We go once again to the upper room in Jerusalem where Jesus is with his disciples on the evening of his betrayal and trial. Whatever he has to say to them, he must say quickly. He expects them to continue what he has started, living out his mission and message. Jesus knows that his time is short. He looks ahead to the time when he will no longer be bodily present, the time when the completion of his mission will depend on the disciples. He prays for their unity, that the world may “know that you have sent me.” That’s a big expectation.
So the question for us, comfortably seated here in our own upper room, is this: “Can we complete the work of Christ? Or is it OK to get tired or weary and just give up and slide along?” People who carry on against great odds have become heroes.
My favorite hero for not giving up is Robert Scott, a great explorer in the early part of the twentieth century. He and his men went ashore on the continent of the South Pole in 1911. With primitive equipment, he and his men struggled and sledged, mostly on foot, in the cold and snow, for eighteen hundred and forty two miles –until they reached the approximate area of the South Pole. They would be the first to reach the pole. Finally, they had to calculate their location one more time, and then go a very short distance, to stand at the southern axis of the world.
After a few hundred yards, their hearts fell out of them. There in the snow ahead of them was a tent, a flag, and a note. Roald Amundsen had beaten them by 5 weeks. Scott and his men turned back. But with howling blizzards, and low supplies, they were in a hopeless situation. Their frozen bodies were found a year later, only eleven miles from a supply tent — food and warmth.
Does our hunger for God, does our resolve and determination to carry on the work of Jesus Christ, does our thirst for the presence of the Spirit, approach that kind of sacrificial dedication? Jesus knew his disciples would face all kinds of difficulties and odds and unknown dangers that would make them want to give up. But the spirit sent from the father would be with them, and they would be fed and warmed by his bringing to their remembrance all that he has said to them.
The message of Jesus for us is that the Spirit of God is always with us, not confined to any single time or place. The gospel is an unfinished story, and we who have so lately celebrated the Lord’s resurrection must let that dawning morning shine through every day of our lives, not just now and then.
Jesus speaks to us, saying that we should be alert to the Spirit’s presence. The ancient Christian mystics called it the practice of the presence of God. It is not easy to live moment by moment in the presence of God. It is not easy to remember God’s grace, or to ask for forgiveness, or to live according to the love of God as we deal with people we may not like. Does Christ live in them? Yes, and we must renew in ourselves every day the dedication and commitment to be actively conscious of ourselves as the people of God.
For all its tragedy, the Scott expedition gave the world one of the noblest accounts of endurance. The last entry in Scott’s diary read, “We have been to the Pole and we shall die like gentlemen. We very nearly came through and it’s a pity to have missed it. If this diary is found it will show how we stuck by dying companions and fought the thing out until the end.”
Will the last page of our diary, written or unwritten, show that in following the way of Jesus Christ, we endured in our Christian witness? In a world not interested in God, not interested in Christian growth, not interested in Christian morals and customs, are we trying only to get all the gusto out of life that we can get for our own enjoyment? Jesus tells his disciples that whoever does not love, that is, who does not express faith in the son by imitating his self-denying service, has no fellowship with either the son or the father. That’s a serious limitation.
But if the disciple loves, then Father, Son and Spirit will be constantly with that disciple. God’s presence and God’s love are not the stuff of daydreams. God’s love brought us Jesus Christ who died on the cross in order to rise above death and sin. God never only had warm feelings of mercy or pity or love. He did something. According to God’s own plan, he brought his people out of captivity, or gave them a new king, or a new prophet, and in the great gospel verse, God loved the world so much he sent his son to die on a cross for the whole world.
But Jesus did not come merely to give us a general feeling of well being. He came in love and power to defeat the powers of sin, death, and evil. And if we love him, and wish to follow in his way, then we will find some service to do, some task of responsibility, some positive response toward those around us in this world. Above all, we will listen for God and to God. One of our greatest Christian writers said that when he prayed, at first he thought that prayer was talking. But he became more and more quiet until in the end he realized that prayer is listening. Christians who wonder whether the risen Christ is at work in them should ask whether they are listening to God. We should look at what we do.
And the test of our faith should be to ask ourselves whether we are following Christ in the way of some kind of self-denial. If what we want to call the Christian witness is not a struggle for us, then we would be right in asking whether our own faith is a constant persevering Christian witness or merely an imitation. Let us not say of ourselves that we have been brave soldiers until we have fought the thing out until the end. In other words, if our Christian faith is so kept under wraps that we perform no neighborly service, have no struggle, never be quiet and give God a chance to speak to us, and never acknowledge the tug of the spirit, then we ought to ask serious questions about ourselves and whether our faith is alive.
There are new fields waiting to be harvested, new ventures to be sought, new challenges to be met, and we have the promise of the Risen Christ that his spirit will guide us. There will come times when we will have to face the painful truth about ourselves that we have done wrong, or that we need to make amends, or that we will not reach some difficult goal.
The truth about us is often painful. Most of us will never be as successful as we want to be, whether in parenting our children, or in love for our family members, or in our career, or in our spiritual life and personal faith. It is a long way up to the top of whatever kind of mountain we think we must climb, and most of us will never be known for being the most, or the best, or the greatest or most successful. There will come times of having to accept that we have already done our best, already gone as far as we can go with our hopes or dreams.
Some of us will have to admit that we blew it, or we finally realize that we will never have a second chance for doing something differently or better. There will come a point when we know that time for amendment of life is rapidly running out. We may not always win, but we must fight the thing out until the end. God has never told us that we must succeed according to our often self-centered and ingrown standards. But he has told us that we must go and we must love and we must serve. The people of God in the Bible are pictured as people on the move, a pilgrim people in search of the Promised Land.
We are called to love the Lord and each other, not only in words but in deeds. And whatever our place of witness, whatever our struggle, we will never arrive at a point from which no further progress in faith is possible. We are passing through this world toward the world to come.
Little children, be assured that the Lord is with us.
May the Spirit of the Risen Christ be with you now and forever.