6 Easter – May 14, 2023
John 14:15-21

         The word “in” is a tiny word.  It seems as if it should not matter all that much.  But today we hear Jesus promising to be “in” the people who keep his commandments and promising that the disciples will be “in” him too.  So, is Jesus actually “in” us?  And how would we know?

The key may be that Advocate, that Paraclete, the Spirit of truth, who Jesus has promised will be with us, forever.  Jesus calls the Spirit another Advocate.  The earlier Advocate is Jesus himself and Jesus was most certainly a force on the move.  Think of the meals with outcasts and sinners.  Think of the money changers in the temple.  Think of the healings and preaching, the travels between Galilee and Jerusalem.  The story of Jesus is a not a story of private feelings and comfort, but of action.

John’s gospel calls the Spirit the parakletos or Advocate, a term for someone who is called to one’s side as a source of help. A quick reading of John may give the impression that the Spirit is the Advocate who brings our case up before God in the hope that God will do something merciful for us. But here the direction is the opposite. God has already given the gift of love generously through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and such love is what creates genuine life. The Spirit is the Advocate who brings the truth of that love and life to people in this time, which makes faith possible.

Coming to faith is analogous to falling in love. One cannot fall in love in the abstract. Love comes through an encounter with another person. The same is true of faith. If faith is a relationship with the living Christ and the living God who sent him, then faith can only come through an encounter with them. And the Spirit is the one who makes this presence known.

The Advocate, Jesus promises will be “with you” and “in you”.  Jesus himself will be “in” the disciples, as he is “in” the Father, and as the disciples will be “in” him.  Is it enough to imagine some kind of mystical union?  Is the indwelling of Christ or the Spirit of truth like a sense of warmth or a feeling of confidence?  Is it an abstract notion or a state of grace?

Actually, the Greek words usually translated “in you” can also legitimately be translated “among you” (plural).  How might it affect our ability to receive Jesus’ promise if we put less emphasis on our individualized, mystical interpretation and more on that communal idea?  Perhaps it is a combination of both – the Spirit is both in and among us.

What does that look like?   What does it look like when Jesus promises us “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. …the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.”

For me, this looks like experiences I call “God things” or “God incidences”.  “God things” are what some would call serendipity or coincidence. For me, it is the Spirit moving in and through people.

One very recent example was shared this past week.  The woman, let’s call her Betsy, plays tennis.  She was playing tennis with a group of other ladies at an exclusive club.  One of the members of the club, the person in charge, made it clear that Betsy was not welcome because she was not a member. I know many of you know what that feels like. The “God thing” was when the rest of the ladies in her tennis group objected and declared that Betsy was indeed welcome. Betsy stayed and they even shared a dinner plate together.  Now, for me, it’s a “God thing” because the group did not have to support Betsy, but they did. They did the good thing.

Another example is from Karoline Lewis about a clergy colleague who was attending a Bishop’s Convocation. This was a time for sharing and learning with pastoral colleagues. A time for support and encouragement. But for her friend, it became too many times when she was asked to tell her story.  And no one should expect you to tell your story if you are not ready.

She cried a lot. She thought about going home. After one of the sessions, she went outside to sit on a bench. A woman whom she didn’t really know came over to her and asked, “Is there anything I can do for you?” Karoline’s friend responded, “Just sit with me.” And the fellow pastor did. No words. No touching. Just sitting.

And there it was – the “God thing”. Because “just sit with me” is the very essence of the Johannine Spirit. Our advocate. Our aide. Our intercessor. Our guide. Our companion. The one to whom we can say, “Just sit with me.” Sometimes that is all we need.

The Advocate is God’s own Spirit, God’s own heart, living within us.  This Spirit, Jesus promises us, will be in us, making possible the startling, counter-intuitive obedience which is love.  This Spirit will abide within and among us, creating holy places where authentic, self-sacrificial human love can take root and flourish.  The Spirit’s resources are inexhaustible.  Long after our natural stores are depleted, the Spirit of God will love in, among, and through us.

Love me by keeping my commandments, Jesus says.  These are not two separate actions.  They are one and the same.  We love because we are loved.  We obey Christ because we are in Christ.  The love we are commanded to share is the love we are endlessly given.  “You in me, and I in you.”  The definition of love.

When we love one another — when we help each other — that makes us strong — strong enough to survive our own tough times.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh has said,

“Love is…not a result; it is a cause….

People talk about love as though it were something you could give,

like an armful of flowers….

Love is a force in you that enables you to give other things….

It is a power, like money, or steam or electricity.

It is valueless unless you can give something else by means of it”

Jesus promises us, “I will not leave your orphaned”.  Jesus is indeed with us and in us.  Thanks be to God for God’s extraordinary love!  Amen.