It was an exciting week at All Saints. The Parish Administrator was out of town, enjoying some well-deserved vacation time. Predictably, as soon as she left town, everything in the office broke.
The audio system in the church has been causing trouble for a while. I can’t really blame that on the Parish Administrator’s absence, but the trouble increased dramatically this week. We replaced one of the electronic components last week, and tried to replace another component this week. The new components served only to make the sound in the church worse than it was before.
The work on the audio system caused some new problems with the lighting in the church. Evidently, the audio technicians bumped into something important while they were working. When I arrived for daily Mass on Thursday morning the lights throughout the building were turning themselves on and off at random.
The most inconvenient of the many malfunctions this week was the lack of an internet connection in the office. I use the internet for much of what I do during the week. I rely on email to communicate with volunteers and employees and the diocesan chancery; I use several on-line resources in order to prepare my Sunday homilies. I could have contacted the absent Parish Administrator for help, if the broadband connection had been working.
On the other hand, I had plenty to keep me busy. I spent part of the week in the Purgatory that is Verizon’s Customer Service phone call queue, and the rest of the week on the phone with the company that provides technical support for the office computers.
All of this would have gone much more smoothly if I had access to information like our various account numbers, and other technical information about the church and the office LAN. I have none of that; it exists in files known only to the Parish Administrator. I will never again approve vacation time for her, or if I do, I will require a list of every possible Customer Service person whom I might need, with all of their contact information.
In fairness, I should admit that I could have planned ahead for the Administrator’s absence. I wish I could have foreseen the problems that would occur. Wouldn’t it be great if we could always see trouble coming, and plan ahead to be ready for it? That is precisely what Jesus was doing in this Sunday’s Gospel reading.
This Sunday we have a continuation of Jesus’ farewell to the disciples. He knew that his escalating conflicts with the Jerusalem Pharisees would not end well for him. He wanted to prepare the disciples for his absence, and he wanted to ensure that his mission would continue after his death. He told his disciples, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always.” (John 14:16) Jesus’ preparedness plan for his approaching absence from the disciples was to send the Holy Spirit, not as a baby-sitter or consolation prize, but as a means to continue his presence and mission in the world.
Jesus’ plan was to continue perpetually what he had begun in his lifetime. Let’s think about that for a moment. Think of all the things that Jesus said and did during his earthly ministry. His intention was to continue doing and saying all of those things. A few lines after our selection of John’s Gospel he said, “The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name – he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” (John 14:26)
If it was Jesus’ intention to continue the works of his earthly ministry we have to ask whether this has actually happened according to plan. Is there evidence in the Church that the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, teaches and reminds us of all that Jesus told us? Is there evidence in the world that the eternal Word of God is still calling people to be born from above of water and the Spirit? Is there evidence in our lives that Jesus is our Way and Truth and Life?
If we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that the evidence is sometimes less than convincing. The audio system at All Saints has been working intermittently for the past few months; in just the same way, the universal Church’s proclamation of Good News is intermittent, at best. Just as the lights turned themselves on and off randomly in our church building this week, the world around us sometimes welcomes the light, and at other times prefers darkness. The parish office internet connection was down this week; in a like manner, the baptized sometimes fail to remain connected to the Savior. Something has obviously broken down somewhere.
The most common explanations for the present situation in the Church and the world assume that either God has slacked off in the divine responsibility of being true to God’s Word, or there was never really any God who made those promises – that God is merely a product of the imagination of a few religious zealots. However, these common explanations disregard the most likely answer. The most likely answer is that nothing has changed since the time that John’s Gospel was written. In his earthly ministry Jesus came to his people, and his people rejected him. (John 1:11) The same dynamic is at work today; Jesus continues to reveal the truth from God, and those to whom he reveals it continue to choose to live in the darkness of unbelief. (John 3:19)
Human nature today is no more attentive to God’s Word, committed to Truth or reliable in honoring promises than it ever was. Jesus continues his earthly ministry among us, and we continue to need his presence and his words. If you find yourself occasionally questioning whether the Lord Jesus is present and active in your life, it is more likely that your faith has taken a vacation than it is that God’s faithfulness has broken down.
If you perceive God as distant or absent, if you perceive the world as filled with more darkness than light, if you perceive yourself as isolated or defeated, the most likely cause is that you have drifted away from the Light and the Truth. Jesus, however, remains faithful, dependable and at work in the world. The darkness of your unbelief is precisely the place to which Jesus came and in which Jesus proclaims salvation. Do you remember Jesus’ words from last Sunday’s Gospel reading? “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” (John 14:1) A little faith can go a long way – all the way to God.