May 21, 2017

Preached by Guy Laberge, Synod Summer Student, on May 21, 2017.

Psalm 66:8-20
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21

Listen to this sermon

Did you ever wish that you had a friend in high places – someone to help when the chips are down?

Did you ever wish that you had someone to talk to when you were lonely – someone to listen to your problems – someone who cared – someone who would love you even if you were in the wrong?

Have you ever heard someone say, “He doesn’t have a prayer” – or “She doesn’t have a prayer”? What they mean, of course, is he or she is hopeless.

Have you ever felt like you didn’t have a prayer – that you were hopeless? When you felt hopeless, wouldn’t it have been nice to have a prayer?  Wouldn’t it have been nice to talk to God and know that he is listening? Wouldn’t it be nice to know that God loves you and will help? Because, if God loves you, you are not hopeless! If God will help you, you have hope! If God loves and will help you, things will work out!

Perhaps you never felt hopeless. Perhaps you’re one of those beautiful people that we see in magazines, with symmetrical features, good hair, perfect teeth, great talent.

Or perhaps you are a good athlete, or always get A’s on tests, or make people laugh, or, as they say in the song, “Your daddy’s rich and your momma’s good lookin’.”

Or perhaps you have succeeded in your career, or things are just going well for you.

There are people like that, you know. Or at least it seems that way. Beautiful! Successful! Never in doubt!

But beautiful people have their problems too. Philip Yancey, the author, talks about interviewing the beautiful people – famous football players, movie stars, authors, TV personalities. He talks about how we idolize them – how we want to be like them – how we want to know every detail of their lives – their clothes, their romances, even their toothpaste. Then he goes on to say:

“Yet I must tell you that, in my limited experience, these our ‘idols’ are as miserable a group of people as I have ever met.
Most have troubled or broken marriages.  Nearly all are hopelessly dependent on psychotherapy.
In a heavy irony, these larger-than-life heroes seem tormented by incurable self-doubt.”

(Philip Yancey, Where is God When It Hurts?)

“Tormented by incurable self-doubt!” Hard to imagine, isn’t it! But we know that it’s true. We know about their broken marriages; their addiction to drugs and alcohol. We know that their talent has a dark side. “Tormented by incurable self-doubt!”

If the beautiful people find themselves “tormented by incurable self-doubt”, we need not feel odd if we, too, sometimes feel lonely – isolated – uncertain. That’s part of the human condition.

That’s how Jesus’ disciples felt – lonely – isolated – uncertain. You might even say that they felt betrayed. Jesus was talking about leaving them. He was talking about dying. The disciples had made great sacrifices to follow Jesus. They had staked everything on him. They had walked away from their fishing businesses. They had left home and hearth. They had allowed themselves to believe that Jesus was the one who would turn everything around – would make everything right. They had believed that he was the Messiah – the one who would save Israel.

And now he was talking about leaving them. Can you imagine how they felt? The sense of betrayal! Why had Jesus asked them to follow him if he intended to leave them? Why had he brought them this far only to abandon them?

Jesus knew that his disciples were afraid, so he made them a promise. He said, “I will pray to the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor, that he may be with you forever” (v. 16).

The New Testament was written in Greek, and the Greek word that is translated “Comforter” is “parakletos”. What does parakletos mean? It means “someone called in to help”. A paraklete could be a lawyer called in to defend you. It could be a witness called in to testify in your behalf. A paraklete could be anyone called in to help in your hour of need. Jesus, knowing that he would soon ascend back to the Father, promised his disciples a paraklete someone on whom they could call when they needed help – someone who would be there for them in their hour of need.

Jesus promised his disciples that this paraklete would be with them forever. That’s where we come in. The paraklete that Jesus promised to these first disciples is available to us as well. This paraklete is there to help us when we need help – to guide us when we need guidance- to steer us rightly – to protect us from harm. When Jesus talked about the paraklete, he was talking about what elsewhere is called the Holy Spirit – God’s Spirit dwelling within us – God’s Spirit living in our hearts.

The promise that Jesus made to those first disciples is a promise to us as well. Jesus has made it possible for us to have a paraklete – a helper on whom we can call in time of need – God with us – God dwelling in our hearts.

That might seem pretty academic to you – not especially useful “where the rubber meets the road” in the nitty-gritty of your life. But it isn’t academic at all, because it works – it helps.

I remember reading about Colonel Thomas Schaefer, the highest-ranking military officer in the U.S. Embassy in Teheran when that embassy was overrun and the Americans taken prisoners. Colonels are seasoned veterans and tend to be strong, and Schaefer was no exception. However, being taken prisoner in a hostile nation, not knowing if he would ever see his family again, held in solitary confinement in a tiny cell with nothing to read and nothing to do, Schaefer found himself at the edge of his limits. But he was a Christian, and so he got down on his knees and prayed, “God, I cannot handle this. I need your help.” He says, “And I got it!” He received the help that he needed to survive those long, seemingly endless, days of captivity. The Holy Spirit gave him the strength that he needed.

We have or will experience in our life the stress and pain of saying goodbye to someone close or dear to us. My father was diagnosed with cancer in 1997, it took 27 days before he was gone. Looking ahead and thinking about those we lost we might have said something like this: “I do not think I can stand it,” and looking back we could say: “I do not know how we were able to survive,” but the truth is we did, and we will.

I had a car accident in 2008. I am still having some mobility issues, and I deal with something called CRPS: Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome. There are no miracle cures for it, but I thank God, because I can see the sunrise and sunset every day. The lady in the other car was not so fortunate. She passed away hours later at the hospital. Her 15-year-old son was transferred to the CHEO in Ottawa. He was put into a medical coma for 4½ months. He will never be like a normal 22-year-old due to the injuries he suffered in the car accident.

All I know is: The Lord did provide as he promised and coming to trust in him is enormously encouraging for us to face the future.

As you see, those who live in the presence of the Holy Spirit cannot expect easy lives. Jesus never promised us a bed of roses. In a sermon I did a few weeks ago, I mentioned that the fact that we are Christians does not shelter us from sickness or trials in our lives. If it would be so – that we should be sheltered from pains and trials – I would not be here today preaching to you. I would be back in Eastern Ontario, working, and – who knows? – counting the years, months and days before retirement. But in the midst of all our troubles and stressful situations, the Spirit helps us to prevail no matter how difficult the circumstances.

Earlier in this sermon, I mentioned Philip Yancey, who interviewed football heroes, movie stars, television personalities, only to find that these beautiful people had feet of clay – that they were “tormented by incurable self-doubt!” He went on to talk about the other side of the coin – people whom he calls “servants” – missionaries, doctors, and nurses working in Third World countries; linguists living among primitive people in remote places, often for decades, to translate the Bible for those people. Yancey says:

“I was prepared to honour and admire these servants,
to hold them up as inspiring examples.
I was not, however, prepared to envy them.
But as I now reflect on the two groups side by side, stars and servants,
the servants clearly emerge as the favoured ones, the graced ones.
They work for low pay, long hours, and no applause,
‘wasting’ their talents and skills among the poor and uneducated.
But somehow in the process of losing their lives they have found them.”

(Philip Yancey, Where is God When It Hurts?)

Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit, and has delivered on that promise. We received the Spirit at our baptism, and can expect the Spirit to help us when we need help – anytime, day or night. We can expect the Spirit to guide us rightly. The only question is whether we will follow faithfully. If we will, God will bless us with lives that become stronger day by day – with faith to drive out fear – with lives solid at the core.

I would like to close today with an old Southern prayer.  It says:

“O Lord, help me to understand
that you ain’t goin’ to let nuthin’ come my way
that You and I together can’t handle. Amen.