John 14:8-17; 25-27
STRUGGLE IS REAL
The struggle is about to get real for the disciples. Our gospel reading today is in the middle of Jesus’ final discourse or conversation with the disciples before his arrest and death. In this conversation not only does Jesus tell them he will be killed and no longer with them, but one of his very own followers will betray him, another will deny him, and the remaining will stay silent because of fear.
THEY WILL NOT BE ALONE—SPIRIT OF TRUTH
I imagine Jesus’ final conversation with the disciples about their inevitable struggle to faithfully love Jesus and love neighbor came as a shock to them. Knowing this Jesus tells his disciples, “do not let your hearts be troubled.” He then tells them that God is sending an Advocate that will be with you forever. This advocate will be a Spirit of Truth. Jesus tells these future lost souls that will betray, deny, and silently turn their back on him, “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 as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Today is Pentecost Sunday, a day where we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. Celebrate the wonderful gift of God’s Spirit of Truth. The Spirit sanctifies our purpose and calling as followers of Christ. In light of us celebrating the Holy Spirit today I wanted to lift some of the ways the Spirit of Truth guides and nurtures us in our journey of life and faith; especially in those moments when the struggle is real.
One of the the Spirit of Truth’s most important gifts to us during our journey of faith is something that is being lifted up in today’s passage…remembering. The Spirit of Truth is present with us always reminding us and teaching us of Jesus’ commandments of what true love looks like. The world and people around us might want to point to things of power and control, but the Spirit of Truth is all about pointing to Christ’s embodiment of love and Christ’s commandment to love.
We are able to remember this love when we let the Spirit guide us in reading and discerning Holy Scripture. It is the reason we have a prayer for illumination. “By the power of your Spirit, settle now into our hearts and illumine your will through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” It is the reason we pray for the Spirit to be present as we celebrate the sacraments, so it can guide us to truly remembering and teaching us God’s love. We might not see the Spirit present like it was in the form of a dove at Jesus’ baptism, but we can feel it present as we experience the sacraments that Jesus experienced. Every time we celebrate the sacraments the Holy Spirit is present to claim us as God’s beloved, transform and restore us by helping us remember God’s grace and love, and the Holy Spirit send us out with courage to love and serve God’s world.
The Spirit of Truth’s teaching and reminding us of Christ embodiment of love for the world through the good news of the empty tomb will bring about the second gift of the Spirit of truth…Comfort. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you…Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” We can take comfort in knowing that the Spirit of Truth is guiding us in a world full of struggles. Scripture shares the reasons we can find comfort through the Gift of the Spirit. In Ezekiel’s day the Spirit of Truth breathed in new life and restoration to a valley of dry bones, God’s Spirit is active in the world today bringing new beginnings in the stark places of life. Paul's words to the Romans about the Spirit give us comfort when we are in our own valley of life. He writes, “likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”
FEET TO FIRE AND NEW CONVICTION
We can run a risk of getting too comfortable. Too much comfort might lead to complacency and soon we get so comfortable we get our blinders on. Maybe our blinders lead to betrayal, or denial, or silence…but have no fear the Spirit of Truth offers us another gift that will awaken us. God’s awakening spirit holds our feet to the fire so we do not get complacent on how to love God and love the world. It is in these moments where you witness something lacking justice or love or hear an unfamiliar voice challenging the status quo and even challenging you. Because the Spirit of Truth’s primary purpose is guiding you to remember God’s love for you through Christ, the Holy Spirit holds your feet to the fire and gives your hearts and minds the lens to remember that your primary purpose is to love one another…to love in all situations.
Then awakened that the status quo needs to change God’s Spirit of Truth guides you to the gift of new conviction and new clarity on how to face the world and love it and serve it courageously.
Today we celebrate the beginning of the church, we celebrate the day when God’s Spirit of Truth started reminding us of Christ’s love for the world, comforting us with hope of the good news. We celebrate that tongues of fire opened our eyes and brought new convictions and clarity for how we are to love God and love one another.
For over 2000 years since the gift of the Spirit was given to the church and to Christ’s followers at Pentecost, there have still been moments where the struggle was real. For centuries people have picked out scripture to justify their actions, sadly sometimes those actions have caused great pain and suffering.
One hundred years ago this week, Congress passed the 19th amendment granting rights for women to vote, and later in August of 1919 when the amendment was ratified by States women were finally given a political voice in this country. This action was still decades before women had a voice and equal standing in the Presbyterian Church. For centuries men told women they were not equal in ministry. For centuries men clung tight to the scripture of Paul that women were to remain silent, for centuries ignored the truth that it was women who were the first ones ever to proclaim the good news.
I have shared this story before but I will never forget a time when I was in college eating lunch down the road from here and someone I knew in college told me my church had it all wrong. He said I was going to hell because I went to a church that allowed women to preach and be leaders in church. He said scripture says that women are to be silent. I was in disbelief. At the time I didn’t know how to articulate my faith as well, and I think I just said he was close minded and we all have gifts. I wish I would have thought to tell him “scripture lifts up women as preachers. Who were the first people to proclaim the good news of the empty tomb? Women! What if women were to remain silent?”
There will be moments when certain scripture and theology won’t line up. That is why we celebrate the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Spirit has been the beacon of light guiding us how to love and serve in a broken and fearful world. We can take comfort that the Holy Spirit will guide us to truth.
In the middle of the 20th century the Presbyterian church stopped being comfortable and let the Spirit of Truth hold their feet to the fire and see scripture in a more accepting and loving and truthful light. The Spirit of Truth helped the church discern clarity of a new vision of church. Thirty-seven years after the 19th amendment was ratified our denomination ordained its first female pastor.
What a blessing the new vision and clarity the Spirit of Truth gave the church has been for the church. Thanks be to God for all of those who discerned and were courageously led by the Spirit to change the status quo!
STRUGGLE IS REAL IN 2019
In 2019 the world seems to be spinning a lot faster, and in a digital age we are given more and more issues to discern and process. When a new issue faces our nation, our news broadcasts give us panels of up to 8 people to offer their differing opinions. People will begin to dig in, refusing to listen and hear the Spirit of Truth in unfamiliar voices and situations. Before we know, we have put on blinders to God’s truth. Soon we might find our own selves in our own moments of betrayal, denial, and silence.
When the struggle is real, and when situations arise, we are called to process it and respond to it. As disciples we are called first to lean on scripture and let the Spirit of Truth remind and teach us what true love looks like. May that bring us comfort. Then once we are reminded and comforted by what true love looks like, may we let the spirit of Truth light a fire in our hearts to love and serve the world even when we want to stay comfortable. Let God’s Spirit transform us with a new vision and dream of love for the world, and may God’s Spirit of Truth give us the strength and power to go out into the world and love it courageously. Alleluia Amen!