May 17th, 2020
Pastor Jenny Lee, Ph.D.
Upper St. Croix Parish UMC
“What Makes a Difference?”
We had Mother’s Day last Sunday. We had different experiences on Mother’s Day from the other years due to the COVID 19 pandemic. It was not enough to express our love to our mother, keeping social distancing. Some people sent gifts and cards. Some people treated them to a good dinner. Some had a facetime or phone call. Even though it was not enough to show that we love each other, it is enough to feel that we love each other. We expressed how much we love our mother in our best way, even in the circumstance of COVID 19.
However, unlike the relationship between mother and children, sometimes it’s challenging to express that we love others or trying to know whether others like us. We occasionally show that we love others with smiling, hugging, or shaking hands. However, it is not enough because most people smile, hug, or shake hands when they meet each other. As Christians, we knew that we should love God and love our neighbors. But, non-Christians love their neighbors also. We all live loving others and receiving love from others. However, we may wonder how we show that we love others, and how we show others that we are Christians. It is not enough with just saying, “I love you.” We may learn from Jesus and his teachings how we show others that we are Christian, and what makes the difference between Christians and non-Christians.
God and Jesus Christ talk about love many times. If we sum up the Scriptures of sixty-six books with a word, it would be “love.” The reason God sent us Jesus Christ is that God loves us so much: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). The reason Jesus Christ died on the cross is that he loves us enough to die: “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). As such, the Scripture talks about God’s love toward us.
Last week, Jesus said to his disciples, “do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, also believe in me,” standing at the threshold of departure. In the Scripture of today, Jesus’ last wish continues as the farewell discourse. He says, “I will not leave you, orphaned; I am coming to you.” Jesus still worries about his disciples as much as he loves them. He tried to show them how much he loves them. Jesus’s love toward his disciples was like parents’ love, saying, “I will not leave you orphaned.”
Jesus says that “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.” New couples or close friends sometimes say to their spouses or friends, “if you love me, show me that you love me.” Jesus loved us like a friend: “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14). So, what are his commandments? Jesus said to his disciples about his commandments in John 13:34: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved, you also should love one another.” Jesus repeats it in Chapter 15 that “This is my commandments, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
Jesus says continually, “If you love me, love one another [you will keep my commandments]. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever” (John 14:15-16). Jesus should leave them for a while, but he promised them, “not to leave them like orphans,” who have no one to care for them. And he says that he will ask the Father to send them “another Advocate,” who would “be with them forever,” who is “the Spirit of truth.”
So Jesus assures these fearful disciples that he will ask the Father to give them another “Advocate.” The reason Jesus says “another Advocate” is that Jesus is the One who advocates and helps them [us]. After Jesus leaves them, instead of Jesus, God may send them “another Advocate” for his people. Through the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, God and Jesus Christ will be with them [us] forever. So, God never abandons us like orphans.
We have no single word in our language that can express the rich, powerful meaning of “Advocate [Helper (NKJB), Counselor (NRSV), Paraclete (Greek)].” In the Greek, “Paraclete,” the word “para” means “alongside,” and the root of “kletos” is “to call.” So this “Advocate” whom Jesus will send will be alongside the disciples as Jesus had been, “calling out” as an “encourager,” a “counselor,” a “helper,” a “witness,” and as a “judge.” “Paraclete” means all this and even more. The Paraclete [Advocate, the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit] comes into the world as Jesus was sent into the world. The Spirit is the promised gift of the Father, sent at the Son’s [Jesus] request. But, this Spirit is given only to those who have received the Son, loved him, and kept his commandments. These are the conditions that determine his being given. The Spirit is not given to the world, which neither sees nor knows him as it has been blind and deaf to Jesus, so the world does not know the Paraclete [Advocate, the Holy Spirit].
My question again is, what makes a difference between Christians and non-Christians? Christians have a great, wonderful, and powerful back always, who non-Christians never know. Our love shows through the Holy Spirit, who is our back. As Jesus says, “when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3), our love shows only God, “who sees what we are done in secret.” Sometimes it is not easy to express how much we care and love each other, but the Advocate [the Helper, the Holy Spirit] will help us how we do love each other.
This Advocate will come after a “little while,” after Jesus has passed through the anguish and darkness of the cross, and after the disciples have fled in fear, and orphaned. Then in the glory of his resurrected, ascended power, Jesus will send this Advocate. Jesus must depart before the Father can send this Advocate. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit’s coming rests on Jesus’ completed work of salvation. The Holy Spirit will remain forever with the disciples. The Holy Spirit will “abide” with them [us] continually as the Spirit makes a home with them. They [we] will be the place of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the word, Paraclete [the Holy Spirit] used here are intensely personal and relational. While the Spirit dwells in each disciple personally, the Spirit also abides with them corporately. The Holy Spirit is the One who gathers them and makes them One. In other words, the Holy Spirit helps us one on one because each of us is unique as Jesus had a ministry in the flesh in the midst of the world, so his disciples, and all who will come to believe because of their witness, will continue to expand that ministry in the power of the Spirit.
Jesus repeatedly emphasizes that the Advocate is the Spirit of truth. The Spirit helped the disciples to understand Jesus’ teachings, remember them, and keep his commandments because the Spirit enlightens and opens up the words and works of Jesus. There are many things Jesus has taught during his earthly ministry, which the disciples have not understood. All this will be made clear to them when this “Helper” comes. This Helper, the Holy Spirit remains with us, and in and between us. While Jesus’ ministry is done, which is saved us, the Holy Spirit’s ministry continues within us, which helps us keep the commandments of Jesus that love God and love our neighbors. The ministry of God, which restores the broken world, and reconciles the broken relationship, continues through us by the Holy Spirit. Only the love of God makes a difference in the world. The difference is that the Helper is always with us “if we keep the commandments,” which love each other as Jesus loved us. I encourage you to love each other even though no one understands how much you love each other, how much you love God and love neighbors because “God sees what you are done in secret and will reward you” (Matthew 6:4).
Thanks be to God, Amen!