7th Sunday of Easter
Texts: John 17:20-26;
Rev. 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; Acts 16:16-34
MOTHER’S DAY AND THE ADVOCATE
Understandably, Mother’s Day will never quite be the same for me. I very my enjoy celebrating it with Ellen and our boys, and we are glad to be here in Saginaw to spend time with Ellen’s mother this weekend. It is meaningful to celebrate it with all the mothers here this morning, as we give thanks for God’s love that comes to us through them. But, as for many of you today, Mother’s Day will not be quite the same for me since my mother has passed away. As she put it a couple days before she died, she has gone “to be with Jesus.”
Now, this might sound strange at first: even though Mother’s Day will never be the same for me, in some ways it’s better. The missing my mother part still hurts. But as we say to one another at times of loss, “I know that she’s in a better place.” She’s with Jesus, like she wanted to be, because her earthly body was failing her.
But as I’ve been sharing with you over the last several months, my understanding and experience of that better place has also grown better for me. Last week, we talked about the Advocate, Jesus’ name for the Holy Spirit, is still teaching us. And we find ourselves in a time of great change when listening to those new teaching of the Spirit can really help us — especially since change can be difficult and even frightening. I indicated last week that I hope to share some of these new teachings with you in small pieces so that it doesn’t seem so frightening. Today, as a I talk about something so personal as losing one’s mother, I hope you even find it comforting and uplifting. So here goes.
When I was growing up, heaven was primarily a destination place for when you die, and it felt like a distant place meant only for me and others in the afterlife. But in recent years I’ve been learning that heaven was a different sort of place for Jesus and the Apostles — not so much a different place as it is a dimension of this creation which is close, all around us. And so I’ve begun to feel closer to those who have gone before me to be with Jesus until the Day of Resurrection. My grandparents, my Aunt Kay, my Father-in-Law, and my mother and father — I know that they are in heaven with Jesus. But I also know that that is not far away. Even as God and Jesus are present with me, all around me in the heavenly dimension of this creation, I know that my loved ones who have gone before me in death are all around me. I know that, in a very real sense, my mother is closer to me than ever before.
The Gospel of John — and especially these chapters from the Farewell Discourse of Jesus to his disciples on the night of his death — are all about this closer relationship to God in heaven that Jesus is making possible through his death and resurrection. When he says those well known verses shortly before the ones we’ve heard this morning and in recent weeks — “I go to prepare a place for you . . . in my Father’s house are many rooms” — he’s not talking just about a far-off place for us to go when we die. He’s talking about preparing a dwelling place for us in this life. Because heaven is a dimension of this creation all around us and in us, Jesus is talking about a new and transformed way for God to dwell around us and in us. Because he is taking care of the sinful ways that separate us from God, Jesus is also taking care of our feeling of separation from God. We can once again know that God is all around us and in us. What comes after that promise about Jesus preparing dwelling places for us, in this part of John’s Gospel, is a whole lot of language about Jesus dwelling in the Father and he and the Father dwelling in us — language like, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches … abide in me as I abide in you.’ My mother has gone to be with Jesus. But because Jesus and the Father have come to dwell in me, my mother dwells in me with them.
And here’s something even better: because Jesus has taken care of the sin that separates us from God, Jesus has already begun to take care of the sinful parts of my relationship with my mother. She has been forgiven in a way that heals her, transforms her, purifies her. It is that healed mother who dwells in me. It is the very best of my mother, who loved me so unconditionally in this earthly life, who dwells close to me now with her love completely unfettered by her sin.
And so here’s something that’s even better than that: Because Jesus has already begun the healing of forgiveness in her, I know he wants to begin it in me, too. I hear Jesus say to me, with my mother cheering him on in the background, “Brother, the healing begins now, the transformation begins now, because the power and Spirit of my healing love dwells within you.” As Jesus prayed for his disciples on that night long ago, he continues to pray for you and me,
“As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
So that the world may know. So that they may be one.
Brothers and Sisters, just as God the Father sent the Son into the world, so now he sends you and me. He dwells within us so that we might be part of God’s healing love that is making this world into one. Goodness knows there is a desperate world that is so torn apart and polarized by division. Look at our politics, for example. They are no longer about the common good; everything is simply about beating the other side. Our nation needs the healing of our oneness in Jesus.
How do we begin to do that? Well, some pretty basic things are involved, like first participating in the call process here at Faith. We need to take time to listen to one another and to listen to God. What is it that God wants us to do together in this time and place? What are the ways in this polarized and divided world that we can live out God’s healing and unifying love for the sake of the world? Jesus has shown us that it usually involves starting with this world’s most vulnerable, the poor, the left-out. When God’s Good News of healing love is Good News for the least of us, then it will end up being Good News for all of us. But only when it is the love of God in Jesus that dwells within us.
So here we are again this morning to be fed and watered with that love, and to be sent out. God in Jesus Christ has loved us at least as much as the person in this world who has loved us the most — most often our mothers, whom we celebrate and pray for today, and who are with us today in the communion of saints, to cheer us on to our lives of love. And God sends us out to love with that kind of love this week. Where can that love dwelling in you bring healing this week? Amen.
Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Faith Lutheran,
Saginaw, MI, May 7-8, 2016