Pentecost: fear and tailfeathers

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

“I do not give to you as the world gives.” It is that moment, that aside, that qualification of Jesus’ gift of peace to his disciples that makes all the difference. How else can we understand him telling them, telling us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid,” when we know what is coming next in the story: the scene in the Garden at night, with torches and weapons; the trumped-up trial; the Cross.

“My peace I give to you.” Jesus is not saying, “Peace, peace, where there is no peace,” as the false prophets try to calm the people into complacency (Jeremiah 6:14). The peace that he will give to his disciples is not the whitewash that paints over problems, nor the paste that papers over cracks. It is not the bliss of ignorance but the grip of truth. It is peace that passes understanding, that finds the restless Spirit of God even in the most troubled times, and seizes upon her tailfeathers in order to find the direction in which she is moving. It is not a passive peace.

“I do not give to you as the world gives,” says Jesus, who gives freely of himself, who does not hold back even his life, even his body, even his wounds; who does not charge for his services nor even lay charges against those who persecute him, but prays for their forgiveness. Truly, he does not give as the world gives.

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” (John 14:16-17)

The world does not recognize truth when it is on the move in the midst of us. The world does not know, the world has turned away from the love of God. The world has turned from the love of neighbour, the image of God in every person it meets. The world has torn itself apart, burning the forests to choke its own lungs, sacrificing children on the altar of an idolatrous construct of freedom. 

Do you know how many mass shootings have taken place since we met last week? It’s hard to keep track, isn’t it? Do you know how many more quiet wounds have been incurred by our addiction to guns and violence? None of us does. It seems that in Ohio, the only answer our leaders will try is providing for more guns. Did you know that the same legislators last week tried to write into an unrelated Bill the right for anyone, anyone to question a child athlete’s gender and require that they undergo intimate examinations to prove themselves to strangers before they can continue with their beloved activities? And yes, the two things are related, because when discrimination and oppression are authorized and armed, the world becomes a lot less safe for the least powerful among us. (This is not a partisan complaint: this is a lament over the way in which the world continues to deny the Spirit of truth, of life, the Advocate of mercy.)

The world is far from the self-giving, all-embracing, powerfully-forgiving, humble, and freeing love of Jesus; love that is so complete that it frees the heart from fear and the conscience from trouble. The world has tumbled like the Tower of Babel. 

And here is our problem, to quote a once-popular song: We are the world. We are the children. 

And yet, says Jesus, you know the Spirit of truth, the Advocate, whom God the Father sends, because she lives within you, and dwells within your heart, and wanders within your imagination. We have dreams, we see visions of how it could be otherwise, if God’s will be done.

Do you remember when our Diocese began putting up billboards and printing bumper stickers: LOVE GOD, LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR, CHANGE THE WORLD. Is there any doubt left that we have to change the world if we, or our children, or our children’s children are to survive it, let alone if we are to stand before the judgement of the living and the dead? And the thing is, we have the recipe for change. The question is, do we believe in it?

Love God, as God has loved us. Love your neighbour, as Christ loves. Change the world.

On the Day of Pentecost, when the disciples were gathered while the world was outside and the Holy Spirit decided to stir things up, the world was called to account by Peter, and the visions of God were poured out like oil, and three thousand people believed and were baptized and repented. They were changed. Their world was turned inside out by the self-giving, out-pouring, visionary, vital love of God.

Are we ready for a change?

Well, we’d better get ready because in one short minute we are about to renew our baptismal covenant. We will respond to the Apostles’ Creed, affirming our faith in God represented in Trinitarian form, the Creator, the Christ, the Spirit. And we will make certain commitments to the life of the church and our life in the world: to persist in prayer, to resist evil, to proclaim peace, to serve Christ, to respect the dignity of Christ’s incarnation in every human being with whom we share the air. Five times we will say to those bold propositions, “We will with God’s help.” And, God help us, God might just help us change. So we had better be ready.

Because Jesus, because the Spirit, because God does not give as the world gives. This time it’s different. This time is for eternity.

Last weekend, at the Cathedral, we ordained five new deacons for service in the church and in the world. I say we, because while the Bishop laid his hands on them, we all prayed for the presence of the Holy Spirit, to make it so. At our baptisms, the people prayed that we be “[filled] with [God’s] holy and life-giving Spirit;” that this Spirit would “teach [us] to love others in the power in the of the Spirit;” and “send [us] into the world in witness to [Christ’s] love.” (BCP 305-6)

In witness to Christ’s love, given not as the world gives, but completely, devotedly, utterly.

Do not let your hearts be troubled, therefore, and do not be afraid to stand in the Spirit of truth, in the Spirit of love, and change the world. For there is far too much of trouble, and too much fear; but the Spirit is on the move among us, and we fly by the grip and grace of her tailfeathers. 

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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