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I Will Not Leave You Alone

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Call to Worship            L: We are gathered together to worship the God who has called us to love God.
P: And the God who has asked us to follow God's direction.
L: We are a invited to worship God in the Spirit of truth.
P: We do so, because we know the Spirit and the Spirit knows us.
L: We are reminded that we are not alone.
P: Because the Holy Spirit is among us, Jesus is with God, and God is present.
L: Let us rejoice that because he lives, we, too, live!
-Based on John 14:15-21.



            (Children’s Time                                   Communion)

INVOCATION             Eternal God, the idols we have made and worshipped, our  yearning after success and recognition, we confess to you. Our  secret jealousies, our hidden irritation at the foibles of  others, we admit. Our private sense of superiority, our  impatience with those who turn to us in their need, we place  before you. Forgive us, we pray. Enlarge within us that love for  others by which we may yet be found faithful at the end.





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Hymn                           O, the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus         # 477


Scripture Reading         Acts 17:22-31


Hymn                           I Have Decided to Follow Jesus            # 576

Scripture text    John 14:15-21
Sermon            I Will Not Leave You Alone

     There's an old saying about the way you get people to hear  what you're saying, that goes something like: Tell them what  you're going to tell them. Tell them. Then, tell them what you  told them.

     For some reason I connect that with the military, but this  morning I want to connect that with Jesus. Because the way the  writer of the Gospel according to John has set up the teaching of  Jesus in the passage I just read is like that. Jesus tells us  what he is going to tell us. Jesus tells us. Then Jesus tells us  what he told us.

     To disciples who were as disconcerted about their lives as  we often are about ours, Jesus said: "... I will ask the Father  to send you the Holy Spirit who will help you and always be with  you"  (John 14:16 CEV).

     What he's telling us he's going to tell us is that he will  not leave us alone.  Then he tells us: "I won't leave you like  orphans.  I will come back to you" (John 14:18 CEV). 

     I will not leave you alone!

     Don't get hung up right there on theories and theologies  about the how and when of what some would call the "second"  coming. Because, first, before all that, Jesus is simply telling  us what he told us he would tell us.

     I will not leave you alone!

     And then, like a parent (maybe, today, like a mother) who  says to a child, "If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand  times!" Jesus tells us what he told us: "The Holy Spirit will  come and help you, because the Father will send the Spirit to  take my place ... So don't be worried or afraid" (John 14:26-27  CEV).

     I will not leave you alone!

     Where I am, and always will be, is with you. "Rise, let us  be on our way" (John 14:31 NRSV). "It is time for us to go now"   (John 14:31 CEV). C'mon -- let's go! Whatever happens, we're in  it together, said Jesus.

     The teaching in John takes us back before the crucifixion,  when Jesus' disciples were, perhaps, only beginning to realize  the political realities of Jesus' situation. It wasn't any easier  than it is for you or me for Jesus to fight "City Hall." It  wasn't any easier than it is for you or me for Jesus to stand for  right in face of wrong. It wasn't any easier than it is for you  or me for Jesus to make hard decisions. And the Bible never tells  us it will get easier. What it does tell us is that when it gets  harder, we can hold fast to God's promise to be with us and not  to leave us hanging out there alone.

     Jesus knew full well that those who hang in there sometimes  get hung out to dry, and even hung on a cross to die. He is not  denying that reality. He is pointing to a greater reality -- the  presence of God with you and me, knowing full well how hard it is  for you and me to hear it.

     Jesus was a Jew. To the Jews first, and to all of us always,  God has called us to hear what he tells us. The single greatest  truth the people of God have proclaimed from the beginning, the  great truth of Israel, calls us to hear that God has not  abandoned us, that God will never leave us -- alone.       Our Jewish friends call it "the Shema" from the Hebrew for  "hear." "Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You  shall love the Lord your God with all your heart; and with all  your soul; and with all your might"  (Deuteronomy 6:4 NRSV).       "Listen, Israel!  The Lord our God is the only true God!  So  love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength"   (CEV).

     That's the faith of Jesus who said to you and me, "Have  faith in God and have faith in me."

     "... I will ask the Father to send you the Holy Spirit who  will help you and always be with you"  (John 14:1, 16 CEV).

     I will not leave you alone!

     I just moved biblically from the words of the writer of the  ancient book of Deuteronomy to the words of Jesus. I can do that  because that's what the Bible does. It tells us what God is going  to tell us. It tells us. And it tells us what he told us. From  walking in the Garden with God in the book of Genesis, to waking  up in heaven with God in the Revelation of John, the Bible says  God is with his people, and we are always with him. As the  Psalmist put it, "The Lord of hosts is with us"  (Psalm 46:7, 11  NRSV). "The Lord All-Powerful is with us" (CEV). And always will  be.

     Jesus said that to his disciples who'd heard it before,  knowing full well that they didn't hear it  --  not really. So  having told them what they had already been told by their faith  in the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and having told them  himself of God's love in him, he told them,"The Spirit will teach  you everything and will remind you of what I said..."  (John  14:26 CEV).  The Spirit will tell you what I told you.       This is one of those passages where we have to deal with the  Doctrine of the Trinity, our attempt to understand and explain  God as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. This  doctrine has vexed Christians from the beginning.       And we've come up with everything from three Gods to a God  who is a committee.

     But could it be so simple as to take Jesus at his word? That  by his revelation of himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God  has simply told us (1), and told us (2), and told us (3) of his  love and his presence with us.

     On this Chancel Choir Recognition Sunday, we need to hear  the words we sing and heed them. We began with these:

So has the church,

in liturgy and song, In faith and love, through centuries of  wrong, Borne witness to the truth in every tongue ...1

     The truth by which we can live and die! The Lord of hosts is  with us. Jesus Christ is with us. The Holy Spirit, the Lord of  hosts, the presence of Christ in the here-and-now is with us --  with you and with me.

     That's something in which we can take great comfort. It can  also be very disconcerting. We have to be careful, lest we turn  God into a caretaker whose only concern is keeping you and me  comfortable. Someone once said that the job of a pastor is to  comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. That, says  Jesus, is also the way of God the Holy Spirit.       Now I just told you what I'm going to tell you. So let me  tell you. God the Holy Spirit comforts the afflicted and afflicts  the comfortable. Now let me tell you what I told you. And I can  do that in one word, a Greek word: parakletos. When I read it  earlier, you heard it from Jesus, translated: "I will ask the  Father, and he will send you another Advocate --  parakletos --  to be with you forever" (John 14:16 NRSV). Some of us memorized  that in the King James Version: "... I will pray the Father, and  he shall give you another comforter ..."  -- parakletos (KJV).       We typically understand that to mean the Father will send  the Holy Spirit to help us out. But English tends to limit our  understanding of the role of God's Spirit with us. The New  Revised Standard Version translates the word as "Advocate" -- one  who stands up for us, who speaks out for us, who acts on our  behalf. And that's fine, as far as it goes. But it doesn't go far  enough in telling us what it means to say the Spirit of God is  with us. Yes, he stands up for us, but the "Paraclete" that Jesus  promised is also "the one who comforts" us.2       The Greek word parakletos also means "the one who exhorts"  us.3 The one who expects us to listen, and calls us to account  when we don't. If you've got a "guilty conscience" you're hearing  the Holy Spirit tell you you can do better, exhorting you to be  better.

     This "Paraclete," this "Holy Spirit," is no heavenly happy  hour, but rather, God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and  earth, who holds us, and helps us, and comforts us, and stands up  for us, and holds us accountable -- and exhorts us to do the same  for each other. To do the same for each other is to do what Jesus  said, when he said, "If you love me, you will do as I command.  Then I will ask the Father to send you the Holy Spirit who will  help you and always be with you"  (John 14:15 CEV).       What he's telling you is he'll be there for you even when it  seems in what you do you're all alone. If you believe that, then  you can live that.

     G. K. Chesterton, in What's Wrong with the World, wrote,  "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting.  It  has been found difficult; and left untried."        The Holy Spirit exhorts us, challenges us, prods us,  encourages us to try, in the knowledge that in our trying we are  not alone.

     The Indian leader Gandhi, in being persecuted by those he  sought to help, sang an Indian poem that goes, "If they answer  not your call, walk alone, walk alone."4       And there are times when life feels that way. But there is  never a time when we are truly alone. The Lord of hosts, our Lord  Jesus Christ, the Spirit of the Lord is with us.       Jesus said, "I obey my Father, so that everyone in the world  might know that I love him." Then he said, "It is time for us to  go now" (John 14:31 CEV). It is time for us to go and live  --  and die -- what we believe: that what we've been told -- and told  -- and told -- is true.

1. Fred P. Green, "When In Our Music God Is Glorified," The  Presbyterian Hymnal, no. 264 (Louisville, Kentucky:  Westminster/John Knox Press).

2. The New Interpreter's Bible, Volume IX (Nashville, Tennessee:  John Abingdon Press, 1995), p. 747.

3. Ibid.

4. Quoted in Christianity Today, 4/22/83t.

 HYMN                       What a Friend We Have in Jesus          # 622


     An ancient Jewish legend tells of the time when Abraham  worked in the shop of a man who made life-size religious statues.  Abraham, distressed at the creation of idols, would argue with  the old man, insisting that there is only one God. The old man,  drawing on what he considered to be his superior wisdom, told  Abraham he was wrong. Pointing to one just-completed stone  figure, he said, "That god has just as much power to reward or  destroy as does your one God." Then one day the old man was  called away on a journey, leaving Abraham in charge. As soon as  he was alone, Abraham took a sledgehammer and demolished every  statue in the workshop, except for the one recently mentioned.  When the old man returned, he was shocked to see all his work  destroyed. He called Abraham in and began to denounce him. But  Abraham interrupted, and explained. He said the one remaining god  had done the destruction. The old man was stumped. If he argued  that a stone idol could not have done the damage, he would  thereby show agreement that an idol had no real power. If he  accepted the explanation, Abraham would then have to be innocent.

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