The readings for Sunday, May 9, 2010:
First Reading: Acts 16:9-15
Psalm: Psalm 67
Second Reading: Revelation 21:10, 22--22:5
Gospel: John 14:23-29
Gospel (Alt.): John 5:1-9
As we work our way through the Lectionary again and again, I'm always intrigued by what leaps out at me. Usually when this Gospel comes around, I focus on the lines about not letting our hearts be troubled or afraid. But this year, I'm zoning in on the idea of God living with us, God making a home with us.
I think of all the roommate relationships I've ever had. Even when they've been less than optimal, I have to admit that I likely knew those roommates more intimately than all my other friends. In my younger, less content years, I'd focus on the bad traits. In my later years, I've tried to focus on the benefits to communal living while not getting derailed by the disadvantages. Now, I live with my husband only, which has a kind of elegant beauty, yet I miss having the more extended community we had when we lived in a communal household. I miss the community I enjoyed when I lived in college dorms. My mother-in-law enjoyed a similar sense of connectedness when she lived in a condo.
What would it mean to have this kind of connectedness with God? What kind of roommate would God be? I imagine that God would be the kind of roommate who would make delicious meals and would make sure that there was enough to share. I imagine that God would bring scruffy people home to dinner, but we wouldn't be afraid, because we'd know that it's always O.K. when God brings scruffy people home for dinner. I imagine that God would be the kind of roommate who would go to the trouble to arrange outings for us, thinking of what would delight us and bring us all closer together.
More importantly, this Gospel lesson points to the kind of homemaking intimacy that God longs to share with us. This Gospel doesn't present a picture of God as disapproving Judge and Jury. This Gospel presents God as roommate, who knows our hopes and fears, who shares our daily journeys. This picture of God is not a God-as-Santa-Claus. God doesn't promise to fix everything in this Gospel, at least not explicitly. But we have something that might be better. This Gospel shows us a God as partner, partner in our joys and sorrows.
The idea of God-as-roommate is probably a strange concept to most of the world's religions and perhaps to many Christians. And yet, if you go back to read the Gospels, it's an idea that Jesus returns to again and again. Maybe we would prefer to have a fix-it God. Maybe we would feel better with an absent God who returns only to judge us sternly for all our failings. That idea might be less scary than a God who lives with us and thus, sees us at our best and worst. Maybe we've spent a lot of time struggling to leave home (literally or metaphorically), so the idea of a God who wants that kind of intimacy might be offputting.
I admit that the idea of a wish granting God has more pull, especially on days when life isn't going well. I understand that people who have yearned for good parental relationships (or for those of us fortunate enough to experience a good family life), the idea of God the Father (alas, so rarely God the Mother) has appeal. But the idea of God as partner has a sturdiness to it. It's the metaphor that can last as life gets tough.
Life will always get tough, and just as spouses can't always fix everything, a God who grants us free will also cannot fix everything. When life gets tough, as it always does, the idea of God as Santa Claus will shake our faith, as life's dreadful turns of events don't support that view of God.
Jesus doesn't give us this view of a God who waves a magic wand to get rid of all our troubles. Jesus shows us a God that wants to be there with us, through all of life's events, both joyous and sad. Jesus shows us a God that will help us in our troubles if we ask, but not necessarily make them go away. Jesus shows us the idea of God as a partner, a partner with tremendous resources so that we need not be afraid or troubled.