21 May Jesus Doesn’t Leave us Orphaned
This week I called a member of our church who is in the hospital. She has had a few ups and downs, hoping to go home and unable to. She told me that one day she found herself in tears while sitting in her hospital room. And a fellow patient who was walking the halls noticed. He gently asked her if she wanted to talk and in their conversation they found comfort- with different life circumstances, different reasons for being in need of medical care – but they shared a joint experience of facing their illnesses without loved ones able to visit in person, without family members there sitting at their bedside holding their hand.
That touch, that comfort is something we need as human beings. We are social creatures and we take comfort from knowing others care for us. But in a moment of sharing their mutual experience of loneliness, they also found strength that they weren’t the only ones facing something so hard. Comfort and strength – in days when we are facing physical, emotional or mental hurt- we need both to be comforted and we need strength to carry on. Today we are reminded by Jesus himself, that we are not alone, we are never alone. Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit. And this divine spirit is one who comforts and one who inspires us to action. The Holy Spirit is gentle with our hurting hearts and gives us courage to recognize our own strength so we can keep going. What an appropriate reminder for us in these strange days.
Uncertainty of the Future
Also this week I re-located my calendar where I usually write down all my appointments. I haven’t looked at it too much since March – and when I have it has been just to cross things off: canceling home communion visits, worship services, and in-person events. I know I don’t speak only for myself, when I say we long to go back to some sort of normalcy that had come before. The uncertainty of this time we are in is really hard. And calendars have never been more useless. That comfort and strength from the Holy Spirit sounds really good right now.
Is that a small glimpse of the disciples experience? That is the scene of our gospel today- Jesus gathering his disciples together to tell them once again what was going to happen to them. The days and weeks before had been filled with what had become normal for those who followed Jesus- listening to him preach and teach groups of people, watching him heal and care for those who were hurting, and seeing over and over how his love for the world inspired people to believe. But on this night sitting there together it all changed- everything they had grown used to was going to be canceled as Jesus enters a time when he knows he will end up on a cross. The emotions must have been running high as Jesus spoke these words. The uncertainty of the future and the unknown of how each day would pass after he was gone had to be palpable to his friends. The anticipation of his return and the promise of the fulfillment of the kingdom gave them hope and also filled them with uncertainty as part of their unknown future.
And that’s why his promise becomes so powerful that he won’t leave them on their own. The words actually say, “I won’t leave you orphaned.” This tells us that Jesus knew what he was to his followers, his role as friend and teacher was important, but it was his divine humanity through our Parent God that forms a deeper relationship with us. From God’s image we are formed, each one of us- and it is our identity as children of God that holds the promise of never being on our own. We are not without the love of our creator ever. We aren’t alone.
And Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit to dwell with us. The spirit of God right within our hearts. We believe that in baptism that spirit enters our very hearts and never goes away. When we pause and actually remember that promise, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that we continue to be afraid and have troubled hearts. God already took care of that by promising to never leave us alone when we are hurting. The Holy Spirit being the most mysterious person of God means we aren’t always good at recognizing when she is around. Even in this part in John, the names for the Holy Spirit are different in different bible translations- even in translation, the Holy Spirit is hard to pin down.
Many Names for the Holy Spirit
There are so many names for the Holy Spirit: comforter, advocate, counselor, sustainer. Comforter I think we can understand. When we are hurting, God’s presence is with us comforting us. Advocate can be a little harder for us – someone who stands up for us, who sees us for who we are and gives us back our dignity, recognizes our worth and our personhood and doesn’t let anything or anyone compromise that. Counselor – a really good one – who has boundless patience, listens to us, but encourages us to be who God created us to be.
We can’t forget that Holy Spirit is called a special name in the book of John – the Paraclete, meaning literally the one who comes alongside us. And Jesus tells us the Holy Spirit is alongside us, by living within our very hearts. Jesus says the Holy Spirit abides in us. And we are called to live with that comforting, counseling spirit of love in our hearts when we are in relationships with our fellow children of God. But we do forget sometimes. I read a news story this week about an ice cream shop on the East Coast that tried to open up using safety guidelines so that their regular customers could enjoy the treats they were missing. But after one day, the owner closed it down again. People totally forgot how to treat each other with grace and kindness. Customers were yelling at employees, didn’t want to follow the regulations in place and even caused one of the cashiers to quit. It was like people forgot how to treat each other after being apart for so long. How can we not forget how to treat one another? How can we have grace for our family members and neighbors in this time? How can we have grace for those we meet out in this mask-wearing world?
Tools from God
God has already given us the tools right in our hearts – the Spirit of truth – who calls us to love those whom God loves. Jesus reminds us that love leads to a life of discipleship. Love and obedience are tied together. Now I know that obedience can have a bad connotation. We sometimes think of blind obedience or doing things we don’t want to do just because someone tells us to do. Obedience is tied to power. But here, Jesus is using this idea in a different way. We are obedient to the one who loves us, forgives us and continues to walk with us. God wants what is best for us and we are not only encouraged to obey, but we are inspired to obey because of this unearned love. And we don’t have to worry about not doing enough or being good enough.
One commentary said it this way, “Those to whom the Spirit comes live in love and obedience, and those who live in love and obedience are persons in whom the Spirit dwells.” When we feel compelled to help and serve and love one another, we are being guided by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Says We Can
This past week held signs of division in our world that run deep and among neighbors in our community and globally, as we deal with this ongoing pandemic holding different beliefs. But as Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ, we hear words of comfort and hope. Jesus calls us with love to love.
And while the world might try to tell us we can’t love justice and our enemies at the same time. Jesus says we can.
And while the world might tell us that we can’t support small businesses and believe staying home is the right thing to do. Jesus says we can find ways.
And while the world might tell us that fear and anxiety is stronger than love and grace. Jesus tells us the truth.
The Holy Spirit lives in our hearts, so we don’t have to be afraid or anxious. Life can be hard and we can still see the good. We can be sad and thankful at the same time. We can love and obey.
May the Holy Spirit comfort you, remind you that you are loved, and give you the strength to love others. Amen.