I Will Not Leave You Alone
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.
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.
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.