|Pomme de Terre United Methodist Church|
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|"The Continuing Presence"
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
It is never easy for us to prepare for
the loss of a loved one. Nor is it easy for us to console
ourselves after a loved one is gone. But consider the rather
remarkable situation of Jesus and his disciples.
Because in this case, it is the loved one who is leaving, who is attempting to console the survivors.
In the sixteenth verse of the fourteenth chapter of the gospel according to John, he tells them, "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever."
And he continues to say, in the twenty-sixth verse, "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.”
And we hear echoes of this in the first letter of John, when, in the first verse of the second chapter, we read, "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.
“But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."
So we know what Jesus is talking about, when, in the twenty-sixth verse of the fifteenth chapter of the gospel according to John, he tells the disciples,
"When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf."
But Jesus does not want this to be felt as a strange, uncomfortable experience. And he goes on to say, "You also are to testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.”
But what's behind all this legalistic language: advocate, testify? I think it's because there is a need for roles of power in the Holy Spirit as a defender and protector.
And this becomes more apparent as Jesus goes on to tell his disciples that things are going to get pretty rotten.
He says, "I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you." And so long as he was going to continue with them, HE was their defender and protector, their guardian. I imagine that the role of a parent is much like that.
As a parent rears a child, there is much that the parent doesn't bother to tell the child, believing it unnecessary. But, as the time approaches when the child will be leaving home, the parent begins to prepare that child for what needs to be known when the parent is no longer available to be the guardian and caretaker. It is always a significant and difficult transition. And I suspect that it was no less so for Jesus.
"But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, "Where are you going?"
And we can sense a gap between Jesus and his disciples. He knows what's going to happen, but they don't. Jesus has bridged the gap between the earthly and eternity, but his disciples are stuck on the earthly side.
They may experience the sense of loss, but they don't know what to do with it. Of course, we might argue that they have not asked the question because they already KNOW where Jesus is going, that they HAVE their answer. Besides, has he not spoken to them of everlasting life? Shouldn't they ALREADY know? But maybe we should ask ourselves the question. Do WE know? Do WE believe? And how do we DEMONSTRATE that belief? Is it all really so simple?
Honestly, I don't think it is, and I think that shows up in the next verse.
"But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts."
And reading between the lines, I think that Jesus is telling his disciples that if they really knew and believed where he was going, that they would NOT be sorrowful. But honestly, that is a LOT to ask for. Loss is loss, regardless of the circumstances.
And whether we experience loss through death, or through divorce, or through physical separation from family and friends who are miles away, we can still feel SORROW in those losses. I think it's natural and appropriate to feel that sorrow. For it is in feeling that sorrow that we are affirming the VALUE of those who are no longer in our presence. The feeling says that they were, and are, important to us.
And I believe that this is a good and powerful message for us.
And I further believe that Jesus accepted this as the truth, and sought to provide consolation to his disciples to make up for the loss they would experience in his leaving.
"Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you."
I don't mean to make light of this passage, but I'm reminded of Christmas eve as a small child. It seems that falling asleep at night has never been an easy matter for me; but I worked harder at it on Christmas Eve--because I was told that Santa Claus wouldn't show up unless I went to sleep. And is that so different from Jesus saying that if he doesn't leave, the Advocate won't come?
"And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment."
Now, using different translations, we might quibble over whether the Advocate will "prove the world wrong" or "convict the world" or "convince the world," but more important are the issues at hand; and they are not issues independent of Jesus.
In fact, it is in Jesus’ crucifixion that the issues find their symbolic resolution. It is not only Jesus’ LEAVING that allows the Advocate to come; it is HOW he leaves. Had he just wandered off and disappeared, or died in his sleep, the story would have been totally different. The Advocate could not have come to deal with the issues as foretold.
But what do we make of sin, righteousness, and judgment? How do we deal with all this high-level abstraction? Is there some way to get our teeth into it? When Jesus says, "about sin, because they do not believe in me," what is he saying?
Here, I believe the focus must be on the crucifixion. For it was in the crucifixion that unbelief played itself out. Not only was there an ABSENCE of belief, but there was also a profound REJECTION, and that rejection was total.
Puny humanity sought to eliminate that which it rejected by killing the person who represented it. And the lesson continues to replay itself across the stage of history, as we kill or imprison those who speak what we do not wish to hear, as we burn or censor that which we do not wish to be read. But, just as the death of Christ was not the end, so truth, whatever form it takes, can never be wiped out.
And Jesus continues, "about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, and you will see me no longer." And for me, the focus here is the resurrection.
Just as an idea continues to live even though the one who ORIGINATES it may be killed, even so Jesus continues to live. And in his resurrection, righteousness has triumphed over evil.
Once again, it is less significant that Jesus WENT to God than it is HOW he went to God. It is in the resurrection from the dead, the overcoming of the forces of the world, that we find this power.
But in another sense, the crucifixion and the resurrection play themselves out on a much smaller scale in our everyday lives.
For as we move through those periods of unbelief, of rejection, of small crucifixions, those truths which we reject do not die but are in a state of continual resurrection; and God's grace knows great patience.
And Jesus continues, "about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned."
In the crucifixion and the resurrection there were two judgments. The judgment of earthly powers brought about the crucifixion. But the judgment of a higher power brought the resurrection.
Just as a higher court can override a lower court, so God's judgment overrode the court in Jerusalem. And good overcame evil. Now, I know that in a world which seems to be overrun with evil, sometimes it's difficult to believe that. Nevertheless, I still do. But in order to believe, I must understand that God's judgment may not always be as clear-cut as I would like to see it.
It may not be as quick as I would like to have it. And it may take forms that I don't fully understand. But I still believe it.
"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now." The time was not right. But not only do I hear this as Jesus speaking to his disciples, I also hear it as God speaking to me, minute to minute.
I can hear God saying, "I have more to teach you, but not just yet." And if I pay attention, when the time is right, God will let me know.
Eighteen years ago, on the afternoon prior to the service during which I was ordained as a deacon, my district superintendent asked me, "How do you feel about it?" And the question caught me off guard.
I paused a moment and then answered that two years earlier at that time, I didn't even know what ordination WAS. God waited about 43 years before giving me any specific instructions.
"When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come."
But what is "all the truth"? Is it possible for us mere mortals to ever know "all the truth"? I have my doubts. But on the other hand, I do not doubt that there IS a spirit of truth, and that in God's own time that spirit is revealing God's truth to us, and that ALL into which that spirit guides us IS the truth.
There are some who would interpret this passage to mean that we will be given powers to prophesy specific future events.
My interpretation of "the things that are to come" is less precise, although I believe that the spirit of truth will give us strong direction in our lives.
"He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."
And thus we have the Holy Spirit, taking the message of God and God's son Jesus and declaring it to us. It is a message spoken not on the authority of the spirit, but on the authority of God and the Son.
As we celebrate Pentecost, that moment when the Holy Spirit took hold on the disciples, it is appropriate to reconsider what the Holy Spirit means to each of us.
We are all baptized in the name of the Holy Spirit, and I was ordained in the name of the Holy Spirit, but how do we conceive of the Holy Spirit as working in our lives? For me, the Holy Spirit is the still, small voice of God deep inside me.
But it is the voice of God made tangible by the person of Jesus the Christ and his teachings. And it is in that way that I find my three-in-one. It is also that still, small voice with which I carry on an ongoing prayer conversation.
Sometimes I talk more than I listen, but God is patient.
However we conceive of the Holy Spirit, of the Spirit of Truth, I believe it's important to understand that Jesus wanted us to believe that he was not leaving us alone to fend for ourselves.
Because he was concerned for us, he wanted us to know that there was a power which would follow him in our lives and be his continuing presence throughout our lives.
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