“Represent”

John 15: 9-17; Romans 8:9-17

The Second Sermon in the Series, Fresh Air: The Work and Witness of the Holy Spirit, inspired by John Wesley’s Sermon, “The Witness of the Spirit”
By: Michael Roberts in collaboration with Lauren DeLano

Here are a few things you will probably never hear from your mother. “No honey I don’t have a tissue with me… just use your sleeve.” Is that something a mother would say? Here’s another one, “Come here and let me smell your shirt … Yeah, it’s good for another week.” That’s probably not something a mother would say.

You know, Mother’s Day is not an official Christian holiday. It’s a civic holiday, some say created by Hallmark, but I refuse to be that cynical. I think it is a good thing that we take time to honor our mothers and to give thanks to God for the blessings that come from those who raise us.

On this day we can acknowledge that we humans take a lot of “raising,” more than most any other creature. It takes years before we are ready to launch. And for most of us, our mothers played a key role in this raising. We honor those who might count the number of sprinkles on each cupcake to make sure they were equal, or the one who would hide in the bathroom just to be alone for a few minutes, or the one who might say “I’m not cut out for this job but you know I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

In our scripture from John, Jesus gathered his disciples together and was preparing them to “launch” into the world, and I’m sure that many of them were saying “I’m not cut out for this.” At the heart of Jesus’ job description for disciples is the word also at the heart of a parent’s job description. Jesus says, “Abide in my love.” This word “abide” is such a beautiful word. To “abide” is to be fully present, to be completely attentive. Jesus says that the love of God abides with us and because of this we have the power to represent (or re-present) this love to others. Notice the progression. God loves us first. God’s love comes to us and then we are able to love others and to be fully present with them. We have said it before, God’s love first comes to us on its way to someone else. If it stops with us, it withers and dies and does not bear good fruit. This love grows by giving it away.

Jesus is preparing his disciples to “launch” and he wants them to know who they are and what they represent. As we turn to our second lesson from Romans we hear the primary message of the Holy Spirit to us. In verse 16 we read, “The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” That’s our theme verse for this series. We are beloved children of God. This is always at the heart of what the Holy Spirit communicates to us.

And if children, then also we are heirs of God and joint heir “with” Christ. Think about that. We are children of God “with” Christ. When we are with Christ then we will want to love like Christ. Paul says that we will “suffer with Christ so that we may also be glorified with him.” How does living Christ “suffer,” in the present tense? He suffers “with” us. The word compassion literally means to “suffer with,” and that’s what is suggested here. Christ stands with us in our joys and sorrows, or triumphs and our struggles, our life and our death, and he stays with us through it all. Later in this same chapter we read that nothing can separate us from his love, not even death itself. This kind of compassion glorifies God. Love glorifies God. That’s what the Spirit teaches us.

As Pastor Lauren and I have, once again, read these sermons from Wesley, we have been struck by the “tone” of some of them. As Pastor Lauren has said, Wesley was “sassy.” He tells it like it is. In the sermon for today, he makes a distinction between those who follow the witness of the Spirit, on the one hand, and those who are “presumptuous self-deceivers,” to use his phrase. Now, we may not even know what that means – to be a “presumptuous self-deceiver” – but it does not sound good. In another place, he talks about how easy it is to fall into, what he calls, a “dreadful delusion.” This delusion is to think that God calls us to inflict others with our opinions and to try to get them to conform to our understanding. We are “presumptuous self-deceivers” when we claim that the “Holy Spirit” has called us to lord “over others,” and tell them what to believe, rather than to be “with” others and to “abide” with them in love. It is a dreadful delusion. We may be completely right about what we think others should do, but if our “rightness” causes us to turn others away from God, or causes them to see God as something other than pure love, then we are not “representing” the family of God.

Throughout these sermons, Wesley calls us to self-examination. This is at the heart of a Wesleyan understanding of what we do in our relationship with God. We reflect daily and examine our lives. Are we following the Spirit or are we being “presumptuous self-deceivers?” How can we test this? Well, we can make a biblical list. If we are led to be more patience, kind, gentle, willing to expand our perspectives, willing to listen first, then we are indeed breathing the fresh air of the Holy Spirit. But we need to know that this world is full of spirits and forces attempting to guide us, and not all of them are holy. If we feel led to be impatient and demanding of them, uninterested in their perspectives, compelled to draw hard lines in the sand and divide the world between us and them, then we are breathing in the polluted air of the spirits of the world. We are breathing in the dreadful delusion that brings so much harm to the world.

One phrase that Wesley uses in his sermon on this topic is the phrase “patience with contradictions.” We need to be patient with contradictions because we are human and finite; we all have different gifts and circumstances; we are all at different places on our faith journey. In the midst of all the difference and contradictions, the Holy Spirit guides us to always be patient and kind, to have compassion for each other, and to abide in love. When we do that we glorify God.

In our theology, the church is sometimes described as our mother, nurturing us and guiding us in the ways of faith. So, before you go out into the world this day, I invite you to hear this motherly advice: “Remember who you are.” That is something a good mother might say. “Remember who you are.” You are a child of God. To paraphrase our lesson, you did not receive this blessing to fall back into a spirit of slavery or of fear. You are heirs with Christ and are able to glorify God by loving one another as Christ has loved you. That’s the blessing that the Spirit brings to you and to us together. Amen.