You’ll Never Walk Alone
Rev. Michael F. Bailey
May 21, 2017
John 14:15-21 ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’
As I began to pray and listen to God through our passage today, the Living Word startled me. I heard something new in this passage; namely the closeness, the nearness and the Presence in our lives of Christ and the Holy Spirit. I found myself underlining some of the phrases and promises - listen to them: the Advocate to be with you forever, he abides with you, he will be in you, I am coming to you, you in in me, and I in you. Now of course, Jesus’ words point us to next Sunday as we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church. But in the context of our passage, much was to follow these words prior to the first Pentecost; the betrayal, the trial, the abandonment, the crucifixion, the resurrection and appearances of Jesus, the Ascension, then instruction to gather in Jerusalem to wait for the Spirit.
It seems to me that Jesus, speaking our passage’s words of comfort and Presence before the most horrible days of their lives, shows His very gracefulness and care for those who follow Him. And in a way, we need to hear and believe these words too; the promise and assurance that he is with us, always, come what may. But most of us need to hear them and be reminded of them for our tough times in life.
For me, the very presence of God in every situation is what I think of when I hear the Rogers and Hammerstein piece from Carousel, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” The words are:
When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don't be afraid of the dark
At the end of the storm
There's a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of the lark
Walk on, through the wind
Walk on, through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart!
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone
In the musical, this is a song of encouragement sung to a mourning young widow after her husband’s death and later for the man’s daughter at her graduation. The plot is that deceased man, Billy Bigelow–the husband and father–is with them even having being able to return to earth for a day after his death. But in my life, heart and mind, I always think of Jesus and his presence in the Holy Spirit. His promise in our passage is that we never walk alone! Our walk of life and discipleship is certainly with the reality and a power of the Holy Spirit; it is a walk with and in Jesus.
Let’s think about what this means for us today.For one thing, when we’re faced with a great challenge, we never walk alone. Christ is with us; the Holy Spirit abides with us. Challenges come in so many forms, don’t they? A loved one, a rock of our existence, has to move to different housing situation to be cared for; a relationship, which we thought was forever, ends; a family member seems to turn against us; a loved one disappoints us; we transition into becoming empty nesters; a business relationship ends with a restructuring; a trust is betrayed.
Recently, a church member shared with me that through one of the toughest times in his life–the unexpected dying of a parent which had many medical ups and downs over almost a month–how real, how close, how present Christ was with him! In a way he never expected, Christ was present, offering strength, encouragement, and guidance through him which helped the whole family. Over and over he said to me on the phone, “God is real. God is so real and with me!” He found that in one of the greatest challenges he ever faced in life, he wasn’t walking alone.
Personally, a challenge came my way when the bishop appointed me to become a district superintendent serving on his cabinet for the next six years. The training involves going to the meetings of the cabinet and listening. I’ll have my 3rd week observing and trying to learn right in front of me. And all the other members of the cabinet seem to know the gifts and graces and the growing edges of all 1300 clergy in our conference, and I can’t recall a fourth of the names. They mention towns, hamlets, villages and counties that I have no idea where they are or that they existed! And yet, with fear and trembling, from knowing myself, I can “walk on” in this new and unexpected role, because I know I don’t walk alone! Christ is with the Cabinet, the clergy, the churches and me! He promises this in our passage and even though we humans are often less than faithful, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are always faithful; they always keep their promises…the Spirit will be with you…abides with you…will be with you. When life challenges, we never walk alone! More, when fear besets us and we feel nothing else but fear, we still have the knowledge, the truth, the fact, that we never walk alone. Christ is with us.
Sometimes life overwhelms us with fear. What does tomorrow hold? Will our finances make it? What is going on in the national and global scenes? What does this diagnosis really mean? Will I “make it” or not in this new endeavor? What will happen to my family? Fear sometimes grips us so tightly that it’s the only thing we feel. And admittedly, we live in a “feeling” oriented era!
About 11 years ago, Phillip Rieff died. He wrote an important book entitled, The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith after Freud. My very unfair and thumbnail description is that it prophetically pointed out that our feelings and emotions have become new idols, to which community, social bonds, and even truth are sacrificed. If we assume Rieff is correct (and think of the content of many talk shows today and how people even engage in civic dialog) this tendency has within it the roots of some of our faith crises, individually.
Think of it! Because we have a tendency to exalt feelings to the level of truth and reality, while fear is true and must be named and dealt with, we might miss out on the facts of faith that can help us! I saw an evangelism brochure one time that helped me. It came from an organization that is theologically different from me, but it was helpful nonetheless. It spoke of: First, the facts about Christ. Second, the response of faith. Third, the feelings that may or may not follow. In the brochure, the slogan appears as a train: the locomotive is "fact." The coal car is "faith." The caboose is "feeling." The explanation reads: "The train will run with or without the caboose. However, it would be futile to attempt to pull the train by the caboose."
And yet, in our contemporary culture, we tend to want to pull the train by the caboose of feelings! This means, when we’re captured by fear, we might think that fear is the only truth and reality that exists. When we’re depressed and not “feeling it” concerning God’s love, we might come to believe a falsehood that God’s isn’t with us or doesn’t love us. On the other hand, if we believe that Jesus is the way, the life, and the truth we have a knowledge, no matter what our emotions tell us, that he’s promised to be with us! The fact is, whether we feel it or not, we never walk alone, Christ is with us! Finally, we never walk alone, even when we’re tempted. A quick search of the Bible shows that “Tempter”
is used in 100 verses for the spiritual adversary and force called by many other names. The tool used is temptation. Temptation is an enticement to act contrary to God’s will. This is exactly what Satan was attempting when he tried to tempt Jesus and what he continually tries to do with us. Every time we are enticed to disobey God with our thoughts, words, or actions, we must choose whether to walk faithfully with the Lord or go our own way.
Against such a foe, no matter how you conceive it, who can stand? I’d suggest none of us can; that is, on our own. And yet because we never walk alone, we never face the Tempter and temptation alone! Because of who Jesus is, not who we are, we can overcome.
The Advocate will be with you, in you and for you! Our role? To open our hearts and lives through prayer, Scripture study, worship, communion, generosity, small groups, fasting and listening for the Divine. In such a way we know for a fact, who is with us and for us and that gives us hope in our hearts and lets us hold our heads up high.