1 Peter 3:13-22
It’s been a busy few days.
Elias and I packed up a U-Haul and moved its load to a storage unit just up the road. Yesterday we had a garage sale, all to help us deal with stuff we accumulated over the last 15 years in the same house.
This does not include the runs to the Sally Anne or the dumpster we had in the driveway back in late February or March. 11 more days in our old house and it seems we are getting there.
But for the time being we are still in Abbotsford. Yesterday, Elias and I drove by a house on Peardonville Road, built perhaps in the sixties. It now sits in the midst of an industrial area with no other residences nearby. The entirety of its large living room window is covered by a sign that reads, “Jesus is coming.”
I have been wanting to take a picture of it before we move, if I can’t find the time now, I will have to go back. There’s a bus stop in front of the house, so if there were someone waiting for the bus it may work for a half-decent composition.
I don’t go by there all the time, only occasionally. What’s strange about the sign is that it is a statement of faith without context. Who is Jesus? Why is he coming and when? Is it a good thing that he is coming or a bad thing or does whether it is good or bad depend on how you live your life, which makes it a promise for some and a threat for others?
Is perhaps the “JESUS IS COMING” sign something like what a younger sibling may say to those who bully her: “Just wait until my big brother gets here, then you would not be doing this.’
Yet what I thought this week – aside from thinking about a picture – was ‘what do they mean, he is coming?’, for I know Jesus is already here. God’s people are people who live in the presence of God.
For us who don’t have bumper stickers proclaiming the coming of Jesus, how do we count on Jesus, or how does Jesus’ make his presence manifest among us?
For Jesus speaks to all of his disciples, when he says, “I will not leave you orphaned, I am coming to you.”
The reality of this is at once difficult and easy.
It is difficult because we cannot see the Jesus of flesh and blood among us, which is the reality for which Jesus is preparing his disciples, “in a little while the world will no longer see me.” There will be a sorrowful farewell, and those who are used to hear Jesus’ voice and feel his touch will experience great loss.
It is also what many people say to us. They may believe in the historical Jesus, that he once lived and walked on this earth, but they do not believe in the risen Christ, they do not believe in the God they cannot see.
It may be to counter such an experience that the folks in Abbotsford put the large sign in their living room window. ‘You can’t see him now, but believe it of not, he is coming.’ They say this as much to themselves, if not more so, than they say it to others. It may well be more an encouragement for them than a threat to others. Maybe the letters should be facing in.
What Jesus is telling his disciples today is that even when he is physically distant, he is close.
The church that gathers for worship knows that, because we know that Jesus is present in the community of the church. Where two or three are gathered in my name I am in the midst of them is not only a promise but our experience, the experience of the church.
Not long ago a complete stranger, upon learning that I am a pastor, felt it important to tell me that he too was a follower of Jesus. There is joy in recognizing that Jesus is present in the brother or sister.
In one of our Gathering Hymns we sing, God is here (ELW 526). Of course, there is also the older hymn, “God himself is present.”
Today we hear the words of Jesus in anticipation of Pentecost.
Last week we learned that those who believe in Jesus will do the works that he does, in fact, will do greater works than these. (14:12) Today we learn that loving and doing are two sides of the same coin and that by loving God we will understand God’s will and by doing God’s will we will be close to God. This connects back to last week’s passage. Being in union with Christ who is not only coming but is present makes it possible for us to love which is what Jesus has in mind when he says that we will do greater things than these.
This is echoed in another Johanine text, where we learn that those who love God must love their brothers and sisters. (1 John 4)
But in order for us to understand that the presence of God is not something we need to bring about by sheer force of will, nor that somehow our worship was the incantation that made God appear (instead of being what it is: Open to the God who is present to the church and committed to the world), Jesus speaks of God’s action: His own coming as well as the sending of the Paraclete, the advocate, the comforter.
Jean Vanier reminds us that the word “paraclete” means “the one who answers the call”. And Vanier says that God is the one who answers the cry of the weak and those in need.
And because we are not orphaned but are gifted with the presence of Holy Spirit and Jesus, loving is not commanded as an impossible task but made possible by God’s self-giving love in Jesus. It is in loving that our union with God is made complete, it is in loving that the presence of God is revealed to us and to the world.
Jesus says, “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
God is here.