9During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
11We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Nepalis, 12and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from he city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
23Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
25I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice because I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.”
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
Six Sundays of Easter. Six weeks of white paraments on the lectern and the pulpit. Six Sunday's of Hallelujah's every chance we get. Although, my fellow Presbyterians, we're more likely to give a thoughtful head nod than to shout out praises, so maybe not every chance we get. But more often than usual. Six weeks into the Easter season and rather than driving forward into the post-resurrection appearances, we're stepping back in our own story. We know what happens in the twentieth chapter of John, so today, we look back to John 14.
After six Sundays of Easter, we're back in the middle of Jesus's farewell address to the disciples. We're reaching back to remember because his earthly ministry is coming to a close and we will need something to keep a sense of the ways that the Resurrection has changed us.
God's presence reminds us who we are. For the disciples, that presence is about to change form. When, in chapter fourteen, they hear these words for the first time, they cannot yet understand, they don't have a reference point with which to connect what Jesus is saying to them. “I have said these things to you while I am still with you,” says Jesus. These words, however, are for a different time, a later time.
Even though Jesus’s farewell address is woven through with mystery and symbolism, it is still meant to be a comfort. We don’t have to get it on every level, there is comfort for all those who are anxious.
And friends, we live in anxious times. The laundry list of things we could name in our heads are symptoms of the emotional pain our whole culture is carrying. None of them are too much to bear on our own, but taken together they can burden us beyond our ability to move. What’s more, our Lord, whom we seen do miraculous things, is telling us that he will not be with us forever. His earthly ministry is coming to an end as he move to the crucifixion and resurrection, from there he will ascend into heaven.
But we do not have to face the anxiety of this life alone. Jesus assures us that we are uplifted by “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in [his] name.” The generations of disciples who follow have been taught and guided by that Advocate, who speaks on our behalf when our own words fail. We may not know Jesus face to face, but the Holy Spirit is moving in this community all the time.
In a few moments, we will affirm our faith using the Apostle’s Creed. It’s organized into three sections, based on the persons of the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. That last section seems to be a catch all, a sort of theological junk drawer where all the leftover stuff goes. Holy Spirit, holy catholic church, communion of the saints, forgiveness of sins, resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
But what if those are the works of “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in [Jesus’s] name.” We believe in the Holy Spirit who does all those things just as God the Father almighty makes heaven and earth, just as Jesus Christ suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried.
The Holy Spirit is on its way to that first generation of disciples. Ready to spread a holy and universal church, ready to bring all the saints together around the table of our Lord. Ready to advocate on our behalf so that when we miss the mark we are forgiven. Ready to breath life back into our dry bones and show us the meaning of resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. We have comfort, in these anxious times, because Jesus promises that the Advocate “will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”
So on this somewhat soggy sixth Sunday of Easter, we look back to John’s fourteenth chapter. We remember Jesus’s words of comfort and anticipate the arrival of the Advocate, who is Jesus’s continuing presence with us.
That presence reminds us who we are. God is with us, and the Holy Spirit reminds us not only of the words Jesus has said to us, but also of how our lives are changed by Christ’s words and actions. God’s presence reminds us who we are.
Because it’s so easy to lose sight of our identity in an anxious culture like ours. We are pulled towards this tribe or that, and the temptation to find an “us” and “them” is strong. But that’s not who we are. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, beloved children adopted into the household of the LORD. God’s presence reminds us who we are.
We are pulled towards fear, and the temptation to hunker down in self-preservation is strong. But that’s not who we are. We are the Church, called out into the world to learn from the Holy Spirit and to proclaim the gospel throughout all creation. God’s presence reminds us who we are.
We are pulled towards willfullness, and the temptation to demand our will be done is strong. But that’s not who we are. We are the communion of saints, who gather around the LORD’s table and Christ’s own invitation, who serve God and one another. God’s presence reminds us who we are.
We are a congregation that is born out of reconciliation after a split. We are a congregation that is warm and welcoming to any person, or any type of person, who walks through our door. We are a congregation who values reverent, thoughtful, traditional worship. We are a congregation who wants to be a community of faith where we feel connected to one another and to God. We are a congregation where it’s okay to not be okay, where those who are broken can find love and learn about the source of healing and hope. We are a congregation where we can disagree vehemently about politics and theology and biblical interpretation and still come together to worship the God who created us in such a stunning variety.
In this anxious and divided world, that’s a message that is desperately needed. And we embody it just by being who we are. It would be easy to forget our identity and crumble under the pressure of the world around us, but we will not. Because God’s presence reminds us who we are, and equips and empowers us to do God’s mission in the world.
More than teaching and reminding, we also receive peace. The presence of justice in our midst continues to guide us even as we move through conflict. Jesus tells us “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you… Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” We know that our outcome is firmly in God’s hands, because we are, each of us and all of us, beloved children of the covenant. God’s presence reminds us who we are, and that our outcome is up to God.
The process of reaching that outcome, however, is up to our community of faith. We can live into who we are and participate in what God is doing, or we can resist the work of the Holy Spirit. That decision is not going to change our outcome, but it’ll shape how we get there.
When a person is ordained, they vow, among other things, to serve God's people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love. Preacher types like me make that promise, and so do the folks who serve on the Session. Energy, intelligence, imagination, and love, gifts of the Spirit to Christ’s church. One of the most powerful, one of the purest expressions of Holy Spirit’s continued presence among us, is our imagination.
The question then becomes, how will we use that imagination? Are you going to use your imagination to worry about the future? Are you going to use your imagination to fuel the fear that sits in the depths of your brain? Perhaps… but not forever. The peace of Christ is still with us. Our troubled hearts will not go on forever because the Advocate is still teaching us. Our imaginations are better suited to sharing the vision of what this world, this community, this congregation can be. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father has sent in Christ’s name, is still teaching us, and still reminding us of all that Jesus has told us.
Our memory could be used for regret, or for nostalgia. But God’s presence reminds us of who we are, and we are follower of Christ, a shared identity that cannot be lost. The Holy Spirit reminds us of our shared story, and shapes us along the way through our particular history and tradition. God’s presence reminds us who we are.
Six Sundays of Easter, and the world is still not the same. We come to worship to be reminded who we are and whose we are. God’s presence reminds us that our identity is anchored in the identity of Jesus Christ. We will keep singing our Hallelujahs, we will keep thoughtfully nodding as we imagine and remember who God has created us to be.
God’s presence reminds us who we are. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father has sent in Christ’s name, reminds us of the firm foundation which Jesus has told us, and teaches us how to live our faith in new ways as we grow and develop. We are taught and reminded so that when all these things occur we might believe.