5.23.2017

Never Alone





“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
John 14:15-21

Jesus spoke those words to his Disciples on the night that he was betrayed. The night before he was crucified. He knew that the hour of his death was coming. Jesus was never really one for small talk. But on that Passover festival, every action, and every utterance, carried the weight and urgency of finality. These were his last and lasting words.

And what did the Light of the World speak of on his final night on earth?

Love, of course.

Remember that on the night before he laid down his life for his friends, he knelt down to wash their feet. And then he gave them a new commandment: to love. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Love is the key.

And before he could surrender himself to the way of the cross, before he could humble himself by scrubbing the filth from the disciples’ feet, before he could heal the sick and embrace the sinner and confound the self-righteous, he had to show up.

Love is the key. And the key to love? Presence.

There’s a verse near the beginning of the gospel of John that goes like this:

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.

God responded to the unfathomable depths of human suffering by showing up. God folded God’s divinity into a profoundly vulnerable shape. God became one of us, every bit as human as you and I. Every bit as vulnerable to papercuts and chickenpox and grief.

God did this because God loves us. God did this because the only way to really embrace someone in pain is to have yourself a set of arms.

The only way to hold the hand of someone shaking with fear is to have a sweaty palm of your own. The only way to share a meal with friends is to have teeth and taste buds.

The only way to lay down your life for your friends is to first become flesh and blood and move into the neighborhood.

The Disciples were gathered in the presence of the Word Made Flesh, God in a body. And he was telling that they had better listen to everything he had to say because he was about to die. But even as he broke the unnerving news that he would no longer be with them, he promised them that God was sending another holy presence in his place. An Advocate who would never leave their side. An abiding spirit of truth. I will not leave you orphaned, he vows.

Friends, God goes to extraordinary lengths to reassure us that we are loved, and that we are never alone.

Now I need to tell you of the time I witnessed a glimpse of holy love and presence, a time when the words of this scripture became flesh and blood and moved into my own neighborhood.

I can promise you that I have permission to tell this story. I cannot promise you I have the composure to tell this story.

The boy was sick. There was one long and harrowing night when it was unclear that he would make it through until morning. He got so very sick so very fast, the infection multiplying in his bloodstream and invading his organs.

But the doctors worked relentlessly to save his life, and they did. They saved him. For days, the boy remained in a comatose state as the machines and medicines kept him alive while the antibiotics slowly reclaimed his body from the bacteria.

Eventually, the infection receded enough that the doctors could begin the complex and risky process of weaning him off the the various interventions. And so it was that the boy was gradually eased out of total sedation - a critical step toward recovery.

Waking up in a hospital bed, confused and in pain, is terrifying. And this little boy had to do it over and over and over again.

This is what happened when he awoke. His mother and his father bent close to him, taking his hands and touching his cheeks, and they repeated words of love and comfort. They told him where he was. They told him he was going to be okay. And they told him that they were there. Mama’s here. Daddy’s here.

Over, and over, and over again.

I tell you what I told those parents: in the midst of one of the most terrifying hospital stays I've ever witnessed as a pastor, the vision of those parents comforting that little boy remains one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. It was a glimpse of God’s love. And more light and more truth broke from on high because I tell you I am not sure I knew just how deep and wide and fierce and suffering the love of God really is until I saw it like that.

The love and care and compassion and promise of presence those parents lavished upon their son is precisely the love and care and compassion and promise of presence God lavishes upon each one of us. Through the gift of Christ. And through the gift of the Spirit.

When I asked these parents for their blessing to tell this story, they told me something else.

A day or so after the boy was coming out of sedation and was lucid, they told him that they had been in the hospital for "a couple days."

He replied in his raspy voice, "Longer than that... I think we've been here for more than a week." They were shocked he had any sense of time, as he had been heavily sedated through most all of it. His mother then said, "You know Dad and I have been here the entire time, we never left your side.

Even if one of us had to step out of the room for a minute, the other one stayed." He replied so casually, "Yeah, I know." His comfort and confidence in this brought his mother to tears.

I believe God longs for us to know that same comfort and confidence. God wants us to trust that at our worst moments, we are held in a mercy deeper than the ocean. We are gripped by a love that will not let us go. We abide in a Spirit so Holy the world cannot see it. But as people of faith, we can know it nonetheless.

We are not alone. We are never orphaned.

Jesus had to step out of the room for a minute. But the Holy Spirit stays. 

Amen.

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