Last night, at our public meeting at Broad & Dauphin, right in the middle of Philadelphia’s first heat wave of the season, our air conditioned broke. Since we recently installed central air in my home (and have non-coincidentally become people that folks want to chill with), I’ve gotten a little spoiled. I made a concession last night as I offered a speech to the humid room: it’s OK if you fall asleep.
I think Jesus felt the same way when he was talking to his disciples in what we call the Farewell Discourse. Some folks think that this discourse occurred on the way from the upper room to the garden where Jesus is arrested. The disciples perhaps were tired after a big meal, and a confusing exercise (they just washed each other’s’ dirt-caked feet and heard that one of them was going to betray the others. So, as they walked thirteen abreast, it’s not surprising that they fell in and out of listening.
The Gospel of John is written in a way that is meant for believers today to take personally. The whole point of the Gospel of John is that it’s personal. The incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is personal. Jesus become a person so that we might follow him. And so it’s not surprising that he seems to make a reference to us through the Gospel. The signs that he performs in the first half of the book are meant to show the world his divinity—but Jesus and John know that the audience of the book won’t get to see those signs so explicitly. And so littered throughout the Gospel is this idea that it is better to have not seen and have faith.
We often see this as a rebuke; as if we should feel bad if we need to see something in order to believe. Rather than thinking of it as something that is bad; we should be encouraged that Jesus is indeed saying that we, in this age, are blessed because we believe without having seen him. You are blessed because of your faith. Jesus is blessing us because he wants us to keep the movement going.
Of course, we’ve seen signs of Jesus around us—we see them all the time, in our community—but we haven’t actually seen the physical body of Jesus. We haven’t experienced a physical relationship with him like the disciples. But he’s telling us that it’s OK. Our fierce faith will bless us and continue to guide us.
And if you don’t buy it yet? That’s OK. Our community should be a sign of life and a sign that points to Jesus. You have the right to be suspicious if it doesn’t feel like that to you. But of course, your cynicism and your skepticism might keep you at arm’s length that you never really get it anyway.
Jesus wants to keep the movement going behind his inner-twelve, and John is chronicling it in a way that will help make that happen. The farewell discourse then is perhaps the believer’s guide to following Jesus through all of the difficulty that life throws at us. He knows the journey is doing to be difficult. In fact, we are signing up for getting hurt, for being hated, and for being rejected. Jesus knows this first hand. He’s about to get unjustly tried, conspired against, and brutally crucified. Jesus wants to encourage us.
The first thing Jesus tells his followers is that there is enough room for them where he is going. There’s enough love to go around. You don’t have to worry about not being able to fit. You won’t be overlooked. You are going to be loved. There’s room for all of us.
“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:2-4)
His disciples of course wonder how they know the way to where he is going. You know the way, because you know me. I am the way, the truth, and the life. We have access to the Father through Jesus.
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7)
Philip wants to see the Father, much like we want to see Jesus in person. Jesus reassures Philip that he’s seen the Father already—I hope we feel that similar reassurance. He speaks to them directly, and he seems to be speaking right to us too: you have access to the Father through me. You can ask for anything in my name, and he will do it.
“You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:6-7)
Jesus encourages us to keep believing because we know God through Him—he is God and we can have a relationship with him that’s personal. He will listen to us and listen to our prayers.
Let’s beyond “knowing” this and actually do something about it. Jesus is asking us to pray to Him to keep the movement going, to keep it alive. Let’s agree to do it together.
Jesus also talks about being the vine here. In Psalms, the psalmist refers to Israel as a vine that the Lord has planted. Jesus declares that He is that vine now. That he is the new Israel. He is making all of chosen people that God will redeem. I think Jesus also uses the language to relate to his disciples how close they are. Jesus says that he is the vine, and we are the branches. If they “remain in him,” they will bear fruit.
“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (John 15:4)
Jesus knows that the disciples are going to suffer when he leaves—not just because of their own sacrifice for His work and ultimately their martyrdom—but because He’ll be gone from their lives.
He makes it even more personal when He refers to his disciples as His friends. Jesus is developing a great deal of intimacy with his friends and doing so because His death and resurrection is so relational, and so personal. He tells them that there isn’t a greaterlove than laying one’s life down for their friends. Jesus is talking about His own sacrifice for them.
“Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:4)
Today, try and “remain” together. Remain in community. Understand the power of staying. Community helps us keep our faith.
Jesus promises his disciples something even greater than his teachings or our prayers: his Holy Spirit. The Advocate, the Helper is coming and he will fill you up. You will be endlessly blessed and encouraged. The Holy Spirit guides us today. We seek the Holy Spirit in prayer and discernment. And you are part of that movement. You are part of that reality. We need to do it together. You are an important part of this. And don’t you dare tell someone they aren’t. We are equally blessed and filled with the Holy Spirit.
Jesus tells them that the world will hate them. It will tear them apart. We’ll be scattered across the nations and the thing that holds us together will seem fragile. I’m sure we’ve all experienced this. The times when life in community is too much, to anxiety-inducing, and too difficult. Every difficulty we experience is one that we can handle. Trouble will find you, but Jesus has overcome everything.
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:12)
Jesus is getting ready to defeat death. Like Paul says in 1 Corinthians
and like J.K. Rowling says on James and Lily Potter’s epitaph: the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
But he beats death. We become eternal beings through him.
We are now the ones who will be revealing the signs, the incarnation of God, and Jesus to our world. We are the disciples who are doing what’s next. Jesus is talking to us.