Year A, Easter 6 John 14:15-21
In one church I served, we had a dayschool
and every week we had chapel for the 2-5 year olds. It was tricky coming up with a way to teach
the Bible to 2-5 year olds. I stuck with the Bible stories we often tell
children—the parting of the Red Sea, the various miracles, and we sang “This
little light of mine” frequently. I
shared this ministry with the rector.
One day I walked in to chapel and saw her with a flip chart and a diagram
of the Trinity. She was focusing on the
Holy Spirit, but felt she needed to cover the Trinity in doing so. And while I
still can’t help but laugh when I remember this flip chart and her effort to
teach the Holy Spirit to this age group, I also have to give her a lot credit
for trying to demonstrate it visually. She knew that kids need visuals even more than adults. And for all I know, a child’s mind might
indeed understand the Holy Spirit more than adult’s mind. But it also reminded me of how incredibly
hard it is to explain the Holy Spirit.
And yet still, I am going to try to do it…
Our reading today covers a small
portion of what we call the farewell discourse.
Last week we heard the very first part, but it goes on for several chapters. It’s called the farewell discourse because
that sounds a lot better than, “the Long Goodbye.” As I said last week, Jesus was trying to
prepare his disciples for his death and resurrection and even their
resurrection. In doing so, he was
preparing them for a life without him, or at least the bodily form of him—how they
could carry on. Not just carry on with
their lives, but the message of Jesus as well.
Over the course of this farewell,
there are moments when Jesus was profoundly clear and moments when he was
profoundly confusing. What we hear today
is a bit of a mix. I want to focus on
the very first part, which also happens to be the simplest part. “I will ask the Father, and he will give you
another Advocate, to be with you forever.
This is the Spirit of truth…You know him, because he abides with you,
and he will be in you.”
farewell discourse goes on for 3 chapters in the Gospel of John. In our Gospel, it is presented as a very long
speech…thus called a discourse. However,
it probably wasn’t a long speech as much
as it was a collection of sayings that Jesus provided for his disciples over a
longer period of time. Over the course
of chapters 14 and 15, Jesus described the Holy Spirit, by describing the
actions of the Holy Spirit. The Holy
Spirit will teach, remind, testify about Jesus and abide with the disciples.
we hear in this text today, this is the Spirit of truth. Remember Jesus, just said, “I am the way, the
truth and life.” Having the Spirit of
truth with them was another way to be connected to Jesus. This is the Spirit that will sustain the
disciples after Jesus has ascended to heaven.
This is the Spirit that abides with them, stays with them.
don’t talk about the Holy Spirit much in the Episcopal Church, not unless it’s
Pentecost. And I think one of the
reasons we don’t talk much about the Holy Spirit is because the Holy Spirit
doesn’t have direct words for us that are laid out in the Bible. The Holy Spirit is present throughout the
Bible, but that presence comes in different forms and is thus more subtle. God
the Father and God the Son both speak to us through the words of the Bible, but
the Holy Spirit never actually speaks.
the Episcopal Church, we love words. We
worship using the Book of Common Prayer that was written over 500 years ago and
has been honed over the centuries. We
don’t talk about the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit doesn’t speak to us in
words, at least not words that have been recorded. It speaks to us in action.
hardest part of losing someone, whether it is to death or something else, is
the feeling of abandonment. Jesus wanted
to remove the sting of death, by removing that sense of abandonment. And he
could do that, because he was Jesus. He
could do that because he was and is part of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Spirit is about action, but to some
extent it’s about inaction…it’s about what it doesn’t do. The Holy Spirit never leaves us.
primary time we talk about the Holy Spirit is Pentecost and that is a moment of
drama. There is wind and fire. The Spirit descends in a way that the
disciples cannot ignore. Yet I have
never particularly liked that description because it’s so beyond our
experience. It happened once and never
happened again. Perhaps (and forgive me for disagreeing with centuries of
tradition) it would be better if we talked about the Holy Spirit who doesn’t
descend with fire and change the way everyone talks. Instead, let’s talk about the Holy Spirit who
refuses to abandon us…whose primary purpose is to be the very presence of Jesus
we picture the Holy Spirit, it’s with a dove, fire or wind. Doves fly away. Fires burn and fade. Wind sweeps through an area and then moves
on. Yet the word that Jesus uses for
Holy Spirit is abide. The Holy Spirit is
like the super glue that we can never get unstuck. Have you ever gotten super
glue on your body? That stuff will pull off your skin. You need heavy chemicals to get that off. But if you want to fix something, if you want
to ensure that something sticks, well that is what you use. You can depend on
is what I want and need from God, a God who I can depend on. A God who will never leave my side, not even
when I try my darndest to get rid of God, to ignore God…that God will never
leave our side. And that…that is the God
I want and need. I think that is the God
that we all need. Jesus told his
disciples, “I will never leave you orphaned.”
Jesus promised that he would always be with us. It’s a promise we wish we could require from
so many in our lives, but it’s a promise we can only expect from Jesus. We can expect it because it was a promise and
Jesus…always keeps his promises.