Today, it seems so many people are stressed and anxious. We’re trying to climb out of such a tough last year and more. Each of us is doing what we can to deal with the constraints and concerns that have become commonplace. What’s amazing is how well we can adapt to changes we face, and challenges we undergo. What’s troubling is how easily we can accept the stress we’re under as normal or acceptable. The ability to be resilient is important; the willingness to go past breaking points is dangerous.
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 only bear a certain amount of physical, mental and emotional strain. When we take on more than we can handle, we eventually break down.
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.
The story is told of a guide 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 and guided them. 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.
This is all rather fancy language for some simple stuff. 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. 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. Someone, anyone trying to keep Christ’s commandments has help. 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 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 right. The power isn’t in the words and which one has them figured out. When Christians do this, so little time is left over for doing what those words are actually written for.
When we hear Jesus say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” we should immediately translate it into: If you 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. Don’t try to beat the stresses in your life by always fighting against them. Get out of their way for a while. Put your mind on the goodness of God. Think of Christ’s grace, the love you’ve experienced. Find a way to grow in love. Turn to prayers and words that take you along a spiritually stronger path. You can give thanks, lift your heart in praise and joy.
Robert was a friend of mine. Unfortunately, he died fifteen years ago at a younger age. He was a proud Marine, a Vietnam vet almost as proud of being a Green Beret as he was being a Christian, with a newfound very conservative Christian faith. Robert was a tough guy through and through. His faith followed suit.
He went to a church that taught 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, LGBTQ people, 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 us prosperous, successful, wealthy. All you have to do is have faith, ask, and tithe to your church. Robert became a financial planner, wore fancy cuff links, suits, drove a Porsche, 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 focus in life is to make us wealthy.
One morning, Robert called. He had started to get involved in a prison ministry, but I hadn’t heard anything more. He told 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 concerns and compassion 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.
This tough guy, tough Marine and Green Beret 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 happy that his faith had a chance of growing into something more like love and compassion. But before we hung up, I had to tease, so I said, “Well, well, Robert. Imagine that. The first time you see life from someone else’s experience, you turn into a softy.” I think he laughed.
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. Some things we just can’t beat. What makes us anxious and stressed, what makes life too hard for us is not so many of the issues and things we think are the causes. We’re overwhelmed when we under love!
We need to figure out how important it is to love others and oneself. We’re fighting against who we want to be deep down, no matter what we’ve been taught by blind guides and deaf leaders. Giving love to the Lord brings so much more help than anything else we’ve probably been trying.
Trying to live without love is like trying to live in a desert. Our souls are always thirsty when we don’t drink in love and it doesn’t pour out of us. Stop trying to swim against the riptide of love and loving others. Give in and let it take you out to deeper waters of compassion, concern, care, mercy, kindness. Follow Christ’s spirit of goodness and see how old worries and stresses are reshaped and lessened. This is the good help we need.
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.”
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 the church say Amen?