May 23, 2021 “The Heart of the Matter, the Letter of the Law, & the Spirit of Truth”
“The Heart of the Matter, the Letter of the Law, & the Spirit of Truth”
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
“When you strip it of everything else, Pentecost stands for power and life. That’s what came into the church when the Holy Spirit came down on the day of Pentecost.” ~ David Wilkerson
“I used to tell young preachers, in order to preach, you’ve got to have the power of God on your life. Now I tell them, in order to tie your shoes you’ve got to have the power of God on your life.” ~ Paul Washer
You know, I’ve been wracking my brain trying to remember the last time that I pulled an all-nighter. It might have been the time when an old friend of mine showed up from El Paso and we stayed up playing guitar and singing and talking about all the goofy things we did as kids until, all of a sudden, the sun was coming up. Or it might have been the time in high school a week before graduation that a group of us made it our mission to stay up until morning – and we did it! One of us had to give a speech the next day for valedictorian or some such thing, (and that was hilarious,) but we did it. We pulled it off. Needless to say, as we older grow the prospects of staying awake until the rooster crows are slim at best.
Now the reason I bring this up is because when you think about it, our message from the gospel of John is a small part of what turned out to be an all-nighter. The Passover meal was finally over and Jesus had sat with his disciples to give them their final set of instructions before his arrest. The all-nighter ended, you might say, when later in the courtyard, Peter denied knowing the Christ on 3 separate occasions. It was only the crowing of a rooster that woke him up to what he had done. It had truly been a long night.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke describe this day and night in similar terms: they eat the Passover meal, Jesus presents his body and his blood in the bread and the cup, Judas sneaks off, and then Christ is arrested once they venture out after dark. John, on the other hand, devotes 5 entire chapters to the time spent that evening. It begins with the act of washing his disciples’ feet and ends with John’s record of the prayer for protection that Jesus prays to the Father just before they went out to the garden, where he was arrested. We read from part of this prayer last week. My point is, if you are looking for the nuts and bolts of what Jesus wants his disciples to do and to be, his teachings here in John’s gospel are worth studying.
But for today, Pentecost Sunday, we will focus on the heart of the matter, and that is the church. And I don’t mean your church or my church or the church across the street, I mean the universal church. I mean the universal body of Christ that despite all the nonsense that has went on over the centuries, still exists today. It is my firm belief that without the power and guidance of the Spirit, the church would have been defunct long ago. Humankind, after all, has a long history of taking a good thing and making a total mess of it. At the same time, all of our efforts to define and corral the Holy Spirit have pretty much failed. There are no statues; there are no famous paintings. Yet it’s the Spirit that’s been the glue that has held this whole thing together for over 2000 years. Think about it. When Jesus told his disciples that it was time for him to leave, they were upset. (vs. 5) Not one of you have asked, “Where are you going?” Instead, the longer I’ve talked, the sadder you’ve become. But…can you blame them, really?
Here stood the Messiah, the one the prophets had spoken about, the one who would fix everything; who would restore the nation of Israel to its glory days of the past. And all he had to offer was a helper, a friend, an advocate, a companion. I’d bet there was some mumbling going on saying, “That just ain’t gonna cut it.”
The heart of the matter – the heart of the church – is the presence of the Spirit. We who have made commitments, who come willingly to the body of Christ; we have an inkling of that truth. The disciples did not. They were sad and confused and maybe felt a little betrayed in the process. These were Jews, after all, who had been raised with the law of Moses. They had been taught that salvation comes from following the letter of the law: what to eat, what to drink, proper sacrifice and proper behavior. Life was hard, but obedience to the law somehow made it easier. If you sinned, there was penance; if you were righteous, there were rewards. So you can understand why the disciples didn’t jump for joy at the prospect that some mysterious thing – this helper, this friend – was going to take the place of this, the Son of the living God. But it did. What they didn’t understand just yet was that with the power of the Spirit they would truly become the body of Christ in this world. I guess that’s why the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost is called the birth of the church.
So, what’s it all mean anyhow? Is Pentecost Sunday little more than the story of howling winds and tongues of fire and a bunch of Galileans speaking in languages that they didn’t know? You bet it is. When I get to puzzling on this, I remind myself that yes, it is phenomenal that they would suddenly have this ability to talk in another language, but more importantly, once they were touched by the Spirit, they all said the same thing. (Acts 2:9) Parthians, Medes, and Elamites – Oregonians, Kentuckians, Muslims, Atheists, New-Agers and old fogies – they all hear us speaking in their native languages declaring the mighty works of God! That’s what the Spirit can do. It can bring together people of all walks of life: different political persuasions, educations, professions, and races to profess with one voice the truth of the good news of the Gospel. This same Spirit isn’t about to allow us to keep it to ourselves, either. If we are truly empowered by the Spirit, it has to leak out. It can’t be contained. It is the Spirit of Truth – Jesus repeated that over and over. (vs. 13) However, when the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you in all the truth there is. in this day and age where truth seems far from absolute, we have a helper, we have an advocate, we have power and the presence of the Holy Spirit. And by this power and through this presence, we are the church.
Amen & Shalom