Not Alone

Text: John 14:15-21
Date: Easter VI + 5/29/11

I noticed, recently, an ad on the radio talking about a ductless heating and cooling system. But instead of talking about “heating” or “cooling” the rooms in your house the announcer spoke about “comforting” your rooms. “Comforting,” I guess, means heating in the winter and cooling in the summer. But “comforting” is a word that gives character or personalizes an otherwise purely mechanical function. Today, Jesus speaks about the third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit. “Father” gives a certain emotional identity to the First Person. “Son” and especially the name “Jesus” gives identity to the Second Person. But “Holy Spirit” seems a vague title, a mysterious concept. Therefore Jesus uses a unique word to describe the Spirit, a word that means “Helper” or “Comforter.”

Today we again recall, now with “resurrection ears,” the words of Jesus in the Upper Room on the night in which He was betrayed. He spoke as if He were planning on going away somewhere and leaving His disciples alone, to themselves. At the time I suppose they maybe fearfully wondered what He meant. On this side of Easter we know that He was preparing them, first, for His exodus or departure by way of His crucifixion and death. And now, as we approach the fortieth day of Easter this Thursday, we prepare to celebrate His further departure when, at His Ascension into heaven His slow levitation into the clouds signaled His lasting invisible presence with all His disciples to this day.

In preparation for this we remember that He promised, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, the Spirit of Jesus, that is, Who always recalls and points us to Jesus. He is the Spirit of the Father, Who, likewise, is always pointing to the Son, saying, “Listen to Him.” In Greek He is called the Paraclete, variously translated “Helper” or “the Comforter.” The Holy Spirit is very quiet and rather invisible, but His present comfort is known by every true disciple. Jesus reassures us today that in the Triune God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are Not Alone.

We are not alone because we have the word of the Gospel of Christ. In John chapter eight Jesus already spoke about leaving. There He reassured His followers with the words, “If you continue (or abide) in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:31-32). Today we hear Him say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” His commandments are all His words. And the first word is love. “A new commandment I give you,” He said, “that you love one another.” Then He said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” And turning to us He then said, “You are my friends” (Jn 15:13-14). And He laid down His life for us and for the whole world. His commandments are the entire Gospel, the good news of God’s love in the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension of the Son of God, Jesus Christ; the gospel of the forgiveness of our sins and reconciliation with God. “Keeping” Jesus’ commands means to know them, to grasp them, to believe them, to rely upon them. This is what motivates our constant exercise in the reading and hearing and studying of the Bible and of our wonderful Lutheran Confessions that are all about His commands, the good news, the pure, sound doctrine of the Word of God. The person who has heard and learned of the great, redeeming, saving love of God and believes it can only love God in return. That love is expressed in the desire to make Jesus Christ and His word first and foremost, the most important thing in your life.

We need that Word and that assurance that we are not alone precisely because we are daily tempted to think we have lost our grip on God or that God has somehow lost His grip on us and abandoned us. Whenever you begin to think that you are not living right, for instance, that you have let sin get the upper hand, as Martin Luther once wrote, “Unfortunately, this is all too true. What is the result? ‘Oh, you must go to hell!’ says the devil.” But then Luther provides you with the argument of faith, saying, “No, that is not the will of God. Begone, devil, you and the evil world; for my Lord Christ says no to you, He tells me that the Father is not angry with me but will give me the Comforter, who will come to me in answer to His prayer. They concur in this, that they do not want me to be frightened and sad, much less rejected and condemned, but comforted and happy” (Luther’s Works 24:114). So it has been my experience to observe that most Lutherans well-catechized in the little catechism “know better” when they run in to all sorts of trials or confusion. Especially when things don’t sound right or seem right we may not be able accurately to describe or understand what’s wrong, but faith kicks in, we remember God’s Word and the Holy Spirit is right there to comfort and to help.

When Jesus said that He will ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit He was speaking according to His human nature, His wonderfully pure, sinless and holy human nature with which by sacrifice He has taken away our sins and given us access to the wonderful grace of God. As God Himself, of course, He sends the Spirit Himself. So we say in the creed that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son and is worshipped together with the Holy Trinity. This Helper, this “paraclete,” this comforter, He says, will “be with you forever,” “for he dwells with you and will be in you.”

It is by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us that Jesus gives us the assurance, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” Orphans. It may not be a word you think of very often. It surprised me when my brother said, after the death of our mother, “You know, we’re orphans now.” So the Church, especially in our day in our country and in our experience as the little Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word somewhere in the Rochester Hills of Michigan that we feel like and consider ourselves to be poor orphans. Look how small we are. Look how the Christian Church is mocked and persecuted publicly these days. People are not “flocking” to our doorstep because they do not see their need of God or of His Church or even their awareness that this is His Church! “Lutherans?” “Missouri Synod Lutherans?” “You mean the ones that are so out of touch that they don’t even have women pastors yet?”

It is, however, for such times as this, when the Church is seemingly small and weak, that we are to know that Jesus is in the Father, and us in Him, and He in us. By our faint voices and our meek lives indeed the Rochester Hills are alive with the Presence of the God of grace. God gives the true growth of faith as we continue, as we abide, as we keep, as we “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” the Word of the Gospel, the word of grace.

It is and can be only, after all, faith alone that can move the sinner, redeemed by the blood of Christ, to sing the true love songs:

Lord, Thee I love with all my heart;
I pray Thee ne’er from me depart,
With tender mercy cheer me.
Earth has no pleasure I would share.
Yea, heav’n itself were void and bare
If Thou, Lord, wert not near me. [LSB 708]

Thee will I love, my strength, my tower;
Thee will I love, my hope, my joy.
Thee will I love with all my power,
With ardor time shall ne’er destroy.
Thee will I love, O Light divine,
So long as life is mine. [LSB 694]

Thee we adore, O hidden Savior,
Thee, Who in Thy Sacrament art pleased to be;
Both flesh and spirit in Thy presence fail,
Yet here Thy presence we devoutly hail. [LSB 640]

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Comforter, to be with you forever…. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”