Sunday, May 5, 2013

Peace and Presence

John 14:23-29
May 5, 2013

             I am not nor have I ever been quick at saying goodbyes.  Whether it’s big, dramatic goodbyes before a move or just leaving a dinner party, I don’t just say “goodbye” and walk out the door.  It’s a process.  I’ve been witnessing this process since I was a kid, starting with my parents.  I think my dad would prefer to say a quick goodbye and leave.  Why draw it out?  But my mom doesn’t like to just rush off abruptly.  That would be rude.  So whenever we were out somewhere my dad would begin the process by announcing that they have a long drive or work the next morning or they have to get kids to bed, etc.  That was the signal my mom needed to begin the goodbye conversation.  That means wrapping up whatever was being talked about, then thanking whoever they’ve been with for the lovely time, then some more conversation.  Then the gathering of whatever came with them, coats, purses, a dish if food was brought.  Finally, everything is gathered together, all the necessary people are collected, then hugs, more thank you’s and voila!  Everyone is out the door, in the car and heading home.  Getting out the door and heading home could have taken a few minutes or an hour.  But it’s a process. 
            I’m not mocking my parents.  This is my process as well.  If I’ve been having fun, enjoying myself, it takes me a while to say goodbye.  Even if I’m on a deadline, I can push it right up to the last second, saying thank you, making last minute chitchat, etc.
            I learned that goodbyes really got tricky when I had children.  When we would visit with other friends who had kids, leaving got harder.  Not because we necessarily wanted to prolong the goodbye but because rounding up children was a challenge.  I’ll never forget how hard I laughed when I first heard the phrase, “trying to get your kids out the door is like herding cats.”  It’s true!  If I had one child ready to go, the other one would have wandered off.  It was a process.
            Saying goodbye is a process.  It’s a process after a pleasant meal with friends.  It’s a process when you know you’re leaving for a much longer time, maybe even for good.
            Jesus is in the process of saying goodbye in our passage from John.  These verses in chapter 14 are part of a much larger section known as the Farewell Discourses.  That title alone should indicate what Jesus is trying to do.  He’s saying farewell.  But he’s not just making a hasty goodbye to the disciples and hitting the road for the Ascension.  He’s discoursing.  He’s talking to them, reminding them of what he’s taught them, assuring them that what he has promised will be.  The promises he has made to them are true.  God is faithful. 
            In our particular verses, Jesus reminds them that those who love him keep his commandments.  They don’t just hear what he said.  They do what he said.  That’s how they show their love for Jesus, by doing what he commanded.  That sounds great in theory.  But what was the most important commandment Jesus gave them?  Love.  Love one another.  Love others.  And how do you love?  You wash feet.  You love by serving.  And when you serve you show your love.
            Again, this sounds great in theory.  But we all know that doing this, loving in this way, is often much harder in reality.  I suspect the disciples knew this too.  And I also suspect that they must have been scared.  Jesus is in the process of telling them goodbye.  He is honest and open about what’s coming.  His physical self will leave them.  He will be crucified then raised from the dead.  Finally, he will ascend to the Father.  The disciples have to understand that he won’t be physically with them.  They also have to understand that this is good.  This is as it should be.  They should want him to go to the Father.  Because when he has gone to the Father, they will receive the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. This is all as it should be. 
            But do the disciples believe that?  Or are they scared?  Their teacher is leaving them.  It’s one thing to follow his commandment to love when he’s with them.  He makes it all seem, if not easy, then at least possible.  But it’s a whole different matter entirely if he’s not with them.  What if they can’t remember everything he’s taught them?  What if they can’t do everything he’s taught them?  What if? 
            I would have been terrified.  It would not surprise me in the least if the disciples were too.  But Jesus promises that even though he won’t be with them physically, the Holy Spirit, the Advocate will.  The Holy Spirit will remind them of everything he’s taught them.  It will remind them of everything he’s said.  With the presence of the Advocate, they will be okay.  We know that not only is the Holy Spirit just a reassuring voice in their ear, reminding the disciples of what Jesus taught them.  It is also a powerful presence that enlivens and emboldens the disciples to do and say what they never thought possible.  They will be more than okay.
            We know that.  Jesus knew that.  But did they know that?  They hadn’t reached the okay point yet.  They were still trying to understand that Jesus was leaving them.  They were going to be on their own, or so they thought, and doing what he taught them without him.  It must have been scary. 
            I don’t think my transition into Kindergarten was quite as elaborate as the one my kids went through.  They had orientation.  They went to the school at appointed times to meet the teacher and find their cubbies and bring in their supplies.  It was quite the big deal.  When Phoebe started Kindergarten, the kindergartners went just on their own for a day so they could get completely acclimated to this new world.  While I think that was important for the children, it was even more important for the parents.  It made me feel better knowing she was being given extra attention and care as she started school full-time. 
            Then first grade happened.  I didn’t expect quite the same process for first grade that the kids got for kindergarten, but I expected something.  So I called the school to find out what I had to do on the first day.  Where was the special first grade drop off place?  What procedures did the first graders undergo to ensure that all would be well on their first day?  I could hear the secretary, who was a very nice lady, trying not to laugh when I asked her these questions.  “No Mrs. Perkins,” she said, “There are no special procedures for first graders.  You just drop her off.”  I was aghast.  She was only six.  She only had one full year of school under her belt.  What if she didn’t know what to do?  What if she got lost in the short distance between the car door and the playground?  But she assured me that Phoebe would remember everything she was taught in Kindergarten and she would be okay.  All I had to do was drop her off.  She would be okay.  I did.  And she was.
            Jesus told the disciples that they would be okay.  They would have the Advocate, the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit would help them, remind them, reassure them, empower them.  Along with the gift of the Spirit, Jesus gave them his peace.  These words from verse 27 are ones we often hear at times of death.  “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.” 
            “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”  Receiving the peace of Jesus was more than just a friendly gesture.  It was the giving of his ongoing love and care.  Receiving Jesus’ peace didn’t mean they were magically protected from the harms and hurts of the world.  It didn’t make them immune to danger or trouble or scarcity.  Their physical bodies were no more shielded from wounds than his was.  Receiving Jesus’ peace didn’t promise them safety, but it gave them assurance in their hearts and minds that they would be okay.  Jesus might leave them physically, but he would never be completely absent from them.  He would be in their memories.  He would be in their words.  He would be in their hearts.  His love would become their love.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. 
            Whether we can always recognize it or not, the peace that was given to the disciples is ours as well.  The assurance he gave the disciples, he gives to us.  His promises remain sure.  I am with you.  My peace and my presence will help you keep my commandment to love and to serve, to walk in the world’s darkness and share my light, to see the world’s thirst and share my living water.  I am with you.  Even after I say goodbye, I am with you.  You will be okay.  Go out into the world and share this good news.  Love, serve, help others be okay too.  Let all God’s children say, “Amen.”

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