Benediction Online

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Opening the Door, to/through Love

From time to time I get to go to court with someone who has been charged with a crime and cannot afford an attorney.  It is always a scary and anxious time. But at some point during the morning, the court appoints a public defender to speak on behalf of my friend. It is always an enormous relief. Although in a way nothing has changed, in another way, everything has changed. Now there is someone with whom we have a connection, someone who understands how the system works, someone who will look out for us. An advocate.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus promises that his disciples will be given an advocate, the Spirit of Truth. “On that day, he says, “ you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 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.”  The Holy Spirit is the one who understands how the system works and will help us to live in God.

We know that the Trinity is a complex life form in which there are three persons who are also one. It is the Holy Spirit who works in us and who works in the world through us. The Holy Spirit who is in us is also one with Christ so those of us who are enrolled in the reign of God are also in intimate connection with Christ and with Jesus’ Father, the Creator. The Spirit of Truth, Jesus says, will reveal that to us.

The Holy Spirit is a bit like the blood stream of the Trinity. She is in constant motion, constantly connecting and communicating. By our participation in Christ, we become like cells to whom the Spirit is constantly bringing oxygen, nutrients and information from the endocrine system. But cells do not always participate fully in the work of the bloodstream. My cells, for example, are not very receptive to insulin. It is as though they have wedged the cell door so only a little can get in.

We too can wedge our spiritual doors so that the Holy Spirit cannot get in. Our participation in the Body of Christ does not take away our free will. That is one of the central challenges of the spiritual life; our tendency is always to want to run everything ourselves. Our tendency is to keep closing the door, whereas the very best way cells function is to keep their doors open so they can be in the full flow of life in cooperation with the blood stream. For us to take full advantage of the gift of the Holy Spirit, for us to fully experience living in the abundance of life which is available to us in our relationship with the Trinity, we will need to keep consciously opening our doors.

There are at least two ways we can do that. The first is by love and the second is also by love, but in a different form.

Jesus taught that there are two commandments which sum up the law; to love God and to love our neighbor.  When he 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,” the commandments he is referring to are those two deceptively simple ones – love God, love your neighbor as yourself. That is all it takes to keep our doors fully open to the Holy Spirit who sustains and sanctifies us.

So the first way is by loving God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength. This can be summed up as surrender. It’s not a popular term, but if we are modeling our lives on Jesus, it’s something we need to take seriously. Jesus dedicated his life and will to the service of God and God’s reign… even to the extent of being willing to die on the cross. We are called to dedicate our lives in the same way. This is an inner process, the offering of our life to God as a gift in response to our knowledge of God’s unconditional love for us. It is a gift that we need to make over and over again, because our human tendency is to gradually sneak it back.  Which is why, most of the year, we collectively confess our sins together on a Sunday morning… we are confessing our tendency to stop surrendering to Spirit; we are confessing our tendency to push the door gradually closed. There are times in our lives when we find ourselves responding to the call for a new or deeper level of dedication which comes in a time of great significance. But if we wait for those moments, then it becomes easy to fool ourselves that we are keeping the door open to the Holy Spirit when in fact we are gradually and subtly closing it.

So loving God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength is first and foremost an inward bowing of the heart; a surrender to the Spirit of God. Not just a one-time big gesture but a day by day giving our lives and wills over to God.

But Jesus says, “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me” so keeping the second commandment , to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is just as much an act of love for God as the inner surrender and devotion.

Ours is a faith of relationship. The Holy Spirit is above all relational, and so it is not surprising that we are called to love not just God, but our fellow humans as well. And as Jesus taught is, in the great parable for the Good Samaritan, our neighbor is not the one we get on with, the friend we know well, but the one who is different from us.  We are told to love the one who is different as if they were just like us. This isn’t a nice, kind reminder to love our friends and family. This is a commandment to love those who are NOT our friends and family as if they were.

That’s a lot more difficult, and I honestly don’t know how we are to do it well. Most of us don’t have a lot of contact with people we don’t know. Fortunately, we do have opportunities through the Abundance Shop and through People’s Kitchen to show loving care to people we wouldn’t normally meet and to treat them as one of us. I suspect that loving the ones we don’t know grows from cultivating a generosity of spirit.
I am constantly impressed with how Jesus makes time for people. When someone I don’t really know stops me in Ralph’s parking lot and starts into a long story about people I don’t know, I confess that I quickly become impatient.  I have important things to be doing. I want to be on my way. A greater generosity of spirit enables me to be completely present to that person as they talk, even if I also set boundaries about how long I listen.

Generosity of spirit enables me to forgive and to allow people to be who they are with their own lives and their own values.  It enables me to love them as they are without judging and without imposing my own standards and my own perspectives on them.

I don’t know how to love well those whom I don’t know. I have been wondering all morning about what how to love the families of those who died or were injured in Santa Barbara and those who were traumatized. But I think that this is where the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, comes in. The advocate knows how the system works. The advocate prompts and guides us to be in the right place at the right time and gives us the words. Sometimes it is not our task to be in the middle of the action. Sometimes our role is to watch and pray.

As we become more and more attuned to the Holy Spirit, as we live a life of surrendered devotion to God, so we will learn more and more how to love our neighbor as ourselves. It isn’t a straight line, first you love God, then you learn to love yourself, then you learn to love your neighbor – it’s more like a self-reinforcing circle. As we surrender to God so the Holy Spirit teaches us to love and we develop greater generosity of spirit which in turn helps us to love more fully and so that deepens our devotion and willingness to dedicate ourselves  to God’s reign and so it goes on.

Paradoxically, the way to life is the path of surrender and the path of service.

As Jesus said, you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day, you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 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.”  


  • I resonate with how you make these concepts a process and not a prescription. Your approach is very empowering.

    Thank you.

    By Blogger Dennis, at 7:07 AM  

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