TITLE: Ain't Nuthin' We Can't Handle SCRIPTURE: John 14:15-21
Did you ever wish that you had a friend in high places -- someone to help when the chips are down?
Did you ever wish that you had someone to talk to when you were lonely -- someone to listen to your problems -- someone who cared -- someone who would love you even if you were in the wrong?
Have you ever heard someone say, "He doesn't have a prayer"-- or "She doesn't have a prayer." What they mean, of course, he or she is hopeless.
Have you ever felt like you didn't have a prayer? That you were hopeless? When you felt hopeless, wouldn't it have been nice to have a prayer? Wouldn't it have been nice to talk to God and know that he is listening? Wouldn't it be nice to know that God loves you and will help? Because, if God loves you, you are not hopeless! If God will help you, you have hope! If God loves and will help you, things will work out!
Perhaps you never felt hopeless. Perhaps you're one of those people that we see in magazines -- with symmetrical features -- good hair -- perfect teeth -- great talent.
Or perhaps you are a good athlete -- or always get A's on tests -- or make people laugh.
Or perhaps you have succeeded in your career -- or things are just going well for you.
There are people like that, you know. Or at least it seems that way. Beautiful! Successful! Never in doubt!
But beautiful people have their problems too. Philip Yancey, the author, talks about interviewing the beautiful people -- famous football players -- movie stars -- authors -- TV personalities. He talks about how we idolize them -- how we want to be like them -- how we want to know every detail of their lives -- their clothes -- their romances -- even their toothpaste. Then he goes on to say:
"Yet I must tell you that, in my limited experience,
these our 'idols' are as miserable a group of people as I have ever
met. Most have troubled or broken marriages.
Nearly all are hopelessly dependent on psychotherapy.
In a heavy irony, these larger-than-life heroes
seem tormented by incurable self-doubt.
(Philip Yancey, Where is God When It Hurts?)
"Tormented by incurable self doubt!" Hard to imagine, isn't it! But we know that it's true. We know about their broken marriages -- their addiction to drugs and alcohol. We know that their talent has a dark side. "Tormented by incurable self doubt!"
If the beautiful people find themselves "tormented by incurable self doubt," we need not feel odd if we, too, sometimes feel lonely -- isolated -- uncertain. That is part of the human condition.
That is how Jesus' disciples felt -- lonely -- isolated -- uncertain. You might even say that they felt betrayed. Jesus was talking about leaving them. He was talking about dying. The disciples had made great sacrifices to follow Jesus. They had staked everything on him. They had walked away from their fishing businesses. They had left home and hearth. They had allowed themselves to believe that Jesus was the one who would turn everything around -- would make everything right. They had believed that he was the Messiah -- the one who would save Israel.
And now he was talking about leaving them. Can you imagine how they felt? The sense of betrayal! Why had Jesus asked them to follow him if he intended to leave them? Why had he brought them this far only to abandon them?
Jesus knew that his disciples were afraid, so he made them a promise. He said, "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever."
The New Testament was written in Greek, and the Greek word that is translated "Advocate" is "parakletos." What does parakletos mean? It means "someone called in to help." A parakletos could be a lawyer called in to defend you. It could be a witness called in to testify in your behalf. A parakletos could be anyone called in to help in your hour of need. Jesus, knowing that he would soon ascend back to the Father, promised his disciples a parakletos -- someone on whom they could call when they needed help -- someone who would be there for them in their hour of need.
Jesus promised that this parakletos would be with them forever. That is where we come in. The parakletos that Jesus promised to these first disciples is available to us as well. This parakletos is there to help us when we need help -- to guide us when we need guidance -- to steer us rightly -- to protect us from harm. When Jesus talked about the parakletos, he was talking about what elsewhere is called the Holy Spirit -- God's Spirit dwelling within us -- God's Spirit living in our hearts.
The promise that Jesus made to those first disciples is a promise to us as well. Jesus has made it possible for us to have a parakletos -- a helper on whom we can call in time of need -- God with us -- God dwelling in our hearts.
That might seem pretty academic to you -- not especially useful "where the rubber meets the road" in the nitty-gritty of your life. But it isn't academic at all, because it works -- it helps.
I remember reading about Colonel Thomas Schaefer, the highest-ranking military officer in the U.S. Embassy in Teheran when that embassy was overrun and the Americans taken prisoner. Colonels are seasoned veterans and tend to be strong -- and Schaefer was no exception. However, being taken prisoner in a hostile nation -- not knowing if he would ever see his family again -- held in solitary confinement in a tiny cell with nothing to read and nothing to do -- Schaefer found himself at the edge of his limits. But he was a Christian, and so he got down on his knees and prayed, "God, I cannot handle this. I need your help." He says, "And I got it!" He received the help that he needed to survive those long, seemingly endless, days of captivity. The parakletos -- the Holy Spirit -- gave him the strength that he needed.
John Claypool is a minister whose little daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. He thought, "I don't believe I can survive if she should die." But he was a man of faith, and called on God to help him. He describes what happened. He says:
"The truth of the matter
was that this crisis did bring its own special potencies with it.
Looking ahead I would say, 'I do not think I can stand it,'
and looking back I would say, 'I do not know how we were able to
survive,' but the truth is we did....
I and my daughter and the members of my family
were met in the worst of times
by energies we knew nothing about ahead of time....
All I know is: the Lord did provide as he promised
and coming to trust in him
is enormously encouraging to me as I face the future."
As you see from these examples, those who live in the presence of the Holy Spirit cannot expect easy lives -- Jesus never promised us a bed of roses -- but the Spirit helps us to prevail no matter how difficult the circumstances.
Earlier in this sermon, I mentioned Philip Yancey, who interviewed football heroes -- movie stars -- television personalities -- only to find that these beautiful people had feet of clay -- that they were "tormented by incurable self doubt!" He went on to talk about the other side of the coin -- people whom he calls "servants" -- missionaries -- doctors and nurses working in Third World countries -- linguists living among primitive people in remote places, often for decades, to translate the Bible for those people. Yancey says:
"I was prepared to honor and admire these servants,
to hold them up as inspiring examples.
I was not, however, prepared to envy them.
But as I now reflect on the two groups side by side, stars and
the servants clearly emerge as the favored ones, the graced ones.
They work for low pay, long hours, and no applause,
'wasting' their talents and skills among the poor and uneducated.
But somehow in the process of losing their lives they have found
(Philip Yancey, Where is God When It Hurts?)
Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit, and has delivered on that promise. We received the Spirit at our baptism, and can expect the Spirit to help us when we need help -- anytime -- day or night. We can expect the Spirit to guide us rightly. The only question is whether we will follow faithfully. If we will, God will bless us with lives that become stronger day by day -- with faith to drive out fear -- with lives solid at the core.
Spirit of the Living God (BH #244; CH #259; JS #330; PH #322; TNCH #283; UMH#393; VU #376)
Surely the Presence of the Lord (CH #263; UMH #328)
There's a Sweet, Sweet Spirit (BH #243; CH #261; PH #398; TNCH #293; UMH #334)
There's Within My Heart a Melody (BH #425; CH #550; UMH #380)
To Thee, O Comforter Divine (TH #514)
Trust and Obey (BH #447; CH #556; UMH #467)
CHILDREN'S SERMON: Working for You
Let's talk about a word that may be new to you. The word is advocate. An advocate is someone who helps you -- who does what is best for you -- who wants you to win.
When your parents go to a concert, a school play, a church pageant, or a ball game, in which you are participating, they are supporting you and wanting you to have a good experience. Parents are excellent advocates for their children.
Your doctor is another person who works on your behalf. Your doctor wants you to feel well and be healthy.
Your teacher is an advocate who works with you to help you learn new things.
Can you think of other people who work as advocates for you?
In the Bible, Jesus speaks to his disciples and that includes us. He says, "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever." He is speaking of the Holy Spirit -- the Spirit of God, which lives in us. This Spirit helps us know what is true. It is that voice inside, which helps us know right from wrong and teaches us how to make good choices. The Holy Spirit is a true advocate that is always with us, working on our behalf.