Scripture: John 14:15-21
The Promise of the Holy Spirit
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Creator, and they will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees this spirit nor knows this spirit. You know this spirit, this fire, this passion, because they abide with you, and they will be in you. 18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Creator, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Creator, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
Excerpt from “Christianity vs. The Contemporary Spirit of Capitalism” by Kathryn Tanner
The capitalism of today shapes people in profound ways that rival the influences of religion on them. Religion has the capacity to direct life conduct… Religious beliefs, for example are meant not just to be believed but to be lived, to orient behavior, attitudes, and actions toward one-self and others in person-defining ways that affect every dimension … of life.
But increasingly capitalism fulfills such functions. Indeed, for profit-maximizing purposes, capitalism now targets not just one’s work life or purchasing habits, but one’s entire person… One is to see oneself as capitalism does by assuming a fundamentally economic relationship with oneself: One should think of one’s very person… as capital to be put to maximally profitable use…
Under … its work ethic… Economic success or failure becomes one’s individual responsibility. The effect is to reduce a person’s identity to one’s financial triumphs or defeats… Success or failure becomes a function of competitive struggle; one doesn’t succeed or fail along with others but over against them…
Christianity [in contrast, has the potential to] shape, [in different] ways…The ideal, fully enacted by God’s grace… is a community of persons…manifesting …lives transformed for good.
Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on us.
Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on us.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Creator, and they will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees this spirit nor knows this spirit. You know this spirit, this fire, this passion, because they abide with you, and they will be in you.
I have spent much of this week praying and thinking about this concept of abide. I read in Merriam Webster’s online dictionary that it is fairly uncommon these days but has been kept alive in usage through the biblical story of Jesus and through the Big Lebowski. Apparently both Jesus and The Dude are reported to have used it. I can’t comment on what The Dude meant by it, but I’ve been thinking about what Jesus might have been trying to say.
Abide is a verb which means to stay, to remain, to be steadfast, to live in. Abide is connected to abode… to make one’s home in. To make one’s home in… What does it mean to have the Spirit make one’s home in us? What does it mean to make our home in God?
As I reflected on abiding with God and God abiding with us, I found myself daydreaming about both of my grandmother’s homes.
My Grandmother Voelkel lived in Bristol Village in Waverly, Ohio set amidst the foothills of the Appalachians. To get to her home we would drive the winding, hilly roads from Dayton. When we arrived, the ritual was that my grandma would show me what she’d bought especially for me: CranGrape Ocean Spray juice, olives and pickles and a coloring book and crayons. It was always the same. And then, I’d immediately go for the coloring book and crayons. Later at dinner, I’d sit on the same chair and before I got to have my crangrape juice or my pickles and olives, we would hold hands and sing the Doxology in harmony.
My Grammie’s home was a garden apartment in the Lincolnaire in Lakewood, Ohio where she lived for decades. When we got to her home, the record player was always on and it was playing Scottish bagpipes and flings and Irish resistance music. But the thing about Grammie’s house was the sleepover part. Grammie and I would sleep together in her double bed that was crammed into her room with just enough space to walk sideways to get into it. When we turned in for the night, she’d close the door and we’d sit on the bed and open the dresser with its drawers filled with small things she’d bought so she could always have a gift to give. She’d show me several of the things that were just waiting for a home. And then, she’d have me stand on the bed and take the picture of my grandfather who’d died before I was born. She’d tell me to slide the back off to reveal the cash she kept to help anyone who needed it.
Home. To make our home in God. To have God make home in us.
If you love me, you will keep my commandments… You know this spirit, this fire, this passion, because they abide with you, and they will be in you… And on that day you will know that I am in my Creator, and you in me, and I in you.
In this passage from Scripture, as Jesus is preparing his disciples for his crucifixion, he is promising the gift of the Holy Spirit and the closer-than-our-own-breath presence of God within us. But he is also challenging and teaching his disciples: the way to receive the Holy Spirit is through following the commandments that Jesus has taught. In other words, to have God’s Holy Spirit live in you, you must live in the spirit. For God to make God’s home with you, you must make your home with God.
Now, I don’t read this as a prescription or a threat: if you don’t make your home with God, God will punish you and not make God’s home with you. I read it, rather as a description: when you make your home with God, this allows you to follow the commandments to love and do justice. When you make your home with God, this gives you the strength and the wisdom and the courage to do God’s justice-love in the world.
I don’t fully ascribe to the us-them thinking that the writer of John seems to be using in this passage when he talks about “the world” as them vs. the followers of Jesus which is us. Our text says, “This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees this spirit nor knows this spirit.” And a couple of verses later, “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me.” This is a kind of thinking that queer scholars and others call binary. A binary is when there are only two options and they are polar opposites of each other. You are either the world or you are a follower of Jesus. You are either wrong or right, bad or good.
But in my experience things are more complicated. I am shaped and formed by many forces, as are so many folx. In today’s contemporary reading, theologian Kathryn Tanner explores how much capitalism seeks to shape and form us as persons. We are taught that our worth as human beings is tied to how much money we make, how much we produce. Capitalism seeks to shape the universe in its image. It purports that the purpose of life is economic. That God’s creation exists to be mined and that profit is the logic of life. In this world, competition is king. Individuals are the sole focus. And past, present and future are captive to how much money a person has accumulated.
COVID-19 has brought this logic of capitalism into stark relief. The examples are all around us: numerous public officials proclaim that our elders would be more than willing to die to open up the economy; our President makes meat packing plants critical and orders them back into production, even without enough testing and absent any protective processes for their workers; and the fact that African American and Native American communities are dying at much higher rates then others because of underlying conditions, lack of access to health care and because the jobs so many hold are in sectors that don’t have COVID safety precautions.
I am deeply aware by how much I’ve been shaped and formed—in my personhood—by capitalism’s logic. I still struggle with the tug and pull of believing I am only as good as the work I produce. I still am tempted to believe that we can’t do anything to change the fact that some are starving and some are dying from COVID-19 at astronomical rates, that extractive capitalism and white supremacy will always be with us. In many ways, I am sorely tempted to make my home in capitalism promise of a mansion even as I hear the call to abide in God and God in me.
It is this dual residency, this mixture of competition and hyper-individualism and community and solidarity, this both-and-ness that makes today’s scripture deeply compelling to me. Even as the world is not binary. Even as I am much more a mix of good and bad, there are choices to be made in every moment.
I think that’s the call of today’s scripture: How are we to choose to live in God more than we do in extractive capitalism? How do we claim the commandments of love and justice? How do we finally know that we are not individuals, separate and apart from other individuals, but part of the same Body? How do we know that we are bound to all our relations in a web of interconnected life. Particularly in this COVID-19 moment, it seems a life or death question.
As I grapple with the question, I keep being draw back to my grandmothers and all they taught me. And this becomes my prayer:
I make my home in love amidst crangrape juice chosen with me in mind
with olives and pickles
with Crayola crayons bought new and with a dozen colors to choose from.
I choose to live in justice, in drawers that are always full of gifts to be given and
pictures of loved ones behind which is stored money to share
I make my home in the music of resistance, in dancing dances that were outlawed
I choose to live in hands held around tables worn from years of use,
singing Praise God from whom all blessings flow…
because God is where all blessings flow from.
Abide with me… I am in my Creator, and you in me, and I in you.