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Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 25, 2014

My dad traveled for his job. I am not sure how much, because I was young and thought any time he spent away was too much, but I think it amounted to twice a month or so for a couple of days. We would become anxious when he left, wondering when he would be back home. He and mom would always promise he would return shortly, and he called every night to reassure us that he loved us and was eager to get back to us. His promises and his and calls were big helps to us as we waited. The promises gave us hope, and the calls gave us the relational connection we needed.

Jesus is preparing his disciples for a much bigger, much more wrenching loss than a few days away on a business trip. He is going to die, be resurrected and ascend to heaven. He is going to leave them on earth without him. Jesus is talking to the disciples at the last supper, trying to prepare them for this loss. He has spoken of Judas’ betrayal, of Peter’s denial and of his crucifixion. The disciples are anxious and afraid. They do not know what they are supposed to do now. They are desperate to establish a continuing connection with Jesus. He has tried to talk to them about his relationship with the Father – his being “in” the Father – but “in” the Father – but the disciples cannot hear it. Show us the Father, says Philip, and we will believe. Jesus responds that if they have seen him, they have seen the Father, because their relationship is so intimate. He has even said that if they don’t believe that, to believe because of the works that he has done. As good Jews, they can relate to the Father and he is in the Father and the Father in him. But the disciples want Jesus, and Jesus knows that.

So Jesus gives them another promise so they will have hope: that if they love him by keeping his commandments, he will ask the Father who will send them another Advocate. Jesus is their first Advocate, and he will send someone just like him. The Greek word translated “advocate” has many meanings, but at bottom it means “to come along side another”. (David Lose) So Jesus will send someone to “come along side of them” as he did. This Spirit will literally advocate for them. It will want what is best for them as Jesus did and work to achieve it. It will give them the power to accomplish what Jesus wants them to accomplish. Second, the Spirit will be the Truth. It will be the Spirit of Jesus, who said he was the way, the truth and the life and who stood before Pilate silent as Pilate asked “What is truth” with the truth standing in front of him (Linda Lee Calder). The Holy Spirit will remind them remind them of all that Jesus has taught and lead them in new ways when new situations come up. The Spirit will also be a comforter and encourager. It will remind the disciples that they do not have to do everything perfectly and praise them when they do well, as Jesus did, by cooperating with God to accomplish their mission. The comforter will be there in times of trouble and loss.

With the advent of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is trying to create a new community where love is at the center, where relationships are not hierarchical, but based on equality and service to one another. He is asking them to look through a different lens of life (Nancy J. Ramsay) to see love’s power rather than the power of domination and oppression by the empire, as the driving force in their lives. He wants to give them hope in the triumph of love over death and destruction. If they look through this lens, the Spirit will be with them and in them. The disciples will not be able to do anything but love because they are surrounded and filled by it, but it is a counter-cultural lens. Many people will not be able to encounter the Spirit of Truth because they do not have the same lens to look through.

But Jesus does not just promise the Holy Spirit. He promises that the disciples will see him, though the world will not, and he will come to them. He will live eternally, and so will they. He promises them yet another way to be in relationship with the one they love. Not only that, if the disciples are in Jesus and Jesus in the disciples, then because Jesus is in the Father, those who love him and keep his commandments will be loved by the Father. The disciples will be bathed in love from every angle, and their relationship with God in Christ will be stronger than ever because of the Holy Spirit’s presence.

There are two yanks in this story for me, as I suspect there are for you. The first is the apparent conditionality of Jesus’ promise: if you love me and keep my commandments. Well, what if we don’t do that very well? Is the promise of the Holy Spirit based on our efforts? Well, no it isn’t. Jesus assumes the disciples do love him and are keeping his commandments, but he knows they do this by God’s grace alone. The grace came before the obedience, so God is at work in the disciples so they will fill Jesus’ condition, not through their own power, but through the power of the Holy Spirit already at work in them. Jesus is telling them who he wants them to continue being, so they can experience the joy of his presence. Jesus also knows that ultimate reconciliation with God will be created through his sacrifice on the cross, so that forgiveness for not keeping the commandments will be forthcoming to restore the relationship once again.

The other area of difficulty is the people that do not see and know Jesus because of the culture’s domination of their minds and hearts. What happens to them? Well, we know from earlier in John that Jesus came to save the world, not to condemn it, and God wants everyone to be saved. So the Holy Spirit is at work in the world (though not the same way it will be in the disciples) to convert people’s hearts to the good news of God in Christ. We hope that the only people who don’t make it into the kingdom are those that refuse it, and we hope no one refuses it.

On this Memorial Day weekend, we can relate to the huge loss the disciples are feeling. We not only mourn those killed in wars on Memorial Day, but we visit our relatives’ gravesites as well and grieve over losing them. Or perhaps we are experiencing the loss of someone close to us dying from cancer or Alzheimer’s. We are desperate to establish a connection with Jesus, as the disciples were, and the eternal life he offers. We want to know that we will see those we love again.

We establish a connection to Jesus just the way those first disciples did. We keep his commandments, and we will be filled with a love so deep we cannot see the end of it. We are to love one another as Jesus loved us – a kind word instead of rejection, a box of food packed for the hungry, a donation to an organization that helps others, a meal for the homeless. We are not to leave anyone orphaned. (Larry D. Bouchard) Loving one another as we have been loved also means we are on the receiving end of loving acts and should accept them with gratitude. Like the disciples allowing Jesus to wash their feet, we are to receive the blessings of this love as well as give them.

Jesus has given us the gift of continuing relationship with him in the power of love and truth – the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit advocates for us, works for our good, reminds and teaches us about how Jesus would act, encourages us in our work and comforts us in times of confusion and sorrow. Jesus also promises to return to us and give us life in him. We are surrounded by God’s love for us and are called to extend that love to others in thanksgiving. Let us serve one another in this community and all those we meet in our daily lives. To do this is to truly know God and the Advocates whom he has sent.

AMEN

     - The Rev. Ann Barker

Works Cited:
David Lose, “Communities of the Spirit” in Dear Working Preacher, blog post May 20, 2014
Linda Lee Calder, Feasting on the Word, Year A, vol. 2, Homiletical Perspective (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), p. 493
Nancy J. Ramsay, Feasting on the Word, Year A, vol. 2, Pastoral Perspective (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009) p. 490
Larry D. Bouchard, Feasting on the Word, Year A, vol. 2, Theological Perspective (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009) p. 494