[Jesus said] “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.”
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)
You probably seen the video of this remarkable story. I’m going to try to do it justice by describing the scene to you. Derek Redmond was a young British phenom who ran the 400-meter in the 1988 Olympic games in Seoul. Derek’s father, Jim, was high in the stands as a witness to the long-awaited race.
Derek had a good start and lead in the race. As Derek approached the finish line, he heard a pop in his right leg and knew that it was a severe hamstring injury. He realizes that his Olympic dreams are dashed. With tears streaming down his face, he declares that he doesn’t want to take a DNF, a “Did-Not-Finish.”
Derek continues the race with one leg. He uses all of his strength to limp in anguish towards the finish line. As the crowd cheers, fans rise to their feet, and their cries grow louder and louder, building into a thundering roar.
At that moment, Jim Redmond, his father, reaches the bottom of the stands, vaults over the railing and wraps his arm around his son’s waist. “I’m here, son,” Jim says gently, hugging his boy, “We’ll finish together.” It’s a remarkable to thing to see as the father helps his son complete something his son has been dreaming about for years. I also think it’s incredible example of today’s gospel text.
If last week was a time for lament, perhaps this week is the time for promise.
Neither of those ever happens in isolation, I realize. Endless lament that doesn’t lead to an openness to a new and different future is simply despair, and a promise that is offered too quickly is meaningless, even insulting. But… just as in the past weeks we have seen Thomas’ and Philip’s challenges to Jesus as permission to name our own fears, insecurity, and confusion, so also we might this week take Jesus’ words about the coming Spirit as permission to hear and claim and be transformed by God’s promises.
It’s a powerful promise made to disciples who were afraid and uncertain about the future nearly two thousand years ago, and it’s a powerful promise made to disciples who are afraid and uncertain about the future today. It’s also a promise made more meaningful when you open it up a bit.
See, the disciples have been limping along in apprenticeship to Jesus. Jesus comforts them by saying he “will not leave them orphaned” (14:18). He tells them he is am the Paraclete, called in Greek, to be our Advocate, the divine lawyer that stands in court and pleads our case (14:16). The disciples are perplexed and wonder how they will continue this Jesus movement. Wondering if they have been abandoned, they have been rekindling their networks to see if there’s an opening in Capernaum.
The disciples left everything to become fishers of people because Jesus was a team leader.
- Like the disciples,we signed on because we believed that God would be present in our lives, and God was trustworthy.
- Jesus says, “Let down your nets” and the disciples do.
- Moses received the same instruction in Exodus to leave the backside of the desert of Midian and confront the oppression of enslaved people?
Jesus’ method was not through a military coup but utilizing the rod in Moses’ hand. Jesus is calling us to use what you have. We are discouraged because of the expectations we put upon ourselves to be sanctimonious. We think that we have to have specialized training, exceptional credentials, and a cool stole to wear on Sunday mornings.
In his farewell address, as Jesus summarizes his teachings one last time, he reassures his bewildered disciples, and us, that they will not be left on their own, to fend for themselves, to rely on their own resources and their own wits. Undoubtedly this was a good thing; they couldn’t have managed any better than we could on our own! As usual, we get the sense that the disciples are as lost as we would have been, back there, on that side of both Easter and Pentecost. Perhaps that’s how the disciples felt, how terrified they must have been, after leaving everything behind for this Teacher, and then finding themselves outside “the mainstream” because of that decision. They couldn’t just slip easily back into their lives; clearly, things would never be the same.
And yet it wasn’t clear to them exactly how things were going to be. It was beyond the power of their imaginations. Again, even with Easter, and Pentecost, our imaginations, too, often fall far short of the dream of God, and Jesus’ words about love and obedience may seem like just that: words in a lovely speech long ago.
Like us today, the disciples wanted to be reassured that someone greater, stronger, smarter is not only present but in charge. And they wanted to be reassured that this someone loves them. So Jesus promises to send them the
Spirit, their Advocate, Intercessor, and Comforter. Through the power of this Spirit, they—and we—will live lives of faithful love, signs of our love for Jesus.
In this week’s gospel lesson, Jesus continues to prepare his closest disciples for his impending “departure.” Jesus is big on promises in this passage:
- Promising to deliver the Holy Spirit.
- Promising he will not leave them (and us!) orphaned
- Telling us we will still be able to see signs of him, and reminding us that those who love Jesus will be loved by God. Sounds pretty good, right?
There is no “quid pro quo” to this arrangement; however, there is an expectation for us as disciples. After all, relationships work well only when all parties are all-in. The expectation sounds pretty simple: Show our love for Jesus by keeping his commandments. This is how you show your love to me, he says. This is how folks will know you are different, by your love and by the way you live out that love in a hundred little ways every single day.
Of course, it’s not actually that simple because it’s tough to be all-in as a disciple. It takes discipline and requires focus. Discipleship demands full participation according to the greatest commandment. Love God with every fiber of your being and your neighbor as yourself. Anyone who’s lived a few years knows that this expectation is easier talked about than met. Our beautiful/broken humanness gets in the way, and the ego can play havoc with the very best of intentions.
If I’m being honest, I am REALLY hoping “if you love me, you will keep my commandments” is based on a sliding scale otherwise most of us are toast. And of course the Father sending the Advocate to be with us forever is out of the question if the Spirit’s coming is based on merit. Without revealing any details, and as long as hating and lust violate commandments five and six, I believe I’ve broken all ten. Maybe you have as well which means we can’t treat this text literally because we who do not keep commandments really do love Jesus and believe he lives in us, at least as a frequent guest if not a permanent resident. So if being “loved by my Father” is more than a reciprocal arrangement based on how well we keep the commandments, especially the most difficult one to love our enemies, then “I will not leave you orphans” really is good news.
William Barclay puts it in a fascinating way: “The point of Jesus’ saying is: ‘We can see only what we are fitted to see.'”
- An astronomer will perceive much more in the night sky than an untrained eye.
- Someone trained in art will see far more in a painting than another person who has never studied art.
- The trained musician will enjoy a symphony much more than someone who is unfamiliar with musical style or technique.
What we are able to perceive in any situation depends on what we bring to the experience.
Likewise, someone who has given up on the very notion of God won’t be listening for God. If we hope to receive the Holy Spirit in our own lives, it requires waiting and watching, in expectation of the Spirit’s arrival.
- If you want to know the presence of the Spirit in your life, don’t challenge God to “Show me!”
- Don’t take the attitude that if God wants me to know his Spirit, then God will make it happen.
- Don’t take the position “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Rather, if you want to know that presence, then expect it, wait for it, prepare for it, believe in its coming. You’ll see it. After all, believing is seeing!
Lament, promise, encouragement, effort, advocacy. These different but interrelated elements of our life together constitute much of the rhythm of our lives as God’s people—as Jesus’ present-day disciples—in the world. It can, at times be exhilarating and at times exhausting. But we undertake none of it alone, because Jesus has promised us nothing less than the paraclete, the very Spirit of truth who reminds us of Jesus promises and presence.
This may seem hard to do during this Covid-19 pandemic. We live during a frightening time, with loss of income and connection and life. And we dare not underestimate or underplay that. But we also live at a time of profound sacrifice, generosity, encouragement, and more. So this week I want to remind you all that we are inheritors of this Spirit, commissioned to do “Spirit work,” and we will continue to go out looking for where the Spirit continues to be present and active in our own lives and in the world. Sometimes we will be Jim, Derek’s dad, and support others and encouraging them to finish their dream; and other times we will be Derek in need of a Jim in our life as we struggle to see fulfillment of our dreams. The point is we will not be orphaned and will not have to do it alone. God will be there, and God will put other people there around us to carry out the Spirit-work. Thanks be to God!