The Necessity of the Spirit

April 1st, 2013

John 14:23-29

Love is necessary both to be the body of Christ and to proclaim the gospel to persons who are not followers of Jesus. Of course, this is easier said than done. In addition to the “high view” of the church espoused by Paul, threads also run through Scripture on sin and the human condition. The church is full of spots and wrinkles, Paul always seems to add, though Christ will present the church to God as though it were “holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:27).

Again we come to the disciples’ need for encouragement and comfort as Jesus is saying farewell. Let me say it more plainly this week than last week: the disciples know that they are sinful and feel inadequate, incapable of doing the things that Jesus is forecasting. Indeed, in the verses leading up to today’s Gospel lesson, the Teacher predicts that this ragtag bunch of fishermen followers will do greater works than he has done (John 14:13).

I don’t know about you, but I would have been uncomfortable with this prediction. Of course, we’ve already seen this crew misunderstand Jesus’ statements about himself, fail to walk on water, and argue about who will sit where in the kingdom of heaven. Those things aside, however, how do you feel about yourself and your ability to comfort, to heal, or to simply speak a word of forgiveness to another person? Have you done those things recently?

The only true answer to this question is a resounding no. We do not do anything. Rather, God heals, teaches, preaches, forgives, and comforts through us. We are vessels. This is the crux of Jesus’ message to the disciples in today’s text: “The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you. . . . Don’t be troubled or afraid” (vv. 26-27).

This must have been of some comfort to the disciples, if indeed they understood it as we can in hindsight. “I am going and I am coming” makes more sense on this side of Pentecost, certainly. We must be this body because Jesus’ physical body is leaving this earth—this is what Teresa of Avila meant when she said we were to be “Christ’s hands and feet”—but we can only be this body if we are a Spirit-filled people.

Additionally, the Spirit will remind Jesus’ followers of his words to them. Remember the lists from last week—rejoicing together, suffering together, worshiping together, and (gasp!) sharing our food and other goods? That sounds like a demanding list and difficult to remember, in addition to being a little less palatable than the individualistic, healthand- wealth gospels we can hear on our televisions. But it should challenge us—to look more like the first-century church and to rely solely on the Spirit in humility. This is the truth of Pentecost, which we’ll experience next week; to be a Christ-follower after Jesus’ ascension is to be a person who continually leans on the Spirit—not the gods of this world— for power.

There's a well known hymn that ends memorably with these lyrics: “they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” The song begins by repeating “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.” The order of the lyrics is important, and it is instructive. The final clause is completely dependent upon the first. Without the Spirit, we can’t love the way we ought to, can’t be (or become) the body that we are called to be.

Thus, as we end this Easter season and rapidly head toward the Ascension and Pentecost, we are caught in the middle, looking back at Resurrection, but also forward to the oddity of the Ascension and the even odder arrival of the Holy Spirit.

“I’m going away and returning to you,” Jesus says in verse 28. Where are you in all of this? Are you frightened about the future, about some impossible task you’ve been given? Are you prepared to live by faith in the days and weeks ahead, to breathe in and lean on the Spirit of God? Jesus says that, though we cannot do it on our own, we have a Companion (“Advocate” NRSV), a powerful and available and continually renewable resource in the Spirit. The Comforter will aid us in remembering Jesus’ words and in enacting them. May God give us the strength and the awareness of our weakness to rely on him for the glory of God’s name. Amen.

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