We have God's promise

Historian Stephen Ambrose wrote a wonderful narrative history of World War II in Europe called Band of Brothers, which later became a mini-series. He traced Easy Company, of the 2nd Division of the 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, who parachuted behind the lines on D-Day, went north to an invasion of Holland, then found themselves at the heart of the Battle of the Bulge. Later they invaded Germany and were stunned when they come across a concentration camp.  They eventually wind up in Bavaria and take Hitler’s mountain hideaway – the Eagle’s Nest. He did extensive interviews with those veterans to get the stories straight. It’s stunning to watch a single company push through all of those critical moments, and it is a true story.

But the story doesn’t begin at D-Day.  It begins in north Georgia, Toccoa to be precise, where these guys go through extremely difficult training, rough even by paratrooper standards. But it was in the midst of struggling through that training that they became a Band of Brothers. And that would make all the difference in how they persevered through all the hardships and challenges of war.

Because when you are hard up against it, when everything is on the line including your life and the lives of everyone depending on you, you need to have those bonds of trust and care with the people around you. That’s life. One of the most devastating things a person can feel is that they are alone, utterly alone. If you take nothing else away from today’s sermon remember this: You are not alone. One of the most vital blessings we share in Christ is community.  That’s what church ought to be and that is who we are. And that is among the gifts we have to share with the wider community around us.

The night before he died, Jesus gave his disciples a lot of instructions and counsel and he prayed for them. A key promise is that he will send the Advocate.

There is some difficulty in translating the Greek word rendered here as Advocate.  Advocate is fair – if you’ve ever been in the hospital or had a loved one in the hospital you know how important it is to have someone there to help make sure you’re getting heard and proper care, and that you understand what you’re being told.  Or, like defense lawyer in court taking up your case.

Sometimes we see it translated as Comforter – as when the Holy Spirit imparts that peace of God.  That’s fair too.

Another word we use is closer to the Greek, Paraclete. What does it literally mean?  It’s a combination of a preposition, para which means in this context beside, like parallel, and kalew, which is to call.  So the Paraclete is the one called alongside us by God to bless and guide us into all truth.  He has our back.  And he has our front.  And he has our side.  And he helped the Apostles, John in particular, remember and understand what Jesus taught them.

So in one sense we can think of our Paraclete – the Holy Spirit – like that.  He comes alongside and no matter what dips and turns this crazy life throws at us, he’s got us.  We’re not going to fall.  Even when this life ends – we’re not going to fall.

This is an extraordinary promise – that everyday people doing everyday things have the promise that God himself is with them. And not just around, but in a very personal, intimate and helping way. That this Advocate will not only comfort you but will help you to understand the way of Christ, to receive and remember his words, to help you apply them to the incessant challenges you face. We go along learning and doing all that we can do – and there is this presence of God right here that nudges our hearts and opens our minds.

We get a look this morning at how that worked out in practice for Paul.  The journey from Troas to Philippi isn’t that far, but it is a huge step. He’s going into Europe for the first time. It will be a new environment and unfamiliar.

Macedonia is the northern half of Greece.  It is where Alexander the Great got his start almost 400 years before Paul’s visit.  Philippi is named after Alexander the Great’s Father.  In Paul’s time it was a Roman colony for retired soldiers. This is where The Lord calls him.

Paul was a Jew from the coast of modern Turkey north of Palestine, sent to the heart of the older empire among retired soldiers of the current empire. He’s not afraid. He’s got the Advocate, the Comforter, the Paraclete with him. He trusts that his path will open as he goes along. Strangers in a strange land follow the spirit to where they “suppose was a place of prayer.” There, they meet Lydia, the first European Christian we know of, who will be key to helping them plant a vibrant new church.

The promise that John remembered in the Gospel is the promise that gives Paul the extraordinary vision strength and perseverance in the face of all the obstacles he encounters. And it’s a promise that extends to all of God’s people.

Certainly that is important for all of us to remember for all the ups and downs of this life – and beyond.

On this Memorial Day we remember all the soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and others who did not survive to tell their stories. There is a sense of profound loss of these men and women to go with our overwhelming appreciation for their ultimate sacrifice.

Paul wrote, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

“Neither death nor life.” We must trust each of those who died to God’s perfect mercy and judgment. Their lives are sobering reminders of the price of our freedoms. And so we do trust them to God and ask the Advocate, the Comforter, the Paraclete to stay by our side, to help us know and understand Jesus, his word and his call upon our lives.

Because this life God has given us, that Jesus gave his life for us, and that so many have given their lives to preserve our freedoms must not be squandered or wasted. The Advocate, the Comforter, the Paraclete, will guide us along the way.

Let us pray: God I need your help to find my way, let it be your way.