Written by Pastor Ed
You Are Not Alone
May 21, 2017
Psalm 66: 8-20
John 14: 15-21
During Holy Week we sometimes sing the song about Jesus walking the lonesome valley, he had to walk it by himself, nobody else could walk it for him, he had to walk it by himself. And then it goes on to say that we too have to walk that valley, by ourselves. There are times in our lives when we are faced with some difficulties or trials and it seems like we have to endure them by ourselves. Yet isn’t it always a lot easier if there is someone who can walk along with us?
I have sometimes had people share some struggle they are going through, and then they say, but don’t tell anyone. And my usual response is, “So you don’t want other people to be praying for you during this time?” Carrying things alone can be a heavy burden, whether that’s physical or emotional. It happens in congregations as well, when they try to deal with issues internally that really need to be shared and have others walk alongside.
We know that one of the steps on the road to healing from addictions is to admit to at least one other person that you have a problem. It’s one of the 12 steps in recovery. Part of that is accountability, but it’s also relieving the burden of secrecy that we carry with us when we face things alone.
As you recall, our texts for these weeks are part of the Farewell Discourses recorded in John 14 to 17, which John sets in the context of Jesus’ last evening with his disciples prior to his arrest. As they sit around the table at the last supper, Jesus shares with them plainly about his coming arrest and death. And as we saw last week, the disciples are confused and anxious. What will happen to them? Will they survive? And Jesus, as we noted in last week’s text assures them that they know what’s coming, they know the way, because they have known him and thus also know the Father.
And then he goes on with our text for today. “If you love me (and you do love me) you will keep my commandments.” That is, you will keep on doing what you have been doing and what I have taught you. “And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” (14:16)
The word translated in the NRSV as Advocate is translated in a variety of ways, but the Greek word, Paraclete, literally means, “one who comes alongside.” And in some ways I like that better. And as various commentators pointed out, Jesus talks about “another” advocate. Which means this is a replacement for someone who has walked alongside them before. And who would that be? Well, Jesus himself.
Jesus first came alongside of humanity in the incarnation. Jesus walked and talked with his disciples showing them who God is. And now Jesus promises, “I will not leave you orphaned”. (14:18) The Spirit of truth will continue that presence, walking along side us through the ups and downs of life, even when we can no longer see Jesus, as the disciples were about to experience.
We don’t often talk about the Spirit, except perhaps at Pentecost, coming up in two weeks, and yet it is the Spirit which we believe is at work among us every day. It is the Spirit that accompanies us, serves as our advocate when we are in need. As Paul writes, even when we don’t know what words to say, the Spirit intercedes on our behalf.
Jesus was preparing his disciples for his leaving, not just his death but even beyond the resurrection. They would be overjoyed at the empty tomb, but life would need to go on after the ascension as well. And so Jesus lets them know that the Spirit will continue to walk with them into the future. And we believe that same spirit is still with us today.
Now, people have some interesting ideas about how the Spirit works in our lives. I recall early on in my preaching, I had some people who said I shouldn’t use a script for my sermon, but should rely on the Spirit to give me the words to speak. And then I heard the story of the preacher who decided that he wouldn’t spend a lot of time in study and preparation, but would wait for a word from the spirit for his sermon that Sunday. Friday came, and he still hadn’t received a word. Saturday came and went, and still no word. And then as he walked to the pulpit on Sunday morning, the Spirit spoke to him and said, “You’re not prepared, are you?”
You see, the Spirit is not there to do our work for us, but rather, as Jesus did, to empower us to do the work the God has called us to do, whatever that may be. Jesus said the Spirit would work like he himself did, leading us to truth, advocating, empowering and walking along side us. That’s why Jesus in the same breath in which he promised the Spirit, talked about obeying the commandments and loving God. That all goes hand in hand.
This past week many in the Mennonite community mourned the loss of Alan Kreider, a professor at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, a friend, teacher, colleague who I last had a chance to talk with last summer at the Bridgefolk Conference and who, at that time, was anticipating being here in Alberta this past week for our faith studies seminar. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with cancer last Fall, and died last week; his funeral was on Tuesday when he would have been here. In a tribute to him Mary Shertz, a colleague of his wrote,
“In all of these matters, large and small, Alan’s prayerful spirit may best be characterized by one of his own favorite expressions—patient ferment. Alan was firmly convinced that God is everywhere and everywhere active. God is on the move and doing things. The ferment of the Spirit is real and present.
At the same time, Alan knew well the sojourn of human yearning. He knew from prayerful experience that we need patience to see and seek God at work. God’s ways are not always readily visible to us, God’s faithful servants.”
We believe that God’s Spirit is active in many ways. The Spirit is active in our study when we read scripture. The Spirit is active in creation. This past week our focus in the Faith Studies seminar was on the environment and our need to care and tend all of creation since we are all part of God’s creation and are all affected by the changes that we humans are causing. And while I certainly believe that the Spirit speaks to us in many ways, and sometimes in direct ways, God’s Spirit also comes to us through other people who walk with us.
In her commentary, Karoline Lewis says that this passage calls us to “paraclete discipleship,” that is a walking along with others. That’s what the disciples needed as they faced their difficult time, and it is what we too need, particularly at times of difficulty. I don’t know what all the seminar this coming weekend is going to say about Companioning the Dying, but I am sure that one of the things will be simply being present. It sounds too simple, like there ought to be a lot more we should do or say, but often times the most powerful thing is just to be there for someone. (And by the way, if you want to attend the seminar, you do need to register ahead of time. You can talk to me about that if you’re interested.)
That’s what Jesus promised to his disciples, that someone would be there for them. And that’s what Jesus promises to us as well, that, in fact, we don’t have to walk that lonesome valley by ourselves. The more I thought about it, the more I decided we really need to change the words to that song. If we truly believe Jesus’ promise to his disciples, then they and we aren’t alone as we face whatever comes along. And if we are willing to let others know the things we are facing, then we can have not only the Spirit with us, but the spirit present in our brothers and sisters also walking alongside, accompanying us and providing the strength and support we need.
That’s part of what being a community of believers, the church, is all about. It’s about allowing the Spirit to lead us and work among us, through the many means that God chooses to work, and then having the patience to wait for God’s work to become visible among us and through us, and in the world around us. That’s not always easy. We’d prefer to do it ourselves and make sure that we can see immediate results, but all too often we don’t stop and listen or watch for what the Spirit may have in mind.
You are not alone. We are not alone. God’s spirit, the spirit of truth walks along beside us, even in the lonesome valleys of our lives. Thanks be to God.