May 21, 2017

The Companion


John 14:15-21

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion, who will be with you forever. 17 This Companion is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world can’t receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you.

18 “I won’t leave you as orphans. I will come to you. 19 Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Because I live, you will live too. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them loves me. Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”


The greatest accomplishment of my adult life, thus far, has been completing graduate school. People like to think seminaries fall outside the realm of normal graduate studies, but interactions with other graduate programs taught me we are all working hard on very complex issues in a difficult and divided world. I could not have made it through the process of deconstructing my beliefs, pulling them together into a coherent system, then learning how to teach and preach about it without a lot of people behind me.


I remember one night of cramming in the library: as my new friends and I were stressing out trying to remember the various theologians and what they contributed to Christian thought, a lifeline from the heavens emerged. Another study group had created a Google Doc – a collaborative online document – with a chart that covered all the material we needed for the test. As we all celebrated far too loudly for the late-night studiers, the gracious giver of the documents responded:


You’ve got a friend in me
You’ve got a friend in me
When the road looks rough ahead
And you’re miles and miles
From your nice warm bed
You just remember what your old pal said
Boy, you’ve got a friend in me
Yeah, you’ve got a friend in me


There are times in our lives when you just need a friend, for if for nothing else, just to know you aren’t alone. For someone like me, almost every moment of struggle is better with a friend. Friends give us a feeling of connection – that we will be ok even if everything else isn’t.


I was recently at a board meeting for a college ministry where one of the student leaders was in the room. The ministry had grown a lot in two years’ time, and we asked her what she thought was most effective in causing that growth. Her response was, “We aren’t the most popular on campus, but we feel we are the most authentic. You can be whoever you are with us – we will always be with you.”


That message resonates with me. The ministry rebooted a few years ago after a change in leadership, and the board worried about how they would establish themselves again. What would be their identity? Who were they going to be? There are a lot worse ways to be known than the place where you can be you and worship God just as you are. A lot of places say that, but it’s good to hear someone who knows that in their heart.


I believe that sense of connection and companionship, especially when other people may not think like you, is what the disciples felt when Jesus told them about what would be coming after his death. The disciples were popular because of their master, but when he was gone, they knew the journey would be a lot tougher. Who would be their guide if they didn’t have Jesus with them? That’s a lot of pressure. Pressure like that can make you feel unprepared and lonely. Loneliness is a powerful feeling.
Jesus’s response is so good here: I won’t leave you as orphans, I will come to you. Thanks be to God that today we have fewer true orphans due to the wonderful human beings who adopt and foster, so it might not hit us the same way. If both your parents died in the days of Jesus, your options were slim. If no family member or community member would take you in, you had to wander alone, because without a family, you had no place to go, no piece of land or a shelter. You couldn’t earn money to pay for food.


A modern interpretation of Jesus’ words would sound more like this: I won’t desert you. I won’t leave you. I will always be with you.”  But how could he always be with them if he was going to die?


Jesus offers them the Spirit of God as their new companion – their new friend. Since I mentioned seminary, I have to be a Bible geek for a second: the word for companion here is paraclete. Jesus uses it in these passages as a name for the Holy Spirit. A closer definition of paraclete is “advocate.” Not only does the Spirit act as our companion, it also advocates for us – it acts on our behalf.  That’s better than a simple friend who may or may not support you. The Spirit has your back and knows who you are to argue your case.


The reason the Spirit must be with them is because upholding the law of God can be hard. People don’t want to support a way of life that loves our enemies and demands we give our lives to a higher power. People like to be their own bosses – not let some invisible God tell them what to do. Especially when love can come at great cost. That’s especially true today when a lot of people claim Jesus but do things that Jesus would not find to be loving.


In verses 25-27, Judas (not Iscariot) asks about that cost. Jesus tells them they will be given a greater treasure than the earthly one, and that the Advocate will keep record of their fidelity to God. It’s hard to understand how that works, because a lot of the good things we do go unnoticed by most people, but God sees our good deeds. Jesus finishes the section in verse 31 by saying, “I do as the Father has commanded…so the world may know I love the Father.” When we act in accordance to God’s direction as a sign of love, God’s love in return is offering the Spirit to sustain us along the way.


Having a friend, companion, and advocate helps us have faith to continue on our journey. Being a Christian is rewarding in that it pleases God. It also is how the world will get back to God – by upholding Christ’s love as being the ultimate law. No power has a greater strength to persevere than love. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that love can handle all things, and God is love itself. The Spirit is God’s love inside us that keeps us upright and ready for each day.


The focus verse for this series is found in 1 Peter. It says we are made alive in the Spirit. Even when no one else can see your strength, even when you feel like you aren’t anything special, or you are ready to give up, the Spirit’s strength is within you. Cling to God. Cling to the person of Jesus. Let the Spirit guide your steps as you prove to the world that love is not foolish, because the Spirit is your Companion.



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