A sad-looking man knocks on the door of a woman known for her charity. “Please, ma’am,” he says when she opens up, “can you help this poor, tragic family down the block? The father just lost his job, and his wife is too ill to work. They’re about to be turned out into the cold streets unless someone can pay their rent.” “That’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard in my life!” says the woman. “May I ask who you are?” Their landlord,” he says.
“Surely, God is my helper;” says scripture, “the Lord is the upholder of my life.” We could use some help.
Today it seems like everyone’s stressed. So much going on, so fast, with such high expectations, so little space and time to do it in, and very little down time to let the air out for awhile. It’s like we’re balloons that keep getting filled up more and more, expanding and expanding, adding more and more pressure. There’s only so much we can take.
Or we’re like a chair. A chair is designed to bear a certain amount of weight. If it consistently bears more weight than it’s supposed to hold, it will wear out and break. You and I can also to bear a certain amount of physical, mental and emotional strain. When we take on more than we can handle, we eventually break down.
You know you need some help when for example something like going to the grocery store turns into a stressor for you, especially if money is tight. The checker in your lane runs out of change and has to shut down temporarily. You switch to a new lane and learn three of your items don’t have a price on them. The checker has to call for a price check and the line behind you grows. Small, seemingly innocent circumstances have a way of piling up until you finally explode from the pressure.
Try to stay patient. Think kind thoughts. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Keep your sense of humor about you. People do act ridiculous and we can’t get mad every time they do.
Of course, since nobody can remove all the big and little things that cause stress in our lives, getting help is crucial. What we need help for is to get a handle again on our lives. We feel overwhelmed when we aren’t in control, when we’re being swept away, when we’re no longer heading in a direction we’re comfortable with.
Nobody can swim for a long time against a rip tide. We don’t have the strength for it. A swimmer needs to be smarter than that. Don’t try to beat the stresses in your life by always fighting against them. Get out of their way for awhile. Get your mind set on the goodness of God, the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of the Holy Spirit. Lift up your heart in worship, in the word, on the path of spiritual strength.
The story is told of a guide who lived in the Arabian Desert who never lost his way. There was a simple and ingenious reason for this: He carried with him a homing pigeon to which he had attached a very fine cord to one of its legs. When in doubt as to which way to take, he would throw the bird into the air. The pigeon quickly strained at the cord to fly in the direction of home, and thus led the guide accurately to his goal. Because of this unique practice he was known as “the dove man.”
If only we had a dove like that, right? Well we do. It’s called the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel of John 14:16 it says, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.”
For the last three years, Jesus has taken care of these disciples. He’s taught them and guided them. And now he’s telling them, his time is over. So they’re wondering how they’re going to make it without him. But they won’t be abandoned. They’re going to get some help.
The Greek word in John’s 14:16 translated in some verses as Counselor, or Comforter, or Helper is “Paraclete,” which is difficult to translate into English. Paraclete is a combination of para meaning “beside” and kaleoo meaning “I call.” It refers to one called alongside to help. It was sometimes used as a legal term for a defense attorney. That’s why our translation uses Advocate. Scripture tells us who the Holy Spirit is and what it does. The Holy Spirit is God walking beside us, calling to us in comforting words, guiding us into truth, and counseling us with wisdom and strength.
But I’m not done yet because we’ve got to put this back in context to what else we read. This is the second sentence in the paragraph. It comes after Jesus saying, “If you love me, then you will obey my commandments.” Our scripture then says one thing: We are to love the Lord, and if we do then we will obey his commandments. Then it says the second thing: In order to do this, you’re going to need some help, or a Helper, who is the Holy Spirit.
Let me tell you something about all this. This is all rather fancy language for some simple stuff. Now don’t get me wrong; I can see why
John is talking about commandments, and the Advocate and the Spirit of truth, and abiding with you and all the other things. But I want to break it down to what this stuff really means because too often we get caught up in what you might call scriptural special effects.
What you’re reading is for someone, anyone trying to keep Christ’s commandments God as Advocate, God as Helper, God as Spirit of truth, is in you, abiding in you, with you and forever. For what reason? To help you love as Christ loves.
The thing is we get all caught up in the fancy terms and language and we get off track. Again, if we get down to what’s going on inside of these terms and scriptural categories, what this means is that we aren’t supposed to wait for some big event in our life when God comes and knocks us over or the dove of the Holy Spirit descends on us and that’s when our spiritual life begins.
The Christian life in the Holy Spirit is much more mundane than most people want to believe. For John, it’s really simply a matter of our love for Christ and willingness to keep his commandments. So he’s basically saying that because God is with you and inside of you always and forever and abides with you it means you are 24/7, 365 on call and in uniform and present and accounted for. Wherever you walk, the Spirit of truth is walking with you. Whatever you say, the Helper is trying to say something. Whatever you think is the chance to think something divine.
Here’s what I’m trying to get you to see: Too often Christians think they’re Christians first and those who love second. Too many spend so much energy and time focusing on believing and disagreeing and arguing, trying to be the one who’s correct and pointing out who doesn’t have it rig. The power isn’t in the words and which one has them figure out. When Christians do this, so little time is left over for doing what those words are actually written for.
Richard Carlson had a lot of great things to say in his too short of a life. He was the author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and It’s All Small Stuff. In one of his many books, he said, “Choose being kind over being right, and you’ll be right every time.”
Robert Winston was a friend of mine. He was a proud Marine, a Vietnam vet almost as proud of being a Green Beret as being a Christian, with a newfound very conservative, fundamentalist Christian faith. Robert was a tough guy through and through. And his faith followed suit.
He went to a church here in Boca where he was taught that Christian faith meant God liked some people a lot and disliked others just as much. Robert was sure some people were God’s enemies. He was very sure that God felt nothing positive toward Muslims, gays, women who had abortions, among others.
Robert was also heavily into the prosperity gospel, as it’s called. The prosperity gospel is preached all over America and it says that God has one primary focus for our lives: to make you prosperous, successful, wealthy. All you have to do is have faith, ask, and tithe to your church. My friend became a financial planner, wore fancy cuff links, suits, and worked out of his swanky office.
The thing is we were still friends even though he knew I didn’t agree with his perspective on how God felt about non-Christians and others his church saw as outcasts from God’s love. He also knew I don’t believe God’s main focus in life is to make us wealthy. Robert was a tough guy, a Christian conservative through and through, and nothing I said or tried to teach him about our faith would ever change his mind.
One morning, I got a phone call. It was Robert. I knew he had started to get involved in a prison ministry but I hadn’t heard anything more about it. He started to tell me what he had been doing and the prisoners he had met. It was a Robert I had never heard before. He had come to have real feelings for the men behind bars. He told me about how bad their condition in prison was. He told me it wasn’t right they were treated this badly. He was really upset and sad.
Robert, this tough guy with a tough past and a tough God and a tough faith who before meeting actual prisoners would have thought that whatever they got behind bars they had coming to them, this Robert had found a heart and perhaps even love for guys in trouble and in need of kindness. I was very happy that his faith had a chance of growing.
But before we hung up I had to tease him so I said, “Well, well, Robert. Imagine that. The first time you actually see life from someone else’s experience, you turn into a liberal.”
The Helper is on the inside already and the help we’re getting is the capacity to love.
Someone said, “When you were born, you were crying and everyone around you was smiling. Live your life so that when you die, you’re the one smiling and everyone around you is crying.”
When we hear Jesus say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” we should immediately translate it into: If love me you will love others. Why do I say this? Because in the next chapter, verse 12, Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” He also gave us his Great Commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. If that isn’t enough, there’s the First Letter of John, where we read, “The commandment we have from (Jesus) is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”
The commandment is to love. Love is the commandment. When you need help it’s probably because you’re in need of some love, love for you and love from you toward others.
The Lord is with you. The Helper is in you. Be comforted by kindness. Be counseled with patience. Find your center in Christ who in infinite love shared his life with you. If you love Christ, you will love.
Can anybody say Amen?