The Spirit-Filled Life
Just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. He gives the Son authority to judge, because he is the Human One..."I didn't say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I go away to the one who sent me. None o you ask me, 'Where are you going?' Yet because I have said these things to you, you are filled with sorrow. I assure you that it is better for you that I go away. If I don't go away, the Companion won't come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will show the world it was wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment. He will show the world it was wrong about sin because they don't believe in me. He will show the world it was wrong about righteousness because I'm going to the Father and you won't see me anymore. He will show the world it was wrong about judgment because this world's ruler stands condemned. "I have much more to say to you, but you can't handle it now. However, the the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you in all truth. He won't speak on his own, but will say whatever he hears and will proclaim to you what is to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and proclaim it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine. That's why I said that the Spirit takes what is mine and will proclaim it to you. John 5:26-27, 164b-15
So on this Pentecost Sunday, we are reminded of that first Pentecost. That day in which God's Spirit was poured out, equipping and empowering the disciples to burst out of that place where they were gathered and go into the streets proclaiming the Gospel in languages they didn't know. Now, sometimes there's some confusion about what this was because Paul later in the Gospel talks about the gift of speaking in tongues. Well, that spiritual gift is a gift that comes somewhat supernaturally. It's not an earthly language, a language of man, or like saying, ‘Oh well, that's Mandarin, Chinese, Portuguese or Russian.’ It's not an earthly language. It's a Heavenly language when someone speaks in tongues. We don't want to confuse the gift of tongues with what happened at Pentecost, in which they went out and by the power of the Holy Spirit were empowered and enabled to effectively communicate that good news in the native tongue of the people that they encountered. Jerusalem was a regional metropolitan city and people were gathering for a pilgrimage, the festival, and the worship that was going on there. So they'd come from out of the whole Mediterranean Region. And if we had read through verse 20, we would have had that list of nationalities that people get tongue tied over of who was able to hear and understand.
So what does that mean for us today? Because I haven't heard any of you start speaking in another language, but then there's not a need for it at this moment. So how do we take what God did at Pentecost and understand what it means for us today? Well, part of it is, I find John giving us some insight into the role of this Spirit. John's gospel is an interesting one, it's much different than the others. For the most part, in the Gospel of John, Jesus isn't teaching in parables. Luke has some wonderful parables in it. We've got the story of that Good Samaritan who helps that guy. We can get into this story because it's a good story and we can relate to it. We've got that story of the Father that has two sons and one runs off and squanders his inheritance. We understand parables because they're a little more relatable.
Well, in John, this reading, and I've mentioned this as we've looked at a number of passages from John over the past few weeks, falls within Jesus’, as it's named “The Farewell Discourse”. That doesn't sound fun or easy, that sounds like a class that you're taking to get college credit for. But that's kind of how it was. Jesus is speaking and fairly grandiose terms about what this means for the disciples. He's giving their final instructions. It takes him five chapters to do it. This isn't just a simple goodbye, ‘I'm gonna miss you. You're gonna miss me.’ He's giving them some instructions.
We find today at the end of 15, and in the chapter 16, Jesus talking a little bit, looking ahead to the spirit that would come. We find a lot of names for the Holy Spirit in Scripture, but here the ‘Advocate’ is the term that Jesus uses, ‘Advocate’ or ‘Helper’. He says, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the spirit of truth who will come from my Father will testify on my behalf. And you're also gonna testify because you've been with me all along.” He begins telling them a little bit about the role of this advocate. He says what it's going to do and how it's going to empower them, equip them with words, particularly when they're challenged and confronted.
Now, we often think of this Spirit-filled life, this Holy Spirit coming to boost up and encourage us. Sometimes I've heard people say, ‘Oh, it's kind of like your conscience,’ Well, there may be a time when the Spirit needs to play that role. But we can't simplify it down to like in the old Loony Toons cartoons where they had the little devil on one side and the little angel on the other, pulling back and forth on, ‘No, you should do this. No, you shouldn't.’ That's not the role of the Spirit as Jesus talked about it. Nor the intent of God sending this spirit.
Some theologians have referred to the Holy Spirit as the shy member of the trinity. That's part of the reason we have a hard time describing or understanding the Holy Spirit, because often the Holy Spirit drifts into the background. In this grand drama of what is this journey of faith that we're on, Jesus is kind of like the starring actor, this front and center, and on the stage. God has kind of like the director that is overseeing and making sure all was going on. And the Holy Spirit is kind of like the stage manager that's behind the scenes, making sure that everything happens when it's supposed to and falls into place. Well, Jesus told the disciples, ‘I'm going to be leaving. But I'm going to be sending one who will be with you.’ Jesus talked about the fact that you've come to me and I've told you these things, but the Spirit is gonna be there to continue in that. But what's more, that spirit is going to be intimately present and available in the lives of those who believe, not for the benefit of those who believe, not just that conscience that's helping keep you out of trouble, but rather for you and collectively for the body of Christ. On that first Pentecost, that Spirit, it wasn't poured out upon this person and that person and that person, it was poured out upon those who were gathered, flooding that space with God's presence and moving them to action.
Well, Jesus in this, John 16 says in verse 12, ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them right now. I still have many things to say to you, but it's more than you can handle at this moment. Now, this is not an angry, Jack Nicholson rant in A Few Good Men where he's being pressed by Tom Cruise. “I want the truth.” And Jack Nicholson screams back, “You can't handle the truth.” This isn’t Jesus saying, it's too much for us but that we just don't need it at this moment, I don't want you to be overwhelmed. But when the need is there, when the need arises, when the circumstance comes that you face, that you need more than is within you, the Spirit will provide it.
I've got my backpack that I'm gonna be carrying with me next week in Tennessee, in North Carolina. I'm trying to keep the weight in it as low as possible because I understand there are some hills there. Jesus is saying, ‘You know what, I don't wanna overload you with too many things that you're gonna have to carry around because you might need it.’ If you've ever watched that movie, A Walk In the Woods. In one of the scenes in that movie, Robert Redford, and his friend are going hiking. His friend has way too much stuff. And he drinks a little bit too much, eats a bit too much, and is not in very good shape. So he’s slogging up this hill, pulling stuff out of his pack and chucking it over the side of the mountain because it's too much. Jesus doesn't want us bogged down and overweight with all of the extra stuff that we don't need in this moment. He's saying the Spirit will be there to offer to provide the strength, the wisdom, the insight, the courage that you need to face that moment.
We're not facing a moment today where we need to be able to speak in another language to convey the gospel, but what is it then that you and I in the church of today do need from the Spirit? What is it that we need? This Spirit that infuses you and I in this community of faith with power. What do we need the Spirit to grant us in this time to make a difference in this world, to fulfill, to carry out, to equip the people of God for the work that God is doing? We don't always know what we need do we? But that's alright, because thankfully, that Spirit is there. That Spirit is there to provide us in those moments. And it's not always gonna be easy. And it's not always going to be comfortable. It's not even gonna be what we want. But that's where we have to trust a Spirit-filled life is a life that is seeking out where God is working, listening, watching, waiting, and willing and ready to respond when God gives us the nudge. Sometimes that nudge is subtle. Sometimes it's a shove that says, ‘Get going and take care of that.’ It's how God speaks into the world today through people of faith.
Now for us, if we're honest we’re a privileged congregation. We're an affluent congregation, we don't really know what hardship is, or struggle is, or persecution, but it exists in the world around us. We look at the things going in our world today and try to make sense of them. We hear about the protest and the Black Lives Matter rallies. We hear about the violence that's being carried out against Asian-Americans. We hear of people struggling for work, even though we see “Help Wanted” signs all over the place. We hear of employers who are struggling to find people willing to work. But so many of these things are so far removed from our lives, and we ask, ‘How and what can we do to make a difference?’ Friends, the Spirit-filled life is one that says, ‘God, I don't have an answer. I'm listening. Whisper to me, speak to me, speak to us, speak to your church, and equip us and empower us to do the things that need to happen to bring about the changes that we need to see in our world.’
Too much of our world and too much of our Churches, unfortunately, have gotten caught up in the political divisiveness that seems to be the status quo. As the church the question we need to ask is not, ‘What do I want? What is the right want? What is the left want?’ What we need to be asking is ‘God, what do you want? What do you want of us? What do you want us to do to make a difference somewhere in this world.’ Because the one thing that I am sure of, God's Holy Spirit was not poured out upon this Earth so that we could kick back and live a comfortable, easy life. God's Spirit was poured out so that the church could make a difference, so that the church could stand strong and firm even in the face of persecution and peril and hardship. So that the church when the church acted, could do so with the voice and the authority of God behind it. Friends, I don't know exactly where God is leading and directing us in this moment.
But it's a question that we all need to ask. God, what is the next step for us to take? The Spirit-filled life is one in which we are willing and ready to say, ‘Okay, God, I'm not sure what that step is, but with you leading, I'm willing to follow.’ Friends, may we as a community of faith and are into this Spirit-filled life. May we willingly go where God leads and directs us. May we offer hope and peace and love and comfort and assurance. And all the blessings of God's good news that he's made known through Jesus. It's by that Spirit that we can and we will be the church that God has called us to be. Amen.