I will not leave you as orphans (May 17, 2020)
I will not leave you as orphans
Service video: https://youtu.be/eroxq3ZDU8o
Why are we still here? It seems like one of those movies that just doesn’t know how to end. I think of The Lord of the Rings trilogy that has to wrap up all the loose ends and seems like it has 7 different endings, one after another. Same with Avengers: Endgame (I watched it again recently), that has to tie up the storyline of every character. And here, in the church year, we’ve had the climax of salvation. We knelt at the cross as Jesus paid the price for all sin and breathed his last. We rejoiced at the empty tomb when he rose victorious from the dead. We’ve reveled in that Easter joy. But by now, on this 6th Sunday in the Easter season it just kinda feels like we are dragging it out… like a story that just won’t end. Yes, there’s a couple big events coming up. Ascension is this coming Thursday – 40 days after Easter. And then Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that Jesus foretold in the readings today is after that. And that’s really it. The last big events in salvation history.
Broaden the focus out and see where we are at today in comparison to all of this. That all happened about 2000 years ago. Yes, the New Testament church was established and rapidly grew so that we could have it today, but now it just seems like things are dragging on, right? I mean, we don’t really see that kind of rapid growth anymore – at least not in our country. Christianity has had its heyday in the US and now it just seems like we are trying to hold on to it as an increasingly uncaring nation leaves it behind to gather dust in some old corner. We are losing that grip on a God-centered world – a “theocentric” worldview. Why let it drag on? Why doesn’t God just wrap it up and end the story already? In fact, it doesn’t even feel like a long drawn out ending anymore. Now it feels like the credits are rolling and we are waiting for that very last credit scene, perhaps even starting to wonder if it’s ever going to come. Is he coming back? Is he with us? Is he even real?
This gradual shift away from a worldview that puts God at the center of all things has been a long time coming. A quick overview of philosophy from the past two centuries shows the progression. Although 19th century philosophers acknowledged a religious component to worldview, there was a drift away from religion having any authoritative stance in forming a worldview. Rather religion was beginning to be seen as a result of a worldview. Christianity, therefore, was no longer a guiding direction for how we view the world, but rather an offshoot of people’s experience and history. And since worldview was becoming more and more relative – more and more about the individual – there was an increasing conviction that it was irrational to promote a single worldview.
Enter the 20th century and this progression in the way one views the world is solidified and built upon. Now, the way one perceives the world centers almost exclusively around human beings in general, yet more specifically, around each individual. There was still some acknowledgement of being part of a bigger community, but the individual was still champion of his or her own worldview. More and more, objective reality was giving way to subjective reality. In other words, the general consensus was that humanity was at the center, not God. And each individual had their own version of truth based upon their experiences. Gone are the days of one objective truth.
This shift, however, has left us feeling very alone and insignificant in a vast dark universe. Why else would we be searching for other life in the universe. This shift has also left us without much purpose. Thus the looking back on where we’ve come from and the rise of evolution. It’s even left us with a void that leaves us with a deep need for relationships, to be connected with others, face to face, digitally, and wherever else we can get it. The shift from a God-centered perspective on life to a human-centered perspective has left us with so many holes in our lives and gaps in our worldview. And, interestingly enough, some would turn back and blame God for leaving us alone as orphans. It wasn’t God who left us. It is we who have left him. And that doesn’t work out so well for us.
This doesn’t just apply to unbelievers either. Sadly, this shift in culture and worldview affects even those of us who do try to keep God at the center of our lives. We too, at times, live as if we’ve missed out on the “Golden Age of Christianity” when Jesus visibly walked the earth and taught his disciples face to face. We sometimes fall into the mindset that God has little bearing on what goes on in my daily life, besides merely guiding my morals and decisions. Not consciously. But how many days go by each week without so much as a memorized prayer before meals or before bed? Do we really wake up every day with a mindset that this new day is a gift from God to be used for his glory – to join him in the great commission? Do we eat our meals and spend our money thankful for the gifts God has given us – acknowledging that we would have nothing if it were not from his hand? Are we living with the mindset that this is merely the credit roll and nothing we do really has any significance to it besides keeping the faith?
We are living in the days after Pentecost. We are living in the days of the Holy Spirit! Jesus has not left us as orphans, simply to survive throughout our days. He comes to us and is with us every day! Moreover, he has sent “another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:16-17). This isn’t the credit roll. No! We are still in the heat of all the action! The outpouring of the Holy Spirit and wielding the power that he bears! Jesus says, “If you love me, keep my commands” (Jn 14:15). This word, “keep,” is not primarily to be thought of as “obey”. He’s not saying, “if you love me just obey the 10 commandments.” This word “keep” is to “watch over,” “protect,” and “guard”. And it’s not without emotion, either. It’s not without motivation. The reason you would watch over in order to protect something is because you love it, because you cherish it, because you find it valuable for your own life and for others. “Protect and keep my commands because they are your most precious and valuable treasure in life!”
These commands, too, we often hear that word and our minds immediately go to the 10 commandments. And although that is true, we do value and guard the 10 commandments, that isn’t the whole picture. The word used here has more a focus on “commissions” rather than “admonitions”. “Love one another” (Jn 13:34). “Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them, and teaching them” (Mt 28:19-20). “If you love me, guard and cherish my commissions to live according to the word and preach the word faithfully”. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:16-17).
We aren’t in the credit roll of history, brothers and sisters. No, we are building to the second climax of the story – the culmination of all things! We are guarding and protecting the Good News of salvation through Jesus as the forces of evil try to snuff it out. We have the Advocate, the Counselor, the Spirit of truth on our side who cannot be defeated because the truth is, the battle has already been won by Jesus. Victory is ours. Now we are cherishing and sharing that message of victory with all people, so that they too may be on the side of victory. And during this rising action, as we gather the kingdom, Jesus himself says, “I will not leave you” (Jn 14:18).
You have not missed out on the “Golden Age of Christianity.” You are living in it! Jesus is still present, and we have the full outpouring of the Spirit in a way that the disciples didn’t really have until after witnessing Jesus’ death and resurrection. The disciples had the Spirit. They were believers. But things were still cloudy for the disciples until they received the special outpouring on Pentecost. Jesus said, “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (Jn 14:25-26). They recorded all of this, and we have it today! Through this recorded Scripture, the Holy Spirit leads people to Christ, helping them understand and see him clearly.
“Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me” (Jn 14:19). “Whoever has my commands and keeps them” – guards them, cherishes them – “is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them” (Jn 14:21). Much of the world no longer sees Jesus actively working in their lives because they no longer guard and cherish his Word. God is no longer at the center, human beings are. We too have to be careful of slipping into this thinking. And we do that by going back to the Word. Digging into it. Valuing and cherishing it.
It’s quite interesting, that throughout history God has focused not on visibly revealing himself, but revealing himself through words. The very first time God revealed himself to the world was with his word, “And God said, ‘Let there be…’” (Gen 1:3). The first challenge Satan emitted to Adam and Eve was to challenge the Word of God, “Did God really say…” (Gen 3:1). When the worldview of the people on earth became anthropocentric – human centered – for the first time, building a great tower to make a name for themselves, God confused their language and so scattered them over the face of the earth as a reminder that all things center around him (Gen 11). He sent prophets who spoke the words of God to give direction. Even Jesus, though he “performed many other signs… which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (Jn 20:30-31).
Today, we have his recorded Word. Remarkably persevered throughout the centuries so that you can be confident that what we have recorded today is the same as it was written by those who heard directly from God. We have the Holy Spirit who is with you through the Word and makes his home in you, teaching you all things, revealing Jesus the Savior, and bringing him to you.
Love this Word as you would a letter from a loved one who is no longer near. Cherish it. Protect it. And share it. Because it leads to the only perspective on life – the only worldview – that provides a complete way of seeing the whole world. A worldview without any holes in it. God’s Word provides the answer for why we are here and where we came from. It reveals our ultimate purpose in life – to know him and share him. It provides the connection we all crave – a connection with God himself! It even has answers for the evil and brokenness in the world – viewed through the lens of sin. Our life and purpose – viewed through the lens of grace. And gives the perspective that earth is temporary, heaven is our home! You don’t get all that from any other worldview. You don’t get the complete picture from anywhere else.
I can’t wait for that climactic scene when the skies snap back like a scroll, the trumpet shall sound, and every eye shall see him! Until then, let’s go and gather disciples with the Holy Spirit to help, and Jesus living with us forever!