I will not leave you desolate
John 14:15ff 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. (NRSV)
When I saw my Nanna for the last time in a country hospital, her skin was yellow, with large brown leathery patches. Her body was alive, just, and yet her mind, the person who was Nanna, was long gone.
A couple of years later I visited a friend even younger than me, who had been very ill. She was drugged, sitting with her daughters, talking slowly, getting me a cup of tea-- It was like talking to the living dead. She... the person I knew, was not there. It was worse than death. I drove home and then spent the rest of the day walking, unable to work, profoundly shocked by what I had seen.
It's times like these, in friendly country hospitals and in ordinary suburban houses, that a kind of Kosovo comes to Australia. For we ask, with all honesty, where is God? Why is this person dragged into this living hell, if there is really a God who loves us? And the people who are in Kosovo and a thousand other places, ask the same question. Death and desolation come from neighbours, invaders, and disease. We cry with Jesus "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" And there is silence.
In the face of the barbarity of humans to each other, the ferocity of nature, and the desolating imperfection and vulnerability of our bodies, Jesus says "I will not leave you desolate. I will not leave you orphaned*. I am coming to you." You notice I said "Jesus says....." NOT "Jesus said...." For these are not the words of some man who shortly afterwards was desolated and killed. These are words chosen by a man called John, fifty or sixty years after Jesus' death, to describe his church's present experience of Jesus.
*The RSV translates the word as desolate, the New RSV as orphaned.
In a world where a Kosovo was always round the corner, and there were no hospitals..... where the Jerusalem of Jesus was destroyed, and the surviving Jews hated Christians, and people periodically persecuted Christians.... in that situation we hear Jesus in John saying I will not leave you orphaned... I am coming to you Because I live, he says, while we all know he was soon to die... because I live, you also will live. We are hearing John remind his church of their experience of Jesus that we are not left orphaned.
Is it really true that my Nanna, seemingly body without soul, was not left alone? My sick friend, healthy now... was it really the case in those dark days that she was not alone?
John spoke of something the world could not see. The world is that busy place that has no time for God. No time because it is busy. But also no time in the sense that it doesn't want the God Jesus shows us. It looks for meaning in things. Life is about 'more things for me.' If I have the right things, I will be happy.
How lonely and desolate is the rich person in an empty house full of things!
In contrast to this we see Jesus placing meaning in himself, by saying "if you love me you will keep my commandments." He refers to this three times in only a few verses (15, 21, 24). If you love me, you will not look for life and meaning in things- you will do my will. It's not that the Spirit of God is not given unless we do the right thing. God is always here. But going the way of the world means we will not be able to see. We will be looking the wrong way.
In the next few weeks I hope to buy a computer for my work that is unbelievably powerful given the standards of only two years ago. It's exciting. I will enjoy unpacking it and networking it to my present computer, and my partner knows I will be distracted. She will be a computer widow again. But it will not make me happy. In fact, I will get bored with it. I will worry over the money my business has to borrow to buy it. I will be frustrated by its shortcomings.
What will give me life, is giving time to God. What will give me life is trying to live as Jesus would live if here were here in my shoes- a computer technician who preaches. I will find life in loving my partner and my children. I will find life in praying. And I will find, in my worries and tiredness, and in whatever happens, that Jesus.... God... Holy Spirit....- is with me. I am not left orphaned.
In simply being slower, and living Jesus way....
In living as he would live, despite all my failings...
I will find the great gift of the Spirit yet again.
By not running away into busy-ness and things, to avoid the pain of Alzheimer's and illness, and war in the world- but by facing them, and the fear of the desolation they raise- I will find God. This is not my gift, this is God's gift to all people who wish to grasp it. There is something... a Spirit... a piece of God which holds life together and carries us onwards. Grasp the gift. Amen