Messages, Meditations, and Musings on the Life of Faith by Rev. Dr. Scott E. Olson, Pastor, Grace Lutheran Church, Mankato, MN

Sunday, July 22, 2018

"Get a Grip" - Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Get a Grip
Pentecost 9 – Summer Series “Faith and Film”
July 22, 2018
Grace, Mankato, MN
Romans 12.9-21

With Babe: Pig in the City we encounter another type of film, if “live talking animals” is a genre. Babe: Pig in the City is a sequel. In the first film, Babe the pig has a knack for herding sheep by talking with them. Pig in the City opens with Babe’s win at a sheep-herding contest. Soon after, Babe’s master, the farmer, has an accident that puts the farm in jeopardy. So, Babe goes to a fair with the farmer’s wife to save it only to get stuck in the city. They end up at a hotel that is a haven for animals, much to the chagrin of some locals. After a series of unfortunate events, all the humans are gone and the animals are left to fend for themselves. The chimps know where to find some food and trick Babe into helping them, knowing that the place is guarded by vicious dogs. The dogs break free and start chasing Babe. Here’s what happens…

One of the dogs, a pit bull, is chasing Babe with his chain still attached to his collar. As Babe stops on the top of a small bridge, he pauses and asks, “Why?” whereupon the pit bull knocks Babe into the water. The dog jumps after Babe, but gets hung up on the chain, which begins to choke the dog. As the dog continues to struggle, the chain slowly lets out, but only far enough that the dog’s head is now underwater; he begins to drown. All of the other animals, who have been watching this chase unfold, slowly walk away. Babe jumps in the water and pushes a small boat toward the drowning dog. The dog struggles and is able to get into the boat, but is still wrapped up in the chain. Babe calls for help and a Capuchin monkey climbs down the chain and unhooks it from the dog’s collar.

Like so many of the films we’ve encountered this summer, there are many religious themes we could explore. But today’s theme is “love your enemies.” It embodies perfectly Romans 12.21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Earlier in the chapter Paul the Apostle says, “Hold fast to what is good.” The Apostle Paul writes these words to the church at Rome, one that’s been undergoing difficulties.

The Jewish Christians had founded the church in Roman but had been kicked out by the Roman government because of political unrest, leaving the Gentile Christians to run the church. When the Jewish Christians were allowed to return, there was some sorting out to do because of some internal strife. You can imagine the interaction between the Old Guard and the New Guard. Through the first 11 chapters of Romans, Paul reminds them of God’s grace through Jesus Christ, which has produced in them a transformed mind. This renewing mind leads to a different way of living. This different way of living includes not only those inside the community but outside as well.

Like the movie Gandhi, which dealt with peaceful resistance non-violence, these are hard sayings to live with and to live by. It’s so much easier to operate the way much of the world does with bumper sticker philosophies: “I don’t get mad, I get even” or “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” I have to admit, there are times and places where these attitudes take over. For example, Cindy will tell that when I’m behind the wheel of a car, there are times when I’m fast and long on the horn. But Babe the pig and Paul the Apostle take Gandhi even further: we are to overcome evil with good. This sounds like not only an unrealistic ideal in our world today, but also an impossible one.

Except that it’s not. There are people and places overcoming evil with good all around the world. I learned of one such place: Wunseidel Germany. Wunseidel had been plagued with neo-Nazi marches for years. Until 3.5 years ago, the strategy of its residents had been to launch counter-protest marches, which really didn’t accomplish anything. Then in November 2014, someone came up with the idea of getting financial pledges of support for every meter the Nazis walked. They even marked the streets with the distance and encouraged the neo-Nazis along the way, giving them water and thanking them for helping them to raise money. The funds went to an NGO that helped neo-Nazis leave behind their political hate speech and enter a new way of life.

We seem to be all too ready to let go of what is good in the name of countering evil. I can think of some peoples’ willingness to torture our enemies for information as one glaring example. But Paul the Apostle and Babe the Pig remind us that God calls us to a different way of life, one born of God through Jesus. Paul’s list of ways to live in Romans 12 is not meant be exhaustive or prescriptive, but illustrative of our transformed minds. More importantly, it’s an encouragement to “get a grip” on the grace and mercy given to all of us. May God strengthen you in your resolve to overcome evil with the strongest power there is—love. Amen.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

"Beloved Child of God" - Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Beloved Child of God
Pentecost 8 – Outdoor Worship
July 15, 2018
Sibley Park, Mankato, MN
1John 4.7-21

Our oldest daughter, Angela, turns 34 this year and I can still remember her birth (our other daughter, Amy’s, too, for that matter). I remember being awed by the miracle of birth and cutting her umbilical cord (which was surprisingly tough) and being the first to call her the name we had chosen. (She could easily have been Peter since we didn’t know her gender beforehand.) But what I remember most is the overwhelming outpouring of love that I felt for this child, the product of love, but whom I didn’t know at all to that point. She had not done anything and yet I loved her deeply and unconditionally. As Cindy and I navigated the shoals of apprehensive parenting ahead, it was that love that sustained us. We would soon discover that love was hard work as well.

Today, we kick off our Vacation Bible School program, one that focuses on our identity as beloved children of God. This week, I thought a lot about what it means to be a beloved child of God, wondering if we take God’s love for granted. Sometimes I even wonder if we don’t believe it at all thinking it’s too good to be true. I think we believe that God can’t love us unconditionally and without limits, that somehow we aren’t worthy enough or have to prove our worthiness. But then I also thought about our own beloved children and like parents, that God loves us before we are born.

The fact that God loves us before we even take a breath has gigantic implications for our lives. First, because God’s love for us is a done deal, we don’t have to spend time worrying about it. Because of this love, the shame that comes with the guilt of falling short of what God intends for us to be loses its power over us and frees us up. Because God loves us we are freed to love others, not to prove anything, but in grateful response to God’s love. God’s love allows us to take risks, to become vulnerable, and to give ourselves away for others. We love because he first loved us.

Second, as we navigate our way through life, God’s love sustains us, reminding us we aren’t alone. As our daughters grew, we hoped they knew that Cindy and I loved them so much that no matter what happened that love would never change, and that we’d be there helping them through. It’s wonderful to know that our future is secure with God, but even better that we are assured that God is walking with us every step of the way, helping us and picking us up when we need it the most.

But there’s one more implication of being God’s beloved who love others as he loves us. Loving others is hard work. The kind of love 1 John talks about is sacrificial love, not the romantic feelings we often associate with love. It’s the kind of love that makes you roll up your sleeves and deal with all the messiness of life. 1 John reminds us that we see God showing us the way to this kind of love in his Son, Jesus, who took on human flesh and entered our messy world.

I see this kind of fearless, selfless, hard-working love in many ways at Grace. I see it in our relationship with Pathstone Living, the Salvation Army Food for Friends, our support of our missionaries and other missionaries. And I’ve especially seen it in our participation in the temporary rotating emergency shelter this past winter. So many people acting out of Christ’s love to show love and respect to people whom many in society dismiss as unlovable is an incredible witness to the power of God’s love.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, you are beloved children of God, worthy of love and respect, freed to live and love without fear so that everyone would know the power of God’s love. Thanks be to God.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

"This Is a Test – Temptation in 'City Slickers.'" - Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

This Is a Test – Temptation in “City Slickers
Pentecost 7 – Summer Series “Faith and Film”
July 8, 2018
Grace, Mankato, MN
James 1.2-4, 12-16; Matthew 6.7-13

With City Slickers we slip into another genre, a Western, though one with a twist: it’s also a comedy. Bill Crystal plays Mitch, a New York ad salesman with a mid-life crisis, because of impending milestone birthday. His two friends, Ed and Phil decide to help him with his angst by taking him on a cattle drive “vacation” out west to find himself. Barbara, Mitch’s wife, urges him to go lest Mitch ends up having an affair like his friend Phil did, with disastrous consequences. During one stretch of the cattle drive, Ed asks Mitch about such a possibility, giving him all sorts of scenarios whereby he would yield. But as you watch this clip, I want you to pay less attention to the sexual nature of the conversation and more to Ed’s thought processes and Mitch’s response to him.
Mitch and Ed are riding on horses together. Ed asks Mitch if he would have an affair if Mitch’s wife Barbara would never find out. Ed uses several scenarios and inducements to try and get Mitch to say he would do it given the right circumstances. In the end, Mitch tells Ed he wouldn’t have an affair because of “what it would do to me.”
That’s Curly, played by Jack Palance, as the trail boss who will ultimately have a profound effect on Mitch and his life. (It must be a western if Jack Palance is in it.) Like the movies we’ve explored already this summer, there are a number of themes we could investigate in it. But, our study of religious themes today goes a different way than previously because temptation is a negative theme, unlike vocation, forgiveness, abundance, etc. Indeed, none of us want “trials and temptations” in our lives. Sadly, however, trials and temptations are part and parcel of our existence. Martin Luther, in his explanation of the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer in the “Large Catechism” says, “For [the devil] is an enemy that never desists nor becomes tired…” If that’s not bad enough, in addition to the devil we have to contend with the world and our own flesh. There are many sources of temptation in our world, but we know that we are capable of quite a number ourselves. As that great theologian, Pogo, has famously said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

And it gets worse. The New Testament in the Bible uses the same word for both trial and temptation, making us work to distinguish which is meant. That murkiness gets reflected in the two translations of the Lord’s Prayer. In the older version we pray, “lead us not into temptation” whereas in the newer one we say, “save us from the time of trial. Some people see trials as being external to us, what comes from the outside while and things we go through but temptations as being internal to us. But I think that is simplistic and the relationship between trials and temptations is more nuanced; in fact, I think the two are interrelated. Being sorely tempted to do what we know is wrong can be a painful trial for us to go through. Conversely, when we are undergoing various trials, we are tempted to turn our backs on God.

So, what are we to do? I think Ed, Mitch, James and Martin (Luther) can help us out. First, Ed reminds us that we have a tremendous capacity to rationalize our behavior. In essence he tells Mitch, “Nobody will find out.” Also, though not directly stated by him he essentially says, “You should do this because you want to do it.” we need to be aware of our tendency to kid ourselves. Second, Mitch makes an insightful statement: “I’ll know that I did it.” He knows the price to be paid for yielding to temptation and it’s not just in his relationship with his wife, as important as that is. Last, James and Martin (Luther) remind us that God doesn’t tempt us. Rather, God is right with us as we go through trials and temptations. They urge us to grab hold of the Lord’s Prayer like a lifeline to one who is drowning.

A final word: without knowing anything about you, I do know that you have yielded to temptation at some point in your life and that you have endured trials in a less than helpful manner. That’s true for all of us. The guilt and shame that comes with such times can be excruciating and I don’t want to add to your burdens. First, know that you are completely and totally forgiven. The brokenness, guilt and shame are gone because of what Jesus Christ has done for us. Second, know that God has and is using those experiences to make you stronger and more compassionate, especially to yourself. God has picked you up, dusted you off, given you a hug and sent you on your way to live and love. Thanks be to God!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

"Prodigal Penance: Atonement and Forgiveness in 'The Mission'” - Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Prodigal Penance: Atonement and Forgiveness in “The Mission”
Pentecost 6 – Summer Series “Faith and Film”
July 1, 2018
Grace, Mankato, MN
Luke 15.11-32

We are slowly moving forward in movie release dates (1986), but today move backward in cinematic time. Although it’s not a biopic—a biographical picture like Gandhi, The Mission depicts real events from the 1750s in South America. Spain has established a colony there and Spanish Jesuits have established a mission outpost to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to the native Indians, the Guarani. Spain, ostensibly a slave-averse nation intends to sell the colony to slave-trading Portugal, which sees the Guarani as a resource for its slave trade. The Jesuits try to convince a church official to intercede on their behalf to prevent the sale and thus preserve the Guarani people.

Early in the film, Captain Rodrigo Mendoza (Robert DeNiro), who is a slave hunter, kills his brother over a woman, sending him into a deep fugue-like despair. Mendoza is then visited by the leader of the Jesuits, Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons). As are result of their conversation, Mendoza decides to carry his armor, a symbol of his tattered life, up a mountain as penance for his acts.

The film clip shows the Jesuits, including Captain Mendoza, struggling up a mountain to reach the plateau where the Guarani live. Impeding their progress is a tremendous waterfall. Part way up, one of the Jesuit brothers thinks Mendoza has suffered enough and cuts the rope pulling the armor. Mendoza simply goes back down, retrieves the armor, and begins again. At the top of the mountain, the Guarani recognize Mendoza and threaten to kill him. Recognizing his repentance, the Guarani leader has the rope hauling the armor cut and the armor shoved over the precipice. Mendoza sobs in relief and is comforted in the arms of Father Gabriel.

After spending time with the Guarani following their forgiveness, Father Gabriel has Mendoza read a passage of scripture from 1 Corinthians 13, the “love chapter.” This precipitates a “conversion experience” that prompts Mendoza to join the Jesuits. He thus becomes Brother Rodrigo under the authority of Father Gabriel. Like all our films, there are a multitude of religious themes we could harvest from The Mission, but Brother Rodrigo’s deep repentance and his attempt to pay for his sins highlight the theories of atonement, with a little bit of penance and forgiveness thrown in for good measure. Now, atonement is a complex theological category with no small amount of controversy attendant to it. One of the theories, which states that God’s anger needs to be appease through a blood sacrifice, is particularly contentious. Now, we don’t have time to do an in-depth analysis, but the various theories of atonement basically try to answer the questions, “Why did Jesus have to die?” and “What’s our part in it?”

Though there are a number of scriptures that deal with atonement, I’ve selected the story of the “Prodigal Son” to help us understand how God deals with the brokenness in the relationship between us and God. You know the story well. The younger son finds himself in a deep despair, much like Rodrigo and “comes to himself” realizing that he’d “sinned against heaven and earth.” The son hopes to do “prodigal penance” by going home, falling on his face, and taking a slave’s position in his father’s household. But the son has no chance to try and save himself or to atone for his sins against his father. The moment the father sees his son, he runs out to him, embraces him and restores him to son-hood with a huge party to boot.

As I reflected on Mendoza carrying the burden of his past—symbolized by his armor—up the mountain, I couldn’t help but wonder about all the burdens we drag along behind ourselves. There are things I’ve done or not done that I’ve had a hard time forgiving myself. And even though I know that I’ve been forgiven, I keep going back and attaching the rope to them again. I think that one way to understand atonement is that Jesus cuts the rope and takes all of those burdens upon himself because we can’t do it on our own. Jesus then takes those burdens and brokenness where they get crucified with him on the cross.

In my reading this week, I discovered that penance was not intended to be punishment or for earning forgiveness. It was to be a spiritual discipline or practice to help us not make the same mistake again. But there’s one more thing that I think is important. I don’t know whether the director intended this or not, but I do know they don’t do anything without a reason. So, I love the imagery of Mendoza climbing the mountain with the waterfall not only as background but inescapable. While he was striving up the mountain, the waterfall could have reminded him of his baptism where he had been washed clean in the blood of Jesus Christ.

So, what I’d like you to take with you today is that you have been baptized into Jesus Christ, that you are now dead to sin, and have risen to new life, welcomed home by God as a beloved child. Thanks be to God!

Sunday, June 24, 2018

"Hope, through the Eyes of Love" - Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Hope, through the Eyes of Love
Pentecost 5 – Summer Series: Faith and Film
June 24, 2018
Grace, Mankato, MN
1 Corinthians 12.31-13.13

Return of the Jedi is the third leg of the original Star Wars trilogy. As in all of the movies in the series, it is adept at depicting classic battle of good versus evil. Though set “a long time ago and in a galaxy far, far away,” it is both futuristic and elemental. It depicts advanced technology in a familiar setting. When I saw the original Star Wars movie 40 years ago, it seemed to me to be western set in space. Integral to Star Wars is the Force. As a character, Obi Wan Kenobi explains, the Force is “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” Some people have special access to the Force. One of those is Luke. Luke and Leia, the main protagonists in the story, represent the good, underdog rebels. Darth Vader is evil incarnate and represents oppressive Empire. In Return of the Jedi, the rebels are trying to destroy a super weapon, but Luke has an additional mission described here…

The film clip shows Luke telling Leia that they are brother and sister and that Darth Vader is their father. Luke says he must go to confront Vader and try to turn him from the dark side of the Force.

The theme of hope runs strong through the trilogy. In fact, the original Star Wars film gets subtitled “A New Hope” after the others are released. But as I thought about this scene, the complex emotions and motivation Luke has, and the Force, it occurred to me that we can’t talk about hope without faith and love. Hence I’ve chosen the reading from 1 Corinthians 13 where “faith, hope and love abide.” As the Apostle Paul says a few verses earlier, love “believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Someone has noted that faith is the foundation upon which hope rests; without faith there is no hope. However, hope is what strengthens and nourishes faith; without hope, faith would waste away. As for love, it’s like the Force: it both creates and is created by hope and faith, binding them together.

Luke hopes that he can turn Darth Vader from the dark side while avoiding the emperor’s trap. He hopes that the rebels can defeat the empire’s forces. Yet, Luke’s hope is not wishful thinking. Although he has been naïve in the past, he knows all to well what he is facing, the power of evil. Luke’s hope is bolstered by his faith that good is worth fighting for and will prevail. He believes that good is more basic to the world than darkness in it in spite of evidence to the contrary. And, as seen later in the film, it is Luke’s inexplicable love for his father that holds his faith and hope together. The Force is an appropriate metaphor for the love that runs deep in all of us and creation.

We need films like Return of the Jedi to remind us of the need for and power of hope today. We could pick any number of current events that show us why that is and the alarming suicide rate came to mind. The suicide rate in the US dramatically increased between 1999 & 2016 and by definition those who succumb to suicide are without hope. But this week I couldn’t help but also think of the political system in this country and I have to be honest, I often despair over two parties whose territorial imperatives take precedence over working for the common good. These parties have become something I don’t recognize and want to have no part of. And when children are separated from their families when other solutions to maintaining order are available, I feel hopeless.

Immigration is a complex issue needing multiple strategies, but an important starting place is hope. And if we as a church are in any business, it’s the business of hope along with faith and love. Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not referring to our government as the evil empire, but we are rebel outposts here, working for the good of all. Our hope recognizes the darkness in the world but we have faith that the darkness will not win the day, not because of our heroic efforts, but because of the love of God shown in Jesus Christ, the Light, who overcomes the darkness. Thanks be to God.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

"Cheeky Discipleship: Peace in 'Gandhi'” - Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Penecost

Cheeky Discipleship – Peace in “Gandhi”
Pentecost 4 – Summer Series, “Faith in Film”
June 17, 2018
Grace, Mankato, MN
Matthew 5.38-48

Our film, “Gandhi,” today is a bit different from the first three we’ve encountered this summer. First, “Gandhi” is based on a true story; in fact, it is biographical. It is, in film lingo, a “Biopic.” Second, the film clip we are showing comes very near the beginning of the movie instead of the end. Rather than wrapping the film’s end, it is setting up the rest of the movie. Finally, the biblical and theological connections we are exploring this morning are explicit. In fact, the Bible is quoted directly.

You might be interested to know that the film itself begins at the end, with Gandhi’s assassination, showing as someone noted that quite often those who practice non-violence often meet with a violent death. The movie then moves to South Africa early in Gandhi’s adult life where Gandhi is on business. There, in spite of his professional standing, Gandhi experiences discrimination against Indians and begins to organize resistance. An Anglican clergyman, Charley Andrews, hears of his efforts and joins him in his work. Here’s a snippet from their first meeting.
Gandhi and Charlie Andrews are walking down the street when some “ruffians” tell Gandhi he must get off the sidewalk. Charlie wants to back down and use the carriage he arrived in, but Gandhi insists on continuing. In their conversation, Gandhi reminds Charlie of Jesus’ words in the Bible, to “turn the other cheek.”
Having studied as a lawyer in England and spending much time there, Gandhi knows his Bible. We also learn that Gandhi has been exposed to several religions in his life and is knowledgeable about all of them. That becomes obvious through the entire movie as he quotes the Bible and is familiar with Jesus. He’ll be quoted as saying, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are not like your Christ.” He’ll also go on to say that he’d willingly be a Christian if it weren’t for Christians. Even so, Gandhi will use the principles of non-violent resistance to win rights for Indians in South Africa and help gain independence from Britain in his native India. As we see in the movie, it will come at great cost to himself. It seems Gandhi, who is a Hindu, is a better Christian than the Christians.

The heart of Gandhi’s principles lay firmly embedded in scripture, particularly Matthew 5.38-39. Jesus says, “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the cheek, turn the other also.” These verses are from the Sermon on the Mount, the large block of teaching in Matthew’s Gospel covering chapters 5-7. In this teaching, Jesus lays out his vision for the Kingdom of God, what kingdom living looks like. In it, he shows himself to be the authentic interpreter of the Law of Moses while simultaneously radicalizing it. Jesus ups the ante.

Now, I’m imagining that at this point you are thinking, “Yes, but…” and similar protestations. You are developing a dozen or more scenarios in your mind where turning the other cheek isn’t practical. I get it; I love to see somebody who is inflicting pain and suffering on others get their just desserts. And I’ve spent the whole week trying to figure out a way to get out of or around what Jesus says. But it’s no good; you can’t explain away what Jesus says by claiming he is exaggerating or speaking to a different time and situation. To do so is to undercut the power of what he says. The way of Jesus is hard. Besides, the fact is that violence is never the proper response to violence because it only escalates. As Gandhi notes, “An eye for an eye leaves both people blind.” I might add that a tooth for a tooth leaves both unable to eat.

What Jesus tells us and those like Gandhi—including Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, Jr—want to tell us is that the only response to violence is radical love. We’ll explore in a later film what it means to radically love. But for now I invite you live into “cheeky discipleship,” to think deeply about what it means to be followers of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Promise?: Faithfulness in “The Goodbye Girl” - Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

Promise? Faithfulness in “The Goodbye Girl”
Pentecost 3 – Summer Series: “Faith & Film”
June 10, 2018
Grace, Mankato, MN
John 14.15-18, 25-27

After being unceremoniously dumped by her live-in boyfriend, an unemployed dancer Paula, and her 10-year-old daughter Lucy, are reluctantly forced to live with Elliot, a struggling off-Broadway actor. Paula is a single mom who has been down this road before and has sworn off actors. Unfortunately, she has not choice to share an apartment with Elliot. But, as this is a “Rom-Com,” (Romantic Comedy) they inevitably fall in love and begin building a life as a family. All is well until Elliot gets his big break, a part in a movie. But for Paula, the quintessential “Goodbye Girl,” it’s déjà vu all over again and nothing Elliot says can convince her that he will come back to her and Lucy. That is, until this happens…
In this move clip at the end of the film, Elliot and Paula have an argument. Elliot knows Paula has been let down before but claims he is different. Paula doesn’t believe him. A while later, in the pouring rain Elliot phones from telephone booth located across the street. His flight has been delayed and he now asks Paula to go with him. She says that she doesn’t need to go with him now. Because he has asked her to go she believes him. In what seems like a throwaway line, Elliot asks Paula and Lucy to get his guitar restrung for him while he’s away. She and Lucy are ecstatic, because Elliot never goes anywhere without his guitar.
It’s not until Eliot asks her to go with him that Paula knows that he will faithfully return to her as he promises. But it is the guitar that Elliot leaves that clinches that assurance for both Paula and Lucy. The life that the three of them have built together will continue even though they will be separated for a while.

In our reading from John’s Gospel, Jesus is giving his followers, is closest friends, instructions before he goes away from them. The occasion is the Last Supper and Jesus is about to leave to fulfill his mission to save humanity. Earlier in chapter 14, Jesus promises them that he goes to prepare a place for and they will join him someday. Here he now promises them that they won’t be alone until he does.

Elliot knows that Paula and Lucy have been the recipients of broken promises in the past so he leaves his guitar as a sign and guarantee of his fidelity to them and to the promise he makes to them to return. Paula and Lucy know that the presence of Elliot’s guitar is as good Elliot’s presence himself. What’s more, the guitar isn’t just a guarantee of Elliot’s promise to come back; it’s a reminder of their relationship together. Jesus doesn’t have a guitar, but he has something better: the Holy Spirit, here called the Advocate. Now, the Greek word Paraclete is variously translated Advocate, Counselor and Guide, but I prefer the literal translation: “the One who is called to walk alongside.” The Paraclete is Jesus with us on our journeys.

Like Paula, people of Israel had suffered broken promises from many people claiming to be the Messiah, who promised to deliver them from their suffering. I daresay that every one of us has had a promise broken by someone we cared deeply about, so we have some idea of what that feels like. Jesus has spent three years with his disciples and they’ve gone through a lot together. Jesus knows they are going to feel lost and alone without him, “orphaned” is the way he phrases it. But he tells them—and us—that the Holy Spirit’s presence is as good as his presence until he returns again.

Like Elliot, Jesus doesn’t stop with the promise and gift of the Holy Spirit; he gives us something concrete to hold onto in the meantime. Whenever we doubt God’s faithfulness and love for us, we remember that we are baptized. We remember that we have the sign of the cross on our foreheads as God’s sign and guarantee that we will always belong to him, no matter what happens in our lives. And if that’s not enough, Jesus gives us his very self, his body and blood in the meal of Holy Communion. God’s faithfulness to his promises creates the faith we need to come to the table where our faith is strengthened. We come by faith, for faith.

My sisters and brothers in Christ, because of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, his life, death, resurrection and ascension, we are no longer “goodbye girls and guys.” Thanks be to God!