John 14:8-17 [25-27]
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.
The Promise of the Holy Spirit
“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 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.
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)
Words fail. No matter how eloquent the person writing or speaking, words fail to convey human experience.
From the emotions of a mother’s first sight of a newborn healthy child to the feeling of being in a small boat during a storm at sea, we can sometimes capture something of an experience, without being able to capture the thing itself. Like the look of love in a dog’s eyes, not everything can be put into words.
The Evangelist Luke finds himself at the limits of language as he writes of the Pentecost experience. He writes, “When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”
The sound was like the rush of a violent wind. The tongues were as of fire. This is like when Luke wrote of Jesus’ baptism, “[As he was] praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.” Not wind. Not fire. Not even a dove. But something like wind, fire, and a dove.
A television news reporter covering a tornado will often record someone describing the sound as the family huddled for safety as something like a freight train roaring by. Not a freight train. But something like that.
In fact, the Pentecost experience was a creative force that has since rippled through space and time as the Holy Spirit has remained active in the world. Before that morning, the Jesus Movement was relatively small. The greatest preacher in the world sometimes had thousands on a hillside, but mostly walked and talked with a smaller travelling band of men and women so that they could all be in one place on that 50th day after Easter.
By the end of the day, the sum total of Christ-followers would never fit in a single room again. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, calls Pentecost something like the Big Bang, as all Christianity radiates outward from this moment of creation.
This passage of Acts is frequently cited by writers and preachers seeking to uplift equity and inclusion. It’s mention of multiple languages, the pouring of blessing upon people of different socio-economic status and genders, the inclusion of enslaved people. One of the great ironies of the iconic last portion of this passage is that it is not actually a new message from the apostles but an affirmation of the ancient prophecy from the prophet Joel.
Joel’s words are inspiring, but on close examination, far from perfect. Masculine individuals are still the seers of visions and dreamers of dreams. It is EVEN upon slaves that God’s spirit is poured, with language that emphasizes their lesser status. There is even a quick nod against those living with alcohol addiction. Am I being too picky? Is it too harsh to judge the social norms of antiquity against contemporary understandings of inclusion? Of course we must read and interpret scripture with grace and an understanding of context. We must also refuse to fall in love with our own words, systems, or creations because worlds change
As justice-centered individuals, I invite us to ask the Holy Spirit to baptize us with a fresh and modern fire that carries the power that challenged a system and changed a world those many years ago.
- Who does the Holy Spirit need us to be in this land, in this time?
- What levels of inclusion are considered radical?
- What people are forced into the margins of society?
John 14:8-17, 25-27
In John 14:17 Jesus says “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.” We have spent the last two weeks dwelling in the nature of the Holy Spirit. We have learned of the Advocate and the Spirit as one who brings us comfort. This passage affirms the Holy Spirit as Advocate and one who brings peace. It also introduces the spirit as truth.
Truth is named as that which separates the wider world from the Christian community. As followers of Jesus and individuals in whom the Spirit dwells, we are gifted with an understanding of what truth is. A significant part of that truth is knowing that the creator in heaven speaks the same wisdom as our humble human savior. We are also able to speak and share that wisdom. The same wisdom of God. The same wisdom of Jesus. Because of the presence of the Advocate who reminds us of the words of Jesus, we are able to share that same message.
An expression I struggled to understand for many years is “speaking truth to power”. A common rallying cry in activist circles, speaking truth to power is the challenge issued when a regular, everyday person speaks to a decision maker or someone with a dominant place in politics or society. Such an individual might expect us to be intimidated but we are emboldened by the stark truth and undeniable reality we set before them. The truth gives us courage to say the unexpected, challenging, or even unpleasant things.
- Our truth is not determined by the reception it receives.
- Our truth comes from the heart and the wisdom of God.
Be bold in this season of the Holy Spirit my friends. Remember that while we are called to bring peace to the faithful and the marginalized, we may sometimes also be required to speak hard truths to those just beginning to understand.
The impact of the Holy Spirit can be seen in the person of Peter. Fifty days earlier, he denied he even knew Jesus. In the time since, he first huddled out of fear, but then after Jesus’ appearance and his ascension, he worshiped with others in the Temple in Jerusalem. The evidence is that he kept mum about Jesus. But after something like wind and fire, the timid disciples became bold evangelists and as they proclaimed the Good News of Jesus, people from around the world heard the Gospel in their own mother tongue. The Holy Spirit reversed the confusion of the Tower of Babel through the miracle of a group of largely unschooled Galileans preaching in perfect Hebrew, Greek, Egyptian, Parthian, and so on. The Holy Spirit serving as a unifying force to bring separate people together so each heard the same Good News in a way she or he could best understand.
Peter boldly shares the story of Jesus and tells the crowd, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
Luke concludes, “So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
That morning of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came with such power that words could not fully convey the experience, the first thought of those seeing and hearing the disciples was that they had been hitting cheap wine pretty hard. New wine is the cheap stuff, and these men and women were, after all, from Galilee. The crowd looked at the messengers and figured that with Galileans, the saying probably wasn’t “It’s 5:00 somewhere” as an excuse to start drinking. Instead, the saying must be, “It’s 9:00 somewhere,” perhaps coming out more as, “Lord knows with those guys, it’s always 9:00 somewhere.”
The crowd was on to something, however, in that the Holy Spirit is always ready to show up in a mighty way.
- When a friend calls you late one evening crying because her husband has left.
- Or when you go with your mom to that early morning appointment to get the biopsy results.
- Or when a co-worker learns his son has been in a car accident.
- Or when a child calls late at night from jail.
In all the times and places when you need God to be present, recall, “It’s 9:00 somewhere,” and just as the Holy Spirit showed up one Pentecost when it was time to clock in for work, so God will not leave you comfortless. The Holy Spirit will come to you in all these times and places and so many more.
There are many kinds of pain and suffering and anguish in our world, but there is but one source of healing. And we who know the Great Physician Jesus Christ can offer that comfort and healing to others.
Before the week is out and for many of you, before this day is over, you will run across someone fighting a great battle. And when you bump up against someone in need, remember this sermon and don’t hold back. You don’t have to get it right.
Just trust the Holy Spirit to honor your good intentions. Share Jesus’ love in ways small or big. God will handle the rest.
While the idea of asking God to use you in the week ahead might be frightening, know that you have done this before.
- You have gone for a walk or sat with a friend or co-worker in need.
- You may have shared a meal and offered a listening ear.
- Perhaps you have cut the grass for a neighbor who was sick.
Each of us has been there for someone else before. The challenge here is to follow the Spirit’s lead and then those occasions will be more frequent. While you might not have thought much about it, that doesn’t mean it was not deeply significant for the person you were with. This is not something we do for God, but it is God’s gift to us as we are there for someone else when they need it.
When and how might this happen? I have no idea. But I do know this, God came in a mighty way at 9:00 in the morning on that Pentecost, when the Christian Church was born—and it is always 9:00 somewhere. Whenever the Spirit nudges you, just lean in and trust God to be in the midst of the situation, for that creative force that changed the world at Pentecost is still blowing through our lives.