Tense, nervous headache?

Easter 6a – Sunday 29th May 2011
John 14: 15-21

There’s been a lot of tension in the air at our house this week. Stress. Pressure. Anxiety. Call it what you will, it stalked the corridors, hid in the cupboard under the stairs and lurked behind the sofa for nigh on five days.

And the reason, I hear you shout. Two stressed out children – one facing Year 10 exams, the other facing a job interview for her first teaching job. And the difference couldn’t have been more obvious.

Fifa 11On the one hand, there was our teenage son, who every time we walked into his room was lying on his bed playing FIFA 11 on his PS3! He’d claim, I’ve just done an hour’s worth of revising and am taking a break! The closer the exams, the more he tested Sony’s revitalised Playstation Network to the limit, the more nervous, snappy and irritable he became.

Then there’s our daughter, who was invited to lead a lesson and attend an interview at a local primary school, and from that moment on became a whirling dervish of activity as she busily prepared, cut out and got to grips with what she was going to do. The tension went up a notch each day, and only now is all quiet as both son and daughter lie in a comatose state in their rooms – back to normal then!

I think the disciples – here in John 14 – found themselves in a very similar situation. Tense, nervous, anxious. It had just begun to sink in that Jesus could well be departing this earth, leaving the task of church building, gift giving, Spirit filling in their hands.  Anxiety started to eat away at their confidence when confronted with the probable absence of Jesus.

For me, the passage speaks loudest to the sentiment that God does not make our lives stress free, but rather when we encounter anxiety he has provided an advocate, a helper, a companion, a comforter, a friend – the Spirit of truth.

ExamNow, when I was studying for my school exams, in the days before Sony’s Playstation, in fact before the creation of the internet (not quite before electricity was invented), I took the subject of revising about as seriously as my son. By the time I started my University exams I had a better grasp on what was needed, but I still wasn’t a swot! That’s why I’m very glad of the wonderful plethora of articles and information on the internet that help fill in the background to our faith and to passages like this one.

For instance, I came across another brilliant piece of writing from David Ewart at Holy Textures, which is fast becoming one of my must-have lectionary reads. I was never ever any good at languages, I’m still struggling with English, so little nuggets like this I find fascinating:

Aside: The underlying Greek word which is translated into English as “truth” is alethea. In Greek, an initial letter “a” is like our English “un.” “Lethe” is the river in Greek mythology that the dead drank from in Hades in order to forget their past. And so “a-lethea” – truth – has the sense of: waking up; remembering; overcoming oblivion and stupor; being alive and vital; not being deceived by false ideas or desires or scams; SEEING what is as it actually is.

When I was 16 I thought I had the world at my feet, I didn’t have to revise and do stupid things like exams. By the time I was 24 I had woken up to the fact that whatever you achieve in life is the sum of the effort you put in. I discovered truth. And now my faith is reliant on the Spirit of truth. Oh believe me, there are times when I can’t be bothered, when I get disillusioned, when I get bogged down. Getting out of that attitude, or overcoming that stupor – as David Ewart so eloquently puts it, is a tough call. But fortunately my God is a gracious and compassion Father who doesn’t shout at me when he discovers me playing FIFA 11 on the PS3 instead on writing my sermon!

Holy SpiritAnd when I become anxious about how my sermon will be received, or tense at how a meeting will go, or just get a sense of dread because I cannot clearly see what the future holds, I am greatly reassured that my Comforter walks with me. He is my Advocate – he believes in me, he gives me a glowing character reference, he speaks up for me, he breathes life into my humble efforts to serve Almighty God – and because of the Spirit of truth I begin to believe in myself.

This is a wonderful life-affirming passage with much to encourage us along our faith and life journey.

Oh by the way, good news. Jacob has not yet broken the Playstation Network, and Charlotte got her job!

Happy Days.

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About Neil Chappell

Husband, father, Congregational Minister and football fan all rolled into one convenient package.
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