6th Sunday of Easter
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
John 14:15-21 Sermon
April 27, 2008
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
417 "Alleluia! Sing To Jesus"
399 "Jesus Thy Boundless Love To Me"
130 "Holy Spirit, Truth Divine"
136 "Come Thou Almighty King"
THE GREAT COMFORTER
TEXT (vs. 14-18): "If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you."
A meat loaf dinner with mashed potatoes and vegetables....homemade baked macaroni and cheese....pan fried chicken with mashed potatoes and country gravy....a bowl of chili and fresh baked cinnamon rolls....a cup of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich....buttermilk waffles with fresh country sausage....chicken soup with homemade noodles....slowly simmered pork chops with cream of celery soup gravy....corned beef and cabbage....baked ham and escalloped potatoes....a turkey dinner with all the trimmings....pineapple upside-down cake with fresh whipped cream....hot apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream....does any of this sound appealing to you?
Several days ago, I happened to be watching the Food Network on television (go figure, huh?), and Paula Deen, the lady from Savannah, was making a meat loaf. As she was putting it all together, she made the comment to the effect that meat loaf is one of the greatest "comfort foods" of all time. And in my estimation, she's right.
The designation of "comfort food" is a relatively new term for something that goes back through the generations of human existence. However, the category of "comfort food" is both nebulous as well as subjective.
It's nebulous, because there is no actual list of what comfort foods are. Oh we might have some general ideas, but there is nothing really definitive. Some recipe books have "comfort food" categories; but just as sure as not, someone will be able to think of something that was not included in the author's classification.
This brings us to the second point, which is the fact that the list of comfort foods is highly subjective. The list of foods that I read at the beginning happen to be some of what I would consider to be comfort foods, at least for me. Some of you would agree with some or even all of the foods on my list. Others however might not like some of those foods.
If I were to hand out pencils and paper and ask you to make a list of your top 15 or 20 comfort foods, they would probably have some similarity, but they would be as uniquely individual as we all are. For example, one of you might include liver and onions on your comfort food list. But as for me, liver and onions wouldn't even pass my lips, let alone be on my list of comfort foods.
So comfort foods are most certainly subjective in nature. Not only would we have different ideas, but people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds would probably include things we would never dream of.
Generally speaking, comfort foods are foods that we not only enjoy, but make us feel good in some sense. And quite often, there is some sort of sentimental attachment with them as well. Meat loaf might remind us of mum; chili might remind us of dad; fried chicken might remind us of grandma; tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich might remind us of our childhood; you get the picture.
Comfort foods are usually in a class that is far different from a more exotic dish we might order in a restaurant, or something more complex we might enjoy once in awhile. Comfort foods are representative of the more unpretentious, uncomplicated basic dishes we would know and love. Church pot-luck dinners are often a nice collection of different comfort foods; that's probably why we like them so much.
I've used comfort foods to introduce us to our Gospel reading for today. This is a continuation from last week's Gospel lesson in John chapter 14, which in its entirety is often known as the section where Jesus comforts his disciples.
Just as I did last week, I've chosen once again to use the text from the King James translation of the Bible. I did it for more than just continuity from last week; I decided to use the King James translation because of how the translators handled two different words, both of them being translated with the word "comfort" as the root. The words are "comforter" in verse 16, and "comfortless" in verse 18.
Verse 16 reads, "And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;"
In this verse, the comforter to which Jesus is referring is the Holy Spirit. Jesus is reminding them that as long as they live on this earth, as true believers in him, they would have the Holy Spirit living with them.
In the original Greek, the word King James translates as "comforter" is the word "paraclete." It is used in English, and is a word used in some of the Pentecost hymns in our hymnal.
It is a compound word consisting of two parts. "Para" means to "be beside or along side of." Good examples might be that of a paramedic who works in conjunction with a physician, or a paralegal who works in conjunction with an attorney. The second part of the word, "kletos" literally means "to call."
So a paraclete is literally someone who is called or invoked to be with a person, someone who is to act on behalf of or for the benefit of that person. Usual translations for paraclete are: advocate, intercessor, helper, or as the NIV translated it in our Gospel reading for today, counsellor.
Of course those are accurate translations of the word. However with the King James translation of "comforter," we have added a new shade of meaning, which is more descriptive than it is literal. The Holy Spirit-this advocate, intercessor, helper, and counsellor would be a comfort for the disciples, and for us as well.
We could think of it this way. We could describe meat loaf as so much ground meat, bread crumbs, egg, onion, and seasonings. That would be an accurate description, but it wouldn't foster too much sentiment. However, when it all comes together and becomes mum's meat loaf, and we include all of those intangible elements, then it becomes true comfort food and not just a list of ingredients.
The second area we need to examine is verse 18 where Jesus says, "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you."
The word King James translates as "comfortless" is the Greek word "orphan." The meaning of "orphan" is rather obvious to us, because it is used here in the common accepted definition. An orphan describes a child who, for one reason or another, is absent from their parents. So the majority of the Biblical translations simply use the word "orphan," and let it stand at that. Again, this is very accurate, and it does give us a good picture.
Jesus is promising his disciples that he will not leave them all alone. "Orphan" refers back to "paraclete;" in other words, he promises that he will not leave them without the Holy Spirit, the true comforter. So indeed, they will not be left comfortless.
The word "comfort" is a very positive word for us. We like things that give us comfort in one sense or another. In fact, we actively seek out things that give us comfort. Furthermore, we find that when we are comfortable, our stress level is dramatically reduced, and we are happier individuals because of it.
For example when I want to be comfortable on a cold night, you'll find me dressed in comfortable sloppy clothes (and by "sloppy" I don't mean "dirty"), sitting in my comfortable recliner, in front of a nice cozy fire in the fireplace, munching on popcorn, and watching a little TV.
Just as Jesus comforted his disciples, he comforts us as well. I know using the word "comfortable" can be dangerous in a spiritual sense, so we need to put things into proper perspective.
First of all, we can't find ourselves becoming comfortable with our sins, and this happens far too often amongst people. We can't allow sin to rule our lives so as to crowd out Jesus and the Holy Spirit who dwells within us as Christians.
In verse 15 of our Gospel lesson, Jesus says: "If ye love me, keep my commandments." And then in verse 21 he goes on to say, "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him."
In no way does Jesus want us to become lazy or lackadaisical in our faith. As much comfort as he gives, he still stresses the importance of keeping the commandments. These are the outward marks of being his disciple. In other words, if you claim to be a Christian, you are expected to act like one.
As we all know, his commandments are easy to break. We do it all the time. And if we do it long enough and often enough, the edge is lost. We can become comfortable doing the things we ought not to do, thinking that it really doesn't matter because God forgives us anyway.
So Jesus hits us with the law, and he does so very pointedly. And when he does this, it shows us just how much we need him as our Saviour. We can see how often we have not acted in the manner he desires. We can see how often we have transgressed the will of God. We can see how often our earthly and heavenly relationships have been marred.
But we have the Holy Spirit. We have that advocate, that counsellor, that comforter. He is always there with us, helping us and giving us comfort in our times of despair. The Holy Spirit brings us to faith in Jesus our Saviour, and continues to work to keep that faith strong, alive, and active.
Listen now to some selected verses from John chapter 6 which is known as the "Bread of Life" chapter in the Bible, where Jesus is saying: "I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst....Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life....I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." (vs. 35, 47, 51)
In this modern day where we are coming up with lists of various "comfort foods" we like to eat, the Christian recognizes the one true comfort food for the soul, which is Jesus Christ himself. When we dine on him through faith, we find nourishment for our souls and an assurance of hope for the life to come. There is no other spiritual food which will endure into eternity. Jesus himself says in John 6, 27: "Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed."
Just as Jesus comforted his disciples in that upper room so long ago, he comforts us as well. The promises he made to them he makes to us, and we know he has fulfilled them. He has sent us the Holy Spirit, the true comforter; moreover he will not leave us comfortless, as orphans dwelling apart from him.
As he has given us this true comfort to us, so we can share this comfort with others. Paul says it well in his second letter to the Corinthians, chapter 1 verses 3-7: (NIV) "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort."
May God the Holy Spirit be with you always, as you receive the benefit of the true "comfort food" of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and live lives to his glory and honor, according to his gracious will.