"Let not your hearts be troubled" (John 14)
"The Pentecost narrative of the New Testament tells us: God's spirit seized the disciples like a stormwind and drove them from the hiding places of their fear and resignation. They found a new language and confessed the living Christ. They were free for the life of new beginnings, for the life of trust, hope and love." Manfred Kock is chairperson of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD),
"Let not your hearts be troubled" (John 14,23-27)
by Manfred Kock
[This sermon on Pentecost Monday June 9, 2003 in the Bonn Church of the Cross broadcast in a radio church service is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.ekd.de/predigten/predigt_030609_Kock.html.]
How glorious when living faith brings people to sing!
In all ages the Christian community has proclaimed its faith with joyful voices and jubilant instruments. "God will make souls into temples", as the choir sang.
This sounds somewhat unusual and unconventional for contemporaries. A lingual picture from the Bible is offered. We have heard the gospel. The Bach cantata takes up the joyful text: "Whoever loves me will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him" (John 14,23).
God will be present in us and change and transform our life with his liberating nearness. This is Jesus' promise for his own. God is in those who keep his word.
Sometimes we have a dream for our church. The community of Christians could be an infectious movement seizing people and bringing them to the fountains: the word and the sacraments. These dreams are important because the everyday life of our communities is often strained. The message's effect seems trifling. Nevertheless there are encouraging awakenings.
Many have made these experiences at the Ecumenical church day in Berlin. The enthusiasm was great. Many Bible studies and church services were overcrowded. Thousands of youths enthusiastically joined with their songs and rhythms. More than 200,000 people from all parts of Germany and from many countries came to the final church service. They recalled their baptism, the moment when the Holy Spirit took up residence in them. They gave one another a sign of blessing on the way. Many were strengthened by the certainty: Jesus is not a past figure. His spirit works among us today.
"Whoever loves me will keep my word", Jesus says. Keeping his word is not acknowledging a system of laws and paragraphs. Keeping Jesus' word means holding to him.
Since Easter morning, we know that Jesus' death on the cross is God's word of love. God creates life through this living word. With Christ, the creation begins to become new. The power of death is broken.
God will dwell in us. All other masters must yield. The envy and hatred, the vanity and arrogance, indifference and resignation, all these powers of death that undermine cooperative life and destroy people have lost their power over us. No one else should possess us or the house of our life.
The Pentecost narrative of the New Testament tells us: God's spirit seized the disciples like a storm wind and drove them from the hiding places of their fear and resignation. They found a new language and confessed the living Christ. They were free for the life of new beginnings, for the life of trust, hope and love.
This Pentecost miracle occurs again and again today. Whoever keeps Jesus' word will experience the miracle. Whoever trustingly holds to this overwhelming promise "He, Jesus is life" is sheltered in God's hands. Thus keeping Jesus' word is not so much an active process. Keeping Jesus' word is more an allowing, approval or permission than a personal act: Let it happen to me. Accept love. Then love will be effective in you and will change you.
Obviously there is also a long hard haul:
- when one feels nothing in oneself and says: "everything is dead in me". Many know this.
- or when life becomes conscious to us in its absurd sides: how we destroy our world through our extravagant way of life in which our children and grandchildren should live.
This long hard haul is often tormenting because we as individuals are seized by powerlessness. Such is this world", we say, we cannot do anything." No wonder many flee into a fun-society in view of such resignation and rejoice in accumulating money.
"Keep my word", Jesus says. "This will help survive the long hard haul." This word will dwell in us.
We hear this message of Holy Scripture in the recitative sung by the bass. The following arie responds to this message with the petition that the triune God may come to us: "..come and enter into us".
"The Counselor, the Holy Spirit whom my Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." (John 14,26) This was Jesus' promise in his farewell to the persons who loved him and followed him. God send the Counselor, his spirit.
We need this comforting power of God. The great irritations attack us again and again because the history of Jesus sets us in a reality that we like to escape. He turns to the sick and dying and is near to them up to the end. However we run after the propaganda of the definitive end of sickness through medical research and repress death.
Jesus defends the woman whose thirst for life drove her into guilt and the stoning of the self-righteous;
he gave the water of life to the foreign woman;
he sat at table with the deceitful tax collector;
he healed the lepers..
We admire all this.
But if we are honest with ourselves, we have great problems in integrating foreigners. We have little strength in dealing with the mistakes of others.
We all live from ideas and with experiences that marked us in our earliest childhood. We learn mostly unconsciously who suits us, who disturbs us, with whom we like to be and with whom we don't like to associate.
We are often "nailed down" and cannot change ourselves from our own strength. God's spirit, the Counselor - unties these fixations. God entices, cleans up our souls and reveals how marvelous it is when we become free from the fetters of our prejudices.
God's power doesn't only work in our interior. The Counselor teaches and reminds our church and the people in it. The Comforter will liberate from the prejudices dividing the church. The Counselor will liberate our society from collective prejudices that led to a dreadful anti-Semitism or a stupid anti-Americanism. God's spirit will free us from all the phenomena of mass hysteria that have brought and still bring much suffering on humanity.
In our church we need forms of life that give space to the spirit. This spirituality is described today as "life out of the power of the spirit".
Our technical-scientific perception dissects or analyzes the world in its parts so the individual parts are unrelated to one another. We need a spirituality that integrates the whole of reality again. We need experiences for head and heart, body and soul. We need piety expressed in prayer and fasts, singing and dancing.
The Holy Spirit, the Comforter, needs these forms to teach and call to remembrance. The Holy Spirit will comfort us with the stories told by holy scripture and unite us with God.
This sounds somewhat contradictory because it says: the letter kills while the spirit makes alive.
The Holy Spirit doesn't diminish love for the wording or text of holy scripture but deepens that love. The stories, parables and legends of the Bible meet us in the middle of life. They can open up our life experiences and interpret them from God and to God. The living Counselor teaches and reminds us. We learn astonishment about
- God and his presence in the created world
- Jesus Christ and life in freedom
- the Holy Spirit that supports and keeps us in hard times.
The "Year of the Bible 2003" reflects a new interest in many communities in nearly all large newspapers, radio and television. The gift of God's spirit is that the Bible is used more so `teaching' and `remembering' are more effective. The arie sung by the tenor in the Bach-cantata exclaims
"... the spirit that never ceases prepares you, the Counselor draws near"
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled; neither let them be afraid." (John 14,27) Jesus calls to his peace.. Whoever receives Jesus' peace doesn't need to be confused any more or chased into fear. A thousand concrete fears go around in our world and seize our hearts.
The Pentecost message of the festive Bach cantata strikes the heart and center of our fear. Jesus' comforting word "Let not your hearts be troubled" doesn't summon us to repress fear. Fear or anxiety has an important function protecting from carelessness and daredevil attitudes. A person has a mental disturbance when he or she has constant fear.
Jesus wants to preserve us from being paralyzed with horror and from a fear that makes us speechless in the confusions of our personal life and the chaos of history. Jesus promises us his peace.
Peace is the great longing of humanity and the theme of conferences that often have no tangible results. Peace is also the theme of church meetings where people discuss ways out of violence. Malice is a dreadful reality in the world since Cain killed his brother Abel. The peace offered by the world should be gained or secured with power.
This is often the last possibility for stopping murders. Where all order collapses, where child soldiers are goaded to indiscriminate murders - as in the Congo -, a situation occurs where a forceful intervention is necessary to prevent even greater catastrophes. Such an extreme situation was not manifest with Iraq. Two sober conclusions remain at the end despite all the satisfaction about taking power from the dictator Saddam Hussein:
· The gang of dictators in this world is still very great. Their removal is a by-product of military power. Some are even alliance partners of the superpowers as long as they are useful.
· The success of war doesn't sanctify the means. A threat for other states no longer starts from Saddam Hussein. The US won the war but not the peace.
Emergency measures for limiting injustice and preventing arbitrary murder do not lead to the peace that Jesus gives. Jesus' peace is the sphere of power where fear loses its paralyzing effect.
People like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King radiated great composure in their passionate struggles for justice. They knew how threatened was their life but lived in the power that fear and death do not have the last word..
Jesus' peace creates space and strength for work in ourselves and with others to overcome the roots of peacelessness. His peace gives strength to recognize our own prejudices, the traces of jealousy and greed for power in ourselves and to work on their mastery.
Victory over hatred and violence arises out of a strengthened self-esteem. God's gift of peace to us sounds: You are lovable in my eyes and have a unique irrevocable worth. You don't need to separate from others through oppression or fear.
The Pentecost feast - celebrated with this wondrously beautiful cantata - is the feast of God's power from which we live. This power will also renew the community of the churches. Across the borders of the confessions, we can testify together that God loves this world.
"Let not your heart be afraid and fear not."
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