According to Karoline Lewis, Jesus
never stopped talking.
Lewis is a preaching professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul,
Minnesota. She wrote a
commentary on today's Gospel lesson that begins with these words
(and I quote):
“Jesus never stopped talking.”[i]
What she meant was this: that Jesus
never stopped talking between the passage we read last week and the
passage we read this week.
In fact, he does most of the talking in this section of
John's Gospel we call the Farewell Discourse (chapters 13-17).
Last week he had told his disciples that he would be leaving,
and tried to reassure them that they would be all right, even in his
absence. If you were
here you may remember that I pointed out how he calls them “little
children” in 13:33, and in 14:1 says, “Do not let your hearts be
troubled.” So, most of
what he says in this section of the Gospel is addressed to little
children with troubled hearts.
You need to get that picture in your head.
You need to see Jesus leaning toward his disciples, pleading
with them: “Little children, do not let your hearts be troubled!”
That's the context for everything he says in these verses,
and when it comes to interpreting Scripture, context is everything.
So, those people who use John 14:6 in their evangelistic
preaching, who stand on street corners shouting to
strangers that Jesus is “the
way, the truth, and the life,” and that if they don't come through
him they will never get to the Father, may be addressing the wrong
audience, in the wrong way.
These words were not preached to strangers, but to friends;
not to the unbelievers but to believers; they were whispered to the
inner circle of Jesus’ disciples—people like you—and people who were
troubled by the idea that he would be leaving them soon—just as you
would be. Which raises
an interesting question: how have we gotten along without him all
these years, at least, without his physical presence?
When I looked at this passage last week I noticed how full of
promises it was. Jesus
tells his disciples that even though he is leaving he will not leave
them orphaned. He will
ask the Father to send someone to be with them forever, the Spirit
of truth, who will be in them and abide in them.
But they still look troubled.
And so he says that in God’s good time he himself will come
to them; they will see him.
“Because I live you will live,” he says.
“You will know that I am in the Father, and you in me, and I
in you. You will be
loved by the Father, and I will love you.”
All these promises!
You can see how hard Jesus is working to reassure the
troubled hearts of his disciples.
It sounds like something a single mother might say to her
children if she were going to take a job in another city, and needed
to leave them with their grandmother for a while.
When it was time to go she would gather them up and say:
“Now, kids, I don’t want you to get upset, but I have to go away
for a little while.”
“Can we come with you?”
“No, not now. Later.”
“But where are you going?”
“I'm going to get a place ready for you, and then I'll come and
get you, and take you there, so we can all be together.
It's not far. You
know the way.”
But one of them, little Tommy, says, “No, we don't! We don't even
know where you're going. How can we know the way?”
And she tousles his hair and says, “I AM the way, silly!
Trust me. When I
get the new place ready I will come and get you.
You don't have to worry about a thing.”
And then the promise that probably matters most of all. One of
them asks, “Who's going to take care of us while you're away?”
Because, you know, they're just little kids. They can't make
it on their own. They
know that as well as anyone.
“Your Grammy's going to take care of you,” she says.
“Anything I can do, she can do.
You don't have to worry about a thing.”
And that's the promise I want to talk about today.
Jesus doesn't promise his disciples that their grandmother will
take care of them, but he does tell them that he will ask the
Father, and the Father will send them a
paraclete (When I taught
New Testament to college freshmen there was always some smart aleck
who would say, “A parakeet?
A small, brightly colored tropical bird?”
Not a parakeet.
P-A-R-A-C-L-E-T-E). It comes from the Greek verb
parakaleo, which means,
“to call alongside.”
Think of the Paraclete as
the one you call alongside yourself when you need help, or comfort,
or maybe just a friend.
- One of my earliest memories is
running across the back yard barefooted at our house in Wise,
Virginia. Isn’t that
one of the most delicious feelings in the world: bare feet on
soft grass? But then
I stepped on a bee and it stung me and that had never happened
before. I howled
with pain, and hobbled to the back door and into the house,
still howling. My
dad came running into the kitchen, scooped me up in his arms,
took me to the living room, stretched me out on the sofa, and
said, “Wait right there.”
And then he went to the bathroom and came back with a
pair of tweezers which he used to pull that little black stinger
from my heel. He
showed it to me, and then went into the kitchen to throw it away
and mix up a paste made of water and baking soda.
He dabbed that on my stung heel gently, and almost
immediately I began to feel better.
- It was around that same time I had
a nightmare I can still remember, one that sat me bolt upright
in my little bed beside the window on the second floor of that
house. I was looking
at two circles made out of construction paper, and held together
with one of those brass brads.
The front circle had a little window cut in it, and the
back circle had a picture of a witch, so that when you turned
the back circle you would see the witch fly past the window over
and over again.
Somehow, in my dream, it turned into a real witch, flying past
my window, and I sat up and yelled for Mom.
I heard her feet hit the floor immediately, and then she
came upstairs and sat by my bed and stroked my troubled head and
taught me the words of Psalm 56:3: “What time I am afraid, I
will trust in thee.”
- And on the first day of first
grade she took me to school, where I ended up standing in a line
with all the other first graders as Miss Cherry checked our
names off her list.
“This is Jimmy Somerville,” my mom said.
Miss Cherry looked down her list, and then looked at me
over the tops of her glasses.
“James?” she asked.
I nodded, and that was my name for the rest of the year.
But then Mom hugged me goodbye and went back to the car
and I was left standing there with a bunch of kids I didn’t
know. I began to
feel lonely and sad, but then I saw my best friend Bobby
Thompson coming across the school yard with his mom.
“Bobby!” I yelled, and he came running over and stood
beside me. Miss
Cherry looked over the top of her glasses.
“Robert?” she asked.
And he nodded his head.
But there we were, James and Robert, two peas in a first
grade pod, as happy as we could be.
Do you see how much it helps to have someone you can call
alongside yourself when you are hurt, or scared, or lonely—a
your dad, or your mom, or your best friend, or someone else
altogether? Jesus told his disciples, “I have to leave you, but
don’t worry: I'm going to ask the Father to send you a
“Oh, goody!” they must have thought.
paraclete. Just what we
But it was just what they needed.
Because Jesus doesn't only promise them a
paraclete, he promises
them “another” paraclete.
He makes it clear that the Father has already sent one
Paraclete, and that was him—Jesus—the one the disciples could always
call alongside themselves when they needed a helper, a comforter, or
a friend. Now he's
leaving but he’s going to send them another Paraclete, and that's
the Holy Spirit. The
Holy Spirit is going to be able to do everything for them that Jesus
has done, with one important difference: the Spirit is going to be
with them forever.
Now I think you're beginning to see the answer to my question:
how have we gotten along without the physical presence of Jesus all
these years? With the help of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the
one we can always call alongside.
And these days I find I need that kind of help more than
ever. Because I can’t
call for my Mom in the middle of the night.
She’s in a nursing home in West Virginia, struggling with
dementia, wondering why she’s there.
And I can’t call on my Dad anymore; we buried him four months
ago. And I’m not sure
where my friend Bobby is these days; I don’t think I even have his
phone number. The
paracletes of my childhood are no longer with me, physically; no
longer able to come alongside me in the way they once did.
I’m sure that’s true for many of you, as well.
When you wake up in the middle of the night you may not even
know whose name to call out.
And I think that’s why Jesus bears down so hard in this
passage to reassure his disciples that even though he is leaving
them they will never be alone.
This helper, this friend, this comforter, this
Paraclete, is as close as
their next breath. All
they have to do is call and somehow, in ways they can’t begin to
understand, God himself will come rushing to their rescue.
That preaching professor I was telling you about?
Karoline Lewis? I
got to hear her lecture last week in Minneapolis. She was talking
about John's Gospel and especially this part of John.
She said something about the
word “holy” that I had never considered before: that it was almost
like God’s family name. I
mean, there's the Holy Spirit, right?
But there is also the “Holy Father,” the one Jesus prays to
in John 17. And then, at
the end of John 6 Peter says to Jesus, “We have come to believe that
you are the Holy One of
God.” So you’ve got the
Holy Spirit, the Holy Father, and the Holy One: all the members of
the Holy family. And
then listen to this: in John 20 Jesus breathes on his disciples and
says to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” and you might imagine that
in that moment, as they breathe in that Spirit, they are sanctified.
Do you know what that word means,
It means to make holy. It’s what Jesus prays for in John
17:17; he asks the Holy Father to sanctify the disciples in the
truth. And in John 14 he
talks about the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Truth.
It’s a bit of a stretch, but I can imagine Jesus breathing
the Holy Spirit onto his disciples as a way of making them holy, so
that Peter, Andrew, James, John, and all the rest, those smelly
fishermen, those dusty disciples, are sanctified.
In that moment they became part of God's holy family.
So when Jesus promises his disciples later in this passage that
they will know that he is in the Father, and the Father in him, and
he in them, he may only be saying that the Father's kind of
holiness—the kind that loves the sinful world enough to send his
only Son—is the very air that he has been breathing, and soon it
will be the air that they are breathing, and it is this kind of
holiness that defines God’s family, or as Karoline Lewis said,
“Holiness is what holds us together.”[ii]
I’ve been thinking about that in the
last few days: about the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Father, and
Jesus, the Holy One of God.
I’ve been thinking about how he said, “I am in my Father, and
you in me, and I in you.”
Maybe he was saying that holiness passes between us like
breath, from the Father to the Son, from the Son to the Spirit, and
from the Spirit to the church, and that it is this holiness—this
mutual, self-giving, and sacrificial love—that marks us as members
of his family. I was playing with that idea last week and wrote down
all the “holy” words I could think of: Holy Father, Holy One, Holy
Spirit…and then I wrote down Holy Communion, and thought about how
we gather for that just as little children might sit down around the
family table at mealtime.
And once again we find Jesus physically present.
We take his body in our hands.
We taste his love on our lips.
We remember the way he brought us into God’s family and how
much it cost him. It is
a holy moment. Jesus
said, “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in
me, and I in you. Maybe
that’s what he was talking about.
But one thing is certain: we are not alone.
And all those promises Jesus made?
Every one of them has been kept.
From my notes, taken at the Festival of Homiletics in the
sanctuary of Central Lutheran Church, Minneapolis,