John 16:12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”
Saturday mornings around our house, when I was 9 or 10 years old and my sisters were 7 and 6, could be a drag. We would be about an hour or two into zoning out on cartoons and Crunchy Munchy sugary cereal when Mom would say, “Its time for chores.” And we’d say, “Aw, Mom! But Adam Ant isn’t over! And Deputy Dawg and His Friends is next!” Or “But I hate dusting the quarter rounds! I did them last Saturday! This vacuum cleaner is sooooo heavy! You know, people have had heart attacks working this hard!”
Now let’s contrast the response my mother got to Saturday morning house cleaning with whenever she said, “Who wants to help me bake a cake?” Or some brownies? Or, “Who wants to help me make some chocolate chip cookies?” Then we were all “Me, Me, me, me me!” and “I get to clean the bowl!” or “I get to run the mixer!” which also meant, “I get to lick the bowl” or “I wanna lick the beaters” or “I get to lick the spoon!” Funny, how suddenly we were all smiles and willing cooperation and “Yes, Mom….Sure, Mom, Whatever you say, Mom.”
Whenever I ask myself, Why were we so willing to help with baking dessert, and yet such subtle and determined saboteurs engaged in such active and passive resistance whenever it came to cleaning house? the answer is not hard to see. In baking a cake or making cookies there was a reward that we could get our heads around, at our age. But more importantly, you get foretastes of that reward along the way, as you lick the batter off the bowl, the beaters or the spoons. The best was yet to come, in the form of a cake or cookies right out of the oven. And yet, the best was also already there, in the form of sweet batter on the bowl, the beaters and the spoons.
And that’s what I want us most to remember about the Holy Spirit today. For the Christian, the best is yet to come, on the day when heaven and earth are one, we are in eternal union with God, and God has finished making all things new. Call that heaven, paradise or The New Jerusalem, or whatever you like. But for the Christian and the church, the best is yet to come in our inclusion into the life and love of God through the Holy Spirit. And the best is also already here, and now, in the person of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth as Jesus calls him. Because he is our guarantee, our foretaste, of the fullness of God’s goodness and glory to come.
As Jesus talks today about what we can expect of that foretaste, or guarantee of what’s to come, he does not talk about magical, mystical experiences. He talks about the Spirit leading us into truth, as we are capable of receiving it and living it. Furthermore, the Spirit will ever point our attention to him, Jesus, and teach us about God the way he did.
And that’s how I understand Jesus when he said, “The Spirit of truth……will show you what is yet to come.” We could take that just to mean that he will give us prophecies about future events, like he did in John’s Revelation. And that would be true. But most of the time, believers live with the same uncertainty about the near future as do unbelievers. We walk by faith, not by sight.
But I understand it more in the way that Paul the Apostle expressed it, (if we might pop that verse up on the screen) when he wrote the Ephesians to say, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” (Eph. 1: 13-14).
Now, the whole point of a downpayment or a foretaste is to keep us coming back for more. And Jesus told his disciples that he had plenty more truth to tell them, but they weren’t able to take it all in yet. In just about an hour after Jesus spoke those words, they would prove just how unready they are, just how far they have to go, when the mob comes to arrest Jesus and they all run and ditch him for parts unknown. When you compare them, then and there, to what Jesus is calling them to become, what he wants them to grow up as, they’ve got farther to go than my sisters and I did in learning to clean house and like it.
Is that why we the church have so many difficulties and divisions today? Could that be why well-meaning Christians are so often stalemated between arguments and positions on so many issues that are both correct, but only partially true? Could that be why the church, in the West at least, seems stuck and scandal-ridden? Why all our best logic and experience and scholarship so often bring us to loggerheads on two opposite sides of the same issue? And then we have trouble getting along, even though we’re after the same thing? Because we each only have bits and pieces of the truth, and we aren’t able to bear yet what all Jesus would say to us?
I wonder. In the end, intellectual and ideological log jams can only yield to spiritual breakthroughs that take us deeper into the truth, beyond the superficial layers of pro and con, yes and no, this or that, for and against, us versus them, liberals versus conservatives. To get deeper into God’s truth, we must go deeper into God. Or let God deeper into ourselves. Yes, the Bible has written, verbal, propositional truth for us; I’m not discounting that. But to apply these truths, live these truths, embody these truths, we can not just coldly and cooly figure it all out with our heads; we have to live into them. sacrificially, patiently, sometimes painfully, over time, throughout our lives, in union and communion with God, in love and commitment with others. For all the truth that Jesus would disclose to us, we have to be made ready in the same way that his disciples were: by struggle and success, by bitter failures and by sweet foretastes of this union, until we come to the ends of ourselves, and are then open to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. That way, we will not only know truth, we will live the truth, do the truth, embody the truth, and be the truth.
Yet such truth, progressively, patiently revealed and understood, is always in complete continuity with the flesh and blood Jesus of history, of the Gospels. The Spirit “will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you,” Jesus said.
So its not like the Holy Spirit would now tell us that whenever someone smites you on the right cheek, because of the terrorists God has recently thought better of it, changed his mind and we can now slap him over the head with a two-by-four. Or call down a drone strike. Its not so much that the Spirit reveals to us new truths to replace old ones, but rather that the Spirit reveals old truths in new ways, or that the Spirit makes old truths new.
I think we saw something like that during the Civil Rights movement some 50 years ago, when Jesus’ 2000 year old peace teachings were applied in new ways against the violence of racial discrimination and segregation. I think that’s why it had such a powerful and spiritually awakening effect on so many people: because it illuminated ancient truths and connected them with new settings, in new applications.
And that’s what I’m hoping and holding out for in some of the conflicts, controversies and stalemates affecting the church today. I wouldn’t trust any revelation so-called that would tell me that what was clearly and evidently evil yesterday is now perfectly fine and God’s will today. The church has done that already with war and greed, and look where it’s gotten us. But I am expecting to be surprised by new applications of old truths that expose our pride and false security, that call all of us to repentance and to change,
That’s what happened to Job and his “comforters,” so-called, after they debated each other to a draw. One side insisted that, “Suffering is caused by sin.” And Job insisted, “But I didn’t sin!” And there they remained stalemated, each side bludgeoning the other with its half of the truth. The breakthrough came when God showed up with a fresh, invigorating and yet disturbing personal encounter. Then Job at least could say to God, “Now I see you…..and I repent.” His debaters had to repent too. What changed for them? Not the truth of God, but they themselves, through their encounter with God, and with each other.
As Jesus teaches his resistant, recalcitrant disciples in today’s Gospel reading, the lesson is about more than just being faithful and fruitful workers. Its about more than just becoming effective apostles, though its all that, and that’s plenty big enough. Actually, Jesus envisions for them nothing short of union, communion and inclusion into the life and love, the unity and community that he knows within the Triune God. That kind of union and communion with God, in Christ, by the Holy Spirit, will also make their mission and ministry most effective.
Jesus invites us too into the same intimate, transforming communion and relationship of love and truth with his Father God as what he knows. As the Risen Jesus said to the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3: 21, “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.”
So we can trust the Spirit to keep nudging us forward with truth and love direct from the heart of God. We can trust him to keep calling us to share the love of the Triune God with the world, and to savor this love, like when my mother would call us to help bake something. If we should look for evidence of this invisible but powerful person, look for him in the love that gathers us, in the faith that sustains us, in our imperfect, yet sincere efforts toward worshiping God, and in our desire and struggle to understand and apply the truths of God’s Word. And if those sound like big shoes to fill, take heart; the best is yet to come. But there is also sweet batter on the bowl for us today. Not the whole cake yet, but enough sweetness and savor of the Holy Spirit to keep us coming back for more, in anticipation of the rest, and the best, forever.