“If You Love Me” Amy Clark Feldman – May 21, 2017

John 14: 15-21

“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.”

Last week, Stacy shared the passage directly before this one – The first half of John 14, and as she and I sat together to think about these last weeks of the Easter Season, and we decided to linger in John 14 a little longer, and so today we have the second half of that chapter — part two of a two-part series, if you will.   Because Jesus is doing a couple of things in this chapter conversation with his beloved and imperfect disciples.  This passage recounts a conversation, you’ll recall, that happens a few days before his crucifixion. Jesus has shared with them bad news about what’s coming; and the disciples are in a place some of us are familiar with – a place filled with what we might call anticipatory grieving.  They’re in that place of real grieving and loss that happen when we know for certain an even bigger loss is coming.  Jesus meets them in that place and says, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.”  In the first half of the conversation, often called “Jesus Comforts His disciples,”  we experience the Jesus of the bedside; the Jesus who walks in and sits beside us in the hospital room of the one we love; the Jesus whose hand we feel on our shoulder through our tears of grief; the Jesus who in moments of fear or pain stands beside us and says, ‘I know this is hard, but do not let your heart be troubled, I’ll be right here with you.’  This is the Jesus of the God we hear in Isaiah calling out, “Comfort, Comfort, O my people.”

Jesus the comforter is fully present in the second half of his conversation with them, which we read today, but his tone and message shifts from saying, “you will survive this time of pain, and I will be with you through it,” to setting their sights beyond what they can perhaps imagine in the thick of their pain saying, “and not only will you get through, but I have total confidence that YOU, with the help of God, will go on to thrive and do great things.”

Let us Pray:  May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our Rock, Our Comforter, Our Advocate. Amen

As Jesus continues this conversation with his disciples, in the words we heard read today and beyond, it turns into perhaps the type of inspiring message to which all pep talks, or in the spirit of this season, graduation speeches, might hope to aspire. Jesus is preparing and inspiring them for a moment of major transition as they will have to move from their time of following and learning from him as their rabbi and teacher, to a time when God is going to spin them around and send them out into the world to do what they have been training to do.

Jesus in this conversation is moving them from comfort through struggle, and into action.  We see him do two things that I find so helpful as I think about my faith and life as an individual and also our faith and life as a church.

The first is that Jesus here may be the perfect example of what in teacher training or education research circles is sometimes called Rosenthal effect –named after the first of many studies that have shown that children live into the expectations set for them.  In Rosenthal’s study teachers were told that a certain 20% of their students had the greatest potential for academic growth.  The 20% was randomly chosen, but the teachers didn’t know that – and as they taught that chosen 20% with the expectation those kids would grow and learn the most, low and behold, but the end of the year, that random 20% had indeed made the greatest leaps in achievement.

Maybe you remember that teacher, coach or mentor – That person who looked at you like you were something special; saw something in you that you couldn’t quite see in yourself – who had total confidence that you could ‘do it,’ whatever ‘it’ was. For me it was a cross country coach and a high school English teacher who pushed me so hard, but gave me the tools I need, cheered me on and made me a better runner, writer, person.

Jesus looks on his disciples here with those eyes – knowing that in all their imperfection and brokenness they are something special.  This group, mostly fishermen, had dropped everything to follow Jesus, and that took courage; but they have proven time and again that they’re a little slow on the up-take, and short on faith.  This is the group, and Jesus knows it, that includes a guy about to betray him; and others who are about to deny even knowing him.  He’s so sure they’re going to scatter after he’s killed, that he has to order them to stay in a room just wait until he sends help.

And yet here he is in our passage today:  Looking on them with total, if irrational, confidence that they will rise to the occasion to do great things.  The bar set here, the expectation they are to meet, is nothing short of starting, with Jesus, a movement to save the world.

If we can see ourselves in these disciples, we can know that God looks on us – in our imperfections and shortcomings; in our moments of grief, fear and brokenness – with that same love, and that same unmerited, but perfect confidence that WE are exactly the right people, at exactly the right time to do great things for God and God’s creation – even and especially in the brokenness of our world today.  As Paul later says it best in his letter to the Philippians:  “I (WE) can do great things through him who strengthens me (us).”

Jesus inspires us here to set our hopes and expectations lovingly high for ourselves and others – not the bar of the achievement and striving the world sets – Jesus says in this same chapter “I do not give to you as the world gives,”  — but the bar of hope and expectation that sees each person whole, worthy and capable of greatness as God defines greatness. Greatness of compassion, humility, love, patience, generosity, faithfulness, peace (fruits of Spirit).  When we know that God believes in us, and when we trust and believe in (including, of course, in our kids and youth) as good and whole and capable, we do come to live into that vision of our best selves.  My experience of this church is that this is something we can be particularly good at – Stacy certainly for me is a model of this – of trusting in the goodness and abilities of one another and lifting each other up.

The second, but more important, thing he is telling them (and us) in this conversation and he does this much more explicitly, is that his faith and confidence in them has everything to do with their faith and confidence in him —  the extent to which they continue to Love Jesus, live as he has taught them and be filled with and guided by this Advocate of the Holy Spirit he is sending them.

Because they are imperfect.  In the first chapter of Acts as they are gathered in that room after Jesus’ death, waiting, we know that they started trying to be church on their own without the Holy Spirit.  They have prayer meetings,  a nominating committee, and a vote to fill that empty slot in the leadership group. Mary Luti describes them by saying: “They’d …stuck together all the way to Jerusalem, to the cross and beyond. A smallish group from one geographical region, the same outlooks and interests, together in one place, devoting themselves to matters of internal church concern—that was the first Christian church… Now, to be fair, Jesus had commanded the disciples to stay put together and pray ‘till the Spirit came. They were just being obedient. For once. But their intense togetherness could easily have become a kind of conservative cozy clubby-ness.”  But when the Holy Spirit comes into that room – all wisdom, creativity, energy and fire – they are set alight, spun around and sent out through the doors transformed.   If they had listened and taken to heart Jesus’ message from our passage today, they would have known that his plans requires that they not try to go it alone like (as he says) orphans.  As they come through their grief and look at the challenge ahead of them, all will depend on their ability to breathe deeply, remember how much they love Jesus, and then let the Holy Spirit find them, fill them, guide them and carry them out into the world.

There’s a sweet little story I shared with the members of our extended congregation at the Waban Health center last week that I wanted to share here also – So I ask forgiveness from (name WH members) who heard it a few days ago.  It’s the story of an older woman who lives in a time and place where she needed to fetch her water every day.  She lives in a small, humble house at the end of a long path that leads way down to the well.  And every day, she would take her two round clay pots, attach them to the yoke on her back, walk down the path to the well, fill them up and come home.  These two pots were the same, but different.  One of them was big and round and clay and PERFECT: Not a crack to be found.  And One of the was big and round and clay and had a large crack that ran from the top down to the bottom.   As the woman attached the pots to the yoke and carried them down to the well and filled them to the top with water, the perfect pot carried the water perfectly;  but the pot with the crack would drip, drip, drip water all the way home.  And every day the woman would fill the two pots full at the well, and arrive home with one full pot, and pot that was half full because of all the water that had dripped along the path home.  Finally, one day, the cracked pot, feeling very frustrated and disappointed with itself, and very inadequate, especially compared to its perfect companion, couldn’t take it anymore and finally spoke up.   Saying to the Old woman, “O for Heaven’s Sake; why don’t you just leave me at home and find another pot?!  I’m imperfect, cracked, broken straight down the middle, and clearly not up for the job! “  And the Woman, who had known this pot from the day it was made, and loved this pot, and always had, gently picked up the pot and carried it outside and asked it what it saw.  And what it saw, that it hadn’t noticed before, was a row of flowers that ran down one side of the path from the House to the Well.  “You see, my dear Pot” she said, “I planted seeds on the side of the path I carry you on.  And every day,  as I carry you back from the well, you have been watering those seeds with your drip, drip, drip.  Because of you, they have been watered and grown into a garden.  Because of you we have fresh flowers on our table every day.”

The woman for me in this lovely story, is an image that reminds me of how Jesus in today’s passage describes what the Holy Spirit can be like.   Each of us individually and collectively is cracked and broken, shortsighted in our understanding of ourselves and the vision and use God has for us; and left to our own devices we might become prone like this pot, perhaps like the disciples to become insular, caught up in fearfulness, grief or anxiety; prone to want to hunker down, stay in locked room, sit on the shelf, or worse, think we can go off relying on ourselves rather than God.  But, like this dear pot, we can only know our wholeness, and be our best and full selves when we place ourselves in the hands of the one who has known us and loved us from the beginning.  When we allow ourselves to be filled up, carried and guided, by the one who sees us as whole and perfect in our imperfection; has total confidence and faith that WE are the right ones, right now to further God’s purposes in this broken world; When we remember and rely on the Love and work of the ONE who comforts, our hearts need not be troubled, and we need not be afraid. That ONE  knows exactly how and where to send and use us for greatness.