Love and Companionship – May 17, 2020

Love and Companionship

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

John 14:15-21

May 17, 2020

Main Idea:  Jesus accompanies us.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

During Lent this year, our theme was Companions on the Way and I have continued to be buoyed by this idea of companionship, especially during this time when we cannot physically gather together.  It has been encouraging to observe the ways in which we have been companions together in this time.  Folks have been calling others on the phone, checking up on each other via email, working in essential services and supporting those who are working, volunteering for those in need.  People have joined our community from out of state, sharing their abilities and their time.  The work of the church has continued, although it has become less centralized and more diverse.  We are accompanying each other in uncharted territory, figuring things out as we move along. 

Last week we talked about how our hearts are troubled in this extraordinary time and we heard Jesus’ words of encouragement and comfort.  Today we continue to explore Jesus’ Farewell discourse found in the Gospel of John.  Today’s text invites us to recognize that Christ’s Spirit accompanies us and empowers us to accompany others.

Today’s text picks up where we left off last week.  Jesus is talking to his disciples, who are worried, frightened, and already grieving in anticipation of his approaching death.  Jesus’ words of reassurance throughout the Farewell discourse (chapters 14-16) develop in a circular rather than linear fashion.  They surround the disciples and us in repeated phrases and images.  “I am in the Father and the Father in me” (14:10) “I am in the Father and you in me and I in you.” (14:20) “Abide in me as I abide in you.” (15:4) “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love.” (15:9). 

Our passage for today begins and ends with love, which gives power to companionship.  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (v.15).  In the gospel of John there is only one commandment which is given in chapter 13.  “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (13:34-35) To love Jesus is to love others, that is the only commandment.  “Jesus is trying to make something plain to his followers: all he asks of them is their embrace of the love he has lived among them as the goal for their own lives… The love Jesus wants his hearers to embrace is not an abstract philosophical concept but the lived reality revealed in the life, relationships, and actions of a simple Nazarene who looks and talks like them and lives simply among them”  (Nancy J. Ramsey, FOTW, Year A, Vol. 2, p. 492).  This love is embodied love; love shown by actions big and small; such as proposing marriage or wearing a mask when one goes to the store.  To love one another is to love Jesus.

Because Jesus’ love never ends but the incarnation is drawing to a close, Jesus tells his disciples that God will give them “another Advocate” to be with them forever. (v.16).  The word translated here as Advocate is the Greek word Paraclete which literally means “called to one’s side”.  Its meaning extends from “one who consoles or comforts, [to] one who encourages or uplifts; … [to] one who intercedes on our behalf as an advocate in court” (Paraclete,   Jesus is the first Paraclete, but the second, known to us as the Holy Spirit, will remain with the disciples (and with us) to strengthen and to guide. Jesus says “You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” (v.17).

Now the Holy Spirit is a bit mysterious.  We know that the Spirit blows as she wills but beyond that it gets a bit fuzzy.   In the Gospel of John, the Spirit, the Paraclete, is described as Jesus’ continuing presence after his Ascension. The Spirit also functions as Teacher and Witness for the church through the ages. Later in the Farewell Discourse, Jesus will say “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (16:12-13) The Spirit enables the words of Jesus to speak afresh in ever-changing circumstances. The Spirit accompanies us and connects us to Jesus and to God in our past, in our present, and in our future.    Through the Spirit we are empowered to live out the love we have received, to accompany others as the Spirit accompanies us.

Jesus says to his disciples that he will not leave them bereft and orphaned. The family of God is never abandoned. No one is left behind or discarded.  This is key. The disciples will continue to see him even though the world does not. They will continue to live because he lives!  They do not need to be afraid.  They are secure in God’s love and the Paraclete, Christ’s Spirit will accompany them always. 

In this community we are all free to be who we are, beloved children of God.  Among these companions we are free to express our joys and our griefs, knowing that we are surrounded and supported by a love which will not let us go.  Not only the love of God poured out for us but the lived love of neighbors and friends calling us on the phone, delivering soup, sharing music, making masks.

Because we live and move and have our being in God’s love made known to us through Jesus and revealed to us by the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to be advocates/paracletes/companions to others.   Just as the Spirit accompanies us, so we can accompany, console, give aid, encourage, uplift, and speak out for those in need.  At this strange time, this means we stay home except for essential tasks.  This means that when we do leave our homes, we recognize that all those around us are companions in need of consideration and care.  This means that we follow the state’s guidelines for social distancing and mask wearing.   A friend of mine who is a Doctor at the medical center recently shared that while the number of Covid cases in other New England states are doubling every 5 to 11 days, in Vermont the cases doubled in 57 days.  We are doing a good job at keeping this disease in check but we must continue to be vigilant and caring for our communities at large.

As we move into the summer season and begin to make plans for the fall, we will need to continue to accompany each other.  This pandemic is not a short-term emergency from which we will soon return to our “regularly scheduled” lives.  We will need to lean on the companionship of the Holy Spirit and each other as we discern our way forward through the profound shifts in our daily realities and in the ways in which we do church together. 

In this unsettled time, I am encouraged by the companionship I have experienced among this community. We are not isolated and alone!  We are accompanied by our God who loves, strengthens, and encourages us.  Jesus says later in the Farewell Discourse, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”  (John 15:11).  We are blessed with great companions.  May we continue to recognize, and serve as, companions on the way.

Let us pray,

O Christ, our great companion, we thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit which accompanies us at all times, leading us, strengthening us, and consoling us.  Empower us to be companions with those we meet in the world.  May we share your love, comfort, and strength through our actions, our words, and our very being. Amen.