John 14:15-27; 1 Peter 3:13-21
It’s good to be back after nearly four weeks away. Nancy and I took two weeks study leave in Arizona, as well as a 10 day vacation in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.
But it is good to be back. As the saying goes, no matter where you roam, there’s no place like home. And I want you to know that I was remembering you – and praying for you – while I was away. Each Saturday night – and each Sunday morning – no matter what I was doing at the time – as you gathered for worship – I remembered you in prayer – asking the Holy Spirit to infiltrate this place – filling the worship leaders and all who came to worship and hear God’s word. So while I was away, I remembered you, and I was praying for you.
You know, it’s good to remember – as well as to be remembered. So it is on this Memorial Day weekend, that I would like to talk with you about remembering. And certainly – even as this three-day weekend may be filled with picnics, hotdogs and outdoor barbecues – and one day off from work – it is a day set aside to remember.
So first of all – I think it’s important for us to remember the sacrifices of our armed service men and women – those who gave their lives in service to our country. But also our veterans. We want to remember you as well. So I’d like for any of our veterans – as well as any active service men and women – to stand. Thank you for what you do and what you have done.
Our lesson today from John’s Gospel takes place in the upper room on the night of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest. It is the night of the Last Supper, and the washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus.
And here – in our Gospel reading – what Jesus is doing – is that Jesus is saying goodbye. He is saying goodbye to these disciples who have been with him for three years. He is preparing them for what is ahead. His death. His burial. His resurrection. And his eventual ascension into heaven.
But he makes a wonderful promise to them. Listen to what he says. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate.” Other bible translations use words like “another comforter,” “another counselor,” or as the Message puts it, “another friend.”
Since the New Testament was originally written in Greek, all of these words can be used, but the phrase literally means, “one who is called alongside to help.”
That’s who the Holy Spirit is. That’s what the Holy Spirit does. Now I’ll be saying more about the Holy Spirit and the work of the Holy Spirit in two weeks when we celebrate Pentecost – otherwise known as the birthday of the church.
But today, I want to focus on the Holy Spirit as the One who reminds us – remember this is Memorial Day Weekend – as the One who reminds us of all that Jesus has done for us, and all that he has taught us.
It’s kind of like a story of a man named Jimmy Reed. Reed was a share-cropper's son who brought the throbbing harmonica-and-guitar-driven black rhythm-and-blues of the Mississippi Delta into the popular rock-and-roll mainstream of the 1950’s.
Now, as I understand it, on some of Jimmy’s recordings – if you listen closely enough – you can hear – ever so faintly in the background – a soft woman's voice murmuring in advance the next verse of the song. The story that grew up around this was that Jimmy Reed was so absorbed in the music and the beat, that he simply could not remember the words of his own songs. He needed help with the lyrics, and the woman's voice was none other than that of his wife, devotedly coaching her husband through the recording session by whispering the upcoming stanzas into his ear as he sang.
Whether or not this story is true, I cannot say. But that’s the legend. Regardless – I tell that story because it suggests to me that – well, it’s reminiscent of how the Holy Spirit works in your life and mine. Jesus tells us – his followers – that the work of the Holy Spirit is, in effect, to whisper the lyrics of the gospel song into our ears. Now granted – it’s not as though we literally hear the Holy Spirit whispering in our ears in the same way that I am talking to you right now. No.
Having said, that, there’s got to be something up here – something already planted in our heads – for the Holy Spirit to help us to remember. So when you recall what it is that you have learned – from Sunday School, Bible study, or your own personal devotional time and Bible reading – what you have heard proclaimed in worship– about who Jesus Christ is, and what he has done for you – how he gave his life for you and me on the cross – when you incorporate into your heart and life what it means to be a Christian – a disciple of Jesus Christ – I want to tell you today that that is the work of the Holy Spirit – reminding you of what Christ has done for you – and all that Christ has taught you. As I tell my confirmands, “I can put all of this Lutheran stuff up here in your heads – but it’s the work of the Holy Spirit to drive it into your hearts.” By the way, that’s called the longest distance known to humankind – the distance from the head to the heart.
Think of it this way. After Jesus ascends into heaven – and after the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples at Pentecost – the work that Jesus did when he walked on the earth and taught the disciples – that work has been handed over to the Holy Spirit.
The best definition I ever heard of what it is the Holy Spirit does is this. So you might want to write this down. The Holy Spirit is the present work of Christ among us. The Holy Spirit is the present work of Christ among us.
Now listen. Jesus said about himself that he is truth. Remember what he said? “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Here he is calling the Holy Spirit the Spirit of truth.
So what that tells me is that the primary task of the Holy Spirit is to remind you and me of all that Jesus has said – all that he has done. The primary task of the Holy Spirit is to remind you and me of the truth of Jesus Christ. It is as though the Holy Spirit is whispering the lyrics of the never-ending hymn of faith, love, and obedience in our ears. Things like:
• Because I live, you shall live also.
• Obey my commandments.
• Love God.
• Love your neighbor.
• Go and make disciples.
• Remember – I am with you always.
And it is through the person and the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit that Jesus is – and therefore he can say – that he IS with us forever. And these are just examples of what the Holy Spirit whispers in our ears.
Maybe you’ve never thought of the Holy Spirit in quite this way – as a quiet, whispering teacher of the words of Jesus – reminding us of who Jesus is – and what he has done – whispering the lyrics of the Gospel message into our ears – especially at those times when we forget – and at those times when we need to remember the most.
Like the musician Jimmy Reed, we get caught up in the rhythms of life, and sometimes – sometimes – we forget who we are and to whom we belong. And the Holy Spirit is there whispering the Good News lyrics into our ears. “I love you. You are mine. You have been bought with a price. No one and nothing can snatch you out of my hand.”
So when Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will remind you of all that Jesus himself says to you – when you hear the words of the Gospel speaking to you in times of discomfort and distress, it is the Holy Spirit whispering the lyrics into your ear. So one of the things we can count on the Holy Spirit to do is to whisper words of comfort.
But what about those times when your faith is challenged? Well – the Holy Spirit is there too. He whispers into your ears what you need to be reminded of when your faith is being challenged. In our reading from I Peter we find these words, “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”
In other words, be ready – you don’t have to go on the attack – just be ready – and in a spirit of gentleness and reverence – tell others not only what you believe – but why you believe. That’s one of the reasons why I spent so much time during Lent and the first two weeks of Easter on that sermon series, “Examining the Evidence – Asking the Tough Questions about Why We Believe.” Go back to the messages in that series if you need to on our church’s website. Go back and refresh your memory about why we believe. And for goodness sake, don’t be afraid to rely on the Holy Spirit to remind you of what it is you believe – and why you believe – when your faith is challenged.
Lastly, I would not be honest with you – nor would I be true to today’s message if I did not also remind you that the Holy Spirit whispers not only words of comfort – not only words that remind you of what and why you believe – but also words that challenge and quite frankly – make demands.
The Holy Spirit comes alongside us in our time of need. We therefore come alongside others. That is who we are as followers of Jesus. We are to be those who come alongside others who have fallen or are hurting.
And yes, I know, that’s what it means to be a friend. But that’s also what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Remember the love your neighbor part of the Love God, love your neighbor commandment? Sometimes we will be called to stand with or alongside people we don’t even know. Why? Because that is what Christ in the person of the Holy Spirit has done for us. Jesus promised that he would send us an advocate, a counselor, a comforter, a companion, a friend. Choose whichever word you like. They all fit.
Folks – this is so important. To remember. To remember so that we don’t forget. So who’s going to remind you? By now, you know the answer to that. So listen. Listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit.
• If you are feeling very alone today, listen! Remember that God is alongside you. God will not let you go.
• If your faith is being challenged – listen! The Holy Spirit is whispering in your ear – reminding you of what it is you believe – who it is you believe in – and why it is that you believe.
• And if you know someone who is hurting, be a friend, be a comforter, be an advocate just as Christ has been for you.
May the Holy Spirit invade your heart and your life today. May He remind you of all that Christ has taught you – and of all that he has done for you. So listen! Listen as He whispers the lyrics to the Good News message of the Gospel in your ear. Amen