acts toward women with care and regard. Love is seen in his life as service and compassion. It is also seen in his fierce protests against those who abuse this vision of the value of each person and the importance of an ethic of mutual regard and care.”
Our own adoption of this ethic of mutual regard and care is what being the Church is all about. When we reach out in love to our neighbors of all ages, regardless of who they are, we are living the reality Christ wants us to live, loving those whom Christ want us to love, proving that indeed, God’s indwelling continues to grow within us as we lean ever more into the loving embrace of God’s Holy Spirit guiding us in the world. Through the One who loved us, we become love in the world. Thanks be to God! Similarly, we also give thanks and celebrate this day with all those who have shown the way of Mothering Love to us, guiding and teaching us how to pass it on. Amen? May it be so.
 Ted Loder, Guerillas of Grace (Philadelphia, Innisfree Press,1984) p. 29; quoted from Ruth Haley Barton’s third chapter closing prayer in Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice For Leadership Groups (Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2012).
 Jill Duffield, “Looking into the Lectionary, May 11, 2020,” Looking into the Lectionary (blog), accessed May 13, 2020, http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?m=1102135377571&ca=27fed407-4128-45ff-90c9-4613c09261ff.
 Nancy Ramsay, “Pastoral Perspective, John 14:15-21” Feasting on the Word, Year A, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010).