Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 25, 2014
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: John 14:15-21
Sermon Theme: “Who Needs Help? We All Do”
(Sources: Emphasis Online Commentary; Emphasis Online Illustrations; original ideas; Wikipedia online; Anderson’s Preaching Workbook, Cycle A)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
As a person who wanted to be a cartoonist from age five to age twenty-five, I naturally notice any cartoon that shows up anywhere. Sometimes a cartoon can capture life attitudes better than a novel or a poem.
A cartoon in the New Yorker a few years ago sadly depicted the way that many people live. It depicted two young women, who, having just returned to their apartment from their day’s work, are trying to relax and make the most of their leisure time. Both look, and are, thoroughly bored.
One remarks, “I don’t know whether to take a Benzedrine and go to the party, or a Nembutal and go to bed.”
Surrealist artist, Salvador Dali, in his painting of the Last Supper, shows the disciples with their heads bowed low over the table, their long hair fallen over their faces of most of them. And, although you cannot see their faces, their hunched shoulders and bowed heads portray vividly the anguish of their hearts. As they began to understand that Jesus was going to be crucified, they felt sorrowful and fearful.
After Jesus washes their feet, he offers them not an aspirin or a sleeping pill to banish all frustrations, anxieties, or problems, but his counsel and comfort, — what a contrast the Holy Spirit’s comforting is to the contemporary world ‘s comforting!
Today’s sermon text from John is a continuation of last Sunday’s gospel in which He is preparing the disciples for His death and assuring them that His death will not be the end of their relationship. This text prepares us for Ascension and Pentecost.
You see, for the disciples, Easter Day was not a day of trumpets, lilies, and joyful celebration, but a day of wondering and confusion, fear, grief, and doubts. From Easter Day through the Day of Ascension, which is designated for this coming Thursday, we see a gradual dawning of hope and understanding among the disciples that Jesus was not dead, but alive in a new way.
This gradual development of awareness is completed on Pentecost when the coming of the Holy Spirit transforms the disciples into apostles, — from bumbling, stumbling cowards into awesome apostles on fire with zeal for their Lord.
The Holy Spirit is called “the Helper” in the ESV translation on our insert. Who needs help? We all do.
The country of Zaire is in the middle of Africa. It used to be known as the Belgian Congo. Missionaries to that region report that malnutrition is rampant there. But it is a different kind of malnutrition from what we see and read about in such nations as Zimbabwe and Somalia.
The people of Zaire are not starving. They have an abundance of fertile land and plenty of rainfall. They have plenty to eat. Yet they are malnourished, because the food they eat is made of a pulpy starch with little nutritional value.
Today’s world is full of people in a similar state spiritually. They have chosen to fill their souls with ideas and information which have little nutritional value. They are malnourished because they don’t know the truth, even though God has sent the Spirit of truth to us. Who needs help spiritually? We all do.
The help we need is the help Jesus sent.
No matter what our age, we are still children at heart. We may think that we are completely independent. Not so. We need someone to watch over us, to shepherd and guide us. And that is why Jesus sent us the Parakletos. Depending on which translation of the Bible you use, you will find three different words used for the Greek Parakletos, — “Advocate,” “Counselor,” and “Comforter.” Which one is closest to the Greek? Actually, — all three. You really need all three English words to fully identify the Parakletos.
The idea behind “Advocate” is that the Holy Spirit is there to speak on our behalf, to defend us from the enemies within and the enemies without. The term “Counselor” is similar to Advocate, but conveys the sense that the Spirit enables us to make the right decisions and choices. And “Comforter” suggest that the Holy Spirit is our friend, who doesn’t necessarily tell us what to do, but is there for us when we need Him.
The idea of “Comforter” is very important, as this makes the Spirit personal, a loyal and faithful friend who is there for us, to love us and care for us when we hurt.
As I said, I have this predilection for cartoons, and one of my favorite comic strips has always been Peanuts. In one of the Peanuts strips, we find Charlie Brown talking with Linus. Charlie Brown says, “If I ever had to chose a way to die, I would like it to be by poison. How about you, Linus?”
Linus replies, :I would like to be killed by loving kindness.”
“Yes,” says Charlie Brown, “that would be a good way to die, but poison is much easier to get.”
So true. So true. Perhaps that’s the reason for one aspect of the Parakletos being “Comforter,” — as how much loving kindness do we get from each other? We must let the Holy Spirit work through us so that we can be Advocate, Counselor, and Comforter to other people, as the Spirit is for us.
Think about it: if we can have the Great Parakletos, living within us, caring for us; and the lesser Parakletoses, in the form of our friends, living outside of us, caring for us, then we can handle all of life’s pain, misery, agony, disappointments, along with just the plain old vicissitudes of life.
Lu Ann, mother and wife, was having a rough time. In recent weeks, she spent most of her time in the hospital caring for her husband. It is always draining to watch a loved one suffer; in this case it was her husband. She knew she had to keep a positive, upbeat attitude, no matter what, for Bob’s sake, as well as her children. But seeing him lying in the hospital bed, suffering, day after day, was more than she could take.
Late one night, with her husband sound asleep, her fatigue caught up with her. Tears began streaming down her face as she put down her Bible to go to the bathroom. She did not want Bob to see her crying.
After a couple minutes, Lu Ann felt hands on her shoulders. She stood up and the nurse embraced her. Lu Ann let it all out, her tears soaking the nurse’s shoulder. Lu Ann does not remember all the words the nurse spoke, only her tender embrace. The nurse kept assuring her that it would be all right, as she took Lu Ann to the nurses’ station where she gave her a drink and a washcloth to dry her face. The two women talked long into the night.
After Lu Ann recomposed herself she returned to her husband’s bedside. Lu Ann never saw that nurse again but felt she was an angel sent by God. As Jesus promises in our sermon text, “I will not leave you as an orphan; I will come to you.” Perhaps the nurse was the way in which He came.
Our Lord, because of His great love for us, has assured us that we will never be without His loving kindness and His patient direction. Even though He is absent from us physically, He has promised to be ever near us with His Holy Spirit. Who needs help? We all do! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.