Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sermon: John 14: 15-31 Farewell Discourse - Parting Presence

You might have seen on the news this week that Prince Charles and Camilla visited Dromore on Wednesday. It was a beautiful day, well, the sun always shines in Dromore, but it was just the sort of day you need an ice cream. So they stopped and enjoyed some samples at Graham’s ice cream shop. I think it was Camilla who asked about the recipe, but she was told it’s a family secret. It’s something only the makers know, passed down from one generation to the next.

In our Bible reading today, Jesus is passing on a family secret. He’s in the upper room with the eleven disciples - Judas has gone to betray him by this stage. Jesus has told the disciples that he is leaving them, going away, going to prepare a dwelling place for them - by the way of the cross. The disciples just can’t take it in, that Jesus is saying farewell. Their minds are reeling with the shocking news.

And if you remember from last week, there are two questions that are asked when someone is leaving - where are you going? and how will we cope? The first question was answered last week, and today, Jesus now gets to the disciples - how they will cope, what they should do.

And John has recorded these parting words of Jesus for us, for our sake, so that we know how to live in the in between time - the time between Jesus’ departure and his return. How do we live as disciples when Jesus isn’t here in person? We’ll see what Jesus expects of us, and also the promises he gives us.

Look at verse 15. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” It’s so important to hear what Jesus is saying. You see, I was mis-reading it, reading what I thought it said, rather than what it says. I thought it was saying if you love Jesus, then you better keep his commandments. As if it was an ultimatum - if you love me, then you’d better do this, whether you want to or not.

But that’s to miss out the two words ‘you will’. You see, what Jesus is saying is that if we love him, then we will keep his commandments. The two go hand in hand, they fit together - loving Jesus and doing what he says. And you might think, but that’s not easy! I love Jesus, but it’s not easy to do what he wants. Hear again that assurance that if you love Jesus you will keep his commandments. How is this possible? Because it’s not up to you. You’re not left on your own to try to keep Jesus’ commandments. Do you see what Jesus promises?

‘And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth... you know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.’ (16-17)

The disciples were sad because Jesus was leaving them, but Jesus says that they aren’t going to be alone. Jesus promises them not just a Helper, but another Helper. What Jesus had been for the disciples, the Spirit would continue to do. Their helper (or as other versions put it, their advocate or counsellor, one who stands with, one who speaks on behalf of).

The world doesn’t receive him, doesn’t see him or know him, but disciples know him - because he dwells with us and in us. The same Holy Spirit, the another Helper, is given to us to help us to live out Jesus’ commandments, to do for us what Jesus did for the first disciples.

So that’s the first thing that Jesus promises - his first leaving present: the Holy Spirit. But as he continues, he promises even more. Look at verse 18: ‘I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.’ A while back, there was a series on BBCNI, Real Lives Reunited. One of the episodes was about a team of guys who had gone out from Nothern Ireland to Romania, to bring relief to an orphanage. What they saw was heartbreaking. Orphans, children without father or mother, totally bereft. They’d been so neglected in the orphanage that they didn’t even cry because they knew no one would come to them. No one cared.

And then the team arrived. They provided relief, care, love. They were fathers and mothers to the orphans. And now, twenty or thirty years later, the team were back, to see the difference in the orphanage. Bright airy rooms, children well cared for - and some of the original orphans now working in the orphanage.

On top of the promise of the Holy Spirit, Jesus also promises that he will not leave us as orphans; he will come to us - not physically, but spiritually. It’s in this way that we get to ‘see’ Jesus (19) - because we are in Jesus and he is in us. We’re not left on our own - we have the Spirit and we have Jesus.

And once again, the promise is connected to our Christian life. Verse 21: ‘Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.’

This time it’s the other way round. If you keep his commandments, then you show that you love Jesus. Jesus is saying that your deeds show what or who you love. So what do your deeds show about what you love? Do they show your love for someone else? Or do they show that you love Jesus? It’s as we love Jesus that we know that we are loved by the Father, and loved by Jesus, and ‘see’ Jesus as he manifests himself to us.

So that’s the second leaving present: himself. But Judas (not the betrayer, because he has already left, this is the other Judas), is prompted to ask - why are you only going to show yourself to us, and not to the world?

Do you see how Jesus answers? He begins with love! ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.’

As we love Jesus and keep his word, the Father will love us, and ‘we’ - the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit - they will come to us and make our home with us. Back in verse 2, Jesus promises that in his Father’s house there are many homes, dwelling places. One day we will go to be with God. But what Jesus is saying here is that God comes to be with us. He moves in to us. He makes us his home.

Just think for a moment what that means. If you’re a Christian, then God is dwelling in you. It’s not that God is a squatter, he is the rightful owner. And just as we’ll soon be deciding where the furniture and pictures and so on will go in the rectory at Richhill, so God takes possession of us, and his presence is seen.

A part of that is, Jesus says in verse 26, that the Holy Spirit will teach all things and bring to remembrance all that Jesus has said. That can happen with us - that the Holy Spirit teaches us as we read the Bible, as we discover that we now understand what we’re reading; and as we find that we can remember bits of the Bible at just the right moment. But this promise was for the first disciples - as they lead the early church, and wrote the Bible and established the faith. The Holy Spirit taught them, and reminded them of all that Jesus taught them. That means we can trust the Bible, we learn from it, and follow their teaching.

My role as rector here has not been to make up new things, or to change things to make them more acceptable or relevant. No, my role as rector is to teach what Jesus taught to the disciples, which the Holy Spirit reminded them of, and which the disciples taught and wrote down in the New Testament. What we do with these words matters - because it shows whether we love Jesus or not.

But we’re not on our own. we have the promise of the leaving presents of Jesus, or rather, the leaving presence - of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the whole Holy Trinity coming and dwelling in us, helping us to live for him. God himself living in us, as we live for him. What more could we need? What more could we want?

And yet, Jesus promises one more present. A present that flows from God’s presence in our lives. A present that the disciples needed in that moment when their hearts were troubled; a present that we might need now and in the weeks to come. ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.’

Jesus gives us his peace - the peace (as Paul says) which passes all understanding, can’t be explained. As Jesus left the disciples, he gives them his peace. And that peace is available to us today as well. The peace that comes from the presence of the living God, living in us.

This is the family secret, more precious than the recipe for Graham’s ice cream. And it’s for you, if you’re part of the family of God.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 14th May 2017.

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