April 27, 2008
1 Peter 3:15-18 / John 14:15-21
A college student landed a summer job working on the street department of a small rural community in Indiana. The department was not too technologically advanced. So they gave the young man the job of painting the yellow line down the center of the county highway, and he had to do it by hand. After three days of this work his supervisor called him in and said, “I have some bad news for you. The first day on the job, you did great. You painted three miles of that yellow line. The second day was OK. You painted two more miles. But today was terrible. Today you only painted one mile. Each day your productivity has gone down, and this is unacceptable. You’re fired.” As the young man left the office, he looked back and he said, “You know it’s not entirely my fault. Each day I got farther away from the paint can.”
Sometimes I think we imagine God as paint can, as a presence outside of ourselves. We see God as a presence we can be closer to or farther away from, depending on where we stand. We think we are closer to God when we pray or when we do what is good. We locate God as being present in other places and people. We see God being present in the church or in the beauty of nature. We imagine God being present in saintly people like Mother Theresa or in church leaders like Pope Benedict. And of course God is present in all these people and places. But prior to any of these presences, God is present in you. God is not some paint can exterior to yourself. God is in your heart.
Now this is the message that comes to us from today’s gospel, because in the gospel, Jesus promises us the spirit of God. He tells us that this Spirit is the spirit of truth and the spirit will be with us forever. Now forever is a long time. Forever is always.
Jesus wants us know that God’s presence and God’s spirit is present to us always. God is closer to us than we are to ourselves. Now I know that this is not news to any of you. You would agree, “God is with me, God is in my heart.” Yet today I want that truth to sink in. The enormity of that truth has tremendous power to shape the way that we live.
God is with us always. God is with us even when we sin. God is with us neither judging us nor rejecting us but patiently waiting. God waits for us to see the wastefulness of our selfishness, the destructiveness of our anger, the foolishness of our prejudice. God is waiting and calling us to change.
God is with us when we succeed, when we love generously and serve faithfully. God is with us rejoicing in our goodness and calling us to more, inviting us to love even more deeply, to serve even more completely, to give more generously. God knows that the more generous we are, the happier we will be.
God is with us in our suffering—when our world falls apart, when the people we love leave us, when sickness and death surround us. God is with us, affirming us and calling us to patience and to courage.
God is with us forever. God is closer to us than we are to ourselves. It is only when we know this truth that we can be people of hope. For what is hope? Hope is to believe that there is something beyond our strength and our cleverness and our abilities. Even though we are always called to use our strength and cleverness and abilities, when they fail us, hope can continue. There is something beyond ourselves which is close to us: the presence of God. Because of that presence, we can hope even when we lose our job, even when we discover that our son is abusing drugs, even when our marriage fails, even when we are handed a frightening diagnosis from the doctor, even when we hurt someone we love, even when death is on the horizon.
There is a beautiful line in today’s second reading. It says, “Always be prepared to give your defense to anyone who wants an explanation of the hope that is within you.” Always be ready to explain why we are people of hope. We are people of hope because God is with us. God is with us now and always. God is with us forever. We are not alone. God is not some paint can we can leave behind. God is in our hearts and that presence is with us now. So let us live in God’s spirit. Let us claim God’s dwelling within us. Let us give voice to the hope that is the sure sign that now and always we are children of God.