John 14:5-21 – New International Version (NIV)
Jesus the Way to the Father
5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know[a] my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit
15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[b] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
Last week, I attended the Festival of Homiletics in Minneapolis. It is a week-long preaching conference that many there called preacher camp. It was attended by 1,800 preachers. Over 3 1/2 days, I heard 10 of the top preachers and Biblical scholars in the nation. I attended 5 lectures and 8 worship services. It is equivalent to half a semester of a seminary level preaching class.
My soul was nourished by the preaching and teaching. It is not often that a pastor gets the opportunity to worship and not have a responsibility in the service. Worshipping without being involved in the leadership of it is a rare gift that feeds my soul. Plus all the music was played on a pipe organ that is too big to fit in any church in town. Can you imagine 1,800 people singing hymns accompanied by a pipe organ. It was like I imagine music will be like in Heaven.
I want to thank you for the opportunity to attend conferences like this one for professional development and spiritual Sabbath. I got to hear and meet one of my favorite Biblical scholars. I was like a groupie. I bought one of his books and had him sign it. I did very good – I only bought 2 books. Quite the restraint by me who buys books like I am an addict.
I saw several Disciples ministers that I went to seminary with or have come to know through regional events. I traveled with my friend Tina from Kentucky. It was nice to have someone with whom I could process all the lectures and sermons. Our brains hurt from so much Bible commentary and preaching theory.
Having someone to talk to and share ideas made me miss seminary. Don’t get me wrong I love it here. I love what I do and all of you. I just miss the days of seminary with the scholarly work and companionship of close friends who are going through the same journey. A week at preacher camp both renewed my spirit and made me long for days past. Leaving seminary is a loss I will probably grieve for many years.
It seems appropriate to talk about loss on Memorial Day weekend. It is also a time when we pause to remember those who have died serving our country. Since its inception, Memorial Day has become a day when we remember, not only those lost to war, but all of our loved ones who have died.
As difficult as it can be, Memorial Day is a time to remember loss. I’d like for us to take a moment to consider loss. We have lost many members over the past year. We have all noticed that our pews aren’t as full as they were last year. A few of our beloved members have died. There are a few more who are unable to come regularly. We count that a loss. We are missing family members.
Loss takes many forms. Loss can be felt in every aspect of our lives. Some have lost a job due to budget cuts. Some have retired and are finding a new identity as a person who doesn’t work. Some have lost being able to do the things they love. Some are finding things they love to do more difficult. Some are losing their independence. Some have lost love. Some grieve that their babies are growing up and no longer rely on them as much. Loss is different for each of us. But, feels the same to all of us.
I think the writer of Psalm 137 can teach us something about loss. I want to read it for us.
1 By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows[a] there
we hung up our harps.
3 For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How could we sing the LORD’s song
in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither!
6 Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy.
7 Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down!
Down to its foundations!”
8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator![b]
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock!
The write of this Psalm was a priest who served in the Temple in Jerusalem. The priest wrote this while in Exile following the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. The psalmist is questioning where God is and what God is doing if He allowed the Temple to be destroyed.
Now, the priest has been asked by fellow believers, fellow Exiles, if he could sing a song of the faith. He is tormented by the pain of loss. He can’t sing. He can’t believe, but people have turned to him for help. This psalm is the priest’s song about not singing a song of faith. He can’t sing, but he can’t not sing. He can’t believe, but he can’t not believe. He sings, because that’s what he does. He believes, because that’s who he is.
It is important that we don’t lose faith and hope in our experience of loss. That is what the Holy Spirit is with us for. The Holy Spirit, our Scripture today, calls her the Advocate. The Holy Spirit sustains us during difficult times.
When we are enduring difficulties, it is easy to question what God is doing. We question why we believe when bad things happen anyway. We doubt if God is acting if we experience loss. We wonder why we pray if God doesn’t give us what we want. I get angry with God and yell at Him.
Even when we doubt or get angry or question, the Holy Spirit sustains us. We continue to come to church. We continue to pray. We continue to sing. We continue by the power of the Holy Spirit that believes for us even when we can’t believe.
In our Scripture today, Jesus is speaking to the Disciples on the night before He is betrayed. It may seem odd that we’re reading Scripture from a night that happened before Easter when Easter has already passed. But, the Lectionary organizers couldn’t fit all the texts neatly in order. So, some of the things Jesus said on His last night are read now.
After Jesus washed the Disciples feet and shared a meal, He spent time with them preparing them for His departure. He talked about the coming of the Holy Spirit and prayed for them to have peace. The Scripture today is His promising the Holy Spirit to come after He has gone.
I think the Disciples are starting to understand that Jesus isn’t going to be around forever and isn’t going to do what they thought He would do. As they recognize this reality, they begin the process of grieving His presence the same way we grieve when someone we love is leaving our life for any reason.
Jesus promises the Disciples that He will not leave them orphaned. Jesus tells them that the Father will send the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, the Advocate, to be with them forever. The Advocate will live in them and will live in us. The Advocate will be their constant friend and companion when Jesus has gone. The Holy Spirit is our constant friend and companion now that Jesus has gone.
I have to admit that theology confuses me sometimes, even after earning a master’s degree, spending 4 years thinking about nothing other than theology, I still get confused. We call Jesus our friend. We talk about Jesus being alive. We talk about being the hands and feet of Jesus. We talk about God being with us. We talk about receiving the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit living in us.
All this talk about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit and I think we just confuse ourselves about who is doing what and who is where. I think I’ll leave figuring that out for another sermon. I will leave you with this. When we experience loss, when we can’t sing, when we can’t believe, we have a friend and companion who is always present. That friend sustains our hope and believes when we doubt until the day when we can sing again and proclaim our faith that Jesus is the Risen Christ.