Sixth Sunday of Easter
Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika

“Never Alone”

Acts 17:22-31 & John 14:15-21

Another Easter season will soon come to an end. In the week ahead we will begin to turn our attention to Pentecost when the early disciples received the gift of the Holy Spirit that became an affirmation of Christ’s presence with them always.

Our reading from The Gospel According to John is a part of Jesus’ farewell speech to his disciples prior to his death. He speaks to them as they gather in a room to share a last supper.

We can only begin to imagine how they must have felt – anxious, sad, disappointed, suspicious, bewildered, afraid, confused, perhaps even angry. For three years they put aside their work and families to follow him and now he tells them that he is going away. The sense of impending loss must have been tremendous for all of them. (Seasons of the Spirit, SeasonsFUSION, Lent – Easter 2014, Wood Lake Publishing Inc., 2013, page 170)

What are they to do? What will become of them? That Jesus reassures them he will always be with them is difficult to grasp.

How can that be, they wondered? “You are going away, but you are not going?.”

Some of them may have thought that Jesus was being either cruel or crazy. Yet we know Jesus was trying to make something clear. All he is asking of the disciples is for them to embrace the love he had lived among them as the goal for their own lives. (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2010, page 490)

As his ministry comes to an end, Jesus “can only speak of love and the assurance that the God he knows so intimately as Father will continue to accompany them” through the gift of the Holy Spirit that will dwell within and among them. (Op. cit.) He seeks to assure them that even though he will leave them physically, he will always be with them in and through the Holy Spirit. They will not be orphaned. (John 14:18) They will never be alone.

The promise Jesus made to the early disciples is one that is made to us today – the Holy Spirit will point us to the truth that God’s love now dwells in us and among us. There are those who may believe that God’s love dwells in us only as individuals; that throughout our own personal struggles we are not alone.

But the Rev. Dr. Linda Lee Clader, Dean of Academic Affairs & Professor of Homiletics at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California reminds us: “The story of Jesus is not about Jesus and a single disciple ... Jesus is present and active with groups of people – real people who sometimes struggle just to get along ... ” (Ibid., page 493)

Throughout the written account of Jesus’ life in the Bible, we see Jesus living in community with the disciples and the people he served. The Rev. Dr. Nancy J. Ramsay, Professor of Pastoral Theology & Pastoral Care at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas writes: “The love Jesus wants his hearers to embrace is not an abstract philosophical concept but the lived reality revealed in (the) life, relationships and actions of a simple Nazarene who looks and talks like them and lives simply among them. He feeds the hungry, touches lepers (sic), heals the sick and speaks and acts toward women with care and regard. Love is seen in his life as service and compassion.” (Ibid., page 492)

So it is that love must also be seen in our lives – as service and compassion – strengthened and sustained by the presence of the Holy Spirit in us and among us. While we may not always feel the Spirit’s presence in our lives and in our world, it is a promise that was made and one to which we hold fast.

It has been said that Mother Teresa of Calcutta struggled with a darkness that plagued her for more than half her life because “she did not feel the presence of Christ” in her work among the “poorest of the poor.” (Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta, Doubleday, New York, 2007) Yet in spite of the uncertainty that troubled her, she remained steadfast in living a life of service and compassion.

“The love Jesus commands,” Clader adds, “is not a feeling.” Instead, the love he commands is about a master washing the feet of his disciples and a shepherd king dying the death of a criminal. It is love demonstrated, not simply spoken or even emotionally felt.

Tyler Rollins is a young adult who grew up in our church. Over the last several years he has been a student at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande, Oregon. He is a recent recipient of a 2014 Ho’i I Ka Piko Scholarship, a scholarship made possible through our Youth Ministry Fund.

In his application for the scholarship, Tyler reminds us God’s love dwells not only in us as individuals, but among us as a community of faith when he writes: “To me church has . . . always been about the community. The important thing is having a group of people who are there for you when you need them and (who) affect your life in a positive way. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without all of the various aunties and uncles I have accumulated over the years. It’s always comforting to know that all of those people will support me through anything I do and will always welcome me back warmly when I return home.”

Tyler writes about the aunties and uncles he has come to know over the years. He writes about the comfort and warmth they provide.

In a way Tyler provides us with an opportunity to recognize that Christ is present and will always be present among us when we keep his commandments to love and to serve others. As distant as La Grande may be from us here in Mākena, Tyler is aware that he is never alone. He is aware that there is a community here that is always ready to welcome him home again – and again.

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