St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“You’ll Get By”
Collect: O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Jesus said to Judas (not Iscariot), "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. Whoever 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.
"I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But 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. Peace 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. You heard me say to you, `I am going away, and I am coming to you.' If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe."
As a father, some of the hardest things I have ever had to do is share what will be bad news with my kids, these little ones that I love and who love me so much. Those times are the worst when I had to say that:
A) something bad was coming or had just happened.
And B) no, we cannot change it.
And C) yes, everything will be okay.
I assured them that they are loved and that they will be cared for. I assured them that it might be scary, but in the end it will probably be for the best. I had to let them know, as much as I could, that the future was secure. If I had to do this, and it was so hard for me over something minor, relatively speaking, I cannot imagine what it was like for Jesus to tell them that he was going away. And even more, Jesus had to entrust the Kingdom of God to this room of confused and worried disciples.
This Gospel reading is a flashback here on the 6th Sunday of Easter. We flash back to Jesus’ final words to his followers after Judas slinked out to set up his betrayal which I spoke on last week. To those that were still in his fold, Jesus gave these instructions.
“If you love me, do what I said.” So simple, and yet my office is filled with books on on how to do that, supposedly.
And I see us every week, wrestling with these words that Jesus said. His approach to loving and serving others, his approach to putting God above all else. And how do we do that? By loving and serving others first. Circular in its logic, yes. But so real and practical. Those were, and are, his instructions.
When a guest comes into our house, often times we use the phrase, “Make yourself at home.” Sometimes they do. We had a friend come over once, who proceeded to take off his shoes and ask for macaroni and cheese. And he wasn’t kidding. But when we have someone come over, especially a dear friend, we want them to feel at ease and comfortable, like they would at their own home. When Jesus is saying, "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.” This phrasing is not conditional. Jesus is not saying, “If you do what I say, God will love you and we will make our home with you.” We so readily hear it and read it as conditional. But look, Jesus is making a declarative statement. "Those who love me will keep my word…” It is not an if. Those who love the Lord are not those who say it. Those who love the Lord are those who show it, in their words and deeds. And God will just love them, just love’em up. “...and we will come to them and make our home with them.” In our lives and loves, we have to ask ourselves, would God feel at home?
If we do what Jesus said, God would feel at home. God does feel at home. When you walk around St. James the Less, where do you see God getting comfy? Where do you God snuggling in? Think of it. When and where in what we do does God feel “at home?”
When we care for the Least of These, we are doing it not just for God. Jesus told us, we are doing it to him. “Whenever you have done it unto the Least of These, you have done it unto me.” This is the closing line in Jesus’ parable about the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25. Who are the Least of These here? Every day of the week that answer is different, and every day we care for the Least of These differently. I am fortunate. I get to see it here daily.
What about where you work? Where is God made comfy and at home? Who are the Least of These where you spend your days? For many, the focus of our faith actions is here, but think of how big our sphere of influence is if we expand it to every home and workplace and gym and school and playground and store and grocery that we frequent. God’s home can be there, too. I know that because God’s Least of These are in every one of those spots.
But the question is how? How do we keep Jesus in mind when we don’t see Jesus here? The disciples may have wondered that question, too. And that is when Jesus promises a gift so great that we still receive it today, and it is still wonderful. “But 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.” The Holy Spirit, the Advocate, also called the Counselor, and the Comforter, is the one at our side who does for us what needs to be done. Now I do not wish to dwell on this too much, because this reading is the included in the lectionary reading in a couple of weeks on Pentecost.
The Holy Spirit allows us to make our ways and our lives comfy and homey for God, and in doing so, we are transforming the world into the Kingdom of God. We pray it all the time, and somewhere around the world someone every second of every day is reciting, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, On Earth as it is in Heaven.” The Spirit is with us to help us make it so.
This may seem very Pollyana-ish, or wishful thinking. But Jesus said there is an outcome to this. A point in the following his teachings, in the Advocate working with us. The outcome is his peace. “Peace 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.” The sense of completeness, wholeness, living fulfilled and purposed lives is the point of all this. Jesus came to show us the way, and sent us the Spirit to enable our way so that we might “have life and have it more abundantly” as he promised in John 10:10.
Peace is the point. Our peace. The world’s peace. Peace, not in the sense of absence of war. Peace in the sense that we have no locks on the doors, no walls around the city, all manner of things are well, and all manner of things will be well. We are describing here the peace of the Kingdom of God. That is what Jesus wants for us, and calls us to share.
There are times and places that stick in our memories, not because they are necessarily important, but because they speak to a truth. When I was ten, my father was working out in his workshop on some cabinetry or something he was making for his woodworking business, a side job to his being an electrical engineer at the Shipyard down in Newport News. One Saturday I wheeled in my bike, with an underinflated tire hoping for a little help.
Like a good dad, he stopped what he was doing, got out the air compressor, turned it on and pumped up my tire. I was appreciative, and in an offhand comment after I said thanks, I said, “I don’t know what I’d do without you.” I remember the moment not because of what I said, but the look on my father’s face across the workshop. A quiet man, not one for words, I was surprised when he looked me straight in the eye, and said, “Oh, you’ll get by. You’ll get by.” He was so serious. It stuck with me. His tone. His expression. His sense of my abilities and my temperament. I still wonder if he knew that day that he was not doing well. You see, a few weeks later he was gone.
He died quickly and unexpectedly. Later in the grieving process I remembered about the tire and the help he gave me. I remembered the trite phrase I used and his singular response. Did he know his days were numbered? Was he not feeling well but did not tell us? We will never know. But I do remember at times when I miss him, when I would give anything in the world for one more hug, for one more minute with him, I remember how he looked at me more like a man than a ten year old kid deserved, and with love said to me, “Oh, you’ll get by. You’ll get by.” Those parting words are the ones we cling to when days are dark and our fears get the better of us. Which is why Jesus was so clear with his disciples and with us that awful night. He clearly spelled out that things would be bad, but that it was all for the best.
On this weekend when we remember those who gave their all for our freedoms and our peace, many stepped into situations where the outcome was known. They did it for duty. They did it for their home. They did it for us.
Jesus did know his days, nay, his hours were numbered also. And said almost the same thing my dad said to those he loved. His words were not, “You’ll get by.” But his intent did. Jesus said to them and says to us: “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But 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. Peace 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.”
Those who have ears to hear, let them hear. Amen.