Undergirded by the Spirit

Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
May 17, 2020
[COVID-19 Pandemic, Week 10]

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.”

“In” is such a small word. It seems like it shouldn’t really matter all that much. We’ve been working on sight words with Owen over these weeks that he’s been out of preschool. A couple of weeks ago, we got to some “I” words – you know, “is,” “it,” “if,” “in,” and so on. They’re such tiny words that generally just carry us from one larger word to another, or one phrase to the next. But here Jesus is, promising to be “in” the people who keep his commandments, and promising too that those people will be “in” him. Suddenly that little word takes on such great significance, with vast implications. Are we “in” Jesus? Is Jesus “in” us?
Through these Sundays between Easter and Pentecost, we have been looking at the earliest followers of Jesus for direction on how we might live as disciples and make disciples in uncertain and rapidly changing times. Last week, we heard from Peter about being “living stones” who take the presence of Christ out into the world. The week prior to that, our focus was on maintaining faith in the midst of significant change by focusing on Christ through prayer, Scripture study, fellowship, and “the breaking of bread.” Three weeks ago, we reflected on the walk to Emmaus, and the need to be hospitable, and to celebrate Jesus’ presence in our midst in even seemingly small or ordinary ways. And a month ago, in the days after the tornado, we heard again Jesus’ promise of peace, delivered to disciples locked behind closed doors in fear – a reminder that even in the most difficult of times, Christ still comes among us.
Today, we are back in John’s gospel. This particular section is part of what is called the “farewell discourse.” It is a record of the things Jesus said to his disciples on the last night of his earthly life. What you hopefully see here in these few passages, though, is that a lot of what Jesus is talking to his disciples about in this farewell discourse, is how to carry on after he is gone. He is preparing them for a time when he will no longer be with them physically. And what he says to them in these verses we heard a few moments ago are important words for us too. “On that day, you will know that I am in my Father, you are in me, and I am in you.”
When you think about what you need most in this world, what does it come down to for you? When I really get to the heart of it, for me, it’s all about relationships. And that’s exactly what Jesus is describing – a relationship through which we are connected with everything we could possibly need. I don’t know if there’s anything more important for disciples of Christ to understand than what Jesus is telling us right here. “I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion, who will be with you forever…I won’t leave you as orphans. I will come to you.”
In this “Companion,” the Holy Spirit, given to us by Christ himself, we have everything we need to carry on as disciples of Christ. Some translations use the word “Advocate” instead of “Companion.” Advocate means “one who has been called to our side” – to stand up for us. When we are week or troubled, we need an Advocate to stand next to us. But even more than standing next to us, Jesus tells us that this companion will be “in” us, and I think that’s really the key here. Because when the Spirit of God is in us, it transforms us, our lives are shaped into Christ-likeness. We are connected with God himself, and we are empowered the work that Christ would have us to do.
In the opening of this passage, Christ says, “If you will love me, you will keep my commandments.” Then, as you heard, he circles back to this same message at the end of the passage, “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.” This really is the heart of this passage. Because everything that Christ calls us to as his disciples comes down to our ability to love. “The love Jesus wants his hearers to embrace is not an abstract philosophical concept, but the lived reality revealed in the life, relationships, and actions of a simple Nazarene.” We may not be able to “see” the Spirit, but we can “see” Jesus. “We can see him healing, and teaching, and dying in his faithfulness.” “He feeds the hungry, touches lepers, heals the sick, and speaks” toward the marginalized “with care and regard.” The sort of love that Christ calls us to is a love that enacts Christ’s own actions – that continues his work in the world – so that we become people who teach and heal and exemplify faithfulness in all things and to the greatest degree possible. And Christ’s promise to his disciples in this passage is that such acts of love and faithfulness in Christ’s name will be undergirded by the Spirit.
Through these weeks of isolation and distancing, through this time of significant uncertainty and rapid change, I’ve been trying to discern how God would have me to live as a faithful disciple. Like all of us, I’ve been trying to understand how God would have me serve his Kingdom at a moment when there is no such thing as “business as usual.” I have a colleague in ministry who relayed that in one moment of particular distress about how to proceed in ministry in this very strange time, she just laid down on the bed with a note pad and pen lifted toward heaven and said, “God, I’m gonna need you to write this down for me.”
Unfortunately, we don’t really have such clarity in these moments. So we have to work with what we’ve got. But what I want everyone to hear and to understand this morning is that we have enough. We have the model of Christ’s life – the work that he did in his time on earth and recorded for us in Scripture – a perfect example of what it means to follow the will of God. And Christ tells us, in these words to his disciples we heard earlier, that we have a Companion, an Advocate, the Spirit of Truth that abides not just around us, not just with us, but actually IN us. Whatever we do in the name of Christ, we never do alone, for we are always undergirded by the Spirit.
You know, I’m a pretty organized person. I really like to plan ahead. All of the uncertainty and back and forth right now about what’s okay and not okay in terms of gatherings and so on, has my head spinning. My level of anxiety is unbelievably high because I feel like I can’t plan ANYTHING. Add to that the fact that basically everything I learned about how to do ministry over the last 15 plus years has been thrown out the window – or maybe thrown into a blender and completely obliterated – in the last two months. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing. I don’t know the best ways to do ministry under the circumstances. I’m not sure of the best ways to serve people in the name of Christ when I’m not even supposed to be around people. And I’d imagine many of you are feeling the same way – about your jobs, your schoolwork, your faith, whatever.
So here’s what I decided this week, as I sat with Jesus’ words to his disciples. I share it with you in the hopes that maybe we can all do what needs to be done in this time. I’ve just got to do the best I can. I have to be as faithful as possible under the circumstances. I have to follow the example of Christ as best as I can – to serve God’s kingdom by serving others to my fullest ability. And at the end of the day, I have to claim it for Christ, and rest in the sure knowledge that the Spirit will work something good out of whatever pieces I was able to cull together. Jesus tells his disciples that they can do greater work even than he did, but such is not possible apart from the work of the Spirit in and through them. We can never control the work of the Holy Spirit, our only hope is that the Holy Spirit will choose us as partners. And to be honest, I’d rather let the Holy Spirit take control in this mess right now than try and sort it out myself.
So here’s my new goal – my latest attempt at not getting overwhelmed at the chaos that is our world right now – I’m going to approach the Holy Spirit with a willingness and a desire to be God’s presence in someone’s life, in the world, right now. I’m going to do the best I can with what I’ve got, and I’m going to have faith that by the Spirit’s work in and through me and every other believer, Christ’s work in the world will continue today and everyday.

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