John 15:26 – 16:15
Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day of the breaking in and breaking out of the Spirit in the lives of all who live a life of love and compassion in Christ. To be en christos is to be empowered to live and love in a manner which challenges the accepted ways of the world. To, in fact, be Christ in the world. You. Yourself. No-one-else.
No longer is there a Jesus to turn to for direction, teaching, hope, advice and spiritual comfort. You are on your own. You are to speak as if you are Jesus and to act as if you are Jesus because, for John, you are. And you will experience life just as Jesus did. For you are mystically one with Christ.
John writes about the coming of the Spirit at a time when we associate Pentecost with miracles, speaking in tongues and other super-natural events, and yet that seems far from what John has in mind. No where in this farewell discourse does he mention the doing of miracles or speaking in tongues or ecstatic experiences s being the lot of the those he was writing, his community which was beginning to feel the wrath of persecution and the struggles of remaining faithful even within the synagogue.
One would have thought if these were to be the tools of a disciple’s life, John would have spoken strongly and clearly about the power available. He doesn’t. Instead he links the disciples lives and experience of life directly to that of Jesus and stresses that the Christ is now in them as God was in him and that is all they need.
Jesus is saying that even if I go away, the meaning I came to bring will not disappear. What I have done is to open to you a new understanding of what it means to be human. Trust it. Now that it has been opened, it cannot be closed again. Spong writes that Jesus continues with; ‘The spirit of truth, which proceeds from the father, will come to stand where I have stood.’
David Ewart suggests “Whatever else we may want to say on this day of Pentecost about the Spirit, it is important to notice that Jesus always refers to the Spirit as the Spirit of truth. And in John truth is always the way, the life, the light, the joy, the friendship.”
Here we discover a mystical and mutual indwelling bringing into existence a new being in relationship. It is no longer one of authority but of indwelling friendship. It is a new way of engaging with the divine. The divine is no longer up there, beyond the clouds, but has entered life, your life, my life in the form of the very spirit of truth. This was the spirit we saw in Christ and now will be visibly evident in the lives of those who form the ‘body of Christ’. Us.
William Loader, of Murdoch University says, “Jesus is not left behind that we might soar into spiritual fantasy and relish the prospects of more magic and more religion. John promises no such flights and is silent about future miracles. The task of the disciples and disciples after them is to bear fruit, to let the seed sown in death rise to new life. Transitional events are minimised. What matters is life and love.”
Our life and lives are transformed by the indwelling Christ. It is our actions, thoughts, experiences which become the visible presence of God in the world. Pentecost is not about the supernatural crashing into the world in the form of special effects and magic tricks, it is the empowering of ordinary people to do ordinary things so that extraordinary changes take place in people, places and things.
In the Anglican Church there has been a process for young people to take communion after confirmation. When I was a school chaplain I used to alternate the services with 2 out 3 services for the High School students being a Eucharist. Almost all of the young people had neither church background nor any religious education in relation to the sacraments. Yet when the invitation was given many would come forward to take communion. Fortnightly 25% of the 600 students did.
Some teachers and other clergy questioned to authenticity them taking communion. Yet these young people made a conscious decision to come forward as did those who decided to stay in their seats. For both groups this was not simply following the crowd but a deliberate act of the will.
And it was a truly Pentecost experience every time. They would look directly into you eyes as you distributed the sacrament, moving from bread to wine respectfully and deliberately. While they may not have been regular church attendees outside school, their reverential actions spoke loudly about a deep sacramental and mystical experience of God. They were experiencing being in Christ. They trusted what was within them and stepped forward in faith to receive.
John’s Jesus speaks to the ordinary person, saying I know what it is like to be a human who is different to those around me, to march to a different spirit. Jesus says I also know the spirit is sufficient for all your needs, not only your physical needs, but your need to make decisions, to live in a certain manner, to endure hardships and persecutions.
It is perplexing when we see the Spirit at work, and adults even Christian adults, respond with questions and doubts, unable to accept that God is at work in ways and in people outside of what we perceive as the normal spiritual way. We simply shut down Pentecost.
Here we sit amongst a community of people who are open to possibility. That is why they bring their children to ballet, make school lunches, run exercise classes. It is all about what is now and will be in the future. It is about awakening the spirit with in, going beyond the mind that is. It is the mystical ordinariness of the incarnated spirit of God alive in the daily activities of human beings.
In an experience known as the Louisville Epiphany, Thomas Merton expresses what this Pentecost event is, and it is no different to the first event in Acts.
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
We are challenged on this Pentecost Sunday to see the supernatural possibility in the natural, to see God’s spirit already at work in those around us and to find ways to engage and to be en christos with them. We are not to demand that they change or convert to our thinking but to find ways to befriend and to compassionately be one with them. In doing so we open up the miracle of Pentecost and bring about a new world for all. Amen’