Sunday the 21st of May 2017
John 14: 15-21
Since I was a young child, I have spent my life worshipping in, and being involved in, the life of the Lutheran Church, whether in NZ or Australia. I was taught well by my teachers and those who, over the years, had significant influence on my Christian journey. And I see myself as being an ordinary, Christian Lutheran.
In 2001 I began to study at Tabor College in Adelaide, which is a non-denominational bible college. Whilst I was there, for the first time, I mixed with other Christians from various traditions. Many of them were from Pentecostal backgrounds and had a very strong emphasis on the role the Holy Spirit plays in our lives. At that time I began to realise that as Lutherans we do not talk about the Holy Spirit much, do we? We don’t really talk about the role he plays in our lives as believers. At the time I was confused and, to be honest, unsure of what to make of what we believe about the Holy Spirit. It was something that I really had to grapple and wrestle with, and I suspect that it is not just me who has to do this at times.
In today’s Gospel reading from John 14, Jesus tells us that he will send us another advocate, that is: Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of truth, to be with us. As I mentioned last week, Jesus was speaking these words to his disciples, in what is known as his farewell speech; the time where he was preparing them for what was to come. And it is no co-incidence that it was at this time that he tells them about the Holy Spirit, whom he would ask the Father to send. Jesus was promising his presence with them at the same time that he was anticipating his arrest, his crucifixion, his resurrection and his ascension. He strongly encouraged his disciples that his presence would be made known to them, in the times ahead, through the Holy Spirit; Jesus made clear that when these disciples become troubled and afraid the Holy Spirit will come and be present with them always.
I wonder if we can imagine for a moment what it would have been like for those disciples to hear these words from Jesus. They had just been told that Jesus was going away and they could not come with him. These disciples, without knowing what was coming around the corner, had been with Jesus for the majority of his ministry. They had been present with him and taught by him and now he was telling them he was leaving. Add to this the fact that these words are said just after Judas departs into the night and Peter’s denial was foretold.
They might have easily thought to themselves: “What are we going to do? How are we going to manage? How can we keep on going if Jesus is not with us?” It is into this place that Jesus says: “16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth.” And “18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.”
The Holy Spirit will help us and be with us forever. His presence will be with us, along with the presence of Jesus to guide us through this journey in life with him. Knowing the challenges and persecution that these disciples were about to face, we can imagine how powerful these words of assurance and comfort would have been for these disciples.
As you and I here today look at the chaotic and at times unstable world around us; as we look at the challenges that we each individually face in our own lives when it comes to keeping the faith in Jesus amidst our own struggles; as we see the outright attack by those against our Christian values, and we see churches closing down around us, it is easy to find ourselves in a place where our hearts are troubled and we are afraid of what the future holds. And we ask: “What is going to happen to the future generations?” It is easy to get discouraged.
But we have the promise that Jesus spoke of. We have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, the one who gives us comfort, the one who gives us God’s presence, the one who reminds us of Jesus’ words of promise to us, the one who helps us to trust, when at times we can’t on our own. The promise of Jesus in today’s Gospel reading reminds you and me that we are not alone. The words of assurance that were spoken to those disciples are also the words of assurance spoken to you and me: that even today we are never abandoned, because the Holy Spirit is present with us.
Jesus also says these words concerning the Holy Spirit: “The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (v. 17) This is good news for all of us here. You and I are gathered together as believers, who know our God, because the Holy Spirit is living in us. We are brought together by the Holy Spirit who is working in you and me through the Word and Sacrament, to build us up, to strengthen us in faith and to assure us that we do in fact belong to the Lord through what Jesus has done for you and me, by forgiving our sins. But he does more than just these things. The Holy Spirit is the one who empowers us to not only believe, but to keep his commandments. The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts our consciences when we sin. He is the one who points us back to Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the one who empowers us to love one another. He is the one that helps you and me live the Christian life demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit. (Gal 5: 22-24)
All these ways I have been talking about of the Holy Spirit working are very practical. But it is not always recognised by us that he is working in us. This is a very Lutheran way of understanding his role, because it puts the emphasis on scripture and on his working in us. Often this can be misunderstood by others, because they place the emphasis on the outward works of the Holy Spirit. So they look at the gifts he gives us, or the miraculous ways that the Holy Spirit sometimes works through his people. They make these things the standard and do not emphasise the normal everyday ways that the Holy Spirit works in every Christian. The way that he brings about faith in us, the way he assures us of his presence. The Church of Corinth had this very problem. In chapter 12 we read Paul addressing the spiritual gifts among them. The reason he was doing this is because the people had become judgemental of others and had used the more powerful gifts as the standard of faith. Paul says these words in 1 Corinthians 12 v. 3: “No-one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” Any of us who have faith in Jesus have the Holy Spirit within us and this is good news that should give us certainty and confidence in our Christian life.
The fact that Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit and his role for the first time during his farewell speech, is significant. It is significant because of the encouragement that His disciples, which includes you and me, take from his words. Jesus uses a word to describe the Holy Spirit that can have many different meanings. For example, the Holy Spirit is called the advocate, the comforter, the counsellor, the helper, to name a few. That is because the Holy Spirit acts in these various ways in our lives. In the times these disciples were going to face, they again needed to remember these words of encouragement from Jesus, and again, as I said last week, we also need to remember; to remember that we have the gift of the Holy Spirit with us always as we face challenges and trials in our own lives.
I encourage each of you then, to rest assured that our Triune God is always with you bringing you his gifts of grace and faith to help you and guide you through this life. I encourage you to walk confidently with our Lord, because he is truly present with you through the Holy Spirit as he has promised.