6th Sunday of Easter
May 29, 2011 Confirmation of James Cook
There are lots of Farewell Speeches going on these days. Commencement and graduation speeches say goodbye to students’ school days and prepare them for the next steps in their young lives. In a sense, that is what we are doing for James, too, today, as he affirms the faith of his baptism and steps into adulthood in our community. As we think about them, farewell speeches are all about confirming that the people who are being separated from their comfortable dependence have all the tools they will need for the journey ahead of them. Often the speech includes the promise of the spirit of the speaker continuing to be with them to guide them as they remember the lessons which they have learned.
This morning’s reading is part of Jesus farewell speech to his disciples. They have shared a Passover Dinner together, and before they sat down to the meal, Jesus himself washed their feet. He gave them the example of his leadership: choosing to do the task of a slave to include them in the generosity of God’s care, and teaching them that sacrifice and love are the instruments of God’s greatest power. He has alerted them to the certainty that he will be removed from their presence and suffer unjustly as their Messiah. He has promised them that there is a mansion awaiting them in God’s kingdom, and that he will go ahead of them to prepare a place for them.
Today in the reading before us, he promises that he will not leave them on their own. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” He will send another advocate, helper, comforter, counselor, as the various translations offer. He promises that this Spirit will continue to be God’s presence with them and will continue to reveal the truth about God’s love and promise. This is God’s own Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, who is breathed on them so that they can continue to do the work for which Jesus himself has trained them. And so this farewell speech is different from all the others that fly around on graduation day. It is not just the remembrance of someone who was a good teacher or leader that Jesus promises his faithful, but the very presence of himself living in them and among them as they set out. It will be his own presence that they will hand on to those to whom they themselves will lead and teach.
This Jesus, who is going to prepare a dwelling for them in the next world, is not going away from them to hide himself in some work up in the sky. In fact, in his physical death, he is now free to dwell with them where they are now. The Spirit of Jesus with them is the deep source of all they are now commissioned to do in the world. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” This is the response of all who are in Jesus through the Spirit he has breathed on them. So in the coming days, they will see his gruesome death, they will be amazed at his resurrection, and through their testimony, they will become the community which is Jesus at work in the world.
Jesus is not just talking about a one-to-one relationship with each of these disciples. The word translated “in you” as in “he abides with you and he will be in you” is also translated “among you.” It is as a community of the faithful that the Spirit of Jesus is among them. It is their living out of God’s love that Jesus is present in the world. It is in their telling the stories of Jesus’ teaching and presence with them that Jesus’ ministry continues and hearts lives are changed. It is in their trust of God’s promises of forgiveness and fullness of life forever that they live together forgiving and loving each other and the world.
It is in this in-dwelling of God’s Spirit that community life becomes Jesus’ promised presence here on earth. We have many theological and political understandings in this community about how God is at work among us and in the world. But we are bound to each other in love by the Spirit of Jesus dwelling in us and among us. This Spirit continues to teach us to be forgiving as we are forgiven, to listen with open hearts to our differences, to support and train children who may not be our own, to be God’s hands and heart for all people.
More than any other Gospel writer, John turns the light of his writing from the story in his text to the reader. Notice how Jesus’ words suddenly change from the second person ‘you,’ to the third person, ‘they who.’ In verse 21, John wants us to hear that people who have Jesus commandments and keep them are the ones who love him, and they will be loved by God the Father, and Jesus, too, will love them and reveal himself to them through the Spirit. That’s us. We have held together as a living, breathing community of Jesus through some hard times, and how our ministry will continue is still a work in progress. But here we are, having brought this young man to the brink of adulthood. We have held him close and loved him even through difficult times. We taught him of Jesus and of God’s love because we wanted him to have that assurance that he was God’s own. It is one of the ways that the Spirit of God has been at work among us, revealing Jesus and his love. So today we hear this farewell speech of Jesus to his disciples with different ears. We hear the promise that all we do because we are Jesus’ disciples brings the Spirit of God among us. We hear that when we are led by that Spirit, we see Jesus here with us. Thanks be to God.
Now may the peace which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.