Tag Archives: John 14:15-21

Not Alone

A Sermon for 21 May 2017 – 6th Sunday of Easter

A reading from the gospel of John 14:15-21 (NRSV).  We continue to hear portions of Jesus’ words to his disciples at their last supper together the night before his death.  Listen for God’s word to us in this message recorded on Jesus’ lips:

“’If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.  17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.  I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.  19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.  20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.  21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!


Have you ever taken on a project that ended up being too big for you to accomplish alone?  Maybe you’ve gotten yourself in over your head on a project at work and needed to call upon a few colleagues to help.  I’ve heard some of you speak of enlisting help to clean out your parent’s home after their passing – a difficult task made a little easer with the help of friends.  If being honest, I’m pretty sure anyone who ever has attempted to raise a child has said:  “Help!”  . . .  One spring a few years back when I was serving in a specialized ministry to children and their families; we came up with the idea to take old crayons, melt them down, then make new big crayons for the preschool children at the Martha O’Bryan Center.  This was a project intended for the fifteen or so first through sixth graders who attended the church’s Wednesday Night missions ministry.  The kids were all about hands-on projects to serve others.  The plan was to do a crayon drive opened to the whole 1,400 member congregation.  After about three weeks of that, the Wednesday Night kids would sort the crayons into like colors, then unwrap ones still rolled in that crayon paper.  As the project progressed, the children would be assisted by an adult experienced in such crayon-making who had some sort of hot plate for melting the wax and cute molds of letters, animals, and fun little shapes just right for the hands of pre-school colorers.  Perhaps you see where this is going.  . . .  The children of Wednesday Night made posters to put all over the church facility:  “COLOR DRIVE FOR MARTHA O’BRYAN PRE-SCHOOLERS!  Bring in your old ones; we’ll make them into new!”  We set out a small box beside my office door.  Sunday morning when I arrived, I already had to push through bags of crayons overflowing from the small collection box we had prepared.  And the crayons just kept coming.  Week one, week two, week three.  Even though we hadn’t seen 1,400 people in a week for ages, I think every last member of that church dug out the old crayons tucked back in their cupboards used by children who since had had children and some even grandchildren too!  By the time we called a halt to the crayon drive, I had like three large storage tubs filled to the brim of old crayons eager to be made into new!  After about a month of Wednesday nights, we finally had them all sorted, much to the exhaustion of the children who were excited to work on the project the first week, but pretty tired of it all by the end of week two!  And that was just the sorting.  Peeling off that tight paper glued by like super-glue around each crayon took forever!  We finally enlisted all the children’s Sunday School Teachers to make crayon peeling a project in the church’s ten children’s classrooms for a few weeks later that summer.  The adult assistant for the project and I each spent hours late at night at home for weeks trying to get at least a reasonable amount of crayons ready to take to Martha O’Bryan.  I still remember someone a year after when they were bored to tears recovering from surgery at home asking if I had any little project they might be able to do while they were laid up at home.  I returned the next week to their house with two huge plastic bags full of sorted crayons still needing to be peeled!  Eventually we gave up trying to complete the project – which is why I still have a two gallon plastic bag full of unpeeled crayons – which I could have brought to give out to you all today to enlist your help in the effort too!  . . .  Needless to say, the project ended up being WAY bigger than anyone anticipated and even WAY bigger than a small group of children and two overly-optimistic adults could accomplish!  It happens sometimes that we take on projects that are way too much for us to handle on our own.

Whether they realized it or not, Jesus knew.  Mid-way through the gospel of John, as Jesus gathers with his friends for that final meal; he gives them a project he knows will be way too much for them to handle on their own.  We heard it last week, and Thursday night of Holy Week too:  “a new command I give unto you, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  It’s how the whole world will know you follow my way!” (paraphrase John 13:34-35).  This is the way the gospel of John tells of Jesus instructing his friends to make an impact in the world:  being like a light that shines for others to see as the diverse group of folks he’s pulled together show his kind of love to one another.  Imagine what it was like for Peter, who history tells us perpetually was jealous of Mary Magdalene.  Imagine what it must have been like for him to show self-giving love for her.  How would it have been for someone like James or John who once worked really hard for a living as fishermen now asked by Jesus to extend the genuine hand of brotherhood to someone like Matthew, a tax collector who likely had cheated his fellow neighbors out of their hard-earned money as he lined his own pockets in an endeavor for the Romans.  And that was just in the inner circle.  What was going to happen when once this movement spread to those like Saul who used to hunt Jesus’ followers for the religious leaders, and those like the eunuch of Ethiopia who wanted to know about the One who freely gave his life, and even those like Lydia whose business in purple cloth far exceeded any wealth the rest would ever know.  They were going to need help, all right.  They would need the Spirit of God living in them if they were going to follow Christ’s command to make an impact in the world by loving one another.

In the past few weeks, I’ve enjoyed hearing from many of you in our Listening Sessions.  We’ve still got lots of decisions to make as we navigate the way forward into this congregation’s future.  But I heard so many of you tell stories of your most meaningful ministry experiences in loving others.  In serving for God as you did everything from take care of homeless strangers, to be with children in need in short-term mission either as a counselor for the summer or as those ensuring they’d get clean water.  Some of you spoke of sitting with those of a different race as early as the 1960s to hear what life was like for those long-considered second class citizens in this nation.  Others of you told of ways you really want to make an impact in the lives of families who bring their children downstairs each week – whether or not those families ever end up upstairs in this sanctuary with us.  And still others want to ensure the needs of the surrounding community’s older adults are met – not necessarily the financial needs, but needs for human connection – breaking the isolation that aging alone at home too often brings.  It’s been wonderful to hear the passion you all really do have for the mission of this congregation:  for Serving God by Serving Others!  Someone even brought up the idea in a recent meeting of thinking about this congregation’s ministry as a concentric circle.  Like a pebble dropped into water having an outward ripple effect, it’s as if caring for the members of this congregation is the first ring of the mission, making a positive impact in the lives of the families and staff of the pre-school downstairs is the second ring, making a positive impact in the 1-5 mile radius of the local community is the next ring of mission, and making an impact in the word internationally through the mission of Living Waters for the World is the fourth ripple of impact in the mission of this congregation’s expression of Serving God by Serving Others.  It’s an interesting way to think about it, which certainly needs additional refinement as it rolls around in your thoughts and hearts.  And one thing’s for sure:  if this congregation is going to fulfill Christ’s command to make an impact in this world through love, then the Spirit of God surely will be needed among us.  The Spirit that guides into a new future.  The Spirit that revives when we’re weary.  The Spirit that persists in pushing us forward when we’re afraid or overwhelmed or just not wanting to go.  The Spirit of God is needed to fulfill the mission of Serving God by Serving Others!

The good news we hear from the gospel of John today is that Jesus has promised that this Spirit will be with us.  Wherever his people love one another, there God’s Spirit dwells!  We’re not quite to Pentecost Sunday yet, just six weeks into the season of Eastertide; but the gospel of John assigned in the lectionary for this Sunday wants it to be known that the church of Jesus Christ has not been abandoned.  We may be aging and this building may need a little repair – like a new HVAC.  We may not yet know exactly how to make a positive impact in the community living a stone’s throw from this sanctuary.  But we are not alone in this project Christ has given of Serving God by Serving Others.  The Spirit of God is with us.  And if it feels like the Spirit is missing then we better get busy loving one another to re-experience the Spirit with us all over again.  It’s a high calling but we do not undertake this endeavor alone.  The Holy Spirit of God abides with us.  Together, a little blood and sweat from us, a dash more reviving Spirit from God; together the Way will be made.  Trust the words of our Lord:  “I will not leave your orphaned.”  The Spirit of God abides with us today and evermore!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN — 2017 (All rights reserved.)

“In” — John 14:15-21

DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.
May the Spirit Speak to you!
25 May 2014 – 6th Sunday of Easter
John 14:15-21

Click here to read the scripture first: John 14:15-21 (NRS)

School years are ending this week. We’re in the midst of celebrating those who have sacrificed their lives for our country through the armed forces. And tomorrow marks the official acceptable time of changing over to our summer shoes and purses and white pants, right? . . . It’s all got me thinking about a boy who I have been watching become a young man. He came out carrot-top from the beginning with a beautiful mane of red hair that clearly was inherited from his grandmother. His looks favored her when he was young so much so that you could put baby pictures of her alongside him at the same age and swear he was the spitting image. It was as if you were looking at the exact same child. . . . Over the years, it’s become evident that he’s his parent’s offspring. He likes to ask questions. And push boundaries – as does his mother. He has fallen in love with singing – almost at the same age his mom did. He’s not afraid of going out into the world to discover where he fits – as both his parents kinda did. It’s easy to see them in him. You who are parents, grandparents, aunts, or uncles certainly have observed this phenomenon up-close in your own lives. Children so often carry the characteristics of their parents. At the same time, children get into their parents. It’s been easy to see this too in the boy I’ve been watching grow. A little bit of who he is has gotten in to them. Because neither his mother or his father ever played a violin – as he does masterfully, or took up soccer, or had anything to do with Boy or Girl Scouts. This boy has expanded their world as he’s gotten them listening to symphonies, and cheering on a soccer team, and even getting into things like earning badges and completing an Eagle Scout project. It’s kinda how it happens, right? Children reflect their parents. And as they grow, parents’ lives end up shaped – whether they like it or not – by the unique being that their child is. They are in him as much as he is in them.

It’s good to ponder the process a bit because it may be one of the closest analogies to give light to the message of the gospel of John which we hear today. . . . Chapter 14 of John is just the beginning really of Jesus’ very long speech to his disciples. It may feel a little bit of a rewind as this text puts Jesus and his disciples back together at a supper right before he goes out to the garden of Gethsemane to be arrested and crucified. We’re six Sundays into the season of Easter, but the gospel of John points us back to before all that action began. The words of the gospel of John that we heard today happen at table after he’s washed every last one of their feet – including the feet of Judas who would betray him, Peter who would deny him, and the rest who would scatter and flee. Often referred to as the Farewell Discourse, this section of the gospel of John starts with a reminder that Jesus (knowing that his hour has come): Having loved his own, he loved them to the end (John 13:1). . . . Things are about to go awry. Their world is about to be destroyed; their hearts crushed as the nails are driven one by one into his hands and feet. Out of deep love for those who are about to feel 100% abandoned – alone, Jesus speaks. Such beautiful words like: “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1). And “I will not leave you orphaned” (John 14:18). He knows this horrific night will shatter them. Like an emergency room chaplain trying to comfort the bereaved who just heard their loved one didn’t make it; Jesus is trying to tell them it’s all going to be all right.

Of course, just telling them it’s all going to be all right would have gotten him an F in seminary Pastoral Care class. Because you’re not supposed to say it’s all ok when the worst tragedy hits! You’re not supposed to reach for empty platitudes about tomorrow is another day. All the pastoral care gurus tell you, you’re just supposed to be. With one in their grief. Alongside. A presence that can sit together with another in their pain so that they do not feel alone. That’s about all we can offer in such moments of the most intense grief – and it’s really all that’s needed: being with. Because as a person has to walk through that dark valley, the presence of another can be their strength. Their comfort. The light that can shine for them until their own world turns from grey into color again. All the casseroles in the world won’t do it – though the casseroles might be one way of enacting what Jesus ends up promising here.

He takes out what always have seemed to me to be mind-boggling words. On and on he goes about loving him and keeping commands and another Advocate and living and finally: “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:20). If we had to draw it out, like in a game of Pictionary, it might look something like Russian nesting dolls – each one being in the next and all of them being one together. Or maybe even the fish that is in the water, but the water’s in the fish too through its gills and the composition of its body. . . . What Jesus’ is trying to say to those about to be adrift in a turbulent sea of grief is that, look: can you see the parents in the boy? Can you see the boy in the parents? . . . We’re in a relationship here. That’s the promise he gives to those who love him. Those who feel like he’s abandoning them in his death, resurrection, and eventual ascension; he wants them to know that he will be in them, just like he’s in God and they are in him. . . . We’ll be in Christ; as he’s in God and they’re in us.

It’s doubly needed, this word of presence – of Christ being in us as Christ is in God because it’s believed the gospel of John was written to Christ’s followers right around 100 A.D. About two generations after Christ’s death and resurrection, and just a couple decades or so after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Things were getting tough for the first followers of Christ around that time because Jews were trying to figure out what it meant to be Jews after their Temple was destroyed (again) in 70 A.D. And followers of Christ’s Way no longer could rest on Temple worship alongside certain practices at home, as they did after the first Easter. These two groups were deeply on the way to becoming distinct religious movements. Those first hearing the gospel of John really needed to know that before his death and resurrection Jesus promised his disciples they would not be alone. He was not leaving them orphaned as he told them to carry on in the mission he began. In fact, some of the gospel of John’s theology of the Risen Christ is coming through here. As we live in him – keeping his commandments; doing the things he did; the Risen Christ lives in us. Through us. The world can see that we’re the spitting image of him: apples that haven’t fallen far from the tree, isn’t that what is said sometimes? You can see the parents in the boy! The characteristics of Christ – which, Jesus in the Farewell Discourse wants us to know, are in fact the characteristics of the Triune God. Those traits of Christ shine through us because he’s in us; even as we’re in him. Just like he’s in God and God’s in him – does that make sense? His image is reflected in us – if we’re keeping his commandments.

The Apostle Paul’s metaphor from Colossians comes to mind. In chapter three he says that those of us who know ourselves raised with Christ are to put on certain clothes. As if each was a separate piece of our wardrobe we were putting on in the morning: a shirt of compassion, socks of kindness, trousers of humility, shoes of meekness, and spruce it all up with the accessory of patience. We put on each garment of the characteristics of Christ as we ready ourselves to head out the door for our daily walk. Of course, the difference here in the gospel of John, is that it’s not like clothes on the outside. It’s Christ in us – from the inside out and us in him. The parents in the boy as much as the boy is in the parents. Which is not to say that Christ changes because of who we are; but more to say that because of the unique skin of who each of us is, Christ takes on all sorts of wonderful forms in this world. He lives through so many more amazing gifts and abilities each one of us is and has. It’s kinda beautiful that he and his ways get lived out through children and youth and adults alike. That those things of compassion and kindness and humility take form through those of us who are right-brained and those of us who are left-brained. Through the feminine and the masculine. Through those who connect well with younger people and those who tend the aging best. He lives in us; and we live in him!

How can that not spur us on in good days and in darkest valleys? How can we not be motivated to live out his commands – knowing that we’re not alone in that process. It’s not on our own efforts; Christ is in us. We’re in him; just like he’s in God and God is in him. They’re in us. Just get out of their way and let those traits – the characteristics of Christ that are in us come pouring out. Which might be something we have to grow into; something that unfolds deeper and deeper through the years so that those around us recognize Christ in us a little bit more day by day just as we see those parents in that boy as he grows.

What good news. A gift from our God! The Risen Christ in us and we in him!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
© Copyright JMN – 2014 (All rights reserved.)