Sixth Sunday of Easter, 5.17.20

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Last week, Jesus was emphasizing and inviting us to ABIDE with him, to share an intimate relationship with him. In last week’s discourse, Jesus offers the apostles an intimate relationship with him, because they are going to need a shelter from a storm that is coming that will be of hurricane proportions. All violence, cruelty and evil will be unleashed on Jesus, and he will fight it all with LOVE, from the cross. Abiding in him means the apostles can shelter in place, shelter in HIM, when it gets really bad.

This week, Jesus emphasizes the ADVOCATE, who will be alongside them, comforting them, and encouraging them. Jesus is the Advocate, but he’s sending a second one.

This is the Holy Spirit, because Jesus knows things are going to CHANGE drastically, for the worse. He anticipates his arrest, torture and death, and how his apostles will feel like abandoned children. He says, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” They will feel as if they’ve been blown sideways, or blown apart and trying to find their pieces once Jesus is dead and in a tomb. And to their minds, it will be OVER.

Today, Jesus speaks to the terror that is about to ravage their minds. He speaks to the anguish of loss and betrayal that is about to occur. He promises them comfort that only the Holy Spirit can give. And who or what is this Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is called the Advocate here.

David Lose the theologian calls the Holy Spirit the one who “comes alongside another.”

Jesus knows they will feel an unfathomable anguish, yet he promises them consolation and comfort. Their anguish will be the most painful they’ve ever experienced, the WRONGNESS of Jesus put to death, the most wrongful death ever, the pain compounded by the fact that none of them did anything to stop it. Anguish AND guilt.

All this Jesus anticipates, and he still offers this Advocate who will comfort them, and give them rock solid encouragement for the grueling, anguished hours that will be upon them in a matter of hours. Like birth pangs to which Jesus has alluded to in the past. The coming events of the crucifixion will look like the end, but really it is the BEGINNING. And in this BEGINNING that looks like a cruel hoax, Jesus promises them they will not be alone. The events will be like nothing they’ve ever experienced, but he promises they will not get through this new world alone. The crucifixion shook up the apostles’ sense of safety and security like nothing else.

Does any of that sound like our current situation? Because of the COVID 19, our safety and security have been threatened like nothing else in modern times. Plus, we know things are going to continue to change. Maybe some of us suspect that things are not going to go back to the way they were for a long time.

In my daily email, I include a link to our bishop’s most recent message to us, and encouraged you to listen to it. Bishop Egensteiner calls his message, “Embracing Change.” In this message, our bishop is laying the groundwork, giving us hints that we are entering a new phase, a new BEGINNING, when it comes to gathering for worship. We don’t know what it will look like as yet, but even now, gathering through Zoom, we are experiencing this new way to do church. In the video message, he doesn’t mention anything specific, but he wants us to adopt a new mindset, one that “embraces change” no matter how on the face of it, or how distressing it may be.

I don’t know how you feel about change. Love it or hate it.

Let me stop here and ask – how are you with change?

Do you generally fight change or do you see it as a new challenge?

When it comes to church traditions, we probably all feel that some things should NOT be changed. My guess is that we are all going to find it challenging to “embrace change” when it comes to our beloved liturgy. On one hand, we’ve all been taught real specifics when it comes to our worship service. That THIS is what we do when it comes to liturgy, and that we‘ve ALWAYS done it THIS way. Most churches that have liturgies have a set beginning, middle and end. We teach it to children: THIS is the way. Having our Sunday liturgy in a set fashion gives us COMFORT in a changing world. Having a liturgy that doesn’t change may give a sense of God whose love doesn’t change. Until events occur and then we are dismayed.

So what do we do? We love what we’ve always had, yet it’s been taken from us by this cruel pandemic.

What are some of your favorite parts of the worship service?

What are some things you think shouldn’t change in a liturgy?

This is where our Advocate comes in. In the coming weeks, our Advocate, the Holy Spirit, is very much with us. The Holy Spirit is helping our bishop and helping each of us, consoling, encouraging and comforting us.

Bishop Egensteiner’s message is that, “Part of our frustration is these times that the church is changing – not by our choice but by necessity. The church is changing because we can’t be doing things the way we used to which was comforting, life giving and hopeful. The church is changing now because the world around us, especially this crisis the COVID 19 is causing us to change, to be careful, to be extra sensitive, and to be safe in our interactions with one other and what that means and how that happens.

The world is changing; the church is changing. You know what else. You’re changing. I’m changing. But God’s love is poured into our hearts in an unchangeable way. God is the same. God is using, not causing, this crisis to build our character. And from that character, forged by God, we will have hope, because God builds through love.

            Bishop Egensteiner says, “The fact that things change is not necessarily a bad thing, it can be a good thing.” He says something interesting. He says “The way we behave is how we can still manage the changes. The willingness to be transformed – repentance – turning – growing. In the changing is an opportunity to find our gifts at this time.”

What do you think of what Bishop Egenstiener says about BEHAVIOR and that “we can find gifts at this time.”

There are some home truths we can hold on to: “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.” Let’s hold onto that. Though outward appearance of liturgy will and HAVE already changed, yet we are ASSURED that Jesus is the SAME, and he is here alongside of us, NOW, HERE. We can cling to that message as we go through this next set of changes. Jesus lives in us, and that is what matters.

Remember what he said before he ascended to the Father: “I am with you all ways even unto the end of the age.” Jesus says in today’s gospel, “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” These are words of comfort. Jesus spoke these words to PREPARE his apostles for what is to come, when they will feel devastated. His words are very appropriate now, as many of you no doubt will feel devastated as we move forward, and come out of quarantine to worship together.

Our worship will not look like a typical Sunday and we have to prepare ourselves for that. We need to keep in mind that Jesus will continue to be living within us in our hearts as familiar practices, BELOVED practices, will change. I don’t know if it will be temporary or a permanent. We will take things step by step. The psalmist says, “O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. 11 You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs; 12 you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.”

We may be feeling that the changes that we are going through are like an ordeal by fire. Let me assure you that God is NOT the cause of the virus, but we can become even stronger people of faith, courage and hope as our faith is tested. God can use this crisis – God is not causing it – our character will be forged through this. We may discover new strengths.

Have you heard anyone talking about how the virus is God’s punishment?

If you did – how would you respond?

In this time of crisis, my question is, can WE be each other’s Advocates, taking on the role of comforter, encourager, and consoler?

WE can use this crisis, to TRUST more. To LOVE more, even if our loving actions look very small

Jesus invites us to keep holding on to assurances of his love for us.

            Loving Christ, thank you for your continued presence with us. You are with us through the pandemic, and you will continue to be with us when we return to worshipping together.

Help us help each other with the changes. In Jesus’ name we pray.