God is With Us, May 17 2020
God is With Us
Last week, we sat with the disciples as they heard the news that Jesus would soon be gone. This week, we continue with that story. The lectionary may have ended at John 14:14 … but Jesus didn’t stop talking. As the story continues, it moves from the fear and confusion and lament of the disciples to the promise of Jesus.
Let me recap the story. In John 13, at the Last Supper, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. “I have set an example for you,” says Jesus. “You must do as I have done. You must serve others in love as I have served you in love. So I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
This is the heart of our Christian life and faith. The other three gospels call this the Great Commandment. John calls it “a new commandment.” Love one another, and as we do so, we are also loving God. Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the USA, is fond of saying, “If it doesn’t look like love, if it doesn’t look like Jesus of Nazareth, it is not Christian.”
If it’s not about love, it’s not about God. You can’t find a better shorthand way of talking about the faith we hold.
After giving the new commandment, Jesus says, “I am going away soon. I’m only here a little while longer. You’ll look for me, but you can’t come where I am going.”
Imagine the shock of those words. It feels like a gut punch for those early followers of Jesus. Imagine the questions swirling in their minds — Now what? What does the future hold for us now? What will we do? Will life ever be normal again?
Jesus doesn’t answer those questions. Indeed, there are no answers which would be satisfying. Life is a journey—the Way—and we can only discover what life holds as we walk in that Way, who is Jesus.
What Jesus does instead is to give them comfort and courage to undertake their pilgrimage through life. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” I like the way Eugene Peterson translates this in The Message — “Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home.”
Jesus invites those early disciples in the midst of their confusion to trust. Trust God. Trust Jesus. Trust what they have learned as they journeyed with Jesus.
We also hear the same invitation as we live through the confusion and heartache of this pandemic. Trust God. Trust Jesus. Trust what you have learned as you have journeyed in faith with Jesus.
How can we do that? How can we trust when everything is so confused, so life–changingly different?
I think it begins with remembering.
Jesus invites the disciples to remember — remember all you have learned as you journeyed on the way with Jesus; remember that God is trustworthy; remember that God is present in every circumstance of life.
And as they remember, Jesus invites them to trust.
It’s a helpful word for us as well in this time of COVID–19. We remember:
- • we remember God who has been with us to support us and encourage us in every circumstance of life;
- • we remember previous times of difficulty when we were comforted;
- • we remember times when we were hugged and held;
- • we remember how we felt when times were good;
- • we remember times of laughter and closeness;
- • we remember times of profound worship;
- • we remember times when we felt especially close to God;
- • we remember gathering for bread and wine;
- • we remember our baptism;
- • we remember our friends;
- • we remember people who have taught us something about walking in the way of Jesus;
- • we remember the hymns we love to sing … we can still find those hymns online and sing right along.
We remember … and we develop a closer intimacy with God as we are drawn into the roomy heart of God.
That’s the first part of the story. We thought together about it last week. It begins with confusion and lament. It ends with an invitation to trust.
The story continues this week. Jesus promised the disciples that God will send “another Advocate to be with you forever.”
The word for Advocate is paracletos (παράκλητος)—Paraclete. It’s a word that is only used by John. Literally, Paraclete means “one who comes along side you”. It has been translated many different ways in English—Comforter, Helper, Counsellor, Encourager, Advocate.
“Paraclete” has something of all those meanings. This is the advocate who pleads our case, the comforter who takes our side, the counsellor who intercedes for us, the helper who stands up for us.
“I am not leaving you orphaned,” says Jesus. You will receive the Spirit of truth … who abides with you, who abides in you. The Spirit continues to walk with us through our lives. The Spirit embodies the very presence of Jesus in us and with us and through us. The Spirit helps us trust and live in confidence in the midst of all this uncertainty.
The promise of Jesus is that in our relationship with God, there will be a deeper intimacy as we grow in that relationship.
That intimacy is born in us over and over again as we keep Jesus’ new commandment … to love. As we reach out in love to one another, we are loving God. As we reach out in love to the vulnerable in our world in this pandemic, we are loving God. As we self–isolate to keep others safe, we are loving our neighbours and we are loving God. As we take care of each other, we are loving God.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust God. Trust me. Love one another. And God will send you another Paraclete, another Advocate, another Helper.”
As we remember … we renew our trust.
As we trust more deeply … we love.
As we love, the Paraclete comes alongside us to guide us, help us, comfort us, advocate for us. The Paraclete fills our lives and our souls with the presence of God.
That’s the promise. When it feels as if we have been abandoned, we remember the promise and hold on to it. When it feels as if God is absent, we remember the promise and let it grip our hearts and souls. When it feels as if we are all alone, we remember the promise that the helper is with us, the God’s Spirit is given to us.
We remember … and we breathe. (Remember again that the word “Spirit” in Greek is the same as the word for “breath”.)
We breathe in the life–giving fullness of God’s Spirit, and we breathe out our fear and insecurity.
We breathe in the Spirit of peace, and we breathe out our anxiety.
We breathe in the Spirit of joy, and we breathe out our unhappiness.
Paul says something similar in his sermon to the people of Athens in Acts 17. In the middle of that sermon, he says that “in God we live and move and have our being.”
God is not remote. God is not up there or out there somewhere. God doesn’t just drop in now and then for an occasional visit. Neither does God live in special sacred spaces.
Rather, God is here. Right here. In us. Around us. With us. Always. In all places. At all times. In all conditions.
We can put it the other way as well. God is in us. We are in God. God lives in us. We live in God. We move in God … and speak … and act in God. In God we have our being. In every moment of every day, in every circumstance, we abide in God and God abides in us.
In this time of pandemic, when everything seems to be up in the air, we hear the promise of Jesus. Don’t be troubled. Trust.
Don’t forget. Remember.
Keep walking in the way I taught you, for I am that way.
And above all, love one another as I have loved you. For God’s sake, love one another. For your sake, love one another.
God is with you in the Paraclete, the Advocate, the Companion, the Helper. God’s own Spirit will envelope you, and you will walk in my way, and you will know my truth, and you will be filled to overflowing with my life.
We abide in God, in whom we live and move and have our being.
It’s a radical new closeness, a radical new intimacy with God. Indeed, we will find that even as we are challenged by this COVID–19, we are also living and moving and being in God.
God is present to us. Today we are being invited to be present to God.
God’s Spirit is within us. We experience God as our deepest reality. We remember, and we trust. We trust, and we abide in God as God abides in us.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
May 17, 2020 (6th Sunday of Easter)
John 14: 15–21
Acts 17: 22–31
1 Peter 3: 13–22