By Dr. Richard Guentert
This is the Sunday of the Church Year we celebrate Pentecost. The Gospel selection is John 15:26-27, and 16:4b to 15. For the purposes of this blog I want to focus on 16:7, 12-13.
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. . . . “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; . . . and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
In short, I think this Scripture text points out how Jesus understood the necessity of Aabsenting@ himself from them; but not before he promised them the coming of the Advocate – the Holy Spirit ... the very Apresence@ that would sustain them into an unknown future . . . the very Apresence@ that would help them discern and discover additional truths for their mission that neither he nor God had yet completely revealed to them.
As most of us think back over our faith journey, we can identify family, friends, church folk and pastors who, early-on, taught and mentored us about life. But then they went their way and we went ours. Life’s pathway took them down different avenues and turns in the road – so they no longer walked beside us as we journeyed on! But along the way, we still valued some of those significant life lessons – those “truths” they gave us, and we built upon them; we added to them; we expanded upon them; we used them as foundational footings – but not as hindrances that would restrict us from the exploration and discovery of new truths God had in store for us. As a result we lived our way into some future directions and pathways they could never have imagined.
In other words, we experienced their presence, even in their absence. And while we relished the truths that improved us, we did not allow them to totally impede us!. (And that is what this text is about today). Indeed, the absence of the Teacher was necessary, before those first disciples could begin to put the pieces together most meaningfully for themselves. Jesus had to create in them a sense of His AAbsence,@ before it would fully occur to them, just how fully “present” he continued to be in their lives . . . a presence that was always reassuring, though never suffocatingly stifling.
When I went away to College, I really thought I was getting out from under the watchful eye and the controlling presence of my parents. What I was surprised to discover was how really present they were in my dorm room and classroom with me each day. Their counsel continued to be ever present when I encountered a situation that demanded it. The values they fashioned in me kept cropping up whenever I would try to transgress them. The attitudes they had formed in me would surreptitiously sneak to the fore, just when I least expected them to do so. And the conscience they had created within me was a real Apain in the butt@ ... but in the long-run it safeguarded me from a lot of heartaches. (So, you see, I experienced their presence, even in their absence.)
Years ago I remember hearing Keith Miller talk about all those deceased folk in his life to whom he turned for insight and discernment whenever he faced life=s greatest difficulties. He said he would go to church and sit on the main floor of the sanctuary. But he could re-collect in his mind the image of all his forbearers up in the balcony behind him ... giving him the very advice and encouragement and support he needed all along the way.
And I guess that is just another way of understanding what the writer of Hebrews was calling AThe great cloud of witnesses@ who have gone before. Their Spirit is so absorbed and so incorporated into us that they continue to fuel our identity and our ideals; they continue to impact our personality and our practice; they continue to determine our propensities and our peculiarities. And that=s just the way Jesus said it would be with the work of the Advocate – the Holy Spirit. Instead of pointing them to the old hopes, he patiently directed them to the hope that was on the horizon .... the coming of his own Spirit-like presence that would abide with them forever – the one John called “The Advocate.”
Because there is APresence in the midst of Absence@ Jesus was not misleading us as he said, AWhen the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth!@ With Pentecost, God has provided a means for his continuing revelation – through the work of the Advocate – the Holy Spirit. The activity of the Spirit (the Advocate’s coming) on Pentecost was only the beginning. Throughout the centuries the Christian community has again and again re-experienced the truth of Jesus’ promise: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. [But] when the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. . . . He will declare to you the things that are to come.”
So it seems to me that perhaps Jesus’ truth wasn’t yet ALL the truth – since we couldn’t handle it then, he says. And neither are our truths ALL the truth there is. So, as my friend Dr. Jan Linn (pastor at Spirit of Joy Christian Church in Apple Valley, Minnesota) says, “We should speak all the truth we know, without claiming it is all the truth there is.”
The Spirit journeys alongside us and within us – forming and reforming us, shaping and re-shaping us, creating and re-creating us. And God’s revelation continues well into the 21st century.