6th Sunday after Easter
May 21st 2017
Keeping the wrapper
Vicar Matt Huckel
16 ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Comforter to be with you forever- 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot receive him because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him for he lives with you and will be inside you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 In a little while the world will not see me, but you will see me. Because I live, you will also live. 20 On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me and I am in you. 21 Whoever holds my commands and protects them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father and I too will love him and reveal myself to him’. http://stpetri.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/20170521_message.mp3
It was the summer of 2001, and my wife and I had left England on a short 2 week mission trip to the Western side of Bulgaria. Our task was to visit two orphanages and help renovate the buildings and spend good quality connection time with the children providing music and other activities. It was quite a shock in our early married life as we were confronted with many abandoned, under nourished, and under developed children. Toddlers who were not picked up or cuddled enough by the often under paid and ill equipped staff, held onto to you for dear life, soaking up that precious human warmth and touch. Relationships and bonds were made easily between the children and our group, and my wife and I had made a great connection with a delightful 8 year old girl. When it came to our last day at the orphanage we arranged a very rare trip into the city of Varna from the remote countryside orphanage and took the children to Mcdonalds as a treat. As we began our tearful goodbyes the little girl and other children too, kept the wrapper of her Mcdonalds burger, folding it up neatly and carefully as a precious object. When she cried as we said goodbye it was an intense raw cry of separation and all she had of us to preserve her experience and memories was a simple Mcdonalds wrapper that we would throw in the rubbish with no thought whatsoever. I’m sure they knew that a treat like this may not happen to them again for a very long time, but the meal was more than that. It was a meal about relationships and preserving memories; the wrapper being something physical and permanent that she could hang on to.
Just think for a moment how the disciples were feeling when Jesus was telling them that he was going to leave them; and to die a horrible death too. But Jesus had a plan of comfort. He assured them not only of his resurrection, but how close God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are to the disciples; to the extent that the Holy Trinity will make their dwelling inside each of them. But we as human beings want something physical to hang on to don’t we? The disciple’s last real, physical and special moment of Jesus’ life is the meal at the Last Supper. You’d want to preserve the moment somehow wouldn’t you if it was the last time? Maybe we’d take home the cup that Jesus drank from and never wash it up, ever. Or the towel he wrapped around himself when washing the disciple’s feet; it goes hard and crusty on your mantelpiece as you decide never to clean it.
But Jesus doesn’t promise a special plaque or certificate preserving their time with him, nor is there something permanent from a McDonald’s restaurant; although it’s true that the burgers have been known to be so permanent with preservatives that they don’t go mouldy or go off! So be warned. The permanent gift that Jesus gives is the Holy Spirit- the Spirit of truth. He will never leave the disciples or us, in fact he will stay inside us forever, being completed finally when we will experience Jesus in his fullness in eternity. Jesus says in verse 18 and 19 ‘I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you. In a little while the world will not see me, but you will see me. Because I live, you will also live’. This is greatly reassuring and comforting. Jesus makes a promise of his return just like most Mothers and Fathers will habitually give assurance of their return, such as ‘Just going down to the shops. Back in a minute.’ We all expect our parents to come back, but they feel like they still need to tell us don’t they! But I’m not sure the disciples have actually grasped Jesus’ talk of his suffering and death properly though. Leaving them to be crucified and buried is hardly the same as nipping down to Foodland for some milk!
No, the seriousness of what Jesus is going to do is why Jesus’ speeches are so full of love and all about his relationship with his disciples. ‘Relationship’ is the key theme in all his remarks about keeping his commandments. Jesus does not love us because we keep his commandments. We keep his commandments because Jesus loves us. ‘Keeping’ here in verses 16 and 21 means to protect and guard. Our love for Jesus means we hold on to and protect Jesus’ words as so dear to our hearts. In fact Jesus’ does not only leave us with his Holy Spirit, he leaves us with his Word as well. This wonderful book, the Bible. This physical book. With paper a million times better than a Mcdonalds wrapper. Here the Word is alive, it lives and breathes life and speaks to us in every moment of our lives, with astonishing accuracy. The Bible literally reads us, and it makes us feel close to Jesus.
Psychologists such as the famous Donald Winnicott have another name for this type of object that connects us to a number one key person. It’s called a ‘transitional object’. In other words, a teddy bear. Many people have had teddy bears or blankets, or cuddly toys that have helped them as children shift from being dependent on their parents to being more self-dependent. Teddy bears are mini representations of Mum or Dad that gave us comfort when we had temporary moments of separation. Teddy bears can be cuddled and loved but also can be thrown across the room, trampled on, mutilated and can become a target for many of our frustrations and fears. But they survive most of the time and help children a great deal in their development. The Bible is a bit like a spiritual teddy bear. The Holy Spirit inside us helps us encounter the Lord Jesus when we read it. We wrestle with it, and cry over it, and rejoice over it as each day we move closer toward meeting Jesus for real in all his glory and fullness in heaven. When we read Scripture we then realise that Jesus is in the Father, that we are in him and he is in us. It is so wonderful to know that we have that comfort.
However, I think we still have our teddy bears lurking. I’m not talking about the dusty one from childhood in the shed somewhere. I’m talking about those other objects of comfort we create for ourselves which connect us to other key people, things, or even locations or buildings. The word ‘idol’ can feel a bit strong to some people but an idol can be anything we sacrifice our time, our emotions and efforts to, that also promises some attractive benefit to us.
As Christians we can have other objects or even people giving us comfort that distract us from the real key person we actually need, and that is Jesus. If anyone here is a visitor today and you don’t know Jesus at all you may have filled your heart and your life with temporary objects of comfort that help you cope with this broken confusing world. Like with many things, they can help for a little while, but eventually they will let you down, because only Jesus, a real and loving God who can live inside you will turn your life around. If you put your trust in him, he’ll clean you up from the inside, forgive you and make you his child. His death on the cross has achieved all of this; he killed off sin itself and broke the power of being separated from God forever. What’s more, is that Jesus will give you his Holy Spirit, and his Word in the Bible that will be your spiritual teddy bear and comfort in this world until you meet him face to face in heaven. This is all of our futures, friends as children of the King. But take heart all of you, in all your trials and suffering. Jesus is saying: ‘Hang in there my child, I am coming for you!’
16 ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Comforter to be with you forever- 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot receive him because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him for he lives with you and will be inside you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 In a little while the world will not see me, but you will see me. Because I live, you will also live. 20 On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me and I am in you. 21 Whoever holds my commands and protects them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father and I too will love him and reveal myself to him’.
We often like to hang on to things (like Teddy bears, and sentimental items) to help us deal with loss, especially a precious key person in our life. What ‘wrappers’ to you like to hang to? Do you have a new perspective on this as you reflect on how we and the disciples need something physical and permanent to help us when Jesus seems distant?
Jesus does not love us because we keep his commandments. We keep his commandments because Jesus loves us. Keeping Jesus’ commandments all stem from a relationship with him based on love. How precious to you are what Jesus says? What are some of the ways we can protect and keep what God says to us?
The Bible as God’s Word and the Holy Spirit himself are two things God has given to help us remain intimately connected with Jesus as we wait to enter into eternal life where we will one day see Jesus fully face to face. How have you experienced The Holy Spirit as a distinct comfort to you in your trials and struggles?