By Pastor John Kerr
Theme: “The Absence of Christ” Text: John 14:1-14 Date: May 10, 2020
The gospel writer we call John tells this story. Once there was a man in the country of Israel named Jesus of Nazareth. Early in his adult life, many who knew him began to see that he was more than the son of Mary and Joseph, more than a carpenter.
There was something about him that made them think God. His character, words, works, and how he behaved led them to believe that when they were in his presence, they were in the presence of God. This doesn’t mean in an obvious way he was so much different. He didn’t glow at night. He didn’t wear strange clothes. He didn’t go around saying religious things all of the time. It was who he was, what he did and the way he related to people that caused them to say, “In him we’ve seen the glory of God.”
Maybe you’ve known people like that. When you’re in their presence, they make you live a better life, think better thoughts, become more spiritual and reflect more on God. Now multiply that a thousand times and you have Jesus of Nazareth.
I’m not saying that apart from Jesus that people didn’t have an experience of God. They did and they still do. People have had dreams with a spiritual meaning. Many have seen the hand of the Creator in nature. There’s no area of earth so barren that, if you’re sensitive to it, you can see the artist’s name in the bottom right hand corner and it spells GOD.
Some of you have had experiences of your own. You get up early in the morning before anybody else, go our back with a cup of hot coffee or tea, and sit on the step with your hands around the cup against the morning chill. What are you thinking about? We usually don’t talk about it.
People have these experiences of Jesus. Not everybody experiencedGod in Jesus only a minority did. Some of those who followed him quit when the price and commitment got too high, and that prompted Jesus to say to his closest friends, “Are you going to leave too?” They said, “Where would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Jesus came to make God known.
However, in all of this there is a painful side. The pain lies in the fact that just as Jesus came into the world, he was going to leave. He bonded with a lot of people in his brief lifetime. He had family—mother, father, brothers, sisters and friends and now he was going to leave.
We know that the deeper the bond with family and friends the more painful the absence. Two little girls have been friends, next-door neighbors, since they were three years old. They played together, slept over in each other’s house, ate at each other’s table, and now they are nine, and the bond between them is as tight as ever. But then, the father of one of the girl’s is transferred to Dallas, and the most ugly thing in the world was a big, old van in front of their house, ready to haul them away. The deeper the bond the more terrible is the pain of absence.
The pain of one’s absence is intensified when the occasion of absence is death. It is so complete and final. Death doesn’t care about age. You don’t have to be elderly to die. Death can walk down the center of the highway and snatch an 18 year old from twisted metal and broken glass. Death can slip into a nursery with its icy finger and hush the whimper of a child. Death doesn’t care. Jesus was snatched away from family and friends. They stripped him naked, put him up there on that cross in front of everybody. Vulgar mouthed soldiers ridiculed him. Passersby made fun of him. “If you’re the Son of God, let God get you down. Why don’t you come on down?” When the absence is
death, the pain of absence is more keenly felt.
Knowing that, Jesus turns counselor with his friends. He tries to soften the blow and get them ready for his leaving them. He says, “I leaving and I want you to trust God and trust me. I’m going to prepare a place for you and we’ll all be together forever. While I’m gone, I’ll send a counselor who will guide you, and be with you, help you and never leave you.”
Jesus is trying to get them ready for his leaving. Does he succeed? I don’t think so. It didn’t seem to work. They are still confused and ask, “We don’t know where you are going. We don’t understand what you are saying. Just show us God and we’ll be satisfied.”
Sometimes you can talk and talk and talk some more, and there’s still pain and more pain. Jesus left his disciples, and they felt the pain of his absence.
All of this has raised a question for me, and I want to ask you what you think. Do you ever feel that God is absent from you? That God has withdrawn from you or is not close to you? There are people who say that they experience the absence of God. “It’s as though I am all alone.”
King Saul felt all alone before his battle with the Philistines. He tried to pray. No response. He called preachers. “Is there any word from God for me? Nothing! No word from God. He was desperate and he went to a fortuneteller. Saul felt the absence of God.
The psalmist in all of those prayers said, “Lord, don’t turn your back on us.” “Don’t hide your face from us.” “Don’t go away from us.” “Please, don’t leave us alone.” They must have felt the absence. Jesus felt it. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
I can imagine that there might be times when God gets tired and says, “Try it by yourself. Do it on your own, and develop some strength and backbone.” There was a young man who was born without arms. He told of learning to put on clothes with no arms. His mother dressed him and fed him for many years. As he got older, one day she put his clothes in the middle of the room and said, “I want you to dress yourself.” He said, “I can’t.” She said, “You’ll have to learn to dress yourself” and she left the room. He kicked and screamed, “You don’t love me!” Finally he decided, “If I’m to get any clothes on, I’ll have to do it myself.” After an hour of struggle, he got his clothes on. Years later he learned that his mother was in the next room crying her heart out.
Sometimes we may feel that God is distanced from us. How do you live with that? I think it’s through memory. We remember good times and close relationships; we remember an inspirational worship, the Lord’s Supper, the bread and wine. We remember a baptism, our Christian friends, songs and hymns and Bible verses we’ve learned and somehow we get through.
Ninety-three year old Zek Daiber was lying on his nursing home bed near death and he said to me, “Those songs I learned in Sunday school and church as a boy; the Bible verses and catechism passages I learned in German in confirmation class so long ago are coming back to me and helping me get through this.”
It hurts me to think of young people who grow up and don’t know a hymn, don’t know a Bible verse and never sat in worship next to the strong shoulder of a believing man or woman. How will they ever make it?
What we do in church on Sundays is make memories; because what we do there may be the only food you’ll have one of these days. But it will be enough. It will be all you need to get you through.