You Are Not Alone
Grace & Fairview United Methodist Churches
May 25, 2014
John 14: 15-21 (CEB)
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion, who will be with you forever. 17This Companion is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world can’t receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you.
18“I won’t leave you as orphans. I will come to you. 19Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Because I live, you will live too. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, you are in me, and I am in you. 21Whoever has my commandments and keeps them loves me. Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
Almost 35 years ago, the NBC news affiliate in Knoxville started a special news segment that ran once a week called, “Monday’s Child.” Every Monday, this unique segment featured the story of a child, usually a little older and usually with some sort of special needs or other handicap, who was available for adoption. The segment launched just a few weeks after I was born, and I remember very well growing up with that segment running weekly on the news. There’s a similar program on the NBC affiliate here in Chattanooga called, “Forever Family.” Of course, the idea is that by giving these children wider exposure, someone will step forward to adopt them.
Now, I don’t know about you, but watching those segments really tugs at your heartstrings. The children always share some of their story, and some of their hopes and dreams. The boys long for a Dad or brothers who will play ball with them. The girls hope for a sister who likes to play dress-up. Some of the children want help with their schoolwork, and some of the children say they want parents that aren’t too strict. As with all individuals, each of these children is unique. But I think in every segment that I have ever seen, and probably in every segment that has ever aired, the child shares his or her wish to find a family that will give them pure love. They may not say it exactly that way, but it comes across in one way or another during their interviews. And can you blame them? These are children that have grown up without any stability. They have probably moved in and out of group homes or foster homes dozens of times. They’ve attended different schools and had to establish different routines. Since they are beyond the stage of infancy, many of them are aware that they were abandoned, and they struggle with feelings of self-worth. It’s the plight of many orphans, really; those constant, nagging questions. Am I not good enough? Does nobody love me? Perhaps it is looking at the world through these young eyes that we can truly feel the impact of Jesus’ words when he says, “I won’t leave you as orphans.”
Jesus told the disciples many times that a day would come when he would no longer be with them. And in chapter 13, just before the passage we heard this morning, Jesus says, “The hour has come.” What follows that statement, part of which we heard this morning, is Christ’s attempt to bring comfort and assurance to his disciples who are reeling from the news of his impending departure. We have to remember, these followers left their entire lives behind when Christ called them. They quit their jobs. They left their homes and their families. They had given all of themselves to Christ, and in return, he had given all of himself to them. He taught them how to be better people, and showed them how to live as the children of God. Some of those disciples probably felt that Jesus was the first person to really understand them. Or maybe they received from him the sort of unconditional love they had been longing for their whole lives. And now Jesus has told them he will not be with them for much longer; their source of stability for the last three years, their pillar and strength, is leaving them. Some of those gathered disciples must have thought to themselves, “Jesus is abandoning us.”
As always, though, Jesus is quite perceptive. He is acutely aware of the fears of the disciples, and so he knows exactly what they need to hear. “I will not leave you orphaned. I am coming to you.” It is the seal of the promise that came before: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Companion, to be with you forever.” Certainly, Jesus is speaking to the disciples in that moment, but he is also addressing one of our deepest longings as humans; the desire for companionship, for acceptance, and love. And what he is telling us is that we can have that for our whole lives and even more, forever. How is it possible? Because of the “Companion,” the Spirit of truth that God will send to us through the appeal of Jesus. And it’s not just that this is a companion that is with us, but Jesus tells us that this Spirit, this Advocate, this Companion will actually be IN us!
Here are these deflated, scared disciples, feeling abandoned by the One whom they had given all of themselves to. And now, he tells them that he will send a Companion to be with them forever. And as he describes this Spirit of truth, we see that Jesus’ promise is not just an abstract generalization describing some warm, fuzzy feeling. He’s actually telling the disciples that through this Spirit, Christ himself will dwell in them! He will not leave them as orphans, he loves them, and through the Spirit he will live as their Companion forever!
Christian author Eugene Peterson writes, “The Christian life is going to God. In going to God, Christians travel the same ground that everyone else walks on, breathe the same air, drink the same water, shop in the same stores, read the same newspapers, are citizens under the same government, pay the same prices for groceries and gasoline, fear the same dangers, are subject to the same pressures, get the same distresses, are buried in the same ground.
“The difference is that each step we walk, each breath we breathe, we know we are preserved by God, we know we are accompanied by God….”
I think it’s really hard for us to fully grasp the magnitude of this promise because we are so caught up in the world that we cannot see the Spirit that Jesus promises. It’s like the orphan in foster care who finds it hard to believe that he is loved. But we must understand that this is no empty promise. Because the thing is, we cannot see the Spirit, but we can see Jesus.
Imagine it like this. You know when a child drops into the snow and makes a “snow angel”? And when they step away, there’s no little body there anymore, no face, no waving arms and legs, just an outline. The same happens with little painted handprints, and chalk outlines on the sidewalk. The may seem empty and barren, but they tell us so much about the little people who made them, and remind us of their sweet spirits.
We may not see the Spirit, but we see Jesus. We see Jesus healing, and teaching, and dying in his faithfulness. And if you draw an outline around that picture of Jesus, you have a framework for recognizing the Spirit of truth, the Companion, the Advocate, Jesus himself dwelling with us and even in us! All of this happens because of love. We are claimed by God. We are loved by God in Christ Jesus. And because of God’s love, we are never alone.
If you have trouble wrapping your head around this idea, you are not alone in that respect either. We have all heard of Mother Teresa, that great saint of India. For years, people watching her work around the world simply assumed that to regularly engage in such acts of selfless service, she must be a woman of great faith. What was not known until recently, though, was that Mother Teresa struggled with doubt for more than half of her life. Even as she was out sharing the love of Christ with the outcast of India, she was plagued by dark fears, totally uncertain of Christ’s presence with her. She was serving orphans, even as she felt like an orphan herself. What’s really amazing, though, is that despite those feelings of doubt, Mother Teresa continued to steadfastly pursue the ministry to which she believed she had been called; a ministry of love and service to those most in need.
There’s an important lesson here for all of us. Mother Teresa faithfully pursued her calling despite her feelings of doubt and uncertainty. And if we are to experience the promised presence of a forever Companion, it requires nothing less than a faithful pursuit of God’s will in our lives too. That’s why Jesus begins this whole passage of promise with the statement, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Jesus’ promise of presence through the Spirit of truth is offered to those who keep his commandments; commandments to love and serve God and one another. The love Jesus commands is not a simple affirmation by which we are assured of Christ’s presence with us. The love Jesus commands is his very own love; a love that kneels down to wash the dirty feet of the disciples. It is the love that hangs on the cross, crucified like a common criminal. We have that outline of Jesus’ love, and it is the same outline that will define the Spirit of truth as it is revealed in our own lives and actions.
God in Christ Jesus has claimed us as his own; promising to love us, to be our “forever family.” This is the loving presence we most long for and need in our lives, and Christ promises it to each of his disciples and each of us. But what we have to understand is that this presence is made known in our own acts of love toward others. Which means that we have to open our eyes to see that Christ is present among us when we keep his commandments to love and serve one another. “For whatever you have done for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done for me.”
Once a month, we go to First Baptist Church, downtown, and we serve dinner to over 100 homeless people. After a while, you start to recognize the people that are eating dinner there on those Thursday nights; you see them around town, you know their names and greet them as you enter the church. Those of you who have been a part of this know what I am talking about. Cheryl (from Fairview) has gotten to know some of the people so well that she knows their stories and talks about them with a sense of familiarity and friendship. Now, I doubt when Cheryl thinks about those folks that she considers them to be lifelong companions, but I’d be willing to bet that when Cheryl and all you other folks who are a part of that ministry, or any other like it, think about what happens in those places of service, you would recognize immediately that the Spirit of Christ is present there, in your midst. And Christ is present there, my friends, because Christ’s love is being shared.
If what you long for is love, then share Christ’s love with everyone you meet. If what you need is assurance of Christ’s presence in your life, then be a loving companion to a neighbor in need. “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them loves me. Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” And we will never be alone.
Thanks be to God.