The Rev. Helen Havlik – Easter 7 – June 2, 2019
Easter is about God doing something new that’s also eternal. Jesus gets his disciples ready for this new “thing” by gathering them all for their last meal together. He begins the festivities by washing their feet. He talks about the person who’s going to betray him. And after Judas leaves, Jesus turns to the remaining disciples and speaks to them about what will happen and what he expects them to do. Starting with that they love one another, what he asks of them would be impossible without some help. I’m reading from John, ch. 14, beginning with vs. 23. Listen with me to God’s holy word.
I’m old enough to remember when getting the mail was an exciting time of the day. Who knew what would be waiting in the box outside the door? A letter from a favorite aunt, a postcard from some exotic place, the latest copy of National Geographic, maybe? Now my mailbox is full of notices from people who want to buy or sell my house, invitations to financial planning seminars—prime rib served for dinner—and information about the latest developments in hearing aids. Thank you, AARP. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, someday you will. I’m thinking between earbuds and flipflops future generations will also be getting mail from foot doctors!
In our text for today, the disciples are about to lose a person and with that person will go their dreams, their hopes, their courage to face tomorrow. They’ve staked everything on this man who has called them to dream new dreams. And now he’s leaving them for good. In John’s Gospel, Jesus spends a lot of time giving what we might call his farewell address. In Chapters 14-17, John’s main concern isn’t what will happen to Jesus, but what will happen to the disciples. And Jesus doesn’t disappoint. He not only prepares them for his death and resurrection, he makes some promises to them. The question is will they listen? Will they hear him clearly? And in hearing will they be able to carry on?
First, Jesus promises he won’t be gone completely. He tells the disciples, “If you love me and obey me, I will be with you.” And he doesn’t say just “be with”—he will “live” with anyone who does this. Think about what it means to make a home with someone—it means to be close to that person, day after day, sharing space, sharing meals, sharing your heart. He will live with those who love him—it’s a permanent relationship, one that will go on although he’s no longer here in the flesh.
Then, Jesus says God will send the Holy Spirit to them. “Advocate” can be translated in many ways—comforter is one way, helper is another. In the Bible, another word for comfort is strength—and advocates speak on behalf of others. Jesus promised them strength to deal with whatever they must deal with; someone who would stand up for them when they were under attack in body, mind or spirit. Jesus makes it clear that God is doing the giving: God sends the Holy Spirit—they can’t earn the Spirit; they can’t buy the Spirit; they can’t manipulate the Spirit. They can’t do anything to “get” the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit isn’t a thing, but a person who comes as a gift to bring them closer to Jesus and give them fresh vision. New events call for hearing Jesus’ words in new ways, and using his words in new ways. The Spirit will teach them about what it means to follow Jesus Christ after he’s no longer with them.
And finally, Jesus grants them peace. These are some of my favorite lines of Scripture—“peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you” is the beginning of one of my favorite choir anthems. The peace Jesus leaves those disciples isn’t an absence of conflict—it isn’t the promise that their lives will be all sunshine and flowers. It isn’t the peace of mind that comes from having a good portfolio with Edward Jones. It isn’t the peace of getting away from it all at the mountains or the beach. They can’t give themselves peace any more than they can make the Holy Spirit. Peace, too, is a gift. It’s the assurance that nothing, nothing that happens, good or bad, changes God’s abiding presence. The peace of God is the confidence that God is God and what happens to them here on earth isn’t the end. They aren’t given a shield to protect then, but a force to empower them. They aren’t promised escape from worry, fear, anxiety or tension, but power to overcome them. Certainly the world can’t give them this—only God in Christ working through the Holy Spirit can give them such peace.
Presence. Spirit. Peace. Are they listening anew to what Jesus is saying to them? They haven’t done such a great job of hearing him to that point. And how about us? How good is our hearing? How effective are our listening skills? Because he isn’t just talking to that handful of followers a couple of thousand years ago—he’s speaking to us, now, gathered around our table, hoping that we, too, will listen anew to very familiar words.