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Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 17, 2020
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
I’ve been reading a book lately called “Lost Connections” by Johann Hari. The subtitle is: “Why You’re Depressed and How to Find Hope.” This book was recommended to me by a pastor, and I hasten to add that I’ve been reading it for professional, pastoral reasons rather than personal reasons. Sure, I get down and anxious from time to time like any other human being, but I’m fine! I don’t want you to worry about me. I’m reading it so I might be more helpful to others.
Hari acknowledges that brain chemistry is responsible for some depression and anxiety, but the main argument of the book is that the vastly more common cause of these maladies is “lost connections” of various sorts. He argues that depression and disconnection go hand in hand. Here are some of the chapter titles: Disconnection from Other People, Disconnection from Meaningful Work, Disconnection from a Hopeful or Secure Future.
This book was recommended before the pandemic hit, but today it is more relevant than ever. The virus itself is bad enough, but our mitigation efforts are causing all kinds of other problems, all kinds of lost connections. We are disconnected from other people. This is increasingly difficult for just about everyone, but I’ve been hearing that it is especially hard on special needs kids, who are regressing without that social contact they need, and on nursing home residents, whose dementia is advancing more quickly without social interactions with friends and loved ones. Many people are disconnected from work. Thirty-six million people in our country have filed for unemployment since the pandemic began, pushing the unemployment rate to almost 15%. And with so much unknown about the virus or how it will behave or what treatments or vaccines might become available and when, just about everyone is disconnected from secure future. There is just too much that is unknown right now. The virus itself is bad enough, but if Johann Hari is at all correct, these lost connections are likely to create a tidal wave of depression and anxiety. Mental health workers are already warning us about it.
It is a very helpful and convincing and fascinating book – quite a page-turner given the subject matter – but there is a glaring omission in it. There is no mention of our connection with God.
In our gospel reading we return to the Upper Room, where Jesus is preparing his disciples for all that is to come. We are still in the Easter season, but this is a flashback scene of sorts. It occurs before his death and resurrection. And here we hear Jesus promising his disciples that although it will seem like he has gone away, they will not lose their connection with him.
“If you love me you will keep my commandments.” Jesus says, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” This word “advocate,” paraclete in Greek, is hard to translate into English. Broadly speaking it means “one who comes to your side.” There is sometimes a legal connotation to it, like a defense attorney or a guardian at litem. Sometimes it is translated as a comforter or a counselor. Jesus goes on to describe this “Advocate” as the Spirit of truth. “You know him, because he abides with you, and will be in you.” Their connection to Jesus will be maintained through this Spirit, who will be with them forever.
Then Jesus says to the disciples, “I will not leave you orphaned.” Jesus is going to die for the sins of the world – theirs, yours, mine – but he will not leave them orphaned. He will not leave them alone to fend for themselves, like a child without parents. “I am coming to you,” he promises. “The world won’t see me, but you will see me, and because I live, you also will live.” Even death itself – his or theirs – will not result in a lost connection with Jesus!
But Jesus isn’t done yet! “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me and I in you.” And then: “Those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” Such a wonderful promise is given here to those who love the Lord Jesus! We are in him and he is in us. We are united to him. We are loved by him. He makes himself known to us! There is no disconnection, none at all.
We are disconnected from so very much right now as the people of God. We are disconnected from each other, only able to interact through computer screens or car windows or phone calls. We are disconnected from many of the liturgical practices that have formed and fed our faith. We are disconnected from our voices being joined together in song.
But make no mistake about it: we are not disconnected from our Lord Jesus. He sends us the Advocate, the paraclete, the Spirit of truth, to come alongside us as a comforter and a counselor. This Spirit abides with us, maintaining that connection with God by turning our eyes to scripture and our hearts to prayer and our hands to loving service to others. This Spirit abides with us, filling us with a love that moves our hearts to joyfully, willingly, keep our Lord’s commandments.
We are disconnected from much, but we are not disconnected from Christ. He has promised that he will not leave us orphaned. “I am coming to you,” he says. We might be isolated from one another, but we are never alone. He is with us.
We are disconnected from much, but we are not disconnected from God. “I am in the Father, and you in me and I in you,” Jesus says. There is no social distancing going on here! No disconnection at all! We remain united to him in love. “Those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them,” Jesus tells us.
We are disconnected from much, and if you feel depression or anxiety or even just quarantine fatigue setting in, I hope you will reach out. I’m here for you. Your brothers and sister in Christ are here for you. Your Lord Jesus is there for you. He is coming alongside you even now through the Spirit of truth, to assure you of his presence, to fill you with life, to strengthen you with his love.
We are disconnected from much, but we are never disconnected from a hopeful or secure future, because our Lord Jesus has sent this Advocate, this comforter, this counselor, to abide with us forever.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church