Sunday, May 17, 2020
Scripture: 1 Peter 3:13-22 & John 14:15-21
Rev. Kristine Aragon Bruce

When we found out we were moving to Grand Haven, Matt and I knew we had to be intentional in preparing our kids, Phoebe and Jenson, for this big life transition. In their young lives Phoebe and Jenson have lived in more states than many adults: New Jersey, Missouri, Illinois, and now Michigan, but this would be the first move when their young minds would recognize more clearly what a big change this would be for them. We were honest about how they’d miss their friends and our neighborhood. So we did our best to complete our Wheaton/Chicago bucket list including trips to the local pool, visiting our favorite places to eat, one last trip to the Shedd Aquarium, etc. And of course plenty of opportunities to get together with their friends one last time. 

We also highlighted all the things they had to look forward to in Grand Haven. We were going to have the largest pool EVER just minutes away. We reminded them of all the nice people they met at our new church and all of the nice kids they met when they visited Children & Worship. We told them all about the great things we learned about their new school.We were going to have a new house with a big fabulous yard with more room for them to run around. They were going to get a trampoline. We also promised them a pet, which hasn’t happened yet, but that’s another story. In preparing them for our upcoming move, we in essence wanted to provide our kids some comfort. Comfort in knowing that Mom and Dad would be with them and that while our living situation would change, our family would stay intact. We would experience this transition together as a family.

In a similar way, Jesus was preparing the disciples for what was to come: his departure, his ascension. He would only be with them for just a short while longer. Although the disciples didn’t fully understand exactly what Jesus was trying to explain to them, Jesus reassures them they will receive the comfort of the Holy Spirit, who will come and be with them after his departure. While they would no longer have Jesus physically with them, he would make sure they wouldn’t be left as “orphans.” He tells them about the Holy Spirit who will not only be their comforter, but their helper and advocate as well. The Greek word for “advocate” has many possible meanings, which is why you’ll see in other translations the Holy Spirit referred to as a “helper” or “comforter.” One can’t go wrong with any of those translations because the Holy Spirit is, and does, all of those things. Bottom line: Jesus wants the disciples to know that while they are about to experience a drastic change that would cause them great sadness, he will not abandon them. He will still be with them; however, it would be in a way they could not fully comprehend in that moment, nor in a way they could have anticipated.

While Jesus would no longer be physically present with them, he would be present to them through the Holy Spirit. After his resurrection, Jesus promises that he will continue to be at work in their lives and in the world through the Holy Spirit. A mistake we still tend to make today is to speak and understand God, the Father; Jesus the son; and God as the Holy Spirit, as three different entities. They are not. We believe in one God. Because God is so far beyond the understanding of our finite minds, it is helpful to understand who God is by looking at how God works. God the Father sends Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Jesus the Son is God who became incarnate as a human being, and God the Holy Spirit comforts, helps and guides us. Wherever and whenever each person of the Trinity is at work, they are never without the other two. When the Holy Spirit comforts us, the Holy Spirit does so by bringing us into relationship with the Father and the Son. When Jesus walked on earth and interacted with people, Jesus was never without the Father and the Holy Spirit. 

I’ve heard some say “Wouldn’t it be easier to be a Christian if we had Jesus walking with us in the flesh just like the disciples did?” The gospels tell us, however, that the disciples never fully understood what Jesus tried to teach them. They didn’t quite understand what Jesus said a lot of the time. It wasn’t until after Jesus ascends to heaven and sends the Holy Spirit that they finally understand who Jesus is and what his death and resurrection mean. It’s the Holy Spirit that helped them finally grasp all that Jesus taught them. Before Jesus ascends back to heaven he commissions the disciples to “Go and make Disciples of all Nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” However, a short time later in the first chapter of Acts we don’t find the Disciples doing this. Instead they’re hiding in the Upper Room. They’re still scared and confused. It isn’t until the Holy Spirit descends upon them blowing open the door that they are no longer afraid and now have the courage to carry out the last command Jesus gave them. If it weren’t for the Holy Spirit, they would never have left that room because it was the Holy Spirit that calmed their fears and worked through them to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit who empowered the disciples to continue on with the mission Jesus gave them is the same Holy Spirit that empowers, comforts and helps us now. If God is the same yesterday, today and forever then the same thing can be said of the Holy Spirit. It is the same Holy Spirit who has comforted and helped Christians throughout history during breakdowns of various empires and kingdoms, during plagues and too many wars to count. The Holy Spirit was there and was at work.

While Jesus prepared the disciples for his departure, the disciples still had to go through the experience grieving the loss of Jesus’ physical presence with them on earth. As much as Matt and I did our best to prepare our kids for a big change in their lives with our move to Grand Haven, they still had to go through the experience of losing all that was familiar to them up until that point in their young lives. 

As the saying goes: “The only constant in life is change.” This saying, however, only captures part of the truth. While change and unpredictability will inevitably come our way, Jesus is our constant. Always has been and always will be. Even beyond the Covid crisis it’s a guarantee that we will experience continued upheaval in life. We’re not sure what those situations will look like or when they will occur. What we do know is that Christ, through the Holy Spirit, will be with us when it happens. His very presence will be our comfort and our help. 

When my friend Andy was interviewing for youth ministry positions he eventually found a great church that was a great fit. The problem was that it was in Chicago and he’d never lived anywhere else but Southern California his entire life. Even the search committee asked: “We think you’re perfect for this job, but are you sure you want to leave the sun and ocean behind?” Coming to grips with the fact he’d be leaving behind his family, the small group of guys that had been together for a decade, and his church made this an agonizing decision. In the end, however, he decided to take the job in Chicago. The pastor of the church where he’d be the new youth director said something very wise that brought him great comfort during this impending transition: “The God who led you to Chicago is the same God who blessed you with an amazing community of friends and ministry experiences in California.” It was comforting for Andy to know that while he was leaving family, friends and his whole support system behind, Jesus Christ who was the center of that support system is the same Jesus who would lead him to new friends and a new support system in Chicago.

The Holy Spirit is just as present with us as today as the Holy Spirit was present to the Disciples after Jesus went back to the Father. The Holy Spirit is just as much our comforter, helper and guide today as the Holy Spirit was before Covid-19 disrupted our lives. While we can never predict when or what kind of change will inevitably come our way or what will turn our lives upside down, we can count on Christ’s continued comfort, help and guidance through the Holy Spirit in our lives. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit will also empower us. Just as the Holy Spirit empowered the disciples to finally leave the Upper Room, the Holy Spirit will empower us and will work through us to be Christ’s hands and feet out in the world. That may sound strange in our current state of sheltering in place and social distancing. But I’ve seen how the Holy Spirit has already worked through many of you. I’ve seen it in the cards you’ve sent and in the calls you’ve made to members of your PW Circles, your small groups, your sections in choir, and to our homebound members just to name a few examples. Some of you even took up the challenge to call people you didn’t know. In doing this, so many were reassured that they were not forgotten. That they are were not alone. That their church family has not forgotten them. And more importantly Christ has not forgotten them. 

So I hope and I pray that even during this health crisis we continue to be surprised not just by how the Holy Spirit is our comfort and help in our time of need, but also how the Holy Spirit empowers and uses us to love and serve others. All in the name of Jesus Christ.