Today I led worship and preached at Nelmes United Reformed Church in Hornchurch. The church uses the Revised Common Lectionary and so I based my talk on the gospel reading for today.
15 “If you love me, you will obey my commandments. 16 I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, who will stay with you forever. 17 He is the Spirit, who reveals the truth about God. The world cannot receive him, because it cannot see him or know him. But you know him, because he remains with you and is in you. 18 “When I go, you will not be left all alone; I will come back to you. 19 In a little while the world will see me no more, but you will see me; and because I live, you also will live. 20 When that day comes, you will know that I am in my Father and that you are in me, just as I am in you. 21 “Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. My Father will love those who love me; I too will love them and reveal myself to them.”
Not many people want to be alone.
Agreed, if you lead a busy life, it can be good to have some time on your own. But that’s different to being alone.
The famous Hollywood Actress Greta Garbo is remembered for saying “I want to be alone”
At the beginning of the Bible, in Genesis 2, after God created Adam he said that it was not good for man to be alone.
Even in a crowded room you can be alone.
But here in our Bible reading from John’s gospel, Jesus is promising his disciples that he will not leave them alone. Some versions say “orphaned” or “desolate” which implies completely abandoned and alone in the world.
Jesus is talking to his disciples following the last supper. Some commentators call these chapters of John’s gospel “Jesus’ last Will and Testament”.
Jesus is preparing his disciples to the fact that he is not going to be around for much longer. In fact as we know that very night Jesus was arrested and the following day he was crucified.
Jesus knows how lost his disciples will be without him and so he does his best to reassure them.
I am sure many of us have felt lost and devastated when our hopes and dreams come crashing down around us.
My next door neighbour is a very vocal armchair West Ham supporter and you can hear him whooping and shouting when the Hammers score. And yet since the other day when his team lost to Liverpool 4 – 0 he has been as silent as the grave!
On June 9th there will be many aspiring MP s and their supporters who will feel utterly devastated having convinced themselves that they will win.
Or remember how many people were in shock last year when the European referendum went the wrong way for them.
But for the disciples this will be much worse. The thought that their friend and leader who they knew is the Messiah will die on a cross will leave them desolate and inconsolable.
And so Jesus promises that they will not be left alone because he will ask God to send another Helper who will be with them for ever.
Jesus himself will know on the cross the awfulness of being alone when in his agony he cries out to God “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Which we find in Matthew 27:46 and is actually a quote from Psalm 22.
Jesus who has been with God the Father for all eternity feels how separation can be. For the first time ever, he is utterly alone as he suffers on the cross.
We can begin to appreciate that sense of abandonment if we ever got ourselves lost as a young child. My wife, Gaynor, still recalls being lost in Marks and Spencer’s in Romford as a young child, when she got separated from her mother.
Jesus doesn’t want this sense of loss, this desolation, this feeling of abandonment to stay with the disciples and so he promises he won’t leave them on their own but will ask God the Father to send them a permanent helper who will be with them for ever.
But Jesus’ promise is conditional. You don’t get something for nothing.
Jesus sets out his proposition in verse 15 and 16 “If you love me, you will obey my commandments. 16 I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, who will stay with you forever. “
Love of Jesus is shown not by what we say but by what we do, how we live our lives and how we treat others.
I once heard a pastor say “you can’t rest on God’s promises by just resting in his premises.” Just turning up in church is not the same thing as having a relationship with Jesus.
In Luke 10:27 we read a summation of the law “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ ; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ “
Many people claim to be Christians but make no attempt to keep God’s commandments or just keep the ones that appeal to them.
The Helper is of course the Holy Spirit who is the third party of the God head. The Holy Spirit is a person, as we read not only in our Bible reading but throughout the Bible. He is present throughout the Bible from the creation in Genesis 1 to the end of the Bible in Revelation 22.
In verse 17 we are told about the Holy Spirit “ He is the Spirit, who reveals the truth about God” in other translations he is referred to “The Spirit of Truth”.
At times truth seems to be in short supply.
When Jesus was on trial before Pontius Pilate, Pilate a great political operator asked Jesus “What is truth?”
Many times we wonder what is true?
In recent times we have seen and heard the spread of “Alternative Facts” and “Face News”. And I suspect as we get near to our General Election on 8th June we will hear more false information.
Many of us are on Social Media such as Facebook and we get fed all sorts of Alternative Facts. Sometimes well meaning but naive friends forward articles and news to us that has very little basis in truth. You know the sort of thing. Stories of how an unnamed friend managed to stave off a heart attack by standing on one leg and singing the Peruvian National Anthem.
I have received emails from the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations telling me that I have been the victim of a scam and how I am entitled to several $ million in compensation. All I have to do is to let them have my bank account details. The FBI have similarly emailed me about fraud compensation. I never knew that the FBI email addresses are with hotmail!
And what about fake news. Often on Social media we see news items that a famous person is dead. But when we check it out with a reputable news website we find the truth.
Many years ago Gaynor’s Auntie Nell was accosted by an old friend in Grays and greeting with the words “Oh I thought you were dead!”
But the Holy Spirit will tell us the truth about God. He reveals the things of God to us. He helps each and every believer in their journey of faith.
Paul in Romans 8: 15 &16 tells us “the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” We are adopted into God’s family we are his sons and daughters. We are no longer alone.
The Spirit helps the Bible, the Word of God, come alive as we read it.
Have you ever read a familiar passage which suddenly comes to life?
Or perhaps you have been struggling over some truth which suddenly becomes as clear as day.
Some translations of the Bible refer to the Holy Spirit as the Advocate. According to the dictionary, an advocate is a person who speaks or writes in support or defence of a person. And so the Holy Spirit, our advocate intercedes on our behalf with God.
So we read in Romans 8:26 & 27 “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”
Isn’t it good to know that he is there speaking on our behalf to God? Just as we are told that Jesus our great High Priest also intercedes for us.
With God’s Spirit in us, we are certainly not alone, left to make our own way in the world. We are not forsaken.
The God who said this to Joshua in Deuteronomy 31:8 “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” is the God who is with us always through the power of The Holy Spirit.
If you love Jesus and keep his commandments you will have received the Holy Spirit. The disciples had to wait until Pentecost for the Spirit to come. Since that time He has come to each and every believer who puts their faith in Jesus, so that they are not alone or orphaned but are now part of God’s family. Amen.