Sermon 1701 John 14.15-21 x May 17, 2020
It had to be, what, twenty-five years ago already? I was on vacation back east and had stopped in to see Art Godfrey, the pastor who supervised me during my “student pastor” training year. Yes, between him and the old synod president’s father who baptized me, you can blame them for almost everything about me! Things had been going swimmingly here at Green Valley and he wanted me to talk to a young pastor who was starting a church in his area of northern Illinois. It was a pleasant lunch. At the end, Godfrey wanted to hammer home a point of mine, so he delivered the set-up line. “Don, if there was one thing he should remember, what would it be?” “The cavalry never comes,” I started.
The cavalry never comes. The poet Wordsworth said the child is father of the man, so I can point you to the movies I remember as a kid that gave me that view, “the cavalry never comes.” War movies like “Midway” were big in my youth, but the formula is the same for almost all movies. The cavalry never comes. Reinforcements showed up at Midway after the badly mauled Marines beat back the enemy air attacks. The island almost sunk!
Reality mirrors fiction every time disaster strikes our country. First the disaster strikes, then the help arrives. And in every case, the victims feel help is too slow, if it comes at all.
Wouldn’t it be great if the cavalry came before the crisis, if help came before you needed it? I know one time it happened—on the night before Jesus died, in the Upper Room.
Help is On the Way.
The Spirit forever (16-17).
The returning Christ (18-20).
Enduring love (15, 21).
“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it nether sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you (16-17).”
Help is on the way. It is not just help for a day or a month, but help forever. That help is the Spirit.
For the past three and a half years Jesus had been guiding and instructing the disciples. He had been with them almost every day. They had witnessed his miracles. His teachings had sunk in. But trouble was coming, even though they didn’t know it. Jesus would be leaving them. He would die on the cross the very next day. After that, he would see them sporadically for the next forty days and then ascend into heaven. They would never see him again while they were on earth, at least not the way it was before.
So Jesus promises to ask the Father to send them the Holy Spirit. Unlike the visible, physical presence of Jesus, the Holy Spirit would be with them forever. The Holy Spirit would be in them. The Holy Spirit would dwell in them, we say, as he dwells within every believer.
This is why the world would not accept the Holy Spirit. It would not see him. It could not know him.
A lot of people have been griping in states where churches were deemed “non-essential” businesses. I’m not going to wade into that swamp, because I’ve been too busy preparing devotions, chapels and online services. And I’ve been too busy praying for the day we can gather for public worship. (It may be coming sooner than we think, so keep watching for news from your church and be ready!) But, before we became Christians, we thought religion was non-essential. What was essential? Making a buck. Getting ahead in this world. Getting her phone number, catching his eye. Having the grandkids say you were the best grandma ever, ever, ever! What you could see was what was important. The experiences of this life were what mattered, so we were happy to shell out quite a bit for our kids to join the band in their trip to London or pay for that summer as a foreign exchange student. Look! A river cruise down the Cuyahoga River! I heard it’s not flammable anymore! Let’s go! Experience life! That’s all that mattered.
Our blindness and the narrow-mindedness of this unbelieving world didn’t stop the Holy Spirit. Like a sledgehammer that crushes rocks, like a sharpened sword that cuts to the heart, the Holy Spirit was poured out into hearts through the Gospel. People believed. People saw the difference in their life. We knew the power of the Holy Spirit. But that’s the last part of this sermon.
The Holy Spirit would act as a counselor, an advocate. He would take our side. He would give us guidance. I think of a lawyer advising his client during a critical trial. I think of those life coaches urging, motivating their morbidly-out-of-shape or disorganized-to-the-point-of psychosis clients to get healthy or organized. I think of a wise mentor whose words never mislead us. You see the Holy Spirt that way, too. Many times he counseled us to “Tell the truth. It will be better for you in the end.” Many times he advised us, “You don’t need to go there to find friends.” More than many times he takes our prayers before God the Father, even when we ourselves are so lost we don’t even know where to start, and with groans that words cannot express, he lays our case successfully before the righteous Father of the spirits.
And at this point, the disciples didn’t even know they were in trouble! Already help was on the way. That’s what a wonderful Lord and Savior we have.
Help is on the way in the person of a returning Christ.
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you (18-20).”
Repeatedly cultures are warned to show mercy on widows and orphans, because widows and orphans are in a terrible spot. They have no one to defend them. They are overpowered. In my undergraduate Greek studies we had to read the speeches of a famous orator. He was orphaned and his uncle did not want to turn the dead father’s inheritance over. For four years he appeared in court. In spite of his eloquence, he still did not get the estate returned to him. Orphans. A terrible situation to be in.
The disciples, like all believers, are not orphans. Yes, Jesus would leave them. Yes, it would be through death—death on a cross. That would be the last the unbelieving world would see of Jesus and what a final glimpse that was! Mocking, scorning, ridiculing Jesus at the foot of the cross. So contagious was it that even those being crucified with Jesus joined in the verbal attacks on Jesus. But Jesus would come to them again. The partial fulfillment of his promise happened on Easter Sunday, when Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his astonished disciples. Then they knew he was both God and Lord. But the complete fulfillment of Jesus’s words would come at the end of time. On the Last Day Jesus will return for all of his followers, all of his disciples, for that is what you and I are. We are students of Jesus. We are his followers. We are Christians, created, formed and moved by the life, death and resurrection, by the words and deeds of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The complete fulfillment would come on the Last Day. That is the only way the promise of Jesus, “Because I live, you also will live,” makes any sense. The disciples were already physically alive. They needed no promise for that. You don’t promise what you already have. Jesus was going to physically die. The cross could hardly be called life. But Jesus would live again, would live after he died. That's what was amazing. That’s what was miraculous. Because Jesus would live after death, his followers would live after death. Jesus’ resurrection would guarantee our resurrection. And that resurrection would only take place on the Last Day, when Jesus would visibly, physically, return to this world. On that day we will not need to walk by faith any longer. On that day we will walk by sight. On that day we will see the Son in the Father and us in the Son and the Son in us. As our problems on earth are temporary, so, too, are any earthly solutions. Finally, the help fades and rusts away, like so many public works projects funded by our government during the Great Depression. But here is an eternal solution. Here is an eternal help which will be ours in the returning Christ.
Help is on the way. It is enduring love.
“If you love me, you will obey what I command. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him. (14, 21).”
We love Jesus because he first loved us. We love Jesus because he sends the Spirit to us to create and sustain faith. We love Jesus because he will come back for us on the Last Day and claim those he purchased with his own blood for himself forever. Because Jesus loved us, we love him. That love shows by keeping his commands. That love shows by having those commands. Through keeping those commands the Father and the Son increasingly show their power and holiness.
Jesus’ commands are the Ten Commandments. We could summarize them with one word--love. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself. Love is the fulfillment of the Law. Our love for God will show by our love for one another. Through showing love for one another, we will be loved and grow through that love.
Let’s take these generalizations and put some meat on those bones. The other day I was listening to a news story about a hospital photographer who was documenting the COVID-19 crisis at his hospital in New Jersey. He wrote how, since family was not allowed to visit, the staff, nurses, orderlies, even he, at times, putting aside his camera, acted as family members. He related how one nurse stayed with a dying man and told him she loved him. They held the hands of the dying. They touched them and told them they were there for them. They made sure they would not die alone.
By God’s good pleasure working through your conscientious behavior over the past two months, we have not had those scenes played out as many times as we feared in southern Nevada’s hospitals. No one from our congregation has passed from COVID-19. But we have paid a price. Lost income for many. Lost family contacts for many. Lost social contacts for many. Lost travel or entertainment opportunities. Video chats are no substitute for a warm embrace. Phone calls cannot replace face to face conversations over a cup of coffee or a beer or a meal at that local diner. We have not died, though the various ways we have been living have suffered mortal blows.
We are pulling through with love. We love each other. We miss each other. I am in the unenviable position of a chaperone at a high school dance once public church services start. “Keep that six foot of social distance, young man!” So if you want to grouse when we meet about the rules, I will accept that. I want to serve you in the next few years, not to bury you.
We are pulling through with love. We are keeping in contact with each other. The phone lines are blowing up. Though the movie theaters are closed we are streaming the same movies at the same time. Some have virtual happy hours. That’s OK, as long as it isn’t from noon to midnight eight days a week. Some are sharing a cup of coffee online or sharing devotions and Bible studies online. We are praying for each other, with each other.
We are pulling through with love. We are refusing to participate in the vicious finger pointing games that are already taking place as people in the public eye, whether elected or not, start forming circular firing squads. No gain in that. We each have our part to do. We recognize the parts we play, like wearing those uncomfortable, ungainly and unsightly masks, will not benefit us directly. Our mask is the Personal Protection Equipment for the next guy so that, if we unknowingly are sick, an errant sneeze or cough of ours will be captured by our mask. It is because we love the stranger, they guy in line at the grocery store, the curbside food delivery gal.
One of the basic rules of recovery from catastrophe is that the impacted population has to have the ability and resources to absorb the initial blows before help can reach them. The good people of Louisiana know where the sandbags and extra batteries are when hurricane season starts. They’ve got enough drinking water and rice and red beans (with Tabasco sauce) to see them through a week or two. Our God is better than FEMA. Help is on the way before the crisis strikes. We have the Spirit and the returning Christ. But we also have that third leg of the stool, our enduring love for God reflected in our love and care for each other.
Help is On the Way.
The Spirit forever (16-17).
The returning Christ (18-20).
Enduring love (15, 21).
But I don’t want to leave you with a half-truth. My answer to that young missionary in Illinois was not a cynical and nihilistic denial of human effort. My answer to that young missionary in Illinois was a complex sentence. “The cavalry never comes,” I started. I finished the sentence, “so always rely on God.” Help is on the way.