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The Fifth Sunday of Easter
Deuteronomy 4:32-40; Psalm 66:1-11; 1 John 3:18-24; John 14:15-21
Long journeys can be difficult and discouraging. When Hollie and I moved to Pennsylvania about 11 years ago, it was hard at first. We were leaving the city, the state, the people, the home we knew here and setting out for something new. That something new was unpredictable, unknown; a whole other state on the other side of the country, no jobs awaiting us, no home, nothing but our hopes. Yet something kept pressing us on, something about the fascinating unknown and the potential that kept us moving forward, to embrace whatever challenges came. And there were many. Out of work that first month. Savings depleted. Low-paying work. Tight budget. Small apartment. We kept the course, pressing forward, because we had each other. We had that person, next to you, staying with you on the way, the one who picks you up when you fall and
We Christians, the Church, are also on a long journey, and a hard one. We are pressing on, step after step, day after day, on a path filled with unknown challenges and untested resolve. What we will encounter on our path towards God? Will we keep on? Will something finally break us, causing us to go astray away from God out of fear, disappointment, and defeat?
Jesus Christ, our love-filled, justice-seeking, evil-defying, death-defeating savior is not here with us, physically. Part of what got Hollie and I through was each other, having that other person with you, physically beside you, walking the path with you. Jesus has returned where he came from, the Presence of the Father. How can he be of any help to us, who continue to struggle and strive forward in this broken world, which suffocates us with consumption, and fear, and insecurity, and death? This passage in John is the first of four in his Gospel that shows us not only that Jesus was going to leave, but that this was actually to our benefit, and that we are able to continue onward in faith, hope, and love because God Himself dwells within us. The Holy Spirit binds Christians to God to empower them in their journey towards God.
Jesus Christ is the Son of God, who became human as a part of the Divine Mission to save humanity. But why didn’t he stay? Because there was a next step in the mission of God for humanity. Jesus Christ was God Incarnate, God in a human person, dwelling with us. This in and of itself was an act of God that was entirely unexpected and surprising. And yet, there was more. “I will ask the Father,” Jesus says, “and he will send another Advocate to you.” The Spirit of truth, one who “will be in you”
“The Spirit of truth.” The Holy Spirit, who brings the truth of God to us. Jesus just said earlier in this chapter that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The Spirit, sent by the Father through the Son, guides God’s people.
“Will be in you.” We are physical beings, but spiritual ones as well. And what Jesus promises here is that the Spirit of God will indwell each of us, be given to each of us. The Holy Spirit will choose to be within us so that we may be empowered, strengthened, made truly alive so that as we walk through this life, with all of its joys and sorrows, successes and failures, dreams fulfilled and dreams dead, we will know one thing for certain: God is with us.
Jesus is in the Father, and in us, and we in Him. In our baptisms we are embraced into the family of God, and brought into an unfathomable, mysterious, spiritual union with Jesus Christ. We share in the very life of God! The Spirit moves by God’s promise and, in we who repent of our sins, believe in God and his work of salvation, in Jesus, and are baptized into him, have the Spirit come to us and cleanse us, restoring us, creating life in us.
Jesus says “I am coming to you.” But won’t he be gone? Doesn’t he ascend to the Father? YES! But the Father is in him, and he in the Father, and both in the Spirit; one God, three persons in perfect unity. When we receive the Spirit, we receive Jesus! To receive the Spirit is to receive the Son and Father who are in perfect union with that Spirit, and to enter into a new life, the life of God.
In a word, as Jesus puts it, “I will not leave you orphaned. I am coming to you.” I will not leave you orphaned. God never promised the road would be easy. He never promised that we would not suffer, even though it is incomprehensible for us to understand, What he did promise, though, is that faith in Him will never come back void, and that he would fill us and be our Advocate. The Holy Spirit is with us on the way.
That is why John can say, “keep my commandments.” He doesn’t mean “do this or else!” No, rather he is telling us that the life we should live, the life of love, is possible for us only because the Spirit of God dwells within us. Without God, we are lost. Love is not an abstract, impractical thing in John’s Gospel. God loves us, the Father sending first his Son, and then his Spirit. And so, we must turn and love God. And love means obedience, not the kind demanded from a slave, but the kind that a child gives out of love, a child adopted and shown nothing but love.
On our journey across the country, Hollie and I had each other. And that is what helped us to get through. Life itself is longer, and harder, than a cross-country move. Our dreams aren’t always fulfilled. Our relationships fail. We sin, we fall, we doubt. But what we can trust, is that the Holy Spirit of God is with us, and will walk with us more surely and more powerfully and more faithfully than any person in the world can. All the way to the end, and our dwelling place with God.
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