A Sermon Preached at St. Richard’s Episcopal Church
The Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 5, 2013
Gracious, God, you are our God and we love you. O God, we thank you for those who came before us, who in their relationship with you wrote their experience down and now it is Scripture for us. And we ask that you would speak to every listening heart here today. May we walk in obedience to your Word and remember that we are not alone. Amen.
Recently in my Pastoral Care class my professor asked us to think about a time when we learned something from the process of someone dying. My mind immediately went to my Grandfather, Edwin, or as we grandchildren called him, Papaw. Papaw had heart problems for many years but he lived to be 86. I was 29 when he died. To say that I had a longtime to know my Grandfather, learn from him, and most importantly love him, would be an understatement. I feel very blessed to have known him so well. I also often say that any bit of kindness that I have in my heart comes from my Papaw.
At the end of Papaw’s life, he knew he was dying and so did we, his family. The 4th of July is a big occasion for my family and I believe that Papaw was waiting until we could all be together before he died. He asked that we share communion together, he picked out his favorite hymn to be sung at his funeral, and he reminded us that our relationship with him wasn’t ending, he would always be there for us. Papaw was preparing us for his death. On July 6, 2006, my Papaw died and went to heaven to be with Jesus and is now one of the saints in glory.
I believe that Jesus was doing for the disciples what Papaw did for us, preparing us for his death. Assuring them that although He would no longer physically be with them, the relationship would not end. Isn’t that reassuring, that even in death we carry on the relationships that mean so much to us, specifically our most important relationship, our relationship with God.
It is not hard to make a personal connection with today’s Gospel. We can understand completely what the disciples must have felt. They must have been experiencing fear, grief, and anxiety. Fear about what Jesus will soon be facing. Fear for themselves, how will they go on without their teacher? Fear of abandonment and anxiety of what will happen next. I think we have all experienced those emotions at some point in our lives. We all have moments in life that we are so beaten down and so unsure of ourselves that we think, what will become of me? It is such a human response. My guess is that it is exactly what was going through the minds of the disciples on that day. But Jesus offered the disciples and us language of assurance and love; these words are what carry us through our faith. These words are Jesus’ love language to us, His family.
Jesus tells us, “Those who love me will keep my word…" But what is His word? His word was the language He used and the life that He led. Jesus spoke of the value of a life lived in prayer and in response to God. The language of Jesus fills the promises of a loving God. Words have power.
The words we use can prepare us for death, bring others to Christ, and can convey God’s love. If we use loving language we can see and do our work together. It all starts with words, but it will grow into every corner of our life if it is allowed to take root, if we let Christ fully into our lives.
"Those who love me will keep my word and my Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with them." Those are powerful words that Jesus gave us. They are strong enough to carry us through any adversity, including the death of someone we love. I hope they brought comfort to the disciples that day.
We are created by God in love and for love. We are created to be in a community of love with one another. God is love and that statement alone is what binds us together as a community of Christians. I have been on a number of emails that Stuart has sent to many of you, his parishioners. Every one of his e-mails ends with the words “much love.” You never doubt that his love for you is present and that is exactly how God’s love works. It is always there, it is constant and you can see it though Stuart, or the person sitting right next to you. You can see it when you buy a tractor for those in need in Tanzania. You can feel it when you raise $800 in a yard sale for women in need. You can hold on to it when you learn, live, and pray together all in the name of God’s love.
And if you need more proof that God loves us than all you have to do is to remember that God’s massive, abundant, amazing love was proven to us the day Jesus died on he cross. Jesus gave up his life that we might have abundant and everlasting life with God, a life of love and unity with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit forever.
Love is stronger than loss, God does not leave us comfortless, and there is more than one way to transmit the love of God to those who are ready to receive it. Jesus was preparing His disciples for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was teaching them about a new day. Jesus told them to get ready.
Jesus then says, ”I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” The word advocate translated in Greek means the one who stands beside you. The one that stands beside you when you are sad or in trouble. The one who stands beside you when you are having a hard time understanding the choices your children are making. The one who stands beside you when you are hurt by something that happened at your Church. The one who stands beside you when someone says something that is cruel. The one who stands beside you when you are watching someone you love die. So take a deep breath, God is not our enemy. God is our advocate, our friend, the one who stands beside us. Jesus was giving that same assurance to the disciples that day, letting them know that they would not be alone, that their advocate would stand beside them-ALWAYS!
Then, John tells us, Jesus says: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” What exactly is this peace that Jesus is leaving with us? The disciples are experiencing the end of something, yet Jesus is assuring them that this is not the end, that they will not be abandoned, that they will have peace. He is telling them do not be afraid. He is telling them and us, that it is alright. Because don’t forget we have the one that stands besides us-ALWAYS!
The love of God, the peace of Christ, and the presence of the Holy Spirit have all been promised in today's Gospel. Jesus does not describe exactly when, or even what this Holy Spirit will be like. But He gave His word and then told the disciples to live it. And He promised that love would be the proof of the God's presence. When our hearts beat with the love of God the spirit is present among us. When we allow God to move fully in our life, when our advocate is by our side, then we can face anything, even the death of a Papaw, or someone that we love dearly. The best part is the relationship doesn’t die in death, it only grows in God’s love.
Jesus prepared his disciples for his upcoming death so that their faith would be strengthened rather than shattered by it. The Good News is that Jesus is resurrected and He is alive today. In John’s Gospel reading we are told this was always God’s plan and Jesus needed to prepare the disciples and us by saying. “And now I have told you this before it occurs so that when it does occur, you may believe.”
Remember we are never alone; we have an advocate standing beside us. Even at moments of deep loss and sadness God’s peace surrounds us. Take comfort in the knowledge that Jesus is holding our hand and remember the words are always there when we need them. AMEN.