Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him — though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ “Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
1 Peter 3:13-22
Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight people, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you — not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
[Jesus said:] “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
This year Netflix put out a television series that was a little bit controversial. You could argue that a lot of what Netflix does is a little controversial, but this television series was controversial because it was about the difficult subject of teen suicide.
The show is called “13 Reasons Why” and it is about a high school student Clay, and his friends Hannah who commits suicide and then leave a box of cassette tapes addressed to thirteen people with thirteen reasons why she committed suicide.
The show is controversial because there are those who argue that suicide should never be glamorized in the media, because according to the National Association of School Psychologists research shows that exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of suicide is a risk factor to those who are contemplating suicide. And by the very fact of making one of the stars commit suicide no matter how well the story is told, there is a risk of a trigger for an unstable youth.
Furthermore graphically showing the suicide it is argued might lead to copycat suicides.
On the other hand, suicide is an issue and needs to be talked about. There have been some high profile suicides in Canada specifically in the armed forces and also there is the famous case of 15 year old Amanda Todd who was blackmailed, bullied, and assaulted who committed suicide. Before she did it she posted a 9 minute video using flash cards to tell the story of her struggle.
It is a very sad story of a girl who was abused and that kept on happening every time she changed schools, because the cyber-bully would send vicious stuff to the students in the new school.
And even though authorities knew, and she had tried suicide before, and she received counselling, it seems that authorities were unable to stop the bullying and awful things published about her on facebook.
Her video and her story went viral and raised awareness of bullying and cyber-bullying and maybe some good came out of that tragedy, yet we wonder if tragedies like this could be avoided.
The show “13 Reasons Why” does raise awareness of suicide and other teen issues like gossip, bullying, rape, exclusion.
The critics give it positive reviews for its performances.
It does remind us that teen years are not easy years and there can be an awful lot of mean things can happen to teenagers in a time when they are emotional vulnerable and still relatively immature.
Andy maybe we need more education and more mental and emotional health support, and more free counselling for all people as a legitimate health expense.
Personally, it is my belief that everyone would benefit from counselling, that everyone has hurt and brokenness which is somewhat unresolved…
And like in physical health an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,
The same is true with our emotional, mental and spiritual self.
To be metric. A gram of prevention is worth a kilo of cure.
But in my imagination I wondered what it might have be like for Hannah on this tv show, who is dealing with some pretty negative people, experiences, forces and emotions, if she had had an advocate, a comforter, a voice of truth in her life?
This is what Jesus promises to us…
In my experience churches and denominations that focused on the Holy Spirit a lot focused on the supernatural gifts of the Spirit. Ecstatic worship and experiences, speaking in unknown tongues, believing in supernatural healings…. the idea being that all the supernatural stuff of the bible was available to us today in this modern world through the Holy Spirit.
But that is not what I see Jesus promise us. Jesus talks about the Paraclete. That is the Greek word.
It is translated Advocate and it can have the meaning of a one who advocates for you in a court of law.
It also has the meaning more relationally of one who brings help, consolation, comfort and encouragement.
But both these meanings derive from the most basic meaning of one who is called to one’s side.. Or someone who comes alongside.
But then Jesus even adds another quality to this one who comes alongside of us, the one who comforts us and bring us aid, the one who advocates on our behalf..
And that is the one who is the voice of truth in our heads.
The Spirit of truth.
Who is the one who speaks the truth to you? Who is the one who is emotionally there for you? Who is the one who lifts your spirit? Who is the one who is on your side and fights for you?
You might know people like that. I hope you do…
But what I am also talking about and what Jesus is also talking about is the Spirit World.
It is something we don’t talk a lot about I think because it sounds spooky or weird or unscientific.
But it isn’t. You see I am not talking about demons and angels that live in some other realm.
That is not the Spirit world I am talking about.
The Spirit world I am talking about is the world that Jung and Freud brought into prominence, it is the world of what goes on in between your ears. It is the world of the mind and the conscience. The term Pysche is about the totality of the human mind, both conscious and unconscious.
That is where God lives in humans. That is where the emotions are. That is where you feel hurt and emotional pain. That is where your identity is. That is where your soul or spirit is. That is where your story is…
That is where you take in information and process it. That is where you devise, think, plan, understand, experience, synthesize and devise meaning.
Who you are is mostly determined by your mind.
It is exceedingly complex.
And everyday your mind, my mind, everyone’s mind sorts through a legion of thoughts, experiences, voices, ideas in the head.
We have many voices in our heads. The voices of friends, family, culture, church, books, ideas, education, media…to name just a few…
The voices that come from our conscious and subconscious…
One voice that Christians have identified through the years is a voice called “Satan.”
That is the voice or the voices in your head that accuses… the voice that scapegoats other and you. It shames you and others. It brings conflict and inflames emotions and sets up against others.
It is the voice that is opposed to unconditional love, to unreserved forgiveness, to making peace and to being at peace. It is opposed to the way of Christ.
Demonic voices in people’s head lie to them.
They say they are worthless. They say that they are no good.
Or conversely they say that you are better than everyone else.
They say that to be important you have to look beautiful or be wealthy or control people.
They say that the way to get ahead is to take, to crush, to destroy or to use people.
Demonic voices set us up against each other, demand conflict, ask us to take offense, creates sides.
Demonic voices say that we should take as much as we can get to look out for ourselves. Survival of the fittest. Don’t worry about others.
And that is why we need a Paraclete. We need the voice of God to come alongside us in our heads and care for our minds and spirits. To give aid and healing when we are in emotional pain and have wounds. To give encouragement to love and care. To be an advocate not only for our own mental health, but an advocate for what is good and kind and true and loving.
We need the voice of God in our heads because we need truth.
Not scientific truth about how old the world is or whether the flood really happened.
But spiritual truth. That we are all children of God created to be extraordinary, capable of the greatest acts of creativity, compassion and love.
That we are God’s greatest treasures. That we are important and valued and precious and loved.
We need the truth too that we are not perfect, that we are flawed and broken, that we have experience hurt and in some way because of this we all need emotional healing and unresolved pain always lead us to hurt ourselves and others. Unresolved pain puffs up our ego as a defense mechanism.
Unresolved pain to use Paul’s words means that everyone of us sin and come short of God’s purposes for us to love, include, forgive and care.
And we need the truth that we can be more than we are, that we can be transformed, that we can die to selfishness and be born again to a way of love.
What would it be like if Hannah or Amanda or anyone else whose emotional pain is so great that they think the way out is to leave this earthly life, could have had this healing comforting, transforming voice in her head.
A voice saying that you are loved. You are special. You are important. You are gifted. Don’t listen to those others.
You have so much to offer. There are so many who will love you and so many you can love.
I don’t know.
What I do know is that the place that the Holy Spirit resides is in you and me. Last couple of weeks, I think, I talked about us being the place where Jesus takes residence.
We are the abiding places that Jesus is preparing, the place where the Holy Spirit lives.
And it means that we too can be people who come alongside others with a voice or care, or comfort, or concern and encouragement.
We too can be advocates on the side of those who need help, healing, justice or forgiveness.
That we too can be voices of truth telling people spiritual truth: that they are children of God, and that they can be loved, forgiven and transformed.
Might we be communities who come alongside those who have no self-worth, who contemplate suicide, who think there is no help, who are utterly devastated with emotional pain, who spirits are crushed, whose soul is barren…
And the way we do this is to simply follow Jesus’ command to love one another and to love God.
If you love me you will keep my commandments. What are Jesus’ commandments? To love God and love one another.
And part of that loving one another would be to come alongside those who are suffering emotional, spiritually and mentally and be a safe place for them when they are assaulted and troubled in mind and spirit.
But it is not easy for us to come alongside one another because every church is a diverse group of people.
Our scripture text from Peter uses the image of the Noah’s ark.
I think we have to be careful with that image. Even Martin Luther in his commentaries wrote that this may be the most obscure passage in the New Testament.
But imagine the church as a kind of ark. The safe place for people in the midst of the storm of emotional upheaval, lies, treachery, bullying, self-doubt or self-loathing.
A safe emotional place where people hear the voice of truth that they are loved and valued, included and forgiven.
A safe emotional place where there spirits can be encouraged and transformed and that Christ can take residence within them.
You know when the built those big churches in days gone by, the main part of the sanctuary was called the nave, from the Latin word “navis” meaning ship. A bunch of ships is a navy.
And so the church nave was like an ark, a place of refuge in the storm.
But let me remind you of who is in the ark. I quote from Frederick Buechner’s book “ Whistling in the dark: a Doubter’s Dictionary.
In one as in the other, just about everything imaginable is aboard, the clean and the unclean both. They are all piled in together helter-skelter, the predators and the prey, the wild and the tame, the sleek and beautiful ones and the ones that are ugly as sin. There are sly young foxes and impossible old cows. There are the catty and the piggish and the peacock-proud. There are hawks and there are doves. Some are wise as owls, some silly as geese; some meek as lambs and others fire-breathing dragons. There are times when they all cackle and grunt and roar and sing together, and there are times when you could hear a pin drop. Most of them have no clear idea just where they’re supposed to be heading or how they’re supposed to get there or what they’ll find if and when they finally do, but they figure the people in charge must know and in the meanwhile sit back on their haunches and try to enjoy the ride.
It’s not all enjoyable. There’s backbiting just like everywhere else. There’s a pecking order. There’s jostling at the trough. There’s growling and grousing, bitching and whining. There are dogs in the manger and old goats and black widows. It’s a regular menagerie in there, and sometimes it smells to high Heaven like one.
But even at its worst, there’s at least one thing that makes it bearable within, and that is the storm without — the wild winds and terrible waves and in all the watery waste no help in sight.
And at its best there is, if never clear sailing, shelter from the blast, a sense of somehow heading in the right direction in spite of everything, a ship to keep afloat, and, like a beacon in the dark, the hope of finding safe harbor at last.
The church is a floating menagerie, heading towards love amid the storms and floods of emotional, spiritual and physical pain in this world.
And in some ways each of us is a floating menagerie of all sorts of voices in our heads. In our own minds…there’s growling and grousing, bitching and whining. There are dogs in the manger and old goats and black widows. It’s a regular menagerie in there, and sometimes it smells to high Heaven like one.
But Jesus has promised us in our minds, in our spirits, a voice of truth, a voice of calm, a safe place for our spirits, a voice of encouragement, a voice of love and forgiveness…. a balm of healing…. A voice that is on our side…. even the Spirit of truth.
Jesus has promised us his own spirit to live in us and we in him so that we can be abiding places of his love; and if we follow his commands to love God and love one another…I believe we can be paracletes and safe places to one another.