Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | May 29, 2011

2011.05.29 “Not Alone” – John 14: 15 – 21

Central United Methodist Church

The 6th Sunday of Easter

“Not Alone”

John 14: 15 – 21

May 29th, 2011

“If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you. I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can’t take him in because it doesn’t have eyes to see him, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you!

“I will not leave you orphaned. I’m coming back. In just a little while the world will no longer see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to come alive. At that moment you will know absolutely that I’m in my Father, and you’re in me, and I’m in you.

“The person who knows my commandments and keeps them, that’s who loves me. And the person who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and make myself plain to him.” – John 14: 15 -21, The Message

 

 

 

Here we are at Memorial Day!  Late May/early June is one of two times in the year (the other being fall) when many of us undergo transitions. There are graduations, weddings, and job transitions, and for some it’s the time of the year when leases are up.  Although with the current economy there is probably less movement right now than ordinarily, often at this time of the year we or someone we know are preparing to go away.

 

At every stage of life, it can be a difficult time.  I will never forget graduation from college.  Just a day or two before my friends and I were to leave, we realized this was it; there would be no coming back.  Though we had been the closest of friends for four years, it was unlikely we would see each other again, at least not in the way we had before.  Sadly, that has turned out to be the case.

 

And it never really ends.  Remember loading stuff into a car or truck, to leave parents and friends behind?  Then, after a couple decades, loading our children’s stuff into cars or trucks or dorms, with them leaving us behind? On this Memorial Day we should especially remember those who join the military, and those gut-wrenching departures between deployed spouses and families. We spend our middle years crying at weddings and graduations, and our later years at funerals, as – unless we go first – we are one-by-one left behind by family and friends.  When parents die, you realize you are now alone, the oldest generation of your family.

 

Perhaps it’s so painful because it feeds one of our worst fears, that we might wind up alone. We’ve all experienced it, to a degree, at one time or another, either while traveling or during life transitions, enough for most of us to learn that we don’t want to wind up that way, alone, bereft of family or friends. 

 

For those of us who are so fearful, it is at least a comforting word from Jesus today that even in the midst of what feels like absence, we are never finally alone:  God’s Spirit is with us.  Let’s take a look at what he said.

 

As we saw last week, in this passage, John 14, it was the prospect of Jesus’ going away and leaving them that spooked his disciples. As he prepared them for him to go away, to be betrayed and killed, “where he was going they could not come.”  When Thomas then said, “We do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?” Jesus replied: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

 

Today, in the continuation of the passage, Jesus makes to them this promise: 

 

“I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can’t take him in because it doesn’t have eyes to see him, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you! “I will not leave you orphaned. I’m coming back. In just a little while the world will no longer see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to come alive. At that moment you will know absolutely that I’m in my Father, and you’re in me, and I’m in you.”

 

In other words, even though Jesus is physically absent from us, through God’s Spirit he remains mystically present. 

 

In these words, Jesus was not speaking only to his first disciples, but to Christians ever after. Remember John’s Gospel was written late in the 1st century, for Christians, most of whom had never met Jesus. By that time, most, if not all, of Jesus’ original disciples were dead. The temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed, a sign for that the end-time would soon come.  But the end-time didn’t come, just like it didn’t last weekend. Life went on and for many, that was the hardest part.  And they began to despair. In what sense was Jesus still with them, more than a memory?  John’s answer, quoting Jesus, was through the mystical presence of the Spirit.

 

When we as contemporary Christians feel like we have been left alone in a universe and in life without Jesus and sometimes without God, when we are tempted to despair, Jesus is still speaking to us:  “I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another friend – the Spirit of Truth – so that you will always have someone with you . . . I will not leave you orphaned.”

 

Who is this Spirit of Truth?  It is what we Christians call the Third person of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and SPIRIT, whose coming upon the church we celebrate in two weeks at Pentecost. 

 

God the Father we think we know; God the Son we know in Jesus; but do we know the Spirit?  Many of us think of the Spirit as something along the lines of Caspar the Friendly Ghost, (especially when we use the ancient language of the Holy Ghost), and the signs of the Spirit’s workings as something primarily peculiar to Pentecostal Christians.

 

That’s why it’s so helpful to hear Jesus’ descriptions of what the Spirit’s presence is like, within us and beside us.

 

According to Jesus, the Holy Spirit looks like a friend, a comforter, a counselor, a helper, an Advocate; the word Jesus uses literally means “one called alongside,” and has all these meanings.  It is one who stands up for you when you need it; one who speaks on your behalf; one who lends you a helping hand, takes your side, and won’t leave you while you’re down.

 

Actually, according to Jesus, the Holy Spirit works a lot like Jesus. “I will send you “another advocate,” he says, meaning that he was the first one. The Spirit, he goes on to say, will abide with us just as Jesus the Word made flesh abided with us, lived with us. In a very real way, the Spirit mediates Jesus’ presence and helps keep his promise that he will not leave us orphaned but still comes to us.

 

If we understanding the Spirit’s presence in this way, it means that we’ve actually seen how the Spirit works lots of times.  Anytime, we see someone stand up for another.  Anytime we see someone act like Jesus. Anytime we see someone bear the love of Christ to another, we’ve seen a demonstration of what the Holy Spirit does for us. 
No wonder, then, that Jesus says, “you know him.” Because, as it turns out, the Holy Spirit at one time or another has probably looked a lot like him, or like you or me, when we stand up for others, try to be more like Jesus, and bear Christ’s love into the world. The message, I think, is clear: if you want to be like Jesus, if you want to do the Spirit’s work: be an advocate! Stand up for others, who have no one else, to be with them, to stand with them or for them.  (David Lose, “What The Holy Spirit Looks Like,” Working Preacher, 5/22/11)

Think of someone like Mother Teresa, and the amazing work she did among the poor and dying of Calcutta.  And yet, after she died, she confessed in her writings that throughout her life she felt so little of God’s presence, and in fact, often felt abandoned.  In many ways, it makes her life and work all the more amazing, because she continued to obedient to God, and continued to do God’s work anyway, being with, caring for, standing up for those no one else stood up for, anyway.

 

Now I understand that such a mystical interpretation doesn’t do it for everybody.  Some of us are like the little boy, who when told to trust God whom he could not see, said, “I would prefer somebody with skin on.” But the reality of life is that we are all individuals living uncertain lives, and there are times where we are absent family and friends, and have to stand on our own. When we move away to a new place, such as a new school or a new job new town.  When we are single or widowed or retired, and find ourselves with few friends from our previous life, as it sometimes seems.  When we are unconscious, for example, even though others may be present, we are alone. When we come to die, even though family and friends are present, in reality, we still must die alone. But the good news is this: we are never finally, completely alone, because through the Spirit’s presence, God is with us.

 

This is why as Christians we should cultivate the spirit’s presence, through prayer and meditation, not just for when we die, but now while we live. Get to know, to trust, to be led by, the One who is with us. That is, after all, what we’re talking about when we talk about a “spiritual life:” deeply grounded in God, but out of the depth, reaching out to others.

 

It’s like this: When President Obama spoke to the Army’s 101st Airborne at Ft. Campbell, KY, who provided the logistics for the Bin Laden mission, he told of having just come from Ground Zero, where he had met a young woman from New Jersey named Payton Wall. She had written to the President on Monday after the news that bin Laden had been killed, and she explained how she still remembers that September morning almost 10 years ago.  She was only four years old. Her father, Glen, was trapped inside the World Trade Center. And so, in those final, frantic moments, knowing he might not make it, he called home. And Payton remembers watching her mom sobbing as she spoke to her husband and then passed the phone to Payton. And in words that were hard to hear but which she’s never forgotten, he said to her what every one of us as parents would say to our children: “I love you Payton, and I will always be watching over you.” 

 

        In the same way, as a dying parent speaking to his children, about to be left alone in the world, often feeling a lot like orphans, Jesus says to us:  “I love you, and I will always be watching over you, through the Spirit who is with you.”  We are never alone.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

 

 

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