Tuesday, May 11, 2010

May 9, 2010 Got Spirit?

Got Spirit?
John 14.21-31

[GREEN BAY] Several years ago, a commercial ran on TV. It showed a family in a great American neighborhood getting ready to move away and leave their dearest friends in the world. The Mom, the Dad, a couple of kids stand by the car as neighbors gather around them tearfully. "Goodbye" is heard. You see the adults hug one another. The children from the neighborhood and the children about to get into the car look like they will cry. It is a moment that tugs at the heart strings of every American who has moved or watched good friends move away to some new opportunity.
Finally, the moving van pulls away from the house; the family climbs reluctantly into the car and follows the van on their way to a new home. Watching the commercial, I'm expecting tears as soon as the car pulls out of sight. Instead, the neighbors let out a whoop and then run. The next scene shows the crowd of friends running down the road for the box office. As it turns out, this is Green Bay, Wisconsin, and these neighbors are running to be first in line to get their hands on the season tickets to the Packers football games.

What do you say when it is time to go? What do you say when you have to leave good friends that you will probably never see again? When it is Jesus, who has to leave, you know the conversation is going to be richly loving. We are in the time between the end of the Last Supper and Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus asked the Father if the cup might be taken from him. He had only a little time and so much to say. What will happen to the disciples when he is no longer with them as he was when he taught and healed and walked with them in Galilee and Jerusalem? Will they continue? Will they fall apart? Will they forget all that he has taught them?

In *John 13*, Jesus shares the Last Supper with his disciples. Judas leaves to betray him. Then, Jesus begins to teach them many things that he wants them to know. He prays for them. He promises to give them the Holy Spirit. Already, we are close to the moment when Jesus will be betrayed by Judas and arrested by the High Priest's guards. He has to prepare them.

A. In John 14.21, Jesus makes an interesting promise: 21 They who
[1.] have my commandments and keep them are those who love me;
[2.] and those who love me will be loved by my Father,
[3.] and I will love them and reveal myself to them."

This is a very tight statement. The ones who *love* Jesus are those who have and keep his commandments. Oddly, loving Jesus is not about our *feelings* for him. Loving Jesus is not a matter of having warm, cozy *thoughts* toward him. When someone sings a song about loving Jesus, they always try to tug at our heartstrings. But, Jesus is not interested in any of that; he is interested in those who *have and keep* his commandments.
Those who have and keep his commandments are those who therefore love him and therefore love the Father. The *promised result* is that he will reveal himself to them: to be seen plainly, to be available. But, remember that Jesus is preparing to for his arrest and the cross; he will not be physically with them much longer. How can he keep this promise?

B. Now, a bit of background. John wrote this Gospel around 45 - 55 years after the first Easter and resurrection. It appears that he wrote for the young churches meeting in houses that have been established in Ephesus, an ancient city in what is now modern Turkey. Over the years, the young Christian churches have gotten more established;
1. they are becoming a threat to Judaism;
2. AND they are raising the suspicion of the Roman authorities.

As a result, they are being thrown out of the Jewish synagogues. For those who have grown up Jewish, this is a terrible blow; Judaism has been their spiritual home. At the same time, the Roman authorities are beginning to persecute them. These Christians are different, and their loyalty to Rome is being questioned. While persecution was not yet widespread, it was a nagging problem for the young Christians.

All of this low-level persecution raises some very modern questions.
1. If Jesus is *life and salvation* for those inside the church, why isn't Jesus also *life and salvation* for the Jews and the Romans who refuse to believe?
2. If they are overjoyed to be followers of Jesus, why isn't everyone?

Thus, it was important for them to remember that Judas once asked Jesus a similar question: "Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?" Or, as I would put it:
1. "Why do some people believe while others do not or will not?"
2. Why do some people at my school go to church while others do not?
As often happens in John's Gospel, Jesus does not directly answer the question posed by Judas. What he answers is *what it really means for believers to see him*. His concern is about those who are listening to him – not those who will not listen.

Earlier Jesus gave several features of the presence of the Holy Spirit and the Spirt of Jesus in the lives of disciples:
1. Loving Jesus and keeping his word;
2. That the Father and Jesus will come to the disciple;
3. The indwelling of the Father and Jesus within the disciple.

In other words, in the absence of a physically present Christ, our actions and daily practice as Christians and as a Christian community make real the living presence and love of God. The first step in answering why some believe is not theory but *practice*, not argument but passionate love. For us, love in the action of Christians is the evidence of God among us.

II. Then, Jesus promised them an Advocate, the Holy Spirit. Imagine the Holy Spirit as an *Advocate*? John offers the Holy Spirit in a very particular role – not as broad as the role which Paul or the *Book of Acts* would portray for the Spirit. In John, the Holy Spirit comes as our Advocate.

[Whispers] When my daughter was in the 3rd grade, her class did a school play. As it turned out, the children were very nervous on the night of the big production. They could not remember any of the lines they had been repeating for weeks. So, the teacher stood behind the curtain and quietly spoke the lines for each child until the cast settled down. Maybe the audience seated in the back did not hear, but sitting near the front I was constantly aware of her prompting.

In the same way, Jesus tells his followers that the role of the Holy Spirit is to whisper the words of the drama in the ears of the faithful. When Jesus was present, he was the one who coached them through the proper verses AND taught them his commandments. But now that Jesus approaches his death, now that he draws near to his time of departure, now that the disciples will be on their own without him, that task is to be handed over to 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 ..."

The primary task, according to John, of the Holy Spirit is
+reminding the faithful of the truth,
+jogging the memories of the followers of Jesus about all of his commandments,
+urging them to keep them in love,
+whispering the lyrics of the never-ending hymn of faithful obedience in their ears.

It may surprise you to think of the Holy Spirit in this way, as a quiet, whispering teacher of the commandments and teachings of Jesus. Often, the Spirit is advertised in flashier terms. In Paul's writings and in the other gospels,
1. the Spirit gives ecstasy;
2. the Spirit evokes speaking in unknown tongues;
3. the Spirit prompts dramatic and miraculous healings.

Indeed, the Holy Spirit of God does perform such deeds, but these are all derivative of the one, primary activity of the Spirit -- reminding the children of God about everything that Jesus taught and commanded, whispering the words of the drama into the ears of the faithful.

III. Then, Jesus says to them:
27 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."

"Peace I leave with you" This is a new promise. This is the first occurrence of the word "peace" in John's gospel. In departing, Jesus says "Shalom" to his disciples; but his "Shalom" is not the exuberant salutation of people shouting "Goodbye" as they drive away. This *peace* is the gift of salvation. The peace which Jesus offers is not the world's peace – neither the false promise of security nor the end of conflict. The peace that Jesus gives is his peace, a peace that drives for the heart of Jesus' life. The peace of Jesus is his love, his joy. The gift of peace rests at the center of Israel's eschatological hopes, and it is now available in Jesus.

And there is more: Jesus' peace is not an opportunity for complacency. This is not an assurance that disciples have no worries, but a call for the disciples to find strength to face the new circumstances in which Jesus' departure places them.
Thomas a Kempis, in The Imitation of Christ, advises that the Christian should make a priority to put themselves at peace, so that they may better help others to be at peace. He notes that only when the Christian experiences peace can they be of real help and service to others. "A peaceful and patient man is of more profit to himself and to others, too, than a learned man who has no peace."

Peace is not an exemption from pain or suffering -- instead it is an attitude which enables which characterizes the life of one who fully trusts in God to take care of them, no matter how distressing the apparent circumstances.

Peace is not an exemption from stressful situations, nor a release from responsibilities
– instead it is an attitude which we assume when we decide that God is in charge and we're not! (2)

Consider the risk we take when we join Christ in the Church. There are those among us who assume that faith is intensely personal – even private.
"Like it or not, when you joined the church you exposed yourself to the likelihood that the risen Lord will deliver his message to you. When you joined the church, you took the risk of caring for people you would otherwise pass by without notice. You never know when Jesus Christ will intrude on us with a word of assurance and peace.

The Lord Jesus was about leave his friends and followers. He had so much to tell them. He wanted them to carry on the work that he had started. He wanted them to continue the message of hope that he had given. So, when the Last Supper was finished, but before he went out to the Garden where he knew he would be arrested, he taught them. Thank God, they heard him and followed Jesus even after he was taken from them. I know they did hear him, because you and I have heard the Good News of God's love. I know they did hear him, because we too have come to believe. And now, the message of God's love and peace is ours to share.

2. DeBisschop, Dorothy A. "Peace dwells within the soul (when ...)"
3. William G. Carter, Water Won't Quench the Fire, CSS Publishing Company.

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