Rev. Drew Stockstill
Where to Go For Help
June 5, 2022 Rev. Drew Stockstill
John 14:8-18; 25-27 – Pentecost
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, but if you do not, then believe because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
“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 forever. 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.
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
Every year in Harrisburg this little handbook comes out called, “Where to Go When You Need Help.” It’s filled with all kinds of information about where there are emergency shelters and food pantries, clothing closets, and rental assistance. Our Health Ministry is listed there for those in need of medical assistance. For those in an abusive situation, there are numbers to call for help. It’s so handy to have this little book to help folks who are facing some kind of crisis or another.
“Where to Go When You Need Help.” It would be nice to have a book like that for other kinds of situations, other kinds of crises we might face. Maybe you’re having some trouble in a relationship and you just don’t know what to do to fix it. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a guidebook to tell you just what to do? Or maybe you need help making a tough decision about work or family, or there’s some big financial uncertainty. Where do you go when you need help with something like that?
Looking down Market Street toward Cameron Street from Allison Hill, Hurricane Agnes,1972
This month marks 50 years since Hurricane Agnes pummeled Harrisburg and changed the city for decades to come. Some of you were here and remember well those days when the Susquehanna River flooded, cresting at 32.6 feet. I’m told the water in our home reached the fourth step of our staircase on the first floor. My neighbor described the feeling of great uncertainty watching the waters creep up Radnor Street towards his front door. What do you do, where do you go? I read in the most recent issue of The Burg, about the Young family who was living in Shipoke. Eileen called her husband Bob at work in Wilkes-Barre to tell him the river was getting really high. “It looks really bad.” Bob just kept telling her it would be OK, but then it wasn’t. She had to get out so her brother came to get her. She put her curtains on the windowsill thinking it would save them – it didn’t – and she got out. They went to her mother’s house but that was evacuated, then her grandmother’s house – that was evacuated. The waters of the Susquehanna and Paxton Creek were closing in. Where do you go when you need help?
Bob rushed back from work and couldn’t believe how far the river had spread. This was well before cell phones and he had no way to contact Eileen. Where was he to go when he needed help finding his wife? “He drove all over Harrisburg in a Jeep to all the evacuation points he could find.” But she wasn’t at any of them. Eventually, Bob found his wife safe at her uncle’s house. When they finally got to check on their home they saw that the water had risen 8 ½ feet on their first floor, nearly to the ceiling. Where were they to turn when they needed help?
Maybe you’ve never faced a flooding river, I sure pray we don’t have to, but I can think of many times when I’ve felt uncertain, where I wished I just knew how things were going to turn out, have you?
Years ago, when I lived in Kenya, I was driving our pick-up truck home from getting some groceries with my sister and a couple of German aid workers. We were chugging up a steep hill on a dirt road when we were ambushed by several men with rifles. There was nobody to call for help, and no way to get away. I felt helpless. I told everyone to unbuckle their seatbelts before the gunmen got to the truck and we put our hands in the air. They pulled us out of the truck, forced the passengers to lay on the ground, and demanded I open the back. From the moment they appeared and I registered what was happening, and assessed my lack of options, I began to pray and embrace what was to come and ask God to show me what I could control. God gave me the strength to remain calm. To listen to what our anxious robbers were saying. My only goal was to keep them calm so no one got hurt. I told myself to make sure they saw us as humans and so I saw them as humans too.
They took all our money and most of our belongings, but by the end, they were apologizing to us as they ran away into the woods. We lost some things that day, things that were easy enough to replace, but we were all safe and physically unharmed. I am so grateful to God for assuring me he was with us through it all, no matter what happened, because when there was literally nowhere to turn for help, nothing to do, what I was left with was enough: the certainty of God actually, really with us, and God in me. That gave me the strength to be calm and present, to help my sister and friends remain calm, and to help our attackers remain calm.
Where do you go when you need help? King David wrote in Psalm 124, “Our help is in the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” And that is true – our help comes from God, and that help, well, it’s not the kind of help you find in a book that answers all the questions, it’s not the kind of help that fixes all the problems, and whispers all the directions of what you should do in this situation or that crisis. The help that comes from God is the help you feel when you know you’ve not been left all alone to figure it out on your own. The flood waters may be rising but God will never leave you or forsake you. It’s the help that comes from knowing in yourself that you have the strength to face any hardship because God made you and God is with you and will not leave you.
If there is one teaching you’ve heard me repeat over and over for our young people in the Moment
with Children it is that they are never alone and that God is always with them. That truth is so important because when you know, when you really trust that God who made heaven and earth is with you, there is no challenge you cannot face, there is no darkness that will not have at least enough light to find your way out again.
So even when someone is meeting with the doctors and they don’t have answers or the news isn’t good, God is walking every step of the way. There is power in simple faith in God, trusting that God is present, even if and especially if the situation is completely outside of your control. Trusting God is with you can give you the strength to control what you can and that is how you respond to whatever you’re facing. I couldn’t change the fact that we were being robbed, but knowing God was with me, gave me the peace of mind and the courage to control how I faced my fear and the robbers, and God saw all of us through. Bob and Eileen and the whole city of Harrisburg could do nothing to keep the Susquehanna River from flooding, much less to change the direction of a hurricane, but God was with them. Perhaps that gave Bob and Eileen courage when they didn’t know where to go, maybe that gave them peace in those hours they were apart.
Jesus knew his time on earth was short and that what lay ahead for his disciples would be the greatest crisis of their lives and their faith. He would not be with them in flesh – incarnate – but he promises them what he also promises all of us, “I will not leave you orphaned, I am coming to you.” Beloved, Jesus has not left us. God is alive and we are God’s children. There is never a moment in your life when you have been without your heavenly parent. As Jesus is preparing his disciples for his death and their future struggles, he says over and over again for them to trust him. “Believe in me,” he tells them. Jesus teaches that the way we can show our love for him is to trust him, trust that he is who he says, trust that even though we face struggles and even though we may die, God is present in every struggle and every death and will bring us all through.
But trusting people is hard, and trusting what we cannot see is even harder. Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, just show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” He’s not satisfied with simply having faith, he wants to see God. But Jesus tells us that he has already shown us all we need to trust. He is not with us in flesh, but neither has he left us. And that is what we celebrate in Pentecost – we celebrate the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is who Jesus says he will send to be our advocate. He said, “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.” The Greek word for Advocate literally means one called to come alongside and help. At Pentecost Jesus made good on his promise that we are never alone and the Holy Spirit, who is fully God, is sent to come alongside us and help us. That Greek word for Advocate also means “comforter, intercessor, and the one encourages.” So, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to comfort us, to help us, to give us courage, to bind us to God, and to unite us with each other, and in fact with God’s children living on earth, and those who have entered eternal life.
When the disciples were in their own time of stress, in their own dark night when they were
begging for signs that everything was going to be OK, pleading for Jesus to give them even greater proof than he already had, when the disciples were searching the desk drawer for the book, “Where to Go When You Need Help,” Jesus calls them into a huddle and he says to them and us, “I’ve not left you,orphans. I’m coming to get you. And I’ve sent the help, the comfort, the power of God to be with you, and that is the Holy Spirit.” And God has been faithful. Just look at how far God has brought us, look at all God has already helped you through. So, believe him and let that give you courage, receive the peace he has given us, a peace only his help provides, let that fill your hearts with joy today that you are not alone, and as he said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”