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To Those Left Behind

Thomas J Parlette

“To Those Left Behind”

John 14: 23-29

5/1/16

 

Well it appears that spring has sprung! We’ve had our week of springtime showers and cool temperatures and now it looks like some warmer weather is headed our way – and with it, a new season of sports. I know basketball and hockey are still in playoff mode, but other sports are beginning to take the stage.

Golf has had the Masters. Another few weeks and tennis will have the French Open. We’ve been through spring training and Opening Day and now we’re well into the first month of baseball. We’ve just finished up the NFL draft and the diehard football fans have new hope as they dream of the coming season. You can tell I listen to my fair share of sports talk radio!

In addition to all of our classic American sports, I enjoy following some of the European sports as well. Every Saturday, I get up early to watch some English Premier League soccer or some of the Bundesliga from Germany. And now we’re just beginning the cycling season as bicyclists from around the world kickoff the season with the spring classics – the one day races that dominate the circuit until we get the grand tours like the Giro d’Italia, the Tour De France and the Vuelta Espana. If you’re a cycling fan, it’s time to dust off the phrases unique to cycling – time to follow the “peloton” and watch the “domestiques” do their work of carrying up water bottles and food from the team car up to the team leader. Time to root on the “breakaway” as they power up the “beyond category” climbs. I know there’s a lot of words in there that you may not be used to hearing if you don’t watch much cycling.

There’s one other phrase that you will most certainly run across if you tune in to even one bicycle race this summer. The phrase “getting dropped.” It’s something that happens to every bike rider, no matter good they are – and it has nothing to do with crashing head over heels over your handlebars or slowly tipping over at a stop light because you forgot that your shoes were clipped into the pedals.

In cycling, getting dropped happens when you go out on a group ride with a bunch of other cyclists, and for whatever reason – you don’t feel well, you didn’t have your wheaties, or the other riders in the group or just better than you – you slowly but surely start falling behind. You pedal as hard as you can, try a couple of different gears maybe, but nothing works. You can only watch as the group moves away from you on up the road. You’ve gone off the back, as they say. It’s a terrible feeling – you’ve been dropped.

But as with everything in life, any experience is what you make of it. Bicycling Magazine once ran an article in which they asked riders off all different levels how they handled being dropped. Kelly Krause from Austin Texas said, “When I first started riding, I got dropped – a lot. But I didn’t see it as a failure. I simply watch as other riders also pop off the back, and I work extra hard to just catch up to them. It motivates me.”

Another rider, Cedrick Grouse from California, say he uses the experience of being dropped to analyze what he needs to change in his training – more speed work, more climbing in the hills, whatever he needs to work on.

Haley Weaver, a new rider from Austin Texas, says when she first showed up for a group ride, she had a single speed bike and an oversized t-shirt. She was dropped almost immediately. But she found it wasn’t so bad.  One of the other riders slowed down and rode with her, offering her encouragement and advice. When they got to the top of a particularly long climb – the whole group was waiting for her. She was left behind, but she found the encouragement she needed to stay with it.(1)

I wonder if the disciples felt like they were being dropped as Jesus spoke to them of his coming departure. They may have felt they were being left behind as Jesus told them that he was going away, that he was going to go back to the Father. Maybe they felt just as hopeless as cyclists feel as they watch the group ride away from them down the road.

We are still in the middle of Jesus farewell speech this morning. As the New Interpreter’s Bible notes, “The governing theological and pastoral concern of the whole chapter of John 14 is to prepare the community of Jesus’ followers for life in his absence.”(2) I’m sure when Jesus told them what was going to happen in the coming days, the disciples reacted with disbelief, anger and fear. As Jesus continued, the disciples minds moved more to worrying about what Jesus’ departure would mean for them. How would they get along without him? Would they continue or would the group simply fall apart? I’m sure the worry lines were written all over their faces.

There was once a certain woman who wrote to a national magazine to share a story about her mother and how she would worry so. Every year, her family would take a trip out of town to see relatives. And every year since she was a little girl, this woman remembers that her mother would start fretting a few miles into the trip – “O my goodness,” she would say, “I just know I left the iron on! We have to go back.” And every year, my father would turn the car around, we would drive all the way back, run into the house and check to make sure the iron was unplugged. Not once was the iron ever left on – but every year, my mother was overcome with worry, so every year, we had to check.

It was a family ritual – until I was 14 years old. That summer we were heading out of town to go to the lake for the weekend, and sure enough, my mother gasped, “I just know I left the iron on, we have to go back.” Without saying a word, my father pulled the car over to the side of the road, he got out, opened the trunk and handed my mom her iron. She never worried about it again.(3)

Jesus knows his disciples are worried about what’s going to happen, so he assures them, “I may be leaving, but you won’t be alone – I may be leaving you behind, but I am not abandoning you. God will send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit to teach you everything and remind you of all the things I have taught you, just in case you forget.”

Jesus also knew that his disciples might just forget some of his lessons in his absence. You remember from the Gospel story, that the disciples weren’t always the best when it came to understanding what Jesus was talking about, so they would no doubt need a reminder. Jesus was also anticipating that his followers would need some reassurance after the events of Holy Week actually took place. In just a few short days, they would all desert him. They would regret that deeply. Jesus knew that his disciples would need some help to get over their paralyzing fear and regret and move on with him.

Norman Vincent Peale once told of a trip he took to Jamaica. In the hallway of his hotel, there was an old map of the island. Looking at the map, he noticed some faint words written across an uninhabited portion of the island – “The Land of Look-Behind.”

Peale asked the hotel owner if he knew what those words meant. He explained:

“In the days of slavery, runaways from the sugar plantations sometimes escaped into that lonely and barren territory. They were often pursued by slave owners or other authorities with guns and dogs. The fugitive slaves were always on the run, always looking over their shoulders.”

So that was where the term came from. The Land of Look Behind.

Peale then wrote, “I never forgot that melancholy term, because my years of counseling people have led me to believe that many people are living in their own private Land of Look-Behind. They are the ones who dwell endlessly on past mistakes, who let fears generated by old failures rob them of future success, who refuse to accept God’s promises of forgiveness.”(4)

Jesus did not want his disciples to live in the Land of Look-Behind after he was gone – so he assures them, “not only will you have the Holy Spirit to teach you and remind you – but I am leaving something else with you. I leave you peace.”

Actually the word translated “leave” here means something more like “Bequeth.” Jesus is leaving an inheritance with his disciples, a gift from his last will and testament, the gift of peace. In other words, Jesus is saying, “I want you to know now – while I am still with you – that I forgive you for deserting me. I forgive you for leaving me behind. And I won’t do that to you. I am leaving you with the promise that God will send the Holy Spirit, and I am leaving you with Peace. So don’t worry, and don’t be afraid. I will be with you.”

In 1998, Spencer, South Dakota was devastated by a tornado. Six people were killed, many buildings and homes were destroyed – including St Matthew’s Lutheran Church. The day after the tornado, a group from St. Matthews walked with their pastor through the rubble of their community – surveying the damage. It was incredible – hardly anything was left standing. It was horrifying.

But when they got near to the spot where their church had once stood, someone called out – “Look, there’s the statue, there’s Jesus.”

Sure enough, there it was – a traditional white statue of Jesus that stands at the alter of so many small churches, with arms outstretched and a loving demeanor. There the statue stood – all that was left of a 100 year old church.

One member said, Even though the paint was almost gone and one of the arms was cracked, I didn’t even notice. It was just so remarkable, so moving and so fitting to look up from the chaos around us and see Jesus, arms outstretched, welcoming his people home.”

Later, the church members found out that two young girls who were helping a family member clean up nearby, had taken the time to come over to the church and set aside a few items of church property that they had found scattered in the area. When they saw the statue of Jesus lying in the rubble, they figured everyone in Spencer, South Dakota needed to know that Jesus was still there – so they stood him up for all to see.(5)

That’s what Jesus calls his disciples to do. Trust in the Holy Sprit, be not afraid, hold onto the Peace that Jesus leaves and live secure in the knowledge that Jesus is among us. That is the witness we bear to the world when we gather here at the Lord’s Table.

A lady named Eunice Holz once asked her son, a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, why he never studied in his dorm room. And he replied, “When I really need to study, I always go to one of the campus libraries. When I see all those people reading and concentrating, it convinces me to get at it, too.”(6)

That’s exactly what happens when we come to church. When we gather at the table we remind ourselves that Jesus stands with us. We remind each other that Jesus does not leave us alone, but gives us Peace and the Holy Spirit. When we gather as the Jesus Community, we motivate each other to keep moving on our journey of faith.

So come to the table my friends, and be nourished for the journey. Amen.

 

1.    Homiletics, Vol. 28, No. 3, p, 13-15.

2.    Ibid… p. 14.

3.    Dynamic Preaching, Vol. XXXII, No. 2, p. 23.

4.    Homiletics, Vol. 28, No. 3, p. 17.

5.    Dynamic Preaching, Vol. XXXII, No. 2, p. 25.

6.    Homiletics, Vol. 28, No. 3, p. 14.