✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
In our culture where people like to claim that they’re “spiritual, but not religious,” meditation is something that is fairly fashionable and hip; it's something that most people will accept as a positive form of spirituality. The problem is that meditation can be about any number of different things. Of itself it’s really neutral; it doesn’t even necessarily have anything to do with the divine. Meditation is defined by its focus, by what you are meditating on.
The fact of the matter is that everybody meditates, whether they realize it or not. Meditation has been described as passive thinking, where the mind is focused on a particular thought, and then that thought takes over and leads to a stream of related thoughts and ideas. Daydreaming is a form of meditation, where you aren’t actively in control of your thoughts, but your mind has wandered to a particular place and you are focusing there almost without even realizing it. (Hopefully there isn’t too much of that going on right now!) Worry is a form of meditation, where your mind constantly returns to a particular source of stress and concern and keeps running through all the possible things that could go wrong and how you might deal with it over and over again. You don’t have to tell yourself to worry. But your mind is focused on that worry and it takes over the direction of your thoughts.
Our problem as fallen human beings is that we tend to meditate on all the wrong things. We let the focus of our mind get directed to all the wrong places. We meditate on how we’d like to get back at that person who wronged us. We meditate covetously on that dream vacation. We meditate lustfully on our neighbor’s spouse. We meditate greedily on all the better stuff we want to get for ourselves. We meditate on days past that our hearts long to go back to. We let our hearts and minds get all wrapped up in and dominated by things that pass away.
Even most religious meditation has gone wrong; you may run into this in exercise programs like some forms of yoga. The spirituality of the world teaches you that meditation is about focusing within yourself, getting in touch with your inner spirit, drawing upon the resources and the strength you have inside, or else getting in touch with some sort of cosmic life force that has nothing to do with the true God. In the end all of that is nothing but self-worship and a spiritual running around in circles.
Holy Scripture gives us the proper object of our meditation. It says in Philippians, “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things.” Don’t let your mind be filled with the junk of pop culture which seeks to infiltrate your homes and your lives. Dwell upon the good gifts of God and the good and virtuous and noble things He has caused and allowed to be in existence in this world.
In particular in today’s Gospel Jesus tells us of the #1 focal point for our meditation. He says, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word.” That word “keep” is very important. It means in the original Greek “to hold onto, to treasure, to cling to,” like Mary who “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” It doesn’t simply mean “obey” as one translation puts it. It involves taking Jesus’ words to heart, meditating upon them, inwardly digesting them, trusting in them, following them. “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word.”
The best to think of this is the way you would treat a love letter or a Valentine’s Day card–or maybe today we should add a facebook message or a text from someone you really care about. When you get these communications, you don’t just skim through it and quickly throw it away or delete it. You dwell upon every word. You consider what every word is saying. You read between the lines. You remember most of it by heart. You treasure it and hold onto it and refer back to it time and time again in your heart and mind.
So it is with the words of Jesus. If you love Him you want to hear what He says to you, not just once and that’s enough, but over and over again, always uncovering more of the meaning that is there in His words to you. No guy would ever say to his girl, “I love you, but I don’t want to listen to you.” In the same way, no Christian would ever say, “I love Jesus, but I don’t want to listen to His words and preaching.” To be Christian is to hang on Jesus’ words and to draw your life from them continuously–not simply showing up for church and then zoning out, but meditating on and pondering Christ’s teaching and letting it form your faith and your way of living.
In what was once the study room of Martin Luther in Wittenberg, Germany, one can observe still today a rut in the wood floor there. It is said that the rut was slowly worn in as Luther would pace back and forth while meditating on the words of Scripture and repeating them out loud to himself. He would roll them over and over again in his mind until they became like polished stones in a tumbler. Luther himself compared the Word of God to a spice which releases the fullness of its flavor and aroma the more it is crushed and broken apart. In the same way the sweet aroma of Scripture is released more and more as we meditate upon it and break it apart and consider each life-giving word. This is why we need constant, even daily contact with the words of God. They help in forming those ruts and paths and patterns in your mind and heart and spirit that conform to God’s truth–which is especially important in a world which is daily preaching and peddling lies to you. “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word.”
Now, you might be asking yourself, “What does all this stuff about meditation have to do with Pentecost? I haven’t heard anything yet about the Holy Spirit.” Well, I’ve been talking about meditation on the Word because the Holy Spirit comes to you through that Word. Jesus said, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” The Holy Spirit made sure that the disciples remembered and wrote down for us the things that Jesus said and did truly and correctly. And now the Holy Spirit is all about bringing those words and deeds of Jesus to you, teaching you all things about Jesus through the Scriptures so that you may be filled with His light and life.
That’s the central thing that happened on Pentecost. There were the miraculous signs of the coming of the Holy Spirit–the rushing wind and the tongues of fire. But the main event which the Holy Spirit brought about was that the Word of God was preached and confessed, not only in the Hebrew tongue, but in the native tongue of countries well beyond Israel. For indeed this Gospel of Christ the crucified is for all the nations.
The Word of God is filled with the Holy Spirit. That’s what we mean when we say that the Scriptures are inspired by God. Literally, that means they are God-breathed, full of the breath and Spirit of the living God. Jesus said, “My words are Spirit and they are life.” To hear those words and consider them, to meditate on them in true faith is to be instructed by the Holy Spirit Himself and to receive in them the life of Christ.
Jesus said about the one who loves Him and keeps His Word, “My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” Through the words of God which the Holy Spirit teaches, Jesus comes to be present in and with the believer. And where Jesus is, there the Father also makes His home. The Father loves all those who love His Son. The Father loves you who love and trust in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. You are never alone, no matter how isolated you may sometimes feel. For the Blessed Holy Trinity has made His home with you through the Word.
He first made His home with you by pouring His saving Word onto you in Holy Baptism, marking you with His own name as His treasured possession and dwelling place. Martin Luther said that you have enough to meditate on in your baptism alone for the rest of your life. The Lord makes His home with you as He speaks His life-giving Word out loud right into your ears in the absolution and in the spoken meditation we usually call a sermon. In fact hopefully the Word of God will cause you to meditate on even more than the sermon can say. I’ve had people thank me for something they thought I said in the sermon, some good Scriptural insight, but which I hadn’t directly addressed. That’s how meditation on the Word can works, where the Spirit opens the Scriptures and applies them to you in just the way that you need. And God also makes His home with you in the Sacrament of the Altar. For there you receive and eat the Word made flesh, the body and blood of Christ sacrificed for you on the cross for the full forgiveness of your sins. By the power of the Word Christ is truly present here and comes to make His home in your very flesh and bones. Truly, God has given you so much to meditate on and ponder, so much to draw your hope and salvation from, so many ways to keep His Word and live from it.
But none of it would do you any good apart from the working of the Holy Spirit. Only the Spirit of Christ can make your meditation on His words fruitful and beneficial. Without Him the sermon will seem useless, the liturgy will seem like dead ceremony. We cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him. The Holy Spirit must open our understanding and enlighten us with the Gospel, as it is written, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”
And finally, Jesus teaches us here that through that Gospel we receive real peace. The only meditation that gives lasting and indestructible peace is meditation on His words. Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” There is no reason to fear any more, not even when you’re facing death itself. For Jesus has conquered your death by the holy cross. He absorbed into His body all that makes you fearful and restless, and He crucified it. Isaiah prophesied, “The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him.” You have been reconciled to the Father in Christ. You are at peace with God. And if you are right with Him, then you can face whatever is going on in your day to day life with His strength and with the confidence that He is with you and will guide you through His Word. This is not worldly peace which fails; this is peace given by the Spirit of God which never fails and which endures forever.
Now may this peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.