Home-making

Sermon        6th  Sunday of Easter       5 May  2013           Fr Adrian Ling

(Mass readings: Acts 51: 1-2,22-29;  Revelation 21: 10-14,22-23; John 14.23-29)

‘If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him,
and we shall come to him and make our home with him.’

While I was on my travels recently, I rented a studio apartment on a housing estate in Cologne in Germany. Despite first appearances, (I am sure there was blood on the staircase!), it turned out to be a very comfortable place to stay. It had a little balcony, and it was intriguing to step out there on the evening and look across to the other flats and check out the neighbours. One could not help but be aware of each other, living so closely: the candlelit supper, the lovingly tended balcony garden, the al-fresco cigarette. My little flat at 46 Richard Wagner Strasse, soon felt like home as I went native, getting my shopping, the pork fillet and pils lager from the nearby Lidl supermarket. It was home from home, a little sanctuary, my own patch of territory in a strange city, where no one could disturb me.

The gospel reading today is about setting up home. Jesus says that he and the Father will come to the person who keeps his commands and make their home with him. They will come straight in without further need of  invitation. He does not say we will come to that person and then they will keep my commandments. They will not make somebody good. No, they will be drawn to that living dwelling place, that has been made ready for them, by the keeping of the commandment to love.

Love is the essential requirement to make a person ready to receive the presence of God. If God is love, as St John declares, then the very act of love brings about the indwelling of God. If you love, then God is there. ‘Ubi caritas et amor, deus ibi est,’ we sang on Maundy Thursday,  ‘wherever love and charity abide, God is there.’

If we look at the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, we see there was a risk that the early church would be torn apart by division over the thorny question of whether Christians needed to abide by Jewish practices. But the early Christians resolved to sort this issue, through much prayer, and in a spirit of compromise. They decided not to make the gentiles carry out all the Jewish practices, just avoid some more dodgy gentile practices. They are able to speak with such assurance that they can say that they and the Holy Spirit have decided this. The Spirit dwells with them, because they seek agreement and not dispute.

When we seek to pursue old disputes, to fuel a conflict and not seek resolution to an argument, then it is as though the Spirit has left us.  He no longer dwells in us. If we come to receive communion, without truly being at peace with others, then will we really be welcoming Jesus fully into our souls? Or is it that we shut the door on a room we do not want him to see.

If you have guests coming to stay, you will probably make an extra effort to make sure the house is clean and tidy before they arrive, because you want then to see it looking its best. Do we take as much care to clean up our souls as we do our homes? Do we clean up spiritually to make our souls fit for Jesus to enter in holy communion, or for the spirit to dwell in?

A home will not keep clean as if by magic, as soon as it is clean it starts to become dirty again. Sunlight will expose the true state of cleanliness of windows and surfaces. The same is true of our souls, as the light of Christ exposes them as they really are. We have to keep them clean: by avoiding harmful talk and behaviour, by the sincere confession of our sins, by living at peace with one another, seeking the common good above personal gain. Living by the rule of love will keep God at the centre of our souls.

Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus warned about complacency, how when someone has got rid of ‘an unclean spirit’ the spirit roams the wilderness in search of somewhere else to live, and in the end it returns to the house it had left, it finds it clean and swept and moves back in and invites other more wicked spirits to crash there too, and the person’s condition is worse than it was before. Jesus warns us to keep up our spiritual guard.

In two weeks time we will be celebrating the Feast of Pentecost when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit that Jesus promised that the Father would send. We are the dwelling-places, indeed the temples of the spirit. How wonderful if these temples were to be fitting homes for the Spirit, as sparklingly clean and gleaminlgly bright as the heavenly Jerusalem.