On the path to finding our life

On the way, toward the truth, to find life (photo by M Malina on the Braeside-McNab trail, May 2023)

Yet again, what we read in the bible is not easy to grasp. And this time, from the lips of Jesus himself. Jesus says to his disciples, “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”[1] Is this poetry? Is it mere abstraction?

Now, I know in this congregation there are engineers and mathematicians. The logical empiricists among us might argue that metaphysics doesn’t mean anything worthwhile. Who could blame them? “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”?

What we can understand, however, is that central to the Gospel of John is the identity of Jesus. Who is Jesus? Now that he is alive and no longer dead? And the Gospel of John suggests that who Jesus is cannot be untangled from who God is. “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen God”, Jesus basically says in the verses leading up to today’s Gospel reading. But here Jesus goes further. Who Jesus is cannot be unravelled from who we are. In effect, Jesus answers the question of our identity. Basically, he says, “Who we are in God is who we are.”[2]

By now our empirical minds are overheating! For, have we seen this truth with our own eyes? Can we verify it with evidence? What does it mean that our true self is “in God”? Because, all in all, humans do not give good and consistently faithful witness to God. We have not lived out of our core identity in God. And because there appears precious little proof of the holiness of humanity, how can this be true: “We are in God”?

When I had my recent dental cleaning appointment, the x-rays revealed that a filling on a back tooth was cracked. The filling itself was first put in when I was a child, decades ago. After looking carefully at the x-ray and then at the tooth itself, the dentist wanted to schedule another appointment as soon as possible to replace the old filling.

I had to believe her. But I had to confess I wasn’t so sure. You know, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. From my perspective, I had no pain or discomfort at all, going to the dentist. I was leaving her, apparently, with a problem now that needed more fixing. So, I was a little bit cynical.

In fact, I recalled the last time one of my old fillings was replaced, it required a couple of follow-up visits to adjust the bite. In other words, replacing a filling likely meant several days of discomfort eating solid foods before the teeth were realigned.

Now, believing the dentist wasn’t irrational. I could have examined the x-ray myself and asked the dentist to explain what she saw. I could have educated myself and employed technical knowhow to determine for myself the condition of the old filling and tooth. So, it’s not about science versus belief. It’s not about something that can’t be known.

I had to trust her, that not only what she said to me, but years of first-hand experience and full-time work of being a dentist gave the proposition credibility. Just because couldn’t ‘see’ the truth of the matter about my tooth with my own eyes didn’t mean it wasn’t true. 

Paul, in the Acts of the Apostles, visits Athens in Greece where he recognizes all manner of shrines and temples dedicated to all manner of gods. But one shrine catches his attention. It’s an altar dedicated “to an unknown god”.[3] And that’s the one that he uses as a springboard to describe the one God who created heaven and earth.

This inscription to the ‘unknown’ God is appropriate because, as Paul says, this God is not bound by human-built, material constructs. God is not bound in any one place. So, where is God? God resides in every human heart turned to faith. For, “in him we live, and move and have our being.” God inhabits the whole earth, all that God has made.

What does bind us together—the Father, the Son, and us all—is the Spirit of God’s love. Love. Twice in the Gospel today, Jesus refers to “my commandments”, in the first and last verses of the text.[4] 

Specifically, when Jesus refers to his commandments, we must recognize Jesus’ own definition of the Law—the Great Commandment: He says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”[5]

And on the night before he died, Maundy Thursday, Jesus reiterates this “new” command by instructing his disciples to “love one another just as I have loved you.”[6]

Jesus promises his disciples that though he will leave them in body, he will not leave them “orphaned.” It’s interesting Jesus uses the word, “orphan” which is here another word frequently mentioned in the scriptures. Throughout the scriptures when orphans are mentioned it is often in the context of the mission of justice to care for the widows and orphans.[7]

As Jesus promises his disciples an Advocate to help and be with them, the mission of God is planted in us to be “little Christs”[8], advocates, to those who need our presence and help.

Though we cannot see the full truth of God’s presence in all—including in us—though we cannot always get what we see, or feel the love of God, doesn’t mean God is separate from us, doesn’t mean God has abandoned us. God is with us. God loves us. 

And so, when we love ourselves, when we love the earth and when we love others, we will know God is with us. Cesar Chavez once said, “It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life.”[9]

The Easter message is wrapped up in that line: Only by giving our lives in love, as Jesus did, do we find life. 

[1] John 14:15-21

[2] Richard Rohr, “Upending the Social Order” Freedom from Shame (Daily Meditations, www.cac.org, 8 May 2023)

[3] Acts 17:22-31

[4] John 14:15,21

[5] Matthew 22:37-39

[6] John 13:33-34

[7] See Deuteronomy 14:29; Proverbs 23:10; James 1:27

[8] A term used by Martin Luther and C.S. Lewis.

[9] Cited in Robert Ellsberg, ed., All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (Crossroad, 1997), p.180. Cesar Chavez was a 20th century American labor leader and civil rights activist.

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