Many children’s stories end “and they lived happily ever after”. As adults, who have dealt with a challenging medical diagnosis, pain, sickness, or death, we know that real life doesn’t always end that way. And sometimes, things simply don’t turn out the way we expect them too.
Take the story of the couple who owned a vintage 1957 Thunderbird. While relaxing in his favourite chair, his wife walked in and announced that she was having trouble with the car. What’s wrong, the man asked. There’s water in the carburetor, she answered. Water in the carburetor? That's ridiculous, he answered. Well, she retorted, I tell you that the car has water in the carburetor. Frustrated, the husband said, you don't even know what a carburetor is. Where’s the car, I’ll check it out for myself. It’s in the pool, answered the wife.
There simply isn’t anything more troubling or frustrating than when our life changes in ways we don’t expect. “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you” (John 14:25), begins Jesus. Our gospel again takes place in the upper room in Jerusalem, during the festival of the Passover, prior to Jesus’s suffering and death. It’s all part of a long teaching to prepare the disciples for what is going to be required of them after Jesus is gone. They don’t know it yet, but their life is about to drastically change.
Those gathered with Jesus in the upper room, those who had followed Jesus for the last three years, were basically members of the lower working class. Unlike the beggars along the highways, these men had been successful in their lives prior to following Jesus. Those who had been fishermen dropped the nets of their trade in order to answer the call to follow Jesus, while others like Levi, left behind a lucrative business of collecting taxes, including their portion of the take, to also begin a brand-new life with Jesus. They had left everything they were familiar with, and now, after having spent the past three years of their life, sleeping, eating, watching, and learning from Jesus – Jesus announced the unexpected “I am going away” (John 14:28).
Nothing could have prepared the disciples for those words. When they first responded to his call and began following Jesus, they found that the world, as they knew it, had been drastically changed by Jesus. They had spent hours sitting at the feet of this Rabbi, listening to him open up the Word of God to them - in a new and thrilling way, proclaiming God’s truth for life in ways that the religious leaders of Israel had not been able to do. “They were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority” (Luke 4:32). It was these men who had witnessed firsthand, the signs and wonders; the demons being cast out, the people being healed, the incredible feeding of thousands and the raising of the dead - which are still talked about today.
But this night was different. “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15) explains Jesus. Jesus was preparing himself for Good Friday. Jesus was aware that his time on earth, and especially his time with his disciples, is about to come to an end. On this particular evening, they begin by sharing the Passover together - the meal of remembrance of God’s mighty act, when God Almighty brought his children out of slavery in Egypt to freedom in the promise land. It is on this evening, that Jesus also institutes another holy meal, using bread and the fruit of the vine, which represent his own body and blood which are about to be given and shed for the sin of humanity - to bring you and me out from our bondage to sin into freedom in Christ. Finally, through the washing of the disciples’ feet Jesus demonstrates to his disciples, and those who would follow, the love and care he has for each of them and how the same love ought to be they way they should also love each other.
“I am going away” (John 14:28) is spoken by Jesus in order to prepare the disciples for a time when they would live without the physical presence of Jesus. These words and actions are all part of what we might call - Jesus’s final instructions. Today, we might call this the last will and testament of Jesus of Nazareth. “I am going away” (John 14:28) and this is what you ought to do. But these words of Jesus would shake the very foundation of the lives of his disciples.
There isn’t anything more troubling than when our life changes direction in unexpected ways. We can relate to the disciples, because we have experienced these same feelings at different times in our own lives. C.S. Lewis describes a similar experience in his own life when he writes about his own beloved mother’s death in his book entitled Joyful Christian. Lewis writes, “With my mother's death, all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures in my life and joy, but no more of the old security. It was sea and islands; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis”.
As with the death of a beloved, a major part of Lewis’ world and security was gone. We have all experienced this kind of grief, especially when death makes a major change in our world. In saying, “I am going away” (John 14:28) Jesus knew that his disciples would experience these same feelings of loss, but worse, they would have to see him again and then watch him leave all over again, as he explains in somewhat confusing terms “I am going away, and I will come to you” (John 14:28).
Jesus' earthly life would end in death by crucifixion and burial, followed by rising from the dead in three days, after which he would spend forty days with the disciples before ascending into heaven – until he returns in glory at the judgment of the living and the dead. “I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe” (John 14:29). Jesus provides the key that opens the lock to a life that is lived apart from him – although we are never truly apart. “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). It’s here where we find the key to how the disciples and us can continue without the physical presence of Jesus with us in our world.
Initially, the disciples must understand their new identity in Christ and continue to hold on to who they are becoming in Christ. Jesus knows this and he knows that in their grief, over his death and departure, that the disciples might be tempted to go back to their old familiar ways, back to what they used to do before they began following Jesus. So, Jesus promises that if they will hold true to the word, He and the Father will come and make their home with them. No matter what changes the world might throw at them, the one thing that would be predictable and unchangeable was God’s continual presence with them.
Whenever we hear a siren, we need to stop and pray for those responders and those to whom they may be responding to. Whenever we hear others around us, using foul or inappropriate language, or unforgiving sentiments we need to stop and pray for them. Whenever we encounter unbelievers or the unfortunate members of our society, we need to take time to bring them to God in prayer. There are more than enough life changing situations in our world that unexpectedly change the direction of a person’s life when we need to take a moment to pause and pray, because there is no lack of reasons for us to pray. And sometimes, as we pray, amid a terrible tragedy within a place or community - we see the hand of God at work, reaching out to the hurting and grieving, as the goodness, love and grace of God becomes real through our human response in Christ. This is Jesus’s promise, to be ever-present with us, and to hear our prayers, as our God is present with us in the midst of adversity and God will not abandon us, even when everything appears to go against us.
When Jesus’s disciples, along with us today hear “I am going away” (John 14:28) the normal reaction is one of fear - fear that Jesus is going away and abandoning us. But, the promise of Jesus is clear, in that Jesus is guaranteeing his disciples and us - he will not abandon us. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me” (John 14:18-19). After the resurrection Jesus adds “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27) in order to help calm all of our fears.
There’s an old American Spiritual, which has been sung by the Gaither’s, called “Jesus Walked this Lonesome Valley” which is often used with Psalm 23. It begins, “Jesus had to walk this lonesome valley, he had to walk it by himself, nobody else could walk it for him, he had to walk it by himself.” The hymn is actually associated with Lent because verses two and three declare that we also have to walk this same lonesome valley, but we have to walk it alone. In a strange way the hymn contradicted Jesus' promise in scripture, and it was not a correct description of what John describes in his gospel. An unidentified writer, noticing this contradiction, added a fourth verse to the hymn which now reads “We will walk this lonesome valley, but He is walking close besides, never alone in this dark valley, for He is walking by our side”.
It’s nice to say all of this, but our challenge is how do we move, from faith and belief regarding what Jesus promises the disciples in today’s reading, to the actual reality of knowing that Jesus is dwelling with us and giving us the peace we need – even in adversity? In order to move from theory to actual experience we must begin by taking Jesus’ words to heart. In the same way that we know a tree is an apple tree because it produces apples, or a bush is a grape vine because it produces grapes - Jesus tells us that the presence of Divine Love is the assurance of Jesus’ promise to us. Paul’s rendition of the fruit of the spirit are also another demonstration of the Spirit’s working to produce good works in the life of a believer, with a display of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
Jesus’s focus today is on the fruit of love. “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me” (John 14:24) declares Jesus. The caution, which is expressed in this short sentence, stands or falls on our trust of the one who is making the promise, remembering that the promise doesn’t come from Jesus but rather, this promise comes from the Father. Jesus warns us to not lose what the Father has given and to walk in trust and faith that the promise is true, that we are not alone – for he is with us. The great challenge of the Christian faith is believing because of the promises of God found in scripture. Christian Faith can be easily compared to blind trust.
When we look at an apple seed, we believe that when planted it will produce an apple tree. A cocoon, once woven by a caterpillar, holds within it the promise of a new life that will emerge as a butterfly. No matter how long winter may appear, we know that the cycle of the season will soon bring about spring, filled with new life and always followed by summer. God alone knows all these things to be true, while we trust in faith that all these things are true - that our ending is our beginning, our limited time will be changed to eternity, our doubts will be changed to belief and because of Jesus we know and trust that physical death is followed by resurrection and life eternal. “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him” (Romans 6:8).
There is nothing more frightening than losing sight of the certainty of life and the assurance of believing that we are in control of our today and of our tomorrows. But for those who don’t know Jesus, any tragedy can change that person’s whole world - as it once did to C.S. Lewis. For us who believe, right now, we live our everyday life in the assurance of a future which is in the hands of our creator. The disciples didn’t understand this yet and the fear they would experience was caused because they were about to lose the assurance of their tomorrow - if Jesus left them alone. “I am going away” (John 14:28) must have been a fearsome revelation. And so, Jesus explains how he will ensure his followers are never alone or made to feel orphaned by sending God in the person of the Holy Spirit. “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:25-26).
Jesus’ promise guarantees that the future will bring the joy of a new relationship with God through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, whose sole purpose is to point us towards Jesus, to remind us of his teachings, his life, his command to love one another, as the Holy Spirit reinforce everything Jesus has said - so that we can truly believe and trust everything God has promised. And, since we live in a turbulent and stormy world, in which we regularly face uncertainty, Jesus gives us his gift of peace “which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). God’s Shalom is a sense of calmness and tranquility in Christ that will help us to deal with life as an apostle, with the help of the Holy Spirit who helps us to recognize Christ’s presence in our life, as he walks with us through the uncertain and difficult days ahead – “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4).
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We are a family of followers of Christ, who learn and share the Good News of Salvation, making disciples of Jesus Christ.
We hold weekly Sunday morning services at 10:30 am. Please join us.
Our music team plays from a repertoire of many hundreds of Christian songs and Hymns, occasionally with new arrangements of traditional and contemporary selections.