The Sixth Sunday of Easter
I’ve always enjoyed Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s mystery story characters Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Many actors have played these roles but my favorites are Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. Once the two happened to be camping in the desert; they set up their tent and fall asleep. Some hours later, Sherlock Holmes woke his friend. "Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see." Watson replies, "I see millions of stars."
"What does that tell you, old chap?" asks Sherlock Holmes. Watson ponders for a minute. "Astronomically speaking, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Time wise, it appears to be approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, it's evident the Lord is all powerful and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you, Holmes?"
Sherlock Holmes is silent for a moment, then speaks. "Watson, you idiot, someone has stolen our tent."
Sometimes in delving too deep into a mystery we miss the obvious. John’s short Gospel this morning is full of theological depth and mystery and we could spend a lot of time unpacking what is hidden behind these seven verses. But, let’s not. Let’s look at what may be obvious from the framework of our worship today.
Today is 'Rogation' Sunday from the Latin word 'rogare' which means 'to ask for,' 'to beseech.' Historically, it was a day when the church asked for God's blessing for the seed, for the soil, for those who labor in the fields and for all of God's creation which includes all of us.
The other obvious theme of the day is love. Jesus speaks of love to his friends as he prepares them for his imminent departure, the overflowing love they receive from him for one another and for the world, a love that will be emboldened by the coming of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. This love is far more than just an expression of emotion. It will be exemplified and will come to life by how they will live and treat others, not just by what they say they believe.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Typically, we take this to mean that we are asked to avoid the things that God codified into law for Moses and the Hebrews. Don’t steal, lie, disrespect, murder, etc. Or we may consider the two great commandments that instruct us to love God with our all and our neighbor as ourselves. Or we may keep it really simple and try to observe the new commandment that Jesus gave us on the night of his betrayal: Love one another as I have loved you.
I wonder, though, if we might broaden our understanding of the notion of love. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been offering a brief course about Celtic Christianity—the life and practice of those ancestors in the Christian faith who lived in Ireland, Scotland, Northern England and Wales. It is an ancient tradition that draws from a rich and diverse selection of Celtic sources on creation. The prayers of the Celtic Saints are filled with experiences of God’s presence in creation, the simplicity of living in harmony with creation, and awareness of the sacredness of all things. The Psalms are full of praise for God’s handiwork in nature, and Celtic Christianity followed in that tradition reflected in prayers and poems which spoke of God’s power and majesty revealed in creation.
Six times in the Book of Genesis we find 'And God looked at the Creation and said, "It is good." This speaks to the Sacred Presence that is to be found in us and in the physical, sensual, natural world. St. Columbanus, an Irish Missionary, said – "If you want to know God, first get to know God’s creation." If there is any one word that would sum up the essence of Celtic Spirituality, it’s the word 'presence—' awareness of the Sacred Presence at every moment of life, in all places. Each day allows us to explore a different aspect of creation as a manifestation of God, revealing divine presence at the heart of everyday life. God is not far from us nor is God somewhere at an unbridgeable distance but very present is so many and diverse expressions of Sacred Presence.
During our first Zoom session this Thursday, we looked at the story of the disciples in the boat with Jesus when a fierce storm arose. Jesus was sleeping and the disciples were fearful and angry with him. We used this text as a metaphor for the 'tempest' we are living through with COVID19. At the end of the session I asked the group “How do you react when you think Jesus is asleep in your life?” The consensus was that Jesus hasn’t been sleeping—We have. The world has been sleeping while the earth has been abused and disrespected and there have been many signs that have born witness to God’s call to the world to be kinder to the planet and to one another. Perhaps, the pandemic is another 'wake up call' to the world.
If the love and honor and respect for creation that our holy ancestors the Celts held so dear can inform our relationship with creation in all its manifestations, these are commitments—commandments—we need to take as seriously as all others. Perhaps Jesus might have added to the list of his parting instructions: If you love me, you will cherish the beauty of God's creation, protect the integrity of all living things, respect the diversity of life on earth, and protect the goodness of God's creation. Sometimes in delving too deep into a mystery we miss the obvious.