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Bible verses for reflection: John 14:8-17 (25-27)
I’m no fan of goodbyes. I’m an airport crier. Even when I’m prepared, saying goodbye is incredibly difficult for me. I get attached to people and places and leaving is always hard. So, I’ve often wondered what it was like for the disciples as Jesus said goodbye. He prepared them for his leaving but I’m not sure they ever quite understood what he was saying. I imagine they thought they would always have him or that they would help usher in this kingdom he promised and they wouldn’t ever be separated from him. I don’t think they realized that he would actually leave them even as he said a rather lengthy goodbye. That’s what he’s doing here in John. He’s attempting to prepare them for his departure. He’s saying goodbye. He’s reminding them of the promises he’s already made and he throws in a few more. Let’s listen for the words of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John.
This is a quieter Pentecost than we’re used to, isn’t it? This promise of the Holy Spirit is quieter than the usual story we read in Acts. This isn’t the story of the birthday of the church that many of us have come to expect on this, the 50th day of the Easter season. We expect flames and a great whoosh, a rush of wind and a multitude of languages but that’s not what we read from John’s gospel. This is a quieter Pentecost, an internal Pentecost, the coming of the Spirit not over a crowd but in our individual minds, hearts, and souls…the moment the light clicks on and we “get it”, the moment we realize we have seen Jesus and that means we have seen God, when we realize we know Jesus and that means we know God. And we read this curious promise of an Advocate, one who will stand up for, speak up for, bring comfort and support and encouragement to you and to me. This Advocate will remind us of the truth we hold
deep down in our hearts. When we’ve forgotten who we are, the Spirit will remind us.
When we’ve forgotten the promises of God, the Spirit will remind us. When we’ve forgotten what it means to be a child of God, the Spirit will remind us. Here in the gospel of John Jesus tells the disciples he’ll be leaving but he won’t leave them alone. The Spirit is coming, he says. I’ll be sure and ask the Father to send the Advocate, comforter, helper, paraclete in Greek. Jesus says to the disciples and to us that, though he will be leaving, he won’t leave us alone.
It’s hard for us to believe sometimes, isn’t it? That we’re not alone? Some days it would be easy to think we’ve been abandoned, that Jesus did leave us alone, that God isn’t involved anymore. It happens when our children are going through difficult times and we can’t understand why God would let them suffer. It happens when we hear of one more shooting, one more killing, one more bomb, one more capsized boat filled with refugee families. It happens when we hear the hate speech and fear so prevalent in this election cycle. It happens when we hear of a life cut short. It happens when we’re not sure where to go from here, wherever here may be. There are days when we feel as though we are stumbling around in the dark and the promise of the Spirit seems a far off thing. God seems to be far away, too. During the dark days, we become blind to the ever present Spirit of God.
Like the disciples, we want signs and wonders to prove that God is still around, that God is still involved and that God still cares. Jesus, show us the Father and we’ll be satisfied, we say. Father, show us the Son and we’ll be satisfied, we say. Holy Spirit, come, and assure us that the promises are true, we say. We want miracles and wonders. Then we’ll be satisfied. But just like the disciples I’m not sure that’s true. I’m not sure that miracles and wonders provide the proof we think we want. Or perhaps its that we don’t see them when they occur. Perhaps we are blind to the work of the Spirit in our lives and in the world. Even after all the disciples had seen and experienced alongside Jesus, they wanted more. They wanted assurance. They wanted something definitive. And Jesus gently reminded them that they’d already seen all they needed to see and experienced everything they needed to experience in order to know God. I won’t leave you alone, he said. You do your bit. You continue my work once I’m gone. I’ll ask the Father, my Father and yours, to send some help. You’re not in this life alone. I promise.
It is this promised Advocate, helper, comforter, Holy Spirit that reminds us of God’s presence. This comforter reminds us that we are not alone. When we are stumbling around in the dark, there are moments when the light clicks on and we remember. We remember that we have seen Jesus and therefore we have seen God. We get it and we know that we are held by God. The Spirit shows up. The Spirit shows up in laughter and in tears. The Spirit shows up at a bedside. The Spirit shows up in the words of a trusted friend or a song lyric or a passage of scripture. The Spirit shows up in ways we struggle to name but we know it when it happens. And we should expect it to happen. As human beings, we see what we expect to see so if we don’t expect the Spirit we won’t see it. We should expect it. We should expect the Spirit of God to show up as a gentle breeze or a mighty wind; as the voice calling to us in the night; as the arms of God holding us close.
We can so easily be overwhelmed with the problems of the world. We can so easily be overwhelmed with fear at the state of things. I think we’re all in that particular boat together right now with troubled hearts. And we can let fear paralyze us or we can look for the Spirit at work in the world and in our own lives. We can listen as the Spirit reminds us of who we are and who we’ve been called to be. We can answer Christ’s call to do greater things. We can see the miracles and wonder all around us, the hand of God active in this broken world. And we can participate in God’s redemptive work for all of creation. It takes courage and a willingness to step outside of ourselves and get a little uncomfortable but, children of God, we can do it because we are not alone. We’ve got the Spirit of God on our side, leading us and guiding us and lighting a fire in us as we seek to do God’s work in the world.
What does it feel like to know you’re not alone and never will be? I’ve been trying to answer that question all week. I think t feels like peace, the kind we just can’t explain. The peace that puts our troubled hearts at ease and drives out all the fear. The peace that can only come from God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. I do not dole out fear and heartache. I have something else to give to you. Something that will last. Something that will accompany you along the road. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid. Come, Holy Spirit, come.
Rev. Alex Rodgers
Decatur Presbyterian Church
May 15, 2016
Allysen Schaaf graduated from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Christian Education. Prior to that she received a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Rev. Dr. Todd Speed has served Decatur Presbyterian Church since August, 2007 and has been an integral part of the Decatur community ever since. As a part of his personal calling and service, Dr. Speed regularly serves on local non-profit or education-related boards, has led or co-led over 20 mission trips in various cultural contexts, and has participated in learning seminars on five continents.
Rev. Alexandra Rodgers was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She grew up in a large Presbyterian church where she and her family were very involved. Alex has a degree in interdisciplinary studies from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a master of divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas.
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Worship is the heartbeat of Decatur Presbyterian Church, the most important hour of the week. In worship, we offer praise, receive forgiveness, listen to God’s Word, pray for the needs of the world, and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God.
The mission of DPC is to share Jesus Christ's love for the world.
Founded in 1825, Decatur Presbyterian Church has contributed in numerous ways to the cultural development of Decatur over nearly two centuries, transforming Decatur from a tiny frontier settlement to building the foundations of the city we live in today.
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