In today’s Gospel, we join Jesus on the night when he will be arrested, as he is talking with his disciples. Throughout this Farewell Discourse that begins in Chapter 13 and continues through Chapter 18 of John’s Gospel, Jesus is preparing his followers,
explaining that he is on the move.
But in the midst of his goodbye to them, he makes promises too. In this short passage he affirms that he is not leaving them alone.
And, as if he knows their doubts and fears will drown out his words of assurance, he says it three times. First, he says,
“[An advocate] will abide with you”
The word Jesus uses here is “paraclete.” Helper, comforter, counselor and advocate are all ways it gets translated into English. The point is: we are not alone.
The disciples had been following their rabbi Jesus who was both very visible and vocal, and now he was leaving; he wanted them to know that even when they cannot see him face-to-face, he is still present. Their faith was not in an ordinary human, but in God, revealed in the person of Jesus.
Now, an advocate is not merely a friend, but someone who takes risks for another; someone who protects the vulnerable and speaks up for the neglected; someone who, as Luther put it in his Heidelberg Disputation, “calls a thing what it is” – naming evil as “evil” and good as “good” – without regard for popular opinion. An advocate lends strength and courage when it is waning, rallying us, bringing us to our feet when we are weary and helping us face life unafraid.[i] This is who Jesus promises is accompanying us in his absence.
But sometimes, when we look over our shoulder, it still feels like we’re alone. The people we are used to sharing our days or our lives with aren’t always with us. The disciples would scatter later that same night as they fled from the soldiers who arrest Jesus and hide behind locked doors after the crucifixion. Against the creeping uncertainty and fear, Jesus says,
“I will not leave you orphaned”
We are made sons and daughters of God by faith and that status is immutable; it cannot be taken away or lost. We are not orphaned because God is steadfast in God’s continuous and lifelong love for us. [ii]
Finally, saying, “I am in my Father, and you in me and I in you”
Jesus speaks of the indwelling of God.
We cannot separate Jesus from God and Spirit, and we cannot separate ourselves from God. Sure, we can try, and we do; we walk away or denounce God; we get angry and scream at God. More than once. But God remains steadfast. God persists in being God, and upholding the promise that God is with us.
So trusting what Jesus says here, that God is with us, empowering us, what does it mean to follow Jesus on the move? After all, faith in a living Christ means we are on the move, too.
For the first disciples, eventually, it meant traveling to new places, meeting people who didn’t know Jesus and teaching what he taught. Through the Acts of the Apostles we hear about their travels and persecutions, and how people were being added to the church.
For one man in Umbria in central Italy in the 13th century, it meant living monastically for three years, before becoming an itinerant, or wandering, preacher who traveled in poverty and faith throughout Italy and to France, Germany, Spain, the Balkans and even to Egypt to share the good news of Christ. We know him today as St. Francis of Assisi.[iii]
For a whole lot of people on Friday night, it meant showing up in the heat at the fairgrounds for Relay for Life, gathering for fellowship, walking the track and reading the names on the luminaries as we celebrated, with thanksgiving, the lives of survivors,
and remembered, with tears, those who have died. But most of all, we were witnessing that death and disease do not get the final word; faith, hope and love are greater.
As we get ready to welcome summer, I invite you to think about where Jesus is on the move with you, in your life and in our community. To help you out, I borrowed an idea from children’s author Jeff Brown who wrote the book Flat Stanley. If you’ve known a first or second grade student in the last few years, you may have come across him. He’s a little boy who becomes flattened and flies through the mail to all kinds of adventures. Today, I have “Flat Jesus” here for you. All ages - you can take him and color him; some people like to laminate their Flat Jesus using clear contact paper or laminating sheets from the office store. That’s up to you.
This summer, take Jesus with you wherever you go, whether your day is filled with the everyday stuff of life, like work or school and errands; or you’re going on vacation, or you’re spending time with family and friends. If you have a phone with a camera, take a picture of “Flat Jesus” with you and send it to me in a text or an email, so we can share all the places Jesus goes this summer.
It may feel silly but laughter and silliness are part of our God-created life too, and it’s a hands-on way to remember that even when Jesus is on the move, he is with us.
Let us pray…
Emmanuel, God with us,
Thank you for the gift of your Son through whom we know your love for us.
Thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit that we always have an advocate, someone on our side, with us.
Teach us to follow in faith, trusting your promises, and sharing the good news of your grace wherever we go.
[i] Interpreters’ Bible Commentary.
[iii] Chris Webb. The Fire of the Word.