Introduction: A criticism which one sees in the public arena of politics is that some political leaders appear to lie. Of course, that is not the same as changing one’s mind; one hopes that genuine reflection and listening happens which should, at times, lead to a changing of mind of our political leaders. That shows an integrity. So, it’s a shame that such apparent U-turns are sometimes seen as a lack of integrity; they may not be. However, the anger of the public when lies do appear to have been told is an encouraging sign; for it shows that people still care for the truth and expect leaders to have integrity and the courage to uphold it.
Integrity in following Christ: There is a rather sad comment, by a non-local person, on All Saints’ Facebook page in which she wrote, ‘My Nan used to say that all Christians are hypocrites’. That may, of course, be a statement by someone who believes that they can freely judge others because they are faultless. However, their statement is a challenge to those of us who choose to follow Christ. Do we walk the talk, or at least try to? We all know that we fail to at times, which is why we acknowledge our sins and commit ourselves to being better people.
Today’s Gospel passage is our Lord’s call to integrity in following Christ – to ‘keep his word’. And it’s that integrity which he says in the evidence of loving him. To love him is to love God – they are synonymous, as he is the very incarnation of the Word of God – his words, he explains, are God’s words.
And the first commandment is, as we know, to love God with all our being. It’s by this that Christ’s followers are known. As Jesus is quoted in the Gospel: ‘By this shall all know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another. To love God is to keep Jesus’ word, and he reminded his followers that love is the fulfilling of God’s Law.
So we can conclude that, loving Christ shows its integrity by loving one another. It’s in our actions towards one another and our neighbour that our authenticity is revealed.
Living an authentic Christian life: I do believe that all of us here genuinely want to be authentic in our following of Christ, but it’s not that easy. We know that we fall short just as the religious people of the Old Testament were unable to keep the law and the religious leaders were called, by Christ, hypocrites. So how can we, in fact, live an authentic Christian life if we fail so often to walk the talk?
Our extract from John’s Gospel today comprises comforting words in this respect. Firstly, Jesus assures his followers by saying, in effect, if you keep my words, God will love you and not only that He, and Jesus, will come to you and make their home with you. So, we won’t be alone in the struggle for authenticity. But how can that happen when God the Father and Jesus are in heaven?
Jesus explains: The Father will send his Holy Spirit who, in being received in one’s heart, becomes the means by which God the Father and the Son make their home with us. The Holy Spirit connects us directly to God the Father and the Son in heaven; perhaps a bit like the way we are connected to each other by our mobile phones, wherever we are in the world.
Being led and taught by God: This is the means by which the church is governed and guided by God: not primarily by human reason or deduction, even if that is in using the Scriptures – many have been led astray and acted wickedly using the scriptures to justify their actions. To be authentic as Christians, we need to receive this gift of the Holy Spirit sent by God to enable an authentic Christian life. Even when we read or listen to the Scriptures, we must be attentive to what the Spirit is saying to the church. By this the church continues to be guided and taught. And sometimes, God leads us into new ways of thinking and seeing the world. ‘The Holy Spirit will teach you everything’, Jesus told his disciples, and will remind you of his words. When we receive and keep Jesus’ words in our heart then the Spirit of God brings them to our attention when we need to be reminded of them.
Attentiveness usually comes in prayer, especially corporate prayer. So please don’t forget the crucial role of prayer together in discerning the direction of this church as you move forward into the next season of Christ’s work here.
Receiving God’s peace: One Gospel account has Jesus breathing on his disciples (clearly not in Covid days :) and he says, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit!’. In this way he imparts his peace; that is, the peace of God which surpasses understanding. He continues, ‘Don’t let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid!’
Having received the Spirit of God we are to be careful to resist the temptation to be troubled, anxious, or afraid. But rather to trust in God’s unfailing love and faithfulness, to guide and keep us in the nexus of his will.
So, let’s ask the Lord to fill us, individually and corporately, with his divine Spirit that we may be guided, taught and kept in God’s wonderful purposes for us; for he is able to do far more than we can ask or imagine by the work of his Spirit with us, and we will receive Christ’s peace.
The Revd Hugh Ellis, Vicar & Team Rector