The Gospel Story: Farewell Discourse
John 15:1-5, 8-10
Rev. Sandy Johnson
August 27, 2017
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Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.
In 2010, my daughter Claire graduated from high school. During the summer, she prepared to travel across country, to North Carolina to attend a small United Methodist School called, Pfeiffer University. She packed up all of her belongings into a couple of suitcases and we set out to fly to her new home away from home. Of course, I gave her a lot of great advice. I’m not sure if she took any of it, but I did try! I told her to get and stay organized, to go to class, exercise, eat healthy.
I told her it was normal to be homesick and to give the school a chance when she felt like she wanted to come home. I encouraged her to make new friends, to get along with her roommate, even though she was very different from Claire (you know, proper southern girl versus snarky, outspoken westerner!). And then I gave her the advice my father gave to me thirty years ago. Half of what you will learn at college will be learned in the classroom. The other half you will learn by living on your own and navigating adulthood within the protective boundaries of college.
My farewell discourse to my daughter wasn’t nearly as profound and not nearly as long as Jesus’ to his disciples. I think we can all understand the need of a parent to give instructions to children leaving home for the first time and that isn’t too dissimilar to what Jesus might have been experiencing, knowing that as his time on earth was coming to an end, he wanted to be sure that his disciples were prepared to go at it alone.
Jesus’ Farewell Discourse are the words that Jesus spoke while they had their last supper together, prior to Jesus death. “Matthew and Mark tell us very little about what Jesus said and did at the Last Supper, and Luke has just twenty-five verses on the subject. But John’s Gospel devotes five chapters to it, chapters 13-17. That’s 155 verses, almost 25 percent of John’s Gospel devoted to the Last Supper, virtually none of which appears in Matthew, Mark or Luke.”
The words that are recorded in these 155 verses are Jesus’ best advice, his guidance for his followers, and for us today, preparing them, and us to live on without God incarnate, living alongside us all. Jesus spoke with urgency. He knew he only had a few hours and he had a lot to say.
Think for a moment what you might say to your children, if you knew that it was the last time you would see them on this side of heaven. What would be most important to share? How you feel about them? Advice for their future? Maybe how to manage their finances, or relationships?
Jesus began by demonstrating one of his core messages. He took on the role of a servant and began washing the disciple’s feet. Washing feet was usually done when people came in for the day, before they gathered for the evening meal. If the home had a servant, that would be their job. If not, they would wash their own. So, when Jesus washed the feet of his friends, he was taking on the role of a slave, elevating his friends above him; a powerful example for them to take with them. Jesus demonstrated the need to be in service to others.
In John 13:12-17 we read:
12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
Blessings come to us when we serve others. Last February when our team of missionaries went to Baton Rouge to help rebuild a home following the floods from last summer. We worked hard, we were sore and tired at the end of each day. But I can tell you the satisfaction of knowing that the work we did made a difference in the life of the Hunt family, is a blessing to all of us, those who were on the ground working, and those here who helped to financially support our trip.
It is well known that for those who suffer from depression, serving others is a healthy way to improve their mood. “Service allows us to transcend our suffering by shifting our focus away from ourselves. An article in Psychology Today reports that volunteer work leads to a phenomenon called “helper’s high”–a physiological change in the body that produces physical and emotional wellbeing, as well as relief from stress-related disorders. Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping themselves.”
Jesus knew that helping others, putting others needs ahead of our own, and taking on the role of a servant, was the path we must take as his followers. Jesus calls us to imitate him, to follow his example. Next, Jesus spoke about trust. In John 14:1-4 we read,
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”
Jesus told his disciples that they needed to trust him. He had everything planned. Even though they didn’t know what was going to happen, he urged them to trust that he knew what was going to come. It wasn’t time for his disciples to be let in on the plans. That is hard for control freaks, isn’t it?
“What do you trust in? When you strip everything else, what is it – at the bedrock in your life – that you trust in? Some people trust in their abilities. Some trust in wealth. Some trust in the military or our political leaders. Some trust in their own intellect. But Christ calls us to trust in him, to count on him. Jesus said that by trusting in him we become a part of God’s household, and heaven is our Father’s house, where there are plenty of rooms.”
Jesus taught by example, urging us to become servants, he encouraged his followers to trust him. Next Jesus promised that he wouldn’t leave them, or us alone. He promised us the comforter, the advocate, the Holy Spirit to guide and protect us. Hear what Jesus says in John 14:16-17
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
“John alone records Jesus calling the Holy Spirit the paraclete. Paraclete can be translated as advocate, counselor, comforter, helper or encourager and means someone who comes alongside of you. It was a term used for an advocate or defense attorney in courtroom trials – someone who was on your side, helping, advocating for you. So, the Holy Spirt would come alongside us and be our advocate.”
What’s important for us to remember is that Jesus did not leave us alone. When I left Claire at Pfeiffer, I was confident she would be ok because there were instructors, resident assistants and staff that would guide and direct her. I was especially thankful that it was a Methodist school and that they had an ordained elder appointed to the school chapel, and he would be there for the students. My daughter was well protected.
“Jesus promised that God, by his Spirit, would continue to be at work in his followers. Through the Spirit we experience God’s indwelling presence. It is the Spirit that draws us to Christ, that changes us as we put our trust in Christ, that nudges us I the right direction when we’re paying attention, and that comforts us when we feel God’s presence holding and keeping us.”
We have called the movement of the Spirit, Spirit sightings. Those times when we see the Holy Spirit moving among us in ways that only can be explained by God’s presence. In the Walk to Emmaus program we talk about where we felt closest to Christ. Often it is the Holy Spirit that brings us that feeling of intimacy with our Lord. Times when the presence of God is overwhelming.
These past weeks I have spent many hours with Bob Walker at the hospital as he has endured two open heart procedures and numerous other procedures to assist his body in healing. I have prayed over him, anointed him with oil and held Heather’s hand as we wait for the treatments to have their best effect. It had been almost two weeks that he had been sedated when I received a text from Heather asking if I could come. Bob was asking for me.
I was at lunch with Alison Sloat and was only a few minutes from the hospital and had just enough time to go there before I needed to be back in BC to pick up Cameron. When I came into the room, awake and smiling! To see his beautiful blue eyes and hear his quiet, still weak voice say hello nearly brought me to tears. When he tried to say thank you for my visits and my prayers, I assured him that I loved him and so did God. I explained to him how God couldn’t be there personally, so he sent me to be his hands and feet, to offer healing Reiki and prayer. The Spirit moved between us in that moment, it was sacred ground.
Where do you hear the Spirit? “Are you paying attention? Are you open and inviting the Spirit to work through you? Are you watching for the Spirit to work through others? Jesus promised his disciples that, after his death, he would send the Spirit who would continue to guide, encourage, and comfort them.”
Last Sunday we talked about the “I Am” sayings of Jesus. In his Final Discourse we read Jesus words,
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”
In the same way that pruning a grape vine produces a hearty crop, when properly pruned, we too produce a fruitful life. Basically, Jesus is saying that if we want to be our very best, if we want to do extraordinary things for God’s kingdom, we must submit to pruning and stay connected to the branch, stay connected to God. How do we keep connected to Christ? “We talk with him. We worship. We pray. We listen. We read scripture. We do his work. We invite the Spirit to remain in us. We meet with others to study and encourage one another. As the Spirit remains in us, we remain in Christ.” We are to produce fruit.
“What is the fruit we are meant to bear? Over and over again in his Final Discourse, Jesus said that we bear fruit by keeping his commandments. It’s what he requires of his disciples. If we do what Jesus tells us to, we are bearing fruit. If that’s true, and I believe it is, then what are the commandments? Undoubtedly there are many, but they all seem to come down to one thing.
“This is my commandment: Love each other, just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.”
Jesus’ example continues to be the one we must emulate. We must become like a servant, we must trust Jesus, we must receive the Holy Spirit and be open to her leading. We must stay connected to Christ, receiving correction and in response produce the most important fruit of all: Love. Love is not a feeling, but a way of acting. Christ demonstrates the ultimate love for one’s friend by dying on a cross for us, so that we might have life. This is the message we receive from Christ.
Let us pray: “Dear Lord, help me have a heart to serve others rather than seeking to be served. Give me the humble job, the one no one else wants. Help me to listen for the leading of your Spirit. May I abide in you, Lord, constantly connected, that I might bear the fruit of your love. In your holy name. Amen.”
 http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/968061/10-tips-for-kids-going-away-to-college Accessed August 26, 2017.
 Hamilton, Adam. John: The Gospel of Light and Life. Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN 2015, page 91.
 John 15:1-5