Message for the sixth Sunday in the season of Easter
Based on: John 14: 5-21 The Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, will be with you
Opening Prayer: Gracious and amazing God, may the words on my lips and the thoughts and feelings we experience as we reflect together on your Holy Word for us this day, may all of it be acceptable in your sight. Amen.
This morning we find ourselves plunked down in the middle of what biblical scholars call Jesus’ Farewell Discourse-his goodbye speech for his beloved followers offered through the lens of the gospel according to the author of John.
You remember Jesus’ beloved followers are the ones who have dropped everything they knew about making a living so as to follow him?
In taking that proverbial leap of faith, they came to live together in an entirely new and abundantly fulfilling way.
After just three short years, however, the disciples are still apprentices.
They’re still learning on the job all manner of things having to do with living as Jesus would have them live.
Though they might imagine themselves ready to take up their roles in turning the world upside down, it feels as though they would be lost without Jesus as their teacher, companion, and guide.
With that in mind, let us turn then to the context for this morning’s reading.
After arriving into the holy city of Jerusalem in perfect time to celebrate the Passover, Jesus and his beloved followers are now coming to the end of their evening meal together.
And, as is the usual practice, there has been much conversational back and forth about what’s what and about the plans for the coming days.
Though Jesus has been trying to prepare his beloved ones for his departure in both his words and his actions for some time now, there continues to be much denial and confusion.
And though our reading from this morning begins midway through Chapter 14, if we were to turn the page back to verse 1, we would find that Jesus’ farewell speech begins with those familiar and comforting pastoral words, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”
Coming to these tender but confusing words again, I find myself wondering how hard it must have been for Jesus to come this far and to know he is called another way!
But then, I am reminded that Jesus’ intimate relationship with God as described at the beginning of John’ gospel, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God.”, that relationship with God is Jesus’ true mission.
Returning to God is his true destination.
And so it is in our reading this morning that Jesus is compelled to relinquish the mission into his followers’ care, but not first without some instruction.
And, it’s instruction not only for the disciples, but also for the beleaguered Johannine community so fearful of isolation, persecution, and abandonment.
It’s instruction for our own listening ears as we gather together this day as well.
Jesus’ quintessentially pastoral words will provide them (and us) with the hope they (and we) need to carry on as he reminds them:
“If you love me,” he says, “you will keep my commandments.”
Knowing the depth of isolation, persecution, and abandonment they will experience in the coming days, weeks, months, and indeed years after his betrayal, arrest, trial, and death on the cross, Jesus also goes on to make them this hope-filled promise:
“And I will ask the Father,” he says, “and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”
As is often the case with the language in John’s gospel, the reading goes on to describe how Jesus’ successor, the Holy Spirit, the Presence he calls “the Spirit of truth”, will be made visible and will abide with and within those who have come to understand Jesus’ true purpose.
This morning as we celebrate the sixth Sunday in the season of Easter, we remember the good news that Jesus, though humiliated, tortured, and crucified in the name of Love, lives on in our midst in some new way.
Though it’s a way we don’t always name or understand, it’s also a way we know to be true, especially in times of tumult and distress.
The work of naming or noticing the presence of the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of Truth, the Advocate, Paraclete, Friend, or Guide or what some scholars call the ‘shy’ one of relationship trio with God and Jesus, is not something we talk about often in church.
Other than this morning on the sixth Sunday in Easter, at Pentecost, or on Trinity Sunday, we tend not to speak as much about the Holy Spirit as we do about God and Jesus.
But that is the topic on offer today in the context of Jesus’ farewell speech to his beloved ones.
Ones, so daunted and confused by what was yet to come, were not quite able to grasp his meaning.
Caught in a context fraught with fear and foreboding, of chaos and confusion, of uncertainty and imminent danger for being their own true and faithful selves, their lives in some ways mirror our own.
For, even though we are much more protected, buffered we might say by our privilege, we too, find ourselves living in a context fraught with fear and foreboding.
We too, live in a time of chaos and confusion, uncertainty and danger.
We, too, have only to turn on the TV news, our radios, and computers to know that we live in perilous times.
Perhaps like the disciples, we can take hope in Jesus’ words of promise that indeed we are not alone, we have his successor, the Spirit of truth, who accompanies us in all times and in all circumstances, but most especially when we feel isolated, alone, or abandoned.
Of course, not everything that comes to us through the media is necessarily bad.
Sometimes the media can add value to our self understanding and our ability to cope.
All this has got me thinking again about the recent link between the Oscars and theology.
And in particular, this morning’s reading got me thinking about one of the contenders for the Oscars, the movie, “Lion”.
“Lion”, based on a true story of a courageous five year old boy’s surprising journey from his Bengal homeland to Calcutta to Tasmania and finally, twenty five years later, to his original home once more, is nothing short of amazing.
Like our story from John’s gospel this morning, “Lion” is also a story that covers the grand sweep of emotions ranging from tumult and distress and ultimately, to joy-filled reunion.
More, than that though, it seems to me that little Saroo, the five year old boy in the movie is accompanied and supported by a presence not unlike what Jesus promises to ask the Father to send the disciples in their need: the Spirit of truth, the Advocate, Companion, Guide, and Friend.
In the same way, I was reminded again of Jesus’ promise to his beloved ones as the adoptive mother in the movie describes a challenging time in her own life as a young girl. Despite a less than ideal upbringing, Saroo’s adoptive mother tells her now adult son what it is that shaped her own life’s choices and decisions. Telling him about the strong sense of Presence she felt as a young girl accompanied and supported by a vision of two small brown boys brings us back to Jesus’ words:
“I will not leave you orphaned.”
“Lion” is a movie well worth watching as a young boy and his family are connected in spite of tumult and distress and ultimately reunited across the span of thousands of miles and a quarter of a century.
This morning our story from John’s gospel offers a word of promise and hope for coping with times of tumult and distress and the awareness that all of us are called to put flesh to the bones of Jesus’ commandment to love one another and in the midst of all that, to do that trusting that we are not alone.
Surrounded and accompanied by the Holy Spirit, or as John’s gospel names it, the Spirit of Truth, Companion, Friend, and Guide in times of tumult and distress and in times of joy-filled reunion, let us go forth together to live out our call!
In the season of the risen Christ, this is my prayer.