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Parting Gift - Sermon on John 14:23-29

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Jesus gifts us peace and love during is parting time. He also left us the Holy Spirit so we would not be alone. 

lease listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The delivered sermon is often considerably different than the sermon notes which are included for convenience below.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

May 1, 2016 - Sixth Sunday in Easter

"Parting Gift".  Text is from John 14:23-29

Click here for sermon audio

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, disciples of Christ and children of God.

Jesus continues to answer questions of his disciples in what has come to be known as the Farewell Discourse in the gospel of John, those words that he offers to his disciples to let them know what is to become of him and what they are to do when he is no longer physically with them. And although we are in the season of resurrection, the Easter season, the time between when the empty tomb was discovered and the time when Jesus finally ascends into heaven, there are some very good reasons why we have gone back in John to hear Jesus's words about his leaving. Because in this text, we can finally reflect on what it must have certainly meant to the disciples to have Jesus the man be gone from their presence at last, and yet what it means to have him yet walking alongside them.  

It starts with a question. And since Judas Iscariot left them, Peter, Thomas and Philip have all asked various questions of Jesus. And now it's the other Judas' turn (and John is quick to point out that this is not Iscariot lest we be confused). The question asked was, "Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?" 

Holy Spirit stained glass.jpg

And indeed, we can be sympathetic to Jude, because as we understand it over and over again, the Christ they were expecting, the warrior who would defeat all the powers that threaten Israel and provide God's chosen people with their own control of a promised land, and the Jesus Christ that thy got seemed to be two different people. The apostles are all at different stages of understanding exactly what this means. And should we not wonder what kind of disappointment that some of them must have been feeling that he, Jesus, is not heralding this battle to come? The messiah came into Jerusalem, not on a chariot of war but on a donkey, humble before the world. 

We have this Messiah speaking not about war but about love. And love of him, and just what does he mean when he says that those who love him will keep his word? Hearing Jesus' word and abiding in his word, and keeping his word, which he says at different times in the gospel is all about living in accordance with the manner that he has taught his disciples. That is, to love one another and to be the good news in the world. And it is here in the gospel that Jesus makes a sharp contrast between love in him and those that have no love in him, that is, those that is, those who have no belief, because when we say that Jesus has not taken away the law as laid out by Moses, but has only fulfilled them, he reminds us that those who have no belief in him therefore don't hear his word, but that of the Father. They remain subject to the law and all that it entails. 

And here, Jesus gives the disciples once more this wonderful gift. Because although he will be leaving them, he leaves them with the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, that they may continually enjoy his presence even as he is no longer walking beside him. The resurrection as much of an incredible event as it was, means that Jesus is leaving from their presence. But despite that, they will not ever be alone, for Christ continues to walk along side of them, helping and guiding them along the way.

Loneliness can be a hard thing. I know that some of us have times in our lives where we experience deep dark depression or find ourselves in places where we may be forced to believe that there is no way out from the holes that we have made of our lives. While I have not been in such a place myself in a very long time, I can still be in touch with moments when I felt like I was heading over the cliff and there was nothing could do to stop myself, that every decision I made on my own was an abject failure, that every turn I made led to a different negative consequence. Like I was in a maze and I kept going down long paths only to find myself continually at dead ends and having to turn back around. 

And even losing friends or loved ones can drive us into those places. I have lost my own share of people I loved in my life over the years, and I certainly expect to lose more. And when it happens we may feel a void deep down inside of us, a hole that there is nothing that we can find to fill. Some of us turn to fill that spiritual void with material things, be they food, alcohol or drugs, or other addictive behaviors.  But as we sometimes hear it programs, spiritual voids cannot be filled by material things. 

But what is this gift of the Advocate that Jesus is calling to us? We speak of God as a Trinity, and we recite the words that God is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but how much do we know and understand that third part?  The person of the Trinity whose relationship might scare us because the simple act of living leaves us with so many very opportunities to ask when and how the Holy Spirit engages us. 

When the gospels talk about the Holy Spirit we find readings of healings of the lame and the blind. Even Peter in acts raises a woman from the dead, as we heard several weeks ago.  In this week's reading from Acts, Paul receives a vision sending him to Macedonia.  

But who among us are tasked with healing the lame and the blind? Who of us have raised the dead? Who of us can speak in languages that anyone can understand and by virtue of that impart the belief of God on souls crying out for the love of Jesus?

And yet... who of us have produced acts of kindness because we felt it was the right thing to do. I remember back when I did chaplaincy training during seminary, and was working in a dementia ward in South Carolina, I would sit down with people who had no idea who I was. Warned that they would often have no idea who I was, even with my collar on, some of these seniors would tell me elaborate stories about how their mother was going to pick them up, how people who died years ago were visiting them, how they were just on vacation and this place was a nice resort. I would visit the wards several times a week, see the same people over and over and visit with them. While I received appreciation from the nurses assigned to their units, I never expected anything more than the same stories coming up time and time again. But the week I was done with my training, one man who was always off in his own world looked me straight in the eye and said, "Thank you for being here, pastor."

The rest of that week I had at least four other like experiences. People who had lost connections to the world around them had connections with me. I had goose pimples and my gut did a little turn inside. 

And when I started paying attention to the work I did as a result of my faith, and the thing that happened around me and the feelings I got inside and the look on people's faces and the things that happened, it hit me that even though I knew by faith that God was always with me, I was also experiencing that companionship that Jesus Christ had promised us in his great love for us. 

The gift of the incarnation is being able to experience the companionship that we all long for day in and day out, the meaningful relationship with our God that our hearts call out for.  We are made into these people, individual, making personal decisions all the time, sometimes good, and sometimes bad. That is the nature of being human, being nuclear and feeling isolated. But even in our isolation, we are truly never alone.  Jesus has gifted us the gift of the Holy Spirit. In that spirit we know that Christ is with us, walking with us and taking part in our lives, the hurts, the hopes, all of our struggles and our joys. Servants of his word, we are also vessels of his good news, which he sends us, in his advocate in the world to be the beloved children of God that he calls us, drives us, with his divine mercy and Holy Spirit, always with us, to be.


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5th Wednesday in Easter - Homily on Revelation 21:10, 22--22:5 was the previous entry in this blog.

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