Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | May 21, 2017

2017.5.21 “Never Alone” John 14: 15 – 21

Central United Methodist Church
Never Alone
Pastor David L. Haley

John 14: 15 – 21
The 6th Sunday of Easter
May 21st, 2017

Alone

“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 forever. 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.”  – John 14: 15 -21, New Revised Standard Version

One of the best movies I saw last year was the film Lion, based upon the true story ofLion
Saroo Brierley, told first in his book, A Long Way Home. Lion tells the story of Saroo, five-year-old boy who while looking for his brother, falls asleep on a train and winds up days later in Calcutta.  Not only is he alone, he doesn’t even understand the language. Initially, he takes up with street children, until he is put in an orphanage, from which he has the good fortune to be adopted by a couple in Australia, John and Sue Brierley.

When Saroo grows up, like all adoptive children, he wonders about his family of origin, and begins to search for them using Google Earth, which seems like an overwhelming, perhaps even impossible task. Amazingly, eventually he succeeds. Have a look at the trailer: [video].

On a side note, one of the advantages to going to school in Hollywood is that after this movie came out, our daughter Becca got to meet the star of the movie, Dev Patel, so now I feel like he is a member of our family too.

As an adoptive parent myself, as you might imagine, Lion was an emotional movie to watch. But you do not have to be an adoptive parent to be moved by the plight of orphans, whether here in America or internationally. As internationals or international travelers, most of us have seen them. I – for example – have visited orphanages in China, mostly filled with abandoned girls and children born with disabilities. In Africa, in the eastern Congo, I visited villages of children orphaned by war.

As most of us have found, to hear their stories and to see their plight, tugs at our hearts, and not just out of empathy. Psychologists tell us that one of our primal fears is abandonment, so when we hear stories about or encounter children who have been abandoned, not only does it engender empathy but also threatens us with that fear of abandonment, that we might be left alone in the world prematurely.

For that matter, who desires to be left alone in the world at any age or stage of life? Whether it is to be orphaned as a child or a youth, whether it is when we leave home to be on our own when we go off for college or the military, whether it is when lose a spouse or our parents, even though we hope we have the maturity to handle it, it can be a lonely and fearful time to be left alone.

Perhaps it is for this reason that when we hear Jesus’ promise in John’s Gospel, our ears perk up:
“I will ask the Father to give us another Advocate, who will be with us forever . . . 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 . . . On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”  

To appreciate Jesus’ promise, it is helpful to know where it occurs in Jesus’ story, as well as in our own story. In John’s story, it is Thursday, the evening before the crucifixion. After sharing a meal with his disciples and offering them an example of selfless love by washing of their feet, Jesus prepares them for his imminent departure. He is about to leave them and they are understandably distressed; last week I described the scene as the image of a mother about to leave her children. In response, Jesus tells them not to worry (“Let not your hearts be troubled”), that he was goes away to prepare a place for them. But they are still upset, so he assures them that he will not leave them orphaned, abandoned, or alone. Instead, he will send an Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, who will be with them.

It is also helpful to remember that what Jesus says here in John’s Gospel was not only for his first disciples, but to all future disciples, including us. John’s Gospel was written late in the 1st century for Christians who had never met Jesus. By that time, most, if not all, of Jesus’ original disciples were dead, the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed, and Jesus had not returned, as many expected. So they wondered, in what sense was Jesus still with them, more than as a memory? John’s answer was that he was with them through the presence of the Spirit, who would be among them and in them.

Here we are, 2000 years later, still telling this story, still living in Jesus’ absence. Year by year, as we recall the story of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection, we acknowledge that he went away (Ascension), and gave us the gift of the Spirit that he promised. (Pentecost.) Having said that, even though we affirm these events, every one of us acknowledges that there are still times in our lives when the Spirit’s presence wanes, and we feel like orphans, abandoned, left alone.

So what does it mean that the Spirit is with us? The specific term Jesus used is that the Spirit would be an Advocate for us. Translated literally, it means “one called alongside,” variously translated as friend, comforter, counselor, or helper, depending upon which translation of the Bible you read. It is someone who stands up for us when we need it; someone who speaks up on our behalf; someone who takes our side, who won’t leave us when we’re down and out or when our back is against the wall. The Spirit is that still, small voice that speaks within us, assuring us that God is accessible, is with us, is on our side.

If we understand the Spirit’s presence in this way, it means we’ve seen how the Spirit works lots of times. Whenever we see someone stand up for others, whether by speaking out or in silent support, we see an example of how the Spirit works. Whenever we see someone emulating the love of Christ in the world, we see a demonstration of what the Spirit does. No wonder Jesus says, “You know him,” because, as it turns out, the Holy Spirit looks and acts a lot like Jesus, or like you or me, whenever we stand up for others and modeling the God’s love in the world.

If this is what the Spirit does for us, then we are never more a community of the Spirit than when we do this for each other, when we come alongside each other, when we are advocates for each other, not only during times of joy, but during times of struggle and loss. By doing so, we keep Jesus’ commandment, that we love one another.

As an example, a few years ago, I served as an “advocate” for a member of our congregation. Someone had to go to court, and – like some of us – English was their second language, so they asked me if I might accompany them. When the Judge called us forward, he whispered to me: “You talk.” I said to the Judge, “Your honor, I’m not a lawyer, I’m his Pastor, and I have come to stand with him.” The Judge said, “While I appreciate your support of your parishioner, you have no standing here and should not be here.” From that point on, I was a silent Advocate, keeping my mouth shut and supporting him with my presence. I know I am not the only one who does such things as this, because I have seen and heard how many of you do such things for each other, not only in courtrooms but in homes and waiting rooms and hospital rooms and a variety of other ways.

I find it sad that as we experience the decline of involvement by nor experience of what this promise means for them, that in in Spirit-led congregations they have Advocates who will stand up for them. They may not be “orphans,” but they have no sense of what it is to experience the kind of connection most of us have experienced in Christian congregations. Many of us wonder if we would even be here without such communities of faith as this, without the faithful advocates who have stood with us and for us and sometimes picked us up and supported us, over the years.

As a pastor of five congregations, I have observed this happen many times over the years of my ministry, in many ways, but one instance stands out. I have in my files a note written 31 years ago by a nurse in Chicago. Before I share the note, let me tell you the story behind it.

In my congregation at Berry Memorial, just a few miles south of here in Lincoln Square, there was an older woman – a German immigrant – who began to manifest symptoms eventually diagnosed as Huntingdon’s Disease. Huntingdon’s Disease is a chronic progressive genetic disease, which begins insidiously, but eventually leads to complete physical and mental deterioration. This woman had no relatives and as her symptoms grew worse, it fell to members of the congregation – one in particular – who took it upon herself to help her get the help she needed – to be her advocate – in ways no one would have imagined.

For example, one 5-degree day in winter, I got a call. The heat in her house had gone out, and she needed help. I went there and found pots and pans frozen in the kitchen sink. When the temperature rose, the pipes burst, flooding the house. I remember lifting the back of the bathtub to get to a pipe, only to see cockroaches run in every direction. After visiting, we would take off as many clothes as we decently could to inspect ourselves before we went into our own houses.

Eventually, as her disease progressed, we helped her sell her house and move into the Methodist Home on Foster Avenue, now Chicago Methodist Senior Services. Parishioners faithfully visited her, even though we could barely converse since Ruth spoke mostly German, which was even further garbled by her disease.

Sometime after that, I received this note from a geriatric nurse practitioner at the Methodist Home:

“Dear Pastor Haley:  Your parishioners’ kindness and charity re this lady far surpass any efforts I’ve seen anywhere.  They are a credit to you and your church.”

This is but one example of the kind of advocacy God’s Spirit does for us in a spiritual sense, but also the advocacy we do for each other, and for others we may not even know, including orphans of all kinds, left alone in the world:

“I will ask the Father to give you another Advocate, who will be with you forever . . . 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 . . . On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”  Amen.

 

 

 

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