Fr. Bill Carroll – The Sixth Sunday of Easter , May 9, 2021
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Last week, we heard from the fifteenth chapter of John, where Jesus says “I am the vine; you are the branches.” And, whenever I preach about that lesson, I stress the importance of staying rooted and grounded in Jesus.
Today, we hear the second half of the same chapter, where Jesus continues to teach us about bearing the fruit of love. When we are united to Jesus, his Spirit flows into us. The Spirit is the sap that flows through the vine. The Spirit is the living love of God, who binds us together in Jesus and makes us more and more like him.
Today, however, I’d like to emphasize two other gifts of the Holy Spirit. The first of these is joy, which Jesus mentions when he says, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.” The second gift that I want to mention is peace, and I’ll get to peace in a minute. But here’s the point: Every branch of the true vine shares in the life of Jesus and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And, wherever the Spirit of Jesus is, we find real love, deep peace, and true and abiding joy. In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us he wants our joy to be complete.
This joy is more than happiness. It is consistent with times of darkness and difficulty. Over the past year, there’ve been plenty of those to go around—along with many inspiring examples of faithfulness. When Jesus tells us about joy, he knows that, if we follow in his steps, some of us will die for our commitment to God. Even those who do not face death will face real obstacles and suffering. Christian joy comes through a living union with Jesus. Our life in him can make us truly happy sometimes. But it’s more than that. Jesus also gives us the strength we need to face trials and temptations.
Joy is central to the Christian life. Joy in creation. Joy in redemption. Joy in serving other people. Christian joy is more than a feeling. It is the attitude we have because we share the life of Jesus.
And that brings me to one of my favorite saints, Seraphim of Sarov. He is the Eastern Orthodox answer to Francis of Assisi. Like Francis, he was a simple, humble man who spread contagious joy wherever he went. I always think about him in the days leading up to Pentecost. Seraphim was a Russian hermit and a spiritual director who lived from 1759 to 1833. He lived alone in a life of extreme poverty and discipline. And yet, he opened his heart and his life to welcome other people. He welcomed any person who came to him. From all over the place, they did. People flocked to Seraphim for spiritual counsel, and he found his JOY in serving them.
When people would enter the small hut where he lived, he would fall down before them, bestow on them a kiss of peace, and exclaim “Christ is risen!” He would say that even in the middle of Lent. He is said to have called everyone he met “my joy.” He once wrote the following:
When the Spirit of God descends on someone and overshadows them with the fullness of his outpouring, then their soul overflows with a joy not to be described, for the Holy Spirit turns to joy whatever he touches. The kingdom of heaven is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Acquire inward peace (he said), and thousands around you will find their salvation.
Brothers and sisters, as we prepare for the Feast of Pentecost, I’d like to highlight this dimension of the Spirit’s work in us. Since the neo-Pentecostal revivals of the twentieth century, many Christians have come to know the ecstatic gifts of speaking in tongues and prophecy. And that can leave those of us whose gifts lie elsewhere feeling left out in the cold.
And yet, the Spirit can be alive and active in those of us who follow a quieter and gentler way. According to the New Testament, the Spirit is poured out on all flesh, inspiring us to believe and walk in the ways of Jesus. In our lesson from Acts this morning, the Spirit comes unexpectedly. And then, Peter says, “What’s to prevent us from getting water and baptizing these people, since the Holy Spirit has already fallen on them?” The Spirit can inspire us to follow Jesus in all the ways of love. He can push us out to reach people who have not heard the saving Good News of the Gospel. By the grace and power of the Spirit, we become more and more like Jesus, so that others may see Jesus—and come to live in him. Paul says it in his letter to the Romans, “The kingdom of God,” he says, “is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”
That is what is most needed in our world today. We need Jesus. We need his love. We need his joy and peace. Otherwise, we will continue to live out the terrifying legacy of Cain, who murders his brother—then denies all responsibility. Too often in the modern world, we join in what Thomas Hobbes once called “the war of all against all.”
Jesus calls us to follow a new and better way. “You did not choose me,” he tells us, because it all depends upon his grace and his calling. “You did not choose me. I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit.”
Acquire inward peace (acquire God’s gifts of joy and love—and other gifts of the Spirit). That is how we bear fruit. And then, if we go out and do it, thousands around us will find their salvation.