TITLE: Not a God-Dot-Com! SCRIPTURE: John 16:12-15
(16:7) Jesus said, "Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you". These words provide essential background to this Sunday's Gospel lesson. From the disciples' perspective, Jesus' immanent departure seems catastrophic. Earlier, Peter said, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life" (6:68). The disciples will witness Jesus' death, which will seem to extinguish "the words of eternal life." Following the resurrection, Jesus will ascend into heaven. Once again, the disciples will face life without the Lord -- without "the words of eternal life."
However, Jesus reassures the disciples that he will provide for their needs. They will not be alone but will actually gain by Jesus' departure and Spirit's arrival. The incarnation imposed limitations on Jesus. He is bound by time and place. He can travel only slowly and teach only those within range of his voice. The Spirit will not be subject to these limitations, but will be present everywhere -- throughout the world and throughout history.
Our circumstances change daily with new technologies and politics, but the Spirit of truth stands ready to help us to relate God's truth to new situations. In every new circumstance, the same faithful Spirit guides us to re-learn old, faithful truths and to apply those old truths in new and faithful ways.
Such growth -- such ability to appreciate the fullness of God's truth – is a lifelong process. Never in this life will we be prepared to understand all of God's truth.
In another context (Matt. 3:3-23; Mark 4:3-20; Luke 8:4-15), Jesus talks about the seed of the Gospel falling on four different kinds of soil – the hard-packed soil of the pathway, where the seed finds no purpose and where Satan quickly steals it away -- rocky ground, where a thin layer of soil allows the seed to sprout, but the underlying rock prevents it from developing roots -- thorn-infested soil, where worldly concerns choke out the Gospel seed -- and good soil, which bears fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.
In like manner, our receptiveness to the Spirit's guidance varies widely. Some people shut out the Spirit, and derive no benefit from his teaching. Others seek the Spirit's help in times of trouble, but pay no heed in normal times. Still others hear the Spirit's voice, but only faintly through the commotion of competing voices. But others receive the Spirit's counsel gladly, and produce abundant spiritual fruit -- become spiritual giants.
Some of the spiritual giants are famous -- Mother Teresa, Billy Graham -- but most congregations include at least a few. Most come in the guise of ordinary folk, but radiate spiritual strength. We admire, perhaps even envy, their quiet confidence. What we might never have considered is that the Holy Spirit has the power to bring that kind of spiritual vitality to life within us if we will open our lives fully to the Spirit's guidance and teaching -- if we will become good soil.
Have you parents ever tried to tell your kids what they need to know, only to find it going in one ear and out the other?
Or have you ever tried to explain to your co-workers how to carry on your work while you are on vacation -- only to experience the sinking feeling that they understand only half of what you are telling them?
It is so frustrating not to be able to get through -- not to have people understand.
Sometimes people just don't get it! And often there is a good reason! They don't get it because they haven’t been there yet -- they haven't done it themselves -- they haven't experienced what we are trying to explain.
Words help us to learn. Pictures help even more. But nothing helps like getting our hands dirty.
Some years ago I wanted to tune up my car. A friend told me what to do -- and that helped a little. Then I found a book with step-by-step pictures, and that helped more. But finally I found a friend who would go through the process with me -- would help me to take out the sparkplugs -- would show me how to gap them -- would help me to take apart the distributor and install new points. Once I got my hands greasy, the words that had been so hard to understand began to make sense.
In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus was getting ready to leave his disciples. Soon he would die, and before long he would return to his home in heaven. He had spent a good deal of time teaching his disciples many things – most of which went completely over their heads. There was no way that they could understand that he was going to die. There was no way that they could understand the future that lay ahead for them. Only later, after the
resurrection, would the light begin to dawn for them.
And so Jesus told his disciples, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now." He knew that they could not get it -- couldn't understand -- so he quit talking.
We parents might take a lesson from that. "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now." We do, in fact, say something like that now and then to our children. We tell them that, once they have children of their own, they will understand. And they will! I think that it was Mark Twain who found himself surprised by how much his father had learned in the years since Twain was a teenager? After we have become a
parent, we better understand parenting.
Jesus said, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now."
What would you say to your children if you were leaving them for a year? Be a good girl. Be a good boy. Take care of your mother. Do your homework. I love you. None of that seems quite adequate, does it -- even "I love you."
Jesus said, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now."
And then Jesus made them this promise. He said, "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth."
Going away is never as difficult if we are leaving our loved ones in good hands. Jesus was leaving his disciples in good hands. He was leaving them with the Spirit of truth, who would guide them into all truth.
Just imagine if you had to leave your children for a year. That would be tough -- but it wouldn't be nearly as bad if you had someone trustworthy to take care of them -- someone who would be there for them -- someone with rock-solid judgment -- someone who would give them the same kind of dependable guidance that you would give them. You would miss your children, and they would miss you -- but your overwhelming concern would be "Will they be all right?" If you could leave them with a rock-solid person – that would make a difference, wouldn't it!
Jesus had just that kind of dependable helper in the Spirit of truth, who would guide the disciples into all truth. Jesus didn't have to worry about the Spirit of truth leading his disciples astray, because the Spirit of truth -- the Holy Spirit -- was God's Spirit coming to dwell with the disciples -- to live with them and in them.
In fact, Jesus earlier reassured the disciples that it was to their advantage that he leave so that the Spirit could come to be with them (John 16:7). As a man, Jesus couldn't be everywhere at once. He couldn't be with all the disciples all the time. That would be the role of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit can be with each of us all the time -- regardless of geography -- regardless of circumstances:
-- The Spirit can be with disciples in Germany and China -- in England and Chicago -- in Alaska and New Zealand -- in Sydney and Seoul.
-- The Spirit can be with kings on their thrones and peasants in their little cottages -- with princes in their palaces and prisoners in their jails.
-- The Spirit can go with us into a crowded subway-- sit beside us at a business meeting -- travel with us in our car -- be there for us through our surgery -- dwell with us in a jail cell -- watch over us as we sleep.
Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, who will always guide us into the truth. That is quite a statement! I don't know a counselor who always gives good counsel. I don't know a doctor who never makes a mistake. I don't know a lawyer who never loses a case. I don't know a preacher who never puts someone to sleep. But I do know a Holy Spirit who always -- always -- guides us into the truth.
But we must be careful lest we think of the Spirit as a convenient Ouija board -- a spiritual question-answer resource available on-call to lead us to attractive marriage partners or profitable business deals -- sort of a GOD-DOT-COM.
The Spirit, you see, is a faithful guide, but a great deal hinges on our willingness to follow. The Spirit is a faithful teacher, but a great deal hinges on our willingness to learn. The Spirit has much to give, but a great deal hinges on our willingness to receive it -- not just when we are in crisis -- although the Spirit can be helpful in a crisis -- but in more normal times as well.
As mentioned earlier, Jesus talked about a sower who sowed the seed of the Gospel on four kinds of soil -- the hard-packed soil of a pathway -- a thin layer of soil with rock underneath -- thorn-infested soil -- and good soil. The Gospel seed grew only in the good soil.
And so the Spirit comes to some people only to find hard, unreceptive hearts. The Spirit comes to others only to find a burst of enthusiasm that passes quickly. The Spirit comes to others to find hearts so cluttered with other concerns that there is no space left for the Spirit. But the Spirit comes to others where he finds a glad reception and a fruitful home.
The question is whether we are hard-packed soil, rocky soil, thorny soil or good soil.
The question is whether we have hard hearts, fickle hearts, cluttered hearts, or receptive hearts.
It would be easy for us to mourn the fact that we are not spiritually gifted. It would be easy for us to envy people who have the quiet confidence of deep faith. However, the Spirit can help us to become spiritually gifted. The Spirit can help us to develop quiet confidence and deep faith.
It helps when we practice the spiritual disciplines -- when we come together to worship -- when we read the scriptures -- when we fellowship with other Christians -- when we take time to pray -- when we try to do what we know God wants us to do. All these things help us to grow spiritually in the same way that tilling and weeding and watering and fertilizing help a plant to grow.
The Spirit can help us to break up the hardness of our hearts. The Spirit can help us to get rid of the clutter in our lives. The Spirit can help us to become good soil -- to have receptive hearts.
Jesus provides us with a faithful guide -- the Holy Spirit. Let us prepare our hearts to receive him -- to accept his guidance -- to learn from his teaching. If we will do that, God will bless us beyond measure.