It is almost time for Jesus to go to his death. The Last Supper has been eaten, the dishes cleared away, Jesus and his followers dawdle at the table having one more glass of wine. Jesus is in a talkative mood, giving a very long after-dinner speech. I hope that his followers are listening intently to him as they will have very little time left with him.
Many years ago I was going to have surgery for the first time. The surgery wasn’t a difficult one but I was quite nervous about ‘going under’, worried that I wouldn’t wake up. Jeff was very young and I remember talking to him the night before the surgery. I didn’t want to frighten him but I sure wanted to leave him with good instructions in case I died the next day. I told him to be a good boy, to take care of Daddy, to be kind to others. And then I was at a loss. I did not want to leave my son orphaned. What words could I leave him with that would take the place of my mothering him?
I wanted him to know that even if I couldn’t be there, God would be close by. I should have just opened the bible and paraphrased today’s gospel. I could have told him to follow the rules, to trust that the Holy Spirit would stand alongside him, to know that God loves him, and to know that God is close, close by.
That’s how this Gospel feels to me, like a worried parent knowing he is going to leave his young children, giving them the best final instructions he can. He tells them he will be close to them, even after death; “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. You will see me when the rest of the world can’t. I will be in my Father and you in me and I in you.” God is close, so close.
In our reading from Acts, Paul tries to get the Athenians to understand just how close the one God is to them. He quotes a Greek poet, saying; “In him we live and move and have our being”. God is close, so close.
The psalmist sings of a God who ‘holds our souls in life and will not allow our feet to slip. Blessed be God, who has not withheld his love from me.’ God is close, so close.
Jesus tells his followers that another Advocate, another friend with be with them forever. “You will know him,” he says, “because he lives with you and he will be IN you.” This Advocate, this Spirit will stand alongside us all the days of our lives. God is close, so close.
Most of you know the story of Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play major league baseball. He was treated horribly at first, by the crowds, by the opposing teams and even by his own teammates. One day, while playing in his home stadium in Brooklyn, he committed an error at second base and oh, the crowd went wild, jeering, booing and hissing. Then something amazing happened: the shortstop, Pee Wee Reese came over and stood next to Robinson. He put his arm around Jackie and stood there, facing the crowd. The fans grew silent. Robinson later said that Pee Wee’s act of friendship gave him the strength to go on and have a great career.
Pee Wee Reese did this simple thing; he stood quietly alongside a man in trouble. In this very way the Holy Spirit stands alongside us, through good times and bad. It is very, very easy to feel alone and abandoned by God but we are not ever alone, we are not ever abandoned. God is close, so close.
I believe both Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese felt the closeness of God that day, that the Holy Spirit was in Pee Wee when he put his arm around Jackie. In the same way, we too are called upon to BE the Spirit for others.
Think of that phrase: ’In him we live and move and have our being.’ This is not a distant, theological relationship. We live in God, we move in God, we have our very being in God. We are to be God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the world.
Sometimes we enact our faith in the world in somewhat abstract ways; writing a check to a good cause, sending a letter to a congressman, protesting something, maybe just hitting the “like” button on Facebook. I would like us to turn to nearer pastures to enact our faith, to bring the focus in close, so close.
Just as God is in and around us, we can take action to forgive and love those close in and around us - not abstract, not distant. Who in your life, in your family, in your home could you love more? Do you need to put your arm around someone today? Think right now, of an act of kindness, an act of forgiveness for those closest to you. Even a smile, a hug, a warm glance can make a difference today. Reach out, not across miles but across the street, across the dinner table to those near you with more love, tolerance and compassion. You can bring God close, so close to those near you.
Let us pray; Descend upon us, O Holy Spirit, and fill us with your power and draw us more deeply into Christ and his life in us. Empower us to bring Christ into the world through our love and our actions. Amen