[Jesus said:] “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. Whoever has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14:15-21).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Quite a few folks have mentioned how with the Stay-at-Home order it is hard to keep track of what day of the week it is. They all seem to run together. Not much new happens. It’s the same old same old.
The same old same old. It’s an old, but useful idiom to describe situations where the same thing is always done or always happens. It generally implies that such a thing is boring, monotonous, tedious. It never changes.
We Lutherans are often accused of never changing. There’s an old joke: How many Lutherans does it take to change a lightbulb? The punchline: Change??? Lutherans don’t ever change. It’s often trotted out at conferences where the speaker is teaching about the latest techniques, programs, and best practices to grow your church. It sets up a strawman, a false dichotomy, insinuating that if you’re not going to follow their suggestions and guidance, you’re a backward Luddite stuck back in the old days and ways, as if all change is good and all refusal to change is bad.
The same old same old. If there is one thing you do not want to be in our cultural setting, it is sameness. We tend to treasure that which is unique. Different. In the marketplace, advertisers highlight what makes their product different. In the mediascape, celebrities emphasize what sets them apart. In politics, diversity is one of its chief tenets. In society, individuals celebrate diversity. Even in the spiritual landscape of our country, churches differentiate themselves from one another by emphasizing the uniqueness of their style of worship, their preaching and teaching ministries, or their missional niche. Diversity is something our country cultivates and lauds. Diversity sells.
Which is what makes the words of Jesus sound so strange to us this morning. Jesus is not celebrating diversity or difference. He is promising sameness. A repeat of what has happened before. A continuation of what has always been. The same, but even more of the same. The same old same old.
In our Gospel, Jesus is preparing to leave His disciples. Their world is going to change quickly. Their Master will die upon the cross. Three days later, He will rise from the grave, conquering death and giving them a glimpse of the new creation. After 40 days, He will ascend into heaven and leave them here on earth. But Jesus promises He will not leave them as orphans. He will not leave them alone to fend for themselves and figure out how to carry on His work here on earth.
Jesus tells His disciples, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper to be with you forever” (John 14:16). The Greek word for “Helper,” Parakletos, literally means someone called to a person’s side to help. The term applies particularly to help in legal matters, so “Counselor” or “Comforter” are also appropriate translations. Jesus will not leave the disciples alone. They will have another Helper, another one like Jesus—the Spirit who will come alongside them and continue the work of Jesus.
It is not that the eleven do not already have the Holy Spirit in their hearts when Jesus speaks these words. “You know Him” is true even in its present sense. No saving faith was ever wrought, even in the Old Testament, without the Spirit and His work of calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying. Throughout His ministry, Jesus Himself has planted the Spirit in the hearts of His disciples; their experience of the Spirit has already begun. And yet all their contact with the Spirit has been only through Jesus and through Him as being visibly present. Now, He will be with them in a new way. And this not silently and secretly but openly, miraculously, spectacularly on Pentecost. The disciples will have a wondrous new knowledge of the Spirit.
The unbelieving world cannot receive this Helper because it cannot see Him, cannot know Him. This world also did not know Jesus, who is the Word. Those who neglect Christ’s Word isolate themselves from God and His gifts and comfort. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ reveals God’s grace in His Word, dispelling our fear and unbelief.
When Jesus ascends to heaven, He will request that the Holy Spirit be sent to the disciples as another Helper. But that does not mean that Jesus will be gone from them forever. Jesus will not leave them as orphans with the Holy Spirit as foster father, but He Himself will come back to them. Only a little while will they be orphaned. The unbelieving world will not see Him again, but His disciples will. Then Jesus will return to them for a higher and richer union than they had before His death and resurrection.
Jesus is not just speaking of His appearances to the disciples during the 40 days after His resurrection. Those were for the purposes of proving His actual resurrection and glorification. No, with the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Jesus will also come to be with them, but in a far higher manner, using all His divine attributes, having received all authority in heaven and earth according also to His humanity, He promises: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
This Spirit will not only do the work of God for them—comforting them, strengthening them, encouraging them—but He will also do the work of God through them. He will dwell with them and be in them as they continue to make more disciples in His name (John 14:17). The Spirit will lead them to keep the commandments of Jesus. The sacrificial love of Jesus becomes the sacrificial love of His disciples and the world will know God’s people by the love they have for one another and for the world.
In a culture which celebrates diversity and difference, today, Jesus encourages us to rejoice in something that is the same. Jesus sends us another Helper who continues God’s work among us and extends God’s work through us. Having been brought from death to life, having been brought from sin to salvation, now we will continue to live in the life of God, following the way of Jesus, empowered by His Spirit to show love. It’s the same old same old.
In many ways, we find great comfort with the same old same old. How many of you have a particular pew or area of the church in which you like to sit each week? A favorite chair at home? How many of you get uncomfortable when your standard routine is upset? Studies show that children grow and learn best in households with established routines. Those who grow up in inconstant environments often experience higher levels of anxiety and fear.
I think a case could be made that our affinity for sameness goes back to being created in the image of God. Have you ever noticed how the Lord seems to have a fondness for sameness? The sun rises in the morning and sets down in the evening every day. The earth makes a trip around the sun every 365 ¼ days. About every 29 ½ days the month makes it journey around the earth and waxes and wanes through all of its phases.
Scripture is full of reminders of the sameness of the Lord. The psalmist writes: “You are the same, and Your years will have no end” (Psalm 102:27). In Malachi 3:6, we read: “For I the Lord do not change….” The Lord Himself asserts that He will never change. He continues to condemn sin, but His mercy also endures forever. The author of Hebrews reminds us: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
Sometimes, sameness is not just something desired. It is essential. In the recent COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a desire for more of the same—more ventilators, more test kits, more hospital beds, more masks, more health care workers. This was not a time for diversity or difference. This was a time of mass production, to make and to share that which was essential. Sameness—in bulk quantities—would save lives.
In a similar way, John’s Gospel encourages the Church, today, to celebrate its life-saving sameness. The love of the Father in the Son in the Spirit in God’s people. There is one Lord, Jesus Christ, and one work of salvation that brings eternal life. If you are part of God’s people, you will not be an orphan. Jesus will send His Spirit, another Helper, to lead you in the ways of God.
The Holy Spirit brings you into and incorporates you into the Church through hearing and continuing to hear God’s Word. In Holy Baptism, He gives you faith, forgiveness, and eternal life. In the Lord’s Supper, you receive the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and strengthening of your faith. Time after time. Day after day. Week after week. Year after year. It’s the same old same old.
And what a blessing that is! In these means of grace, the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—keeps coming to you with His good gifts.
You cannot by your own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified and kept you in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
In this Christian Church, He daily and richly forgives all your sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day, He will raise you and all the dead, and give eternal life to you and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.
You who are loved by the heavenly Father, go in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let the Holy Spirit dwell in you richly with His gifts. Love one another and keep His commandments. Serve your neighbor with joy. Tell of His wonderful mercies and His steadfast faithfulness. You are never alone. You are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.