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The Promise

May 14, 2023 Speaker: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Lectionary

Topic: Biblical Verse: John 14:15–21

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 14, 2023

John 14:15-21

 “The Promise”

Some years ago when I was looking for a Mother’s Day card, I came across one that said on the front of the card at the top: “Things you ask Mom,” such as “What’s for dinner?” “What time is it?” “Why not?” “How come?” When is it my turn?” “Can I have more?” “Where is it?” Will you read this to me?” “Can I watch TV?” “Do I have to go to bed?” And at the bottom of the front of the card, it said, “Stuff you ask Dad:” “Where’s Mom?” Pretty true! As we think about our moms, we’re grateful for all that they have given us. As human beings, one of the greatest fears that we have is being alone – not a temporary aloneness, which we all need amidst the hustle and bustle of life. Everyone needs to have some peace and quiet so that we can think and reflect. I don’t mean this, but being permanently alone: abandoned, isolated, excluded, cut off. Psychological research indicates that this is arguably the most severe punishment that can be inflicted on another human being. Within our own prison system, there is solitary confinement, in which an inmate lives in a single cell with little or no meaningful contact with other people. Within some religious traditions, there is a practice called shunning. This means that a formal decision has been made by the denomination or the congregation to stop interaction and communication with an individual or a group of people. The effect is the same, whether in a prison setting or a religious context: it leaves the individual separated and friendless, even forsaken. Jesus speaks to this fear in today’s Gospel lesson when he says to his disciples: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). That is the promise that Jesus makes to his disciples then and now, and this becomes the theme for today’s message. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.

Jesus is preparing his followers for that day when he will no longer be with them: “Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19). Jesus is getting them ready for when he will withdraw his physical presence from them, which the church remembers each year on Ascension Day. Forty days after he rose from the dead, Jesus ascended into heaven, as recorded in Scripture (Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:1-11). Ascension Day is always on a Thursday, and this year that will be Thursday of this week, May 18. We were hoping to have a Circuit-wide Ascension worship service as we did last year, but these plans did not work out, and so we will livestream the service from last year instead. Information about how to log on and participate will be included in the Midweek Update for next Wednesday.

Even in his resurrected body, Jesus was still with his disciples, but no longer bound by the laws of nature, as the Gospel accounts tell us (Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:9-20; Luke 24:13-49; John 20:19-31, 21:1-25). All of this would forty days after Jesus rose from the dead when he ascended into heaven, and as we confess in the creed, “He seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.” The closing verse in today’s Epistle lesson (1 Peter 3:13-22) speaks to this: Jesus Christ, [who] has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” The promise Jesus makes is that his beloved disciples, his followers then and now, will not be abandoned and left to themselves. As Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel lesson: And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17). The Helper, the Spirit of truth – this is the One whom Jesus promises is coming, and indeed, has come. The coming of that Helper, the Spirit of truth, is what we will celebrate in two weeks’ time on the festival of Pentecost on Sunday, May 28. Pentecost is the fiftieth and final day of the Easter season as we rejoice in the Spirit who calls us and keeps us in this one true faith.

The promise of Jesus’ ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit is behind what Paul the apostle has to say to the people of Athens in today’s Epistle reading (Acts 17:16-31). We are told that Paul was “provoked” (παρωξύνετο) when he saw idol after idol everywhere around the city. He was angered because the promise of Jesus and the power of the Spirit had not yet come to the people of Athens, and Paul very much wanted them to receive this same gift and blessing. And so Paul preaches this amazing sermon that speaks so eloquently to the audience at hand: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you…” (Acts 7:22b-23). Paul goes on to proclaim the God of all creation who made the heavens and the earth, and Christ Jesus who was raised from the dead. And from this, a new church was planted there in Athens as people received the promise of the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation in Jesus, who died and rose again. That same promise comes to us today just as it did to those early disciples. That promise comes in the cleansing waters of Holy Baptism, in the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, in the Body and Blood of Christ that we receive in the Lord’s Supper. Through all of these Means of Grace, we are receivers of God’s amazing grace in Jesus. We can only come with open hands to receive that promise which only Jesus can give: that we are loved with an everlasting love by our heavenly Father. He loves us with a love that is stronger than death.   

Today is Mother’s Day, and we honor those wonderful women who gave us life; those who are living and those who have gone before us in the faith. Our ability to trust in a promise often begins with our moms, who shape and guide us in life. What would life be like without mothers and their love? Near to Mother’s Day, a man came home from work to find total mayhem at his house. He and his wife had three young children, and his wife was working harder than ever as a stay-at-home mom. When he arrived home, he found the three kids running around the front yard still in their pajamas. The front door of the house was open, and he started to become alarmed, thinking something must have happened to his wife. Inside the house, there was more mayhem, with things in total disarray. The man headed upstairs where he found his wife curled up in bed reading a book. She looked up at him, smiled and asked how his day went. He was now completely bewildered and blurted out, “What happened here today?” She smiled again and answered, “You know how you come home from work every day and ask me what I did today?” “Yesss…” he cautiously replied. “Well,” she answered, “today I didn’t do it.”

May the promise of Jesus, that he will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5; Joshua 1:5), become more real and true for us with each passing day until that promise is received in all its fulness when we see our risen Savior, no longer by faith but face-to-face. May God make it so for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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