The 6th Sunday of Easter
Integrate the Teachings
The Rev. Brian C. Taylor
It is a strange coincidence that during the last month of my time with you as Rector, we have had readings from that section of the gospel when Jesus is also taking leave from his friends. Since his resurrection, Jesus has come and gone, as I do from time to time. But now he is really going, and not coming back, as is true for me.
Some of you have asked will I be worshiping here; or coming back to do weddings, blessings, or funerals? Will I continue to be in touch personally or via email with anyone who so desires? Will I link the parish to a blog or website where I post written or audio files?
The answer to all these is no. Part of the reason for this is so I don’t complicate things for the new leadership that will be here. But it’s for me, too. I really need time to turn the page and see my life and vocation in a new context, among new people, outside of this role I have inhabited for so long with you.
So in these weeks, Jesus and I are preparing to depart. The scene from the gospels is the Last Supper, right before Jesus is arrested and crucified. In last Sunday’s gospel, Jesus said to them "Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; but where I am going, you cannot come.”
When Jesus spoke this way, his friends probably replied “For 3 years I’ve come to rely on your preaching and teaching and spiritual guidance. What will I do without that?” Some of you have said something along these lines to me in the past weeks. It’s hard when you’re about to lose a relationship that nourishes you in a way that none other quite does.
In today’s gospel Jesus responds to this concern. He says "I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”
I hope this will be true for you, too. Everything I have taught and preached and talked with you about over our time together - hopefully you have internalized it enough to not be dependent on me continuing to say it. Hopefully whatever is useful in we have shared will have taken root in you, and is now being watered by the Spirit. And if not, there are other teachers, other books, other guides who say the same things.
But at some point, when the teacher leaves, when the books have all been read, it comes down to you and the Holy Spirit. This is when integration happens, when you internalize, on your own, what you have learned from others.
How do we do this? At any time of our lives - not just in this instance - how do we make real the words we hear in scripture, in poetry, or on retreat?
You know how it goes. We are affected when we hear things like this:
Blessed are the pure in heart; have no anxiety about anything; the kingdom of God is at hand; love everyone without reason, for we are all one; blessed are the peacemakers and those who thirst for justice; you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free...
These words are beautiful when we hear them, but as long as we don’t integrate them into our daily life, it’s like it says in the letter of James - If any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.
We try to remember what is important. And so we write it down in journals, we post it on sticky notes on the mirror, we assiduously take notes when we attend a class, we keep mementos that will help us remember peak moments. But then we turn around, and forget what we were like in the mirror God once held up to us.
To use another metaphor - it’s like eating a delicious meal: satisfying at the time, but then we’re hungry again a few hours later. Why, if we don’t internalize the teachings, even if we were to hang around Jesus himself for several years, it would be the same: “Ah, the Sermon on the Mount. That was a nice meal...Oh dear, I’m hungry again.” Look at his disciples. They were with him 24/7 for 3 years. But they kept forgetting.
Knowing this, Jesus assured his friends I will send a helper, an advocate, the Holy Spirit, who will come to you and teach you everything, and lead you into all truth. This is the key. On our own, it is very difficult to integrate the teachings we so long to live. Like the disciples, we all need a helper of some kind. That helper, after all the teachers and books and sermons and retreats, is the Holy Spirit. And the great thing is, this helper is within us.
And how do we learn from this teacher within?
If you are a person of faith, if you are sincerely open to God, if you ask for God’s help, then, I am convinced, the Spirit honors your intention, and goes to work. Whether you feel or know that the Spirit is moving in you doesn’t matter in the slightest.
When you pray, you can be confident that there is a kind of partnership, a silent dialog, going on all the time. As St. Paul said the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
So the Spirit is within, and helps us if we call upon this help. But most importantly, it is when we really try to live out the teachings of our faith in our daily life that the Spirit’s work of integration really takes place. This is where we become doers of the word, and not hearers only.
When we find ourselves angry at another person and choose to turn from resentment to understanding, the Spirit helps us integrate the teaching of forgiveness. When we are restless and impatient, and we choose to turn from distraction and try to settle in to God’s presence, the Spirit helps us integrate a sense of God’s peace. When we anticipate the worst about our future but then determine not to live in fear, the Spirit helps us integrate the reality of faith.
Some say “have confidence in yourself.” That’s good, but I would also say “Have confidence in the Spirit within you.” If you open your heart to God, and if you ask for help to be a doer of the Word in your everyday challenges, then you will find that the Spirit does come to your aid. In this partnership, God is working at least as hard as you.
Be confident in, and patient with, God’s slow work in you. You will come to know that purity of heart that Jesus called blessed. You will experience more joy and more heartache, which are both a part of the depths that God takes us into. You will love more cleanly, more freely, as Christ did. And you will learn how to move from anxiety to the peace of God that passes all understanding.
You’ve heard it all by now - Jesus’ teachings, how to pray, the possibility of waking up to the divine dimension here and now, our unity with all people, and the call to serve - and if you haven’t heard it, you will, in due time. With all that you hear, and with the Spirit within, you already have everything you need. It is up to you and the Spirit to make it real.