Monday, May 26, 2014

Never Alone

John 14: 15-21
May 25, 2014
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Reader 1: Another reading from the Gospel of John?

Reader 2: You sound as though there is something wrong with that?

Reader 1: Well, Jesus seems more humble in the other Gospels.

John makes him seems more dignified and sedate, and I don't like that as much.

Reader 2: Perhaps that was because the Gospel of John was written much later. It makes me think that maybe we have also gradually made Jesus more aloof or superior. John pictures him, not as biography, but expressing his own faith.

Reader 1: Another thing about this - the way it is written it seems that only those who follow Jesus are loved by God, and I believe that God loves everyone.

Reader 2: More probably, it suggests that those who follow Jesus will be the ones who are more aware of God's love.

Reader 1: One more thing - I think the message is not that God will give us a trouble-free life, but that "We are not alone" - God will be with us throughout life, even in times of trouble.

Reader 2: I would agree with you on that. Now - let's share the reading, as John has Jesus explain, in John 14:15-21[1]
”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.”

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Whenever I hear this scripture, two stories come to mind. The first is a joke, because, well, that’s how I am. Two little boys are out playing on Sunday morning, and a friendly Baptist lady invites them to Sunday School. They have a great time, until the very last moment when the preacher comes and asks the children,
“Have you found Jesus?”
The children are silent, and the preacher asks again, louder this time.
This time, the preacher looks right at the two little boys.
He asks them again, directly, “HAVE YOU FOUND JESUS?”
The two little fellows run home, terrified.
When their mother asks them why they are so upset, the older boy answers,
“Apparently Jesus is missing, and they think we know where he is!”

The second story that comes to mind is more serious – from Martin Luther King, Jr.
Late one night, King received a threatening phone call, telling him, in very ugly terms, that if he did not stop his work for racial justice, his life and the life of his family were in danger. King said that as he sat at his kitchen table, the thought came to him: “You can't call on Daddy now, you can't call on Mama. You've got to call on that something in that person that your daddy used to tell you about, that power that can make a way out of no way.”

King began to pray. He prayed for courage, for strength, for guidance.
And he heard a voice saying, “… stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. 
Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you. Even until the end of the world.”

Then King said, “I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on.
He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone.
No never alone. No never alone.
He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone."[2]

You know, we are a people of stories – the covenant story, the justice story, the liberation story, the gospel story. We are a people of God’s story: God’s extravagant love, God’s endless grace. Through it all, our story is the story of God’s abiding presence.

It would be easy, in these days between Easter and Pentecost, to think that story is ended, that it ended with Jesus’ resurrection.
Sometimes we act as if it is all over: Jesus has left the building.
Sometimes we act as if belief is the whole story: Jesus was born, died, was raised, and I believe. All settled.
Sometimes we act as if the story is ours and ours alone, that if we personally, individually, have “found Jesus” that’s the end of it.

But God has more in store for us.
And that’s the back story, the big story, in which we find our story.

Jesus said these words as a part of what is known as “The Farewell Discourse.”
Before he died, before he went to the cross, before he was raised, he gave these promises to his followers. The Farewell Discourse begins at chapter fourteen of John and continues through chapter seventeen, after which Jesus is arrested and crucified. Jesus is preparing them, preparing us, to live in him, in relationship with him, even when he is not physically present in the world.

Next week, we’ll hear the end of this farewell, in which Jesus prays for the disciples – prays for US! I encourage you this week to read those four chapters – chapters fourteen through seventeen of the Gospel of John, as if they were written as a personal farewell. And more than that, I encourage you to join me in hearing these words again as not only a farewell but also as our marching orders – sending us out with specific and clear direction.

It is in this farewell discourse that we hear not only the promise of the Spirit, but also the promises of power, and love, and courage:
  • When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. You know the way to the place I’m going.” (John 14: 3-4)
  • When you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it. (John 14:14)
  • Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. (John 14:27)
  • You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit and so that your fruit could last. (John 15:16)
  • I’ve said these things to you so that you will have peace in me. In the world you have distress. But be encouraged! I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)
Above all, woven throughout these four chapters, are the promises of God’s presence, the presence of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. These promises are not addressed to you, singular, as an individual Christian. These promises are addressed to you, plural – y’all --us- the gathered community. These instructions are not addressed to you, singular, as an individual. They are addressed to you, plural – y’all -- us- the gathered community. The presence of Jesus is among us through the Holy Spirit.

We are not orphans!
We are not alone!
Christ is still at work in the world!

The proof of this is love -- the central feature of Jesus’ message. That love is beyond all telling. That love is what makes Jesus present even in his absence. Love God, love one another, love your enemies, love the world. Nobody needs to feel alone or unloved.

The Holy Spirit promised of God will reveal the love of God – through us!
The call to live in love and justice is addressed to US:
Love enacted makes God visible even to those for whom faith is beyond reach.
God’s Spirit enables us to speak to those who have not encountered that love.
Jesus’ love enables us to speak up for those who most need to know mercy.
And God is still not finished! Because the life in the Holy Spirit that we live here and now is only a foretaste of the life in Christ that we will know in the there and then. The story is not over.

Jesus is not missing!
We know exactly where he is!
He is living in us and among us through the power of the Holy Spirit,
and every act of hospitality,
every embrace of welcome,
every deed of kindness,
every word of hope,
every step toward greater faithfulness,
every courageous stance for justice,
is a testament to the truth that we are not orphans,
we are not alone.

We are never alone,
for God is with us,
love is with us,
and that is how we live – every moment of our lives.

We are never alone.
Never alone.


[1] Introduction adapted from a Reader’s Theater by Marilyn McDonald

[2] From “Receiving the Call” at Call.aspx?p=2#qt19huSZxifwK6de.99

1 comment:

  1. Being a Christian is easy, even fun, in good times. The hardest thing about being Christian is accepting that God is there all the time, especially in bad times. Pastors who keep this in the foreground and teach us how to do that rock!