SCRIPTURE – John 14:23-29 – Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.
May 5, 2013
Our dog, Jack, is now a year old, and in my unbiased opinion, he’s already ready for college. He’s a mix between a Poodle and a Golden Retriever, two very smart breeds, so he picks up on things very quickly. I think he got his brains from Leigh and his looks from me. We actually have to keep a list of words on our message board that you can’t say around him, because he knows what they mean. Words like “walk,” “treat,” “dog park,” and “peanut butter,” which makes him go absolutely bonkers with excitement. He got that from me, too.
Another buzzword for Jack is “bye-bye.” If he sees us putting on our coats or grabbing our keys, he sits up and waits for us to say those magic words. But if we make our way to the door without saying them, he gets this look on his face like we have just banished him to a Turkish prison. “What? You’re going and you’re leaving me here? You’re not taking me?”
I wonder if the disciples had that same look on their face as Jesus talked to them in our passage today. It takes place during Jesus’ long discourse at the Last Supper, before he is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the other three gospels, Jesus and his disciples spend very little time in the Upper Room, sharing a meal together before leaving. But John spends five chapters in the Upper Room, including Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and offering additional teachings and prayers. In John’s gospel, Jesus uses this meal in the Upper Room, probably his last quality time with the disciples, to prepare them for what is to come.
Earlier in the chapter, Jesus has reminded the disciples that he will be going away. He’s told them this before, but now his leaving is imminent and he needs to impress upon them the fact that he’s not going to be around much longer. They don’t take it very well. They’re full of questions and fear as they realize Jesus actually means it. “What? You’re going and you’re leaving us here? You’re not taking us?” Jesus assures them that he will return for them, saying in v. 18, “I will not leave you orphaned, I am coming to you,” but that promise must have felt empty to those being left behind. He has promised to come back for them, but how do they know for sure? That promise becomes much harder to believe when Jesus is no longer present to remind them of it. You say you’ll be back, but how do we know?
This scene reminds me of the first time you drop your child off in the nursery, or at day care, or at the bus stop. They know that you’re not leaving them forever, that they’ll see you again, but in the back of their minds, they think, “But how do I know they’ll be back?” I remember when Sydney got on the bus for her first day of Kindergarten. I actually followed the bus all the way to the school and watched her get off to make sure she was all right. There were a lot of tears, some whimpering and sobbing, but after she went inside the school I pulled myself together and drove on to work. The modern term for this is separation anxiety. We don’t want to be apart because we may never come back together. The disciples are going through separation anxiety.
In v. 23, where our reading starts today, Jesus is addressing that anxiety. A disciple has asked Jesus, “How will we know when you’ve come back? What if we miss it?” Jesus responds, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” In other words, if we want make sure we see Jesus, we have to do the things Jesus has called us to do. We have to be obedient.
That word may chaff our individualistic sensibilities. After all, we’re Americans, and ever since some foreign king tried to tax our tea, we’ve been thumping our chests and proclaiming, “No one is gonna tell me what to do!” We wear our freedom like a badge of honor, sometimes to fault. I don’t say that without acknowledging both the privilege of our freedom and the cost it took to achieve it. But I believe we sometimes choose the secular concept of individual freedom over the spiritual concept of the body of Christ, where we are but one of many connected together by Jesus. Sometimes we act as if “I” comes before “we.” But that’s antithetical to what Jesus is saying here. “If you want to be in the car with me, you have to let me do the driving.” Too often, we’re willing to relegate Jesus to the backseat, rather than let him chart the course. “Those who love me will keep my word.”
Jesus is trying to give the disciples a way to stay connected to him, even when he’s not around. In fact, the question the disciples faced in this passage is the same question we struggle with today: How do we have a relationship with Jesus when he’s not here with us? How do we love someone who’s no longer with us? When I think of my loved ones who’ve gone before me, I think of the ways they are still with me. My grandfather gave me his watch, which I wear on special occasions. When I do, I’m reminded of the wisdom and guidance he passed onto me and I’m reminded to keep his word. Maybe you make your grandmother’s favorite recipe or visit one of your parent’s favorite places or tell one of your friend’s favorite jokes. There are things we do in our lives that carry on the legacy of those who’ve gone before. That’s what Jesus is saying to the disciples, and to us. Keep my word in your life, and I will live on through you.
But Jesus knows his disciples, so he knows they need some encouragement in order to press on through their separation anxiety after he’s gone. So he reminds them that God will not leave them orphaned, but will send them another one to be with them. The Greek word for who will be sent is “paraclete,” which is translated as “advocate” or “comforter.” The Greek word itself literally translates as “one who is called alongside.” The paraclete, the Holy Spirit will come to us, teaching us everything and reminding us of Jesus’ presence with us.
I love the imagery of the Holy Spirit’s constant and abiding presence with us. This is more than just our conscience or the little angel sitting on our shoulders. This passage speaks of one who will walk alongside us, urging us on, advocating for us, helping us when we need it. And if the Holy Spirit resides in us, then it only stands to reason that one of the ways the Spirit does its work is through us.
I believe the Spirit worked through Meghan Vogel, an Ohio high school track athlete. At the state finals this year, she had already won a medal in one race, and was competing in a second race. She was way behind and was going to finish well behind the medal winners. As she came down the home stretch, another runner in front of her collapsed from exhaustion. Instead of running past her to the finish, Meghan stopped, picked up the other runner, put her arm around her and helped her across the finish line, letting the other runner finish ahead of her. That, more than any other story I’ve heard, is a concrete demonstration of the work of the Holy Spirit. As we run our race, the Spirit cheers us on, propels us forward, and picks us up when we fall, just as we are called to do this for others.
As we do this, as we stay obedient to God’s call in our lives to be Christ-like for others, we continue the presence of Jesus in this world. Jesus didn’t call us to imitate him; he called us to carry on the work he started, taking his acts of grace and mercy and extending them through our hands and hearts into the world. Until he comes again, whenever that is, we have been left in charge, trusted to carry on his name and his work, and everywhere we go we see the faces of the ones he has given to our care, the ones who are wondering how to have a relationship with Jesus when he’s not here. By our presence, by our work, by our witness, we are saying, “He IS here.”
And in this work, which can feel so overwhelming at times, Jesus reminds the disciples and us that we have what we need. In v. 27, he 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 be afraid.” This is more than just an empty platitude like, “Aw, don’t worry.” This is Jesus telling his followers that they already have what they need to face the difficult circumstances of his absence.
The peace Jesus has left us is not the same peace the world tries to offer. The peace our world often offers is simply a temporary cessation of conflict or an artificial sense of serenity achieved through chemicals or possessions. But what Jesus offers here is “shalom,” that rich, deep Jewish concept of wholeness that is characterized by mutual respect and care for each other. It’s interesting to note that in our passage today, every second-person pronoun is not singular, but plural. So every time Jesus says “you,” he doesn’t mean “you,” he means “y’all.” “Peace I leave y’all; my peace I give to y’all.” We are not called to work for our own peace; we can achieve that by simply locking ourselves in our homes and turning off the TV. Instead, we are called to work for the peace of others, for the peace of all, and that works forces us outside of ourselves and into relationships with others, where the Holy Spirit can work through us to comfort, to advocate, to walk alongside.
How do you remember those who’ve gone before you? How do you honor their legacy? Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my word. If you want to stay connected to me even after I’m gone, you will love each other, especially those that are hardest to love. If you want to feel my presence when I am absent, you will work for peace, not just with folks like you, but with others not like you.” With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can make that peace real here on earth, even if only in fleeting glimpses. We have not been left here alone. We are the bearers of God’s peace in this world and we have the Holy Spirit to guide and encourage us. As we tell his stories and carry out his actions, we testify to Christ’s ongoing work in this world. “Those who love me will keep my word.” Thy will, not mine, be done.