John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
[Jesus said to his 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. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.” “But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them.”
The Work of the Spirit
“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 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. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.”
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 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. 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.”
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)
Thinking about Pentecost this week I kept thinking of a scene from the comedy movie When Harry Met Sally.
There’s a scene where we witness something that is both somber and yet funny. In the scene Harry and his best friend are seated in the stands at a New York Giants NFL football game (you know, back when we could sit packed close together!). But they are not really watching the game because Harry is deeply sad since his wife had left him the day before. With a frowning expression on his face, he tells his friend all about the events that had led up to this tragedy in his life. It is a very serious, unhappy conversation.
The funny part of this otherwise somber scene is that while these two men are talking, “the wave” is sweeping through the stadium—this is the phenomenon that cropped up about twenty or so years ago where all the people in a stadium sequentially stand up, raise their arms, and give a yell, and then quickly sit back down so that as you look across the stadium, it looks like a human wave is rippling through the stands. So in this scene, although the conversation between these two friends is so dark that they really are paying no attention to the people around them, nevertheless each time the wave reached their part of the stadium, both men stood up, raised their arms, and then sat back down, never missing a beat in their conversation about the one man’s sorrows!
Well before Jesus ever preached his first sermon, there was John the Baptist. Long before Jesus ever uttered a parable or healed a blind person, there was John. John had come to prepare the way for his cousin Jesus. And when John preached about this great and coming One, he talked a lot about the Holy Spirit. Everybody who came out to see John knew that chief among the spectacles they would witness would be baptisms. They hadn’t nicknamed John “the Baptist” for nothing, after all. Baptizing was to John what making bread is to a baker.
But John always downplayed his baptism in favor of the vastly more powerful baptism Jesus would bring. Hopping up and down with great passion, John said that the real fireworks would start as soon as Jesus showed up to baptize people not with water but with the Holy Spirit. For all the publicity he had garnered, John’s self-assessment of his own ministry boiled down to “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”
But then a funny thing happened: in his ministry Jesus hardly ever talked about the Holy Spirit. Nor did he baptize anyone. It wasn’t what John had anticipated at all, and so in a startling passage (cf. Matthew 11 and Luke 7), John at one point sends Jesus a message to ask, “Are you the One who was to come, or should we be on the lookout for somebody else? You know, somebody better?” John was looking for more Spirit, more fire.
But in this Pentecost Year B lection from John 16 we encounter what some scholars have called “Jesus’ Spirit Sermon” and it is hands-down the longest single section about the Holy Spirit in all the gospels. In all the Bible! Here we discover that John the Baptist had been right, except for the timing of it all. Jesus was going to send forth a powerful Holy Spirit. But the surprise comes from the fact that before he would do this, Jesus himself would go away. Call it a kind of Trinitarian tag-team approach. The Father dispatched the Son to this world to teach, to suffer, to die, and to rise again. Then the Son returned to the Father so that he could send the Holy Spirit to his followers on this earth.
Jesus makes clear that the Holy Spirit would become the conduit through which would flow all the energy and riches of God. The Spirit would become the jumper cables to re-infuse us with the Father’s energy whenever the Church’s batteries ran down. The Spirit would become the cosmic water main through which the cleansing tide of baptism would flow to wash away sin.
The Spirit would become the ultimate radio beacon who would broadcast the truths of Jesus, letting all of us who have been fitted with the right antennae learn on a constant basis the implications of the gospel for our lives. Use whatever image you want, but it is clear that the Holy Spirit has been the Church’s living connection to God ever since the great day of Pentecost.
But this tends to be the limit of our thinking about the role of the Holy Spirit. That is to say, we quietly restrict the Spirit’s primary work to the interior life of the Church and of its members. That’s why John 16 is so arresting. Because here when Jesus talked about the Spirit’s work, he focused as much on the Spirit’s work in the wider world as he did on the Spirit’s work in the church. In fact, in verse 8 the very first thing Jesus says has to do with what the Spirit would reveal not to the church but to the world.
Pentecost—A time of being both uprooted and deeply grounded.
Like the wind, the Spirit moves us in different ways, sending us to other places and nesting us into other ground. To experience Pentecost it is necessary to search for change and to allow ourselves to be changed. Changes mean new forms of consciousness, awareness, commitments, and agency. What is it in your life that needs to be changed? Like seeds, we must learn to let go and die so we can sprout into life! Be uprooted from ways of thinking and believing and be taken by the Spirit, flowing with God’s grace to more expansive and necessary ways of living our faith in our world today.
In this text, Jesus is offering his “so long” talk to his disciples. It is about time for Jesus to go, but he assures them they will not be alone. They will have each other and the presence of God through the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’ swirling talk moves in various correlations while also showing how the Spirit will be manifested in them. Jesus is placing himself in the past while the Spirit is what comes next, continuing the work of God and/in Jesus.
The One who is coming will take care of us. While Jesus prays in John 17:6-19 for God to protect the disciples, here Jesus makes explicit that it is the Spirit who is going to protect them. This protection will come by advocating, testifying, speaking truth, glorifying, and proving the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.”
While the Spirit will build in us the glory of God and the memory of Jesus, the testifying of the Spirit will also speak truth to us when we go away from God, when we lose our ability to listen and feel the Spirit’s voice and presence. If the Spirit of God is the Spirit of truth, the truth that will set us free, then this is a process and truth that will challenge our ways of living.
When our worship to God is detached from justice and becomes a ritual by which nobody is changed. The prophets will carry the voice of God’s truth and remind us of our moving away from God and into our own need for a safe and cozy religiosity that doesn’t demand anything from us. When we shape the radical message of Jesus to the programs of our churches, to empty spiritualities and to living a life that trusts more in our bank account than in God, we have lost the presence of the Spirit. Sin, righteousness, and judgment will come.
For us, the sin of not believing in Jesus is not the lack of faith but rather, the sin of splitting belief and practice, word and action, walk and talk.
When we are set on beliefs but our beliefs do not mean change of mind and heart, actions of justice, going after those suffering, and restituting what we have destroyed on earth, then our sin continues, clamorously alive behind our comfortable beliefs.
When Jesus talked about righteousness, he was saying: you will see me no more, but your attitudes and actions will be seen. That means that our lives will show if we live a life of righteousness or not. It has to do with what Jesus said in Matthew 7: “You will know them by their fruits.” What are our fruits? If we produce fruits of peace, justice, healing, transformation, and care, we will live a life of righteousness. But if we live a life whose center is only ourselves and our families, then we will be judged by the Spirit.
As for judgment, Jesus says: “because the ruler of this world has been condemned.” The ruler of this world is the structure of death that spins round and round with spirits of sickness, destruction, poverty, brutality, violence, hunger, greed, consumerism, and so on. Patriarchy and capitalism are the structures from which the ruler of this world lives and enacts death. The ruler of this world is turning this life-giving world into a world of death and pain. This world is not the creation of God, the world God made, but rather the corruption of God’s world of life, the tilting of the world off balance. It is this off-balance world that is turning the whole earth off balance and we are now moving toward climate catastrophe.
Curved into ourselves, our sins contribute to the ruler of this world, making us be concerned only with our own pain and demands for happiness, forgetting that every single action we do has ripple effects on others. Caring only for us, having health insurance just for a few, housing just for some will necessarily mean the exemption of health insurance and housing for many others.
During this Pentecost, our call is to both live a spiritual life bent inward to find our own healing (not selfishness), and also bent outward, as a demand to care for others near us and elsewhere. It is only with a spirituality grounded in the Spirit that we can keep changing and being transformed (Romans 12:1-3).
Pentecost is a call for the church to live in the full power of the Spirit. Not in the power of budgets, programs, or a sort of consumer self-realization. Rather, it is a call to act upon our inward and outward selves together, as the prophet Micah reminds us: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
I want to close today by bring us back to what happened in When Harry Met Sally. Being in a crowd can make you do funny things—stuff you would not do or say otherwise. Have you ever been to a sporting event only to find yourself screaming like a banshee? (Or have you ever been to a game where you saw someone you know—someone who is ordinarily rather shy and retiring in nature—screaming like a banshee!!?)
There seems to be a certain spirit or power in many situations in life—an influence in which you can get “caught up” and so motivated to do things which are not called for in other situations. On a darker note, some of the same dynamics that can make us jump up and down like everyone else at an exciting sporting event can also lead people to get carried away at post-game parties which turn into out-of-control riots.
There are influences on all of us which are not visible but which are very powerful nonetheless.
Parents have strong reasons for warning their children to stay away from “the wrong crowd.” Most of us at one time or another have experienced what can happen when we get caught up in peer pressure. On the other hand, there are good community spirits which can mold people in positive ways too.
There are many different ways, both good and bad, to get carried away by something. Interestingly, the New Testament tells us in many places that the Holy Spirit of God—the living fire that is Pentecost—is also something in which believers need to get caught up in. The Spirit carries us away and so leads us to say things and to do things that we would not do were we not in the zone of the Spirit’s influence.