Audio version of this sermon is available at http://youtu.be/672WKrrsMLY
Easter 6 A John 14
“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” -that is where we started last week and even though a whole week has passed in our day to day lives, Jesus has scarcely drawn breath, he is still telling us why it is that we should not be troubled. The context of these words is the farewell between Jesus and his disciples, this is real and personal stuff, words of hope and consolation for a group of people that Jesus loves, when he is about to leave them in horrific circumstances. Jesus himself, seems to know that he will return in the resurrection but equally that after that he will abandon his bodily life, constrained by being a man, which means physically leaving the disciples. So he is quite consciously trying to get them ready- emphasizing the most important things, which are about relationships between God, himself, the disciples and between them and the world.
Last week I was struggling for words to express the quality of the relationship between God the Father, and God the Son, the unity, the embeddedness, the mutuality. Jesus says I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Then a few verses on Jesus adds another element to the mix and that is the Holy Spirit. It is no coincidence that in this Easter season, while we have the death and resurrection foremost in our mind, over the next three weeks we will celebrate the Ascension, Pentecost and then Trinity Sunday. These things are all indissolubly linked and if you were to read these chapters of John all at once you would find all of these elements here.
The key thing that makes sense of all of this theology is love. That is the premise that underlies all that Jesus is saying. I love you, God loves you, you love God and love each other and then you will be keeping my commandments and we will go on together in relationship. We will all be in one another. Now it is much easier to see how the risen and ascended Lord Jesus can be in the Father, than it is for us to see how we fragile, earthbound, sinful creatures can be in the same relationship with God. Jesus knows he is going and that the earthly relationships that he has, which of course can be with only a small number of people, will come to an end but he promises that he will not leave them, or us, orphaned. We will be God’s children. Remember what John says way back in the prologue, “but to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God”, and here we see how that is going to work out. God the Holy Spirit is going to be with them, indwelling them, abiding with them, for ever. They will not be left bereft, not left as orphans, but can abide in God, forever.
And what is this Holy Spirit like? Well, she is like Jesus. Jesus words tell us that- “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate… this is the Spirit of truth”. So the first thing to note is that it is another advocate- like the one you have had, that is me! Jesus has been pleading for them, comforting them, and walking beside them, and now comes the Holy Spirit to take on those roles. And not just temporarily, but forever, in all dimensions of time and space. This becomes their permanent condition, the Holy Spirit will be abiding in them.
The other way that the work of the Holy Spirit is the same as the work of Jesus is that she is the Spirit of truth. Now Jesus has just uttered the words, “I am the way, the truth and the life”. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth and because of that the world, people trapped in their own limitations of humanity, have trouble in receiving the Holy Spirit. Unless you are searching after truth, unless you want to know the truth about yourself and about God, you will not be able to place yourself in that relationship. God is always available, but you must have a glimmer of the light that shows you truth in order to move towards God. And the whole business of truth is going to be very important at Jesus trial, isn’t it? All those questions about who he is and what he has come to do which is, Jesus says, to testify to the truth. Pilate famously asks him, “What is truth?” the truth is that God is your creator, that God is the creator of everything, and that this glorious being loves you, and wants to be in relationship with you. That is truth.
But how do we accept this? How do we move from the place we are into the relationship with God? Through the Holy Spirit who is the comforter, and restorer of relationship, the bringer of life. Jesus dies on the cross, is restored to life and then pours out the Spirit so that we all might live.
And not in some future age, but right now, we live in the Holy Spirit’s power. But what does it look like in our lives? What difference does the presence of the Spirit of truth make day by day? How is the Holy Spirit an expression of the risen Christ in our midst? The reality is that we are different because of the Holy Spirit indwelling us, but that it may be hard to perceive in our own lives. I think we all have moments when we recognize a power greater than our own, helping us, guarding us and enabling us to love in a special way. The question is, what would we be like if we didn’t have the Holy Spirit abiding in us, bringing us life? I remember a situation where two wonderful Christian people were in conflict with each other, and both believed ardently that they were right and had God on their side. It was a matter of some importance that couldn’t be allowed to drop and tempers flared and each said some regrettable things to the other. One of the parties said to me, about the other, that they had been deeply shocked at how horrible they were. They had begun the dispute as friends but the one person felt that they were now out of relationship. I was trying to heal the breach and had a sudden realization that they had both been speaking out of, if you like, unreconstructed selves, out of the selves they might have been without the Holy Spirit and it was sobering. Neither of them was functioning, in that dispute, out of the place where the other was precious and honoured by God. So I think that it is in the quality of our relationships that we see the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. If we are in relationship with God we are bound, willy nilly, into the intimacy of family life with each other. And it should show, Jesus says earlier in this discourse, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you and by this shall everyone know that you are my disciples if you have love one for another.”
Now, even though we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit this transformation is not immediate and it is not without our volition. We have to choose love, we have to be willing and then the Holy Spirit, our enabler can teach us love. And gradually, we are drawn deeper and deeper into the intimacy of our relationship with God and with each other. “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father and I will love them and reveal them to myself.” In the knowledge of the passion of the Father for each one of us, let us go out this week held in God’s love to love one another.