The Spirit Abides with Us - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost (Year C) -- John 14

John 14:8-17, 25-27 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. 
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 
25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 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.
                Pentecost Sunday marks the beginning of the next phase of the Christian story. The Easter season, which celebrates the resurrection, culminates in the story of  Jesus' ascension. The ascension, which need not be read literally, marks the end of Jesus' post-resurrection presence with the disciples. Now, it's time to get on with the church's mission of carrying the good news to the ends of the earth. But, according to the ascension story, they are to wait in Jerusalem until the Spirit comes to empower them for this ministry (Acts 1). The coming of the Spirit, launching the ministry of the church, is the story told in Acts 2. There we hear about the moment that Spirit descended on the community gathered in the upper room like a mighty wind. This move of the Spirit led to the proclamation of the Gospel in languages the people gathered there in the upper room did not know. As a result, a crowd gathers and Peter offers his take on what is happening, leading to a large group of converts. That is the Pentecost story that most have heard and which gives the foundation for our annual Pentecost celebrations.

            The Gospel of John has its own story of Spirit-empowerment. While in the Book of Acts this takes place after Jesus' ascension, in John's telling this gifting of the Spirit takes place before his departure (John doesn't have an ascension story). If you compare John's story John 20 with Luke's version of the gifting of the Spirit, you will notice that John’s version of Pentecost is much quieter than Luke’s. In John 20, Jesus breathes the Spirit into the disciples and sends them into the world with the power of forgiveness (John 20:19-23). While that reading speaks more directly to Pentecost, the Gospel reading for Year C comes from the Farewell Address found in John 14-16. In this section of John, Jesus introduces us to the Spirit of Truth, also known as the Paraclete. 

            Contextually, Jesus has shared a meal with his disciples and has washed their feet as a reminder of the vision of ministry he wants to pass on to them (John 13). His disciples, having heard and seen this, want to know more about God. In fact, Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father. That is, he and the others want to see God. They're asking for evidence. Jesus responds to this demand by pointing to himself. If you see Jesus you see the Father because he is in the Father and the Father is in him (Jn 14:9-10).  So, here's Jesus' word to his followers---if you see him you see God.  Continuing on, if you believe in Jesus, that is put your trust in him, then you will do greater things than Jesus. So, what does John’s Jesus mean by this? How can the disciples do greater things than Jesus?  As followers of Jesus, we must ask the same questions: Are we to be miracle workers? Are we to offer signs of the kingdom of the magnitude that John records of Jesus? Perhaps, but perhaps that’s not the point.

              When John's Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit, he often uses the term parakletos (paraclete). It is a term that has a number of possible translations. The NRSV and NIV use the word Advocate, which has a more judicial feel.  The Common English Bible uses the word "companion," which I like better. Other possible translations include helper, counselor, or tutor. The last is the least used but in context, it is quite appropriate. In a similar vein, the First Nations Version casts verse 16 in this way: "I will ask the Father to send one who will always walk beside you and guide you on the good road." That's a bit expansive but illuminates the message. So, perhaps we should read this as suggesting that it is by and through the Spirit that the people of God will do greater things. It’s not that we are more powerful than Jesus. It is simply that empowered by God’s Spirit the work of God in the world becomes universalized rather than localized. As the incarnate one Jesus is limited to time and place, but the people of God, in whom the Advocate dwells, are not limited by time and place. This is important because as the Spirit indwells us, not only as individuals but as a community of faith, we are can express God's truth through our lives as well as our words.      

       Here in John 14, having told the disciples that he would be sending them the Advocate/Companion, Jesus then speaks of the Spirit of Truth, who will indwell his disciples. This is an important point not to be missed. At a time when we're inundated with "alternative truths," where conspiracy theories, half-truths, and fake news, are commonplace (and usually when someone speaks of fake news, they are the ones purveying it). Thus, it is important that Jesus' followers be people of the truth. A few chapters further into John's Gospel, Jesus tells Pilate that he has come into the world to testify to the truth, and those who know the truth will listen to him. Pilate then famously asks Jesus: what is truth? When Pilate asks this question he demonstrates that he doesn't know the truth. He had placed his trust in something other than the truth, which in his case involved putting his trust in the power of the Empire. As we should understand, the power of the Empire (the state) is not necessarily truth. Indeed, the way to power is often accumulated by following a path that denies the truth. To claim to speak truth does not guarantee that one tells the truth (and swearing on the Bible doesn't guarantee it either). Therefore, we must be careful to discern the spirits of the age lest we will fall victim to falsehood. 

          Down through the ages, people have fallen victim to populist messages. The promise of populism suggests that if you put your trust in a particular figure all your problems will be solved. Perhaps the populist will "Make American Great Again." In the real world, populism often leads to authoritarianism (witness Hungary's Victor Orban). It's important that we recognize (discern) that a spirit of falsehood is at work in the world. Some call this spirit Satan or the devil, but whatever we call it there is a spirit that seeks to overturn the truth.

                Perhaps, we're incapable of handling the truth! Consider Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men. Col. Jessup reminded the prosecuting attorney, who demands the truth from him, that he might not be able to handle the truth. Yes, Jessup tells the prosecutor: “You can’t handle the truth.” Can we handle the truth? I'm not so sure. In fact, I've become less sure in recent years. Too often we can’t handle the truth. We’re more comfortable with half-truths and lies. We enjoy having our ears tickled. But Jesus tells the disciples that the Spirit of Truth will indwell them. If they follow him, they will serve as signs of God’s truth in the world.

            John McClure points out that “because it is organically connected to Christ, the church is a community of truth that lives in the world in new ways and works within an eschatological vision of love”   How do we do this? McClure suggests that the key is to be found in intercessory prayer. To do these greater works, we must become “go-betweens.” Thus, McClure writes: “We are intercessory people—a community of go-betweens, fellow advocates with the Holy Spirit, bringing the suffering of the world to God, and bringing God’s healing balm to the world. Both aspects of intercession are crucial to our identity and mission” [Preaching God’s Transforming Justice, Year Cp. 252].

            This Spirit of Truth, who indwells us, will teach us what we need to know so we can participate in the work of God in the World. There is no need to fear because we are not alone. God remains with us, encouraging us to live out the Truth. This truth is a living word built upon the foundation of an earlier word. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who knew quite well about the power of the spirit of falsehood, put it in a Pentecost sermon from around 1940, teaching is joined to remembrance:
If there were only remembrance in the church, it would fall prey to a dead past; if there were only teaching without remembrance, the truth would fall prey to Enthusiasm. Thus, the Holy Spirit, as the proper assistant of the church-community does both: it leads the church forward and at the same time holds it fast to Jesus (cf. Matt. 13:52).  [Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, 15:555].

                God is still speaking truth to the World. Therefore, we act as go-betweens, engaged in intercessory prayer for the world, as such we become harbingers of the truth. While God continues to speak, there is also continuity with what has already been revealed. Jesus challenged the structures and visions of his day. He spoke a new word, but it was a word rooted in previously revealed words. There was a connection between the two. Therefore, as the body of Christ, we are empowered by the Spirit who is moving throughout God’s realm. We have been called and empowered to share with the world a word of truth even though the world does not always know or want to know the truth. At a time when the Big Lie (Lies) are running rampant in our culture, there is a great need for truth. The good news is providing us with a Companion who will lead us into all truth. This is the message of Pentecost! 

Miller, Mary Jane. Pentecost (A Second Version), from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved May 30, 2022]. Original source:


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