The world is a stage!
15:26 [Jesus said] “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.
16:4b“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. 12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 15:26,27;16:4b-15 ESV)
People return Sunday by Sunday to the divine drama of God interacting in the world in worship. If this is a theatre then we’re not on stage with God in the audience – we’re not serving God for he doesn’t need anything from us. No, the Divine Service is the mystery that God comes and serves his people. So people come to worship as they go to the doctors, the drycleaners, school, the solicitors – to receive – help, strengthening, learning, encouraging, challenging (something we mightn’t like to hear), and to receive things – gifts – stuff – changes which might be summarised in one word ‘blessing’. All other activities we might do in the world hopefully will enhance our life but it is here that we receive life itself – not just for this world but beyond death – life forever.
We’re not at a cosmic vending machine where we put in our tokens of good deeds for the goodies to drop down. That’s the world’s take on religion – laudable, sensible, the sort of things we’d do if we had power when we make God in our image but in the presence of God, human religion is insecure and idolatrous – dealing in deception and death. Notwithstanding that pastors and congregations can ruin God’s means of grace and turn Law and Gospel into Law and Law, God in Jesus brought about a new relationship with people through the mystery of the cross, suffering, payment of sins (not us but Jesus paying for us), forgiveness and mercy and this action sets the prisoner free through God’s declaration and life with God is all about living with the words – ‘not guilty’, ‘forgiven’ ringing in our ears – as we seek to live up to the absolutions given to us – when we’re still plagued with our sinful selves, a world that regards us as traitors to be destroyed, and the demonic who are prowling, tempting, and lying their teeth off in an attempt to destabilise God’s people.
No wonder Jesus, just before his arrest and execution spent a big portion of the teaching from the Upper Room and into the Garden on the Helper, the Comforter, the Paraclete, the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit that his followers need! Our Gospel account today are verses of this teaching minus the context courtesy of the lectionary compilers for we have verses in chapter 15 of John and then into chapter 16 and what we miss – perhaps because, for a long time, Christianity and power and authority in the world were aligned but now this alignment or historical reality is shifting to something still unknown – but back in Gethsemane Jesus said to the disciples: “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.” (John 16:1-4a ESV) Just as there is no need to fast while the bridegroom is present but fasting comes afterwards (Mark 2:18-22) so there is no need for the helper or comforter because Jesus is with them but now that he’s departing from their sight and taking on the world and disarming the rulers and authorities (Colossians 2:15) and smashing the teeth and gates of hell (Matthew 16:18) so those who are branches on his vine, those who are in him, those who declare God to be revealed in the person he has sent – Jesus – and no one else – will be targets in this world. Back then it would amount to being thrown out of synagogues and even persecution – maybe arrests and
death – whereas today here in the UK much of the attack is subtle and insidious but there are still those who face the scorn and sword of the world – witness last Wednesday the Presidents of Churches Together in England releasing a statement ‘Contemporary Christian Martyrs’ in which they express ‘their deep sorrow at the alarming increase in violence and murder against Christians in many parts of the world’ and call for ‘peaceful co-existence of diverse communities everywhere’.
Of course we want peace and safety but we should not be surprised at conflict and tribulation. The point is that such disputes and attacks should not be because of our rudeness, arrogance, corruption, but because the Holy Spirit remains our Helper. And I know that means we might think at times, ‘This sort of help I can do without’ but Jesus sends the Holy Spirit precisely so that we don’t turn our faith into our effort, our struggles into a wage for which we expect a heavenly payment, and ourselves into insufferable martyrs ‘look at me – look at me’ but so that reality is maintained. The world is trapped and blinded in sin specifically as it rejects Jesus and follows its own wisdom and religion and piety. Christians in the world know the righteousness of God and march to a different drum and this infuriates the world. Jesus’ ascension is preceded by the resurrection preceded by the descent into hell preceded by his burial preceded by his death and the ‘It is finished!’ which achieves our salvation and inaugurates a new age and new world breaking in on the old one. In this world Christians have peace with God as they live by faith in the world they see. And, annoyingly, now not even death itself can coerce them to submit and obey this world. Thus the ruler of the world is judged – this actually applies to all rulers in the world who stamp their feet and want loyalty to them first – and all claims to power and authority are found to be empty and false.
Caiaphas would say that it is to their advantage, it is expedient, or better that one man should die for the people. Little did he understand how true those words were but he wanted Jesus out of the picture. Jesus tells his followers he will be out of the picture – they won’t see him – and it will be to their advantage, it is better for them (same word in Greek) for they will have the Spirit of truth who will guide them into all truth – ie, keep them focused on him who though not visible to the eyeballs is still present if you know how to listen (words about Jesus and God’s judgements and God’s promises) and where to look (water, bread and wine).
Jesus’ language that night leads the disciples to ponder that God is for them not against them and whether they are thinking of Jesus or his Father or the Holy Spirit whom they send, the disciples are not orphans, not alone, but are recipients of God’s giving of himself. Humanity wants God’s gifts – his presents – not him – but Jesus gives himself to his followers and in doing so they have received God himself. There are no ‘bits’ of God left over – left out – to surprise us for the disciples of Jesus live in that truth that God is gracious and merciful.
Like going to the theatre and willingly suspending our disbelief so we know that today isn’t Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples in Jerusalem. We are here not by our reason or strength but because the Holy Spirit has called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified us in the true faith in Jesus.
Like a followspot operator up in rigging who shines the spot light on the star on the stage, so the Holy Spirit only wants us to have eyes and ears for Jesus for it is on him that he continually shines the light and directs us.
The colour for the day is red – fire, power, but also blood – for the conflict hasn’t ended. I don’t mention this so that you will fall away. On the contrary recalling Pentecost means we are to know the landscape in which we travel – the battle lines of the world – the terrain of our flesh with its weak spots that succumb to temptation, the points of pride that will trip us up one day – the multiple claims to truth we hear – precisely so that we can live to the glory of God as sinners who are declared righteous because of Jesus. Blood brings forgiveness – it is the detergent for sin – and when death is not a foe which makes us cower and cringe, so it might also flow for the faith.
We’re not called to live away from the world – to stay in our homes – to put up walls – but rather to go into all the world and to live in it as God’s people no matter what the world might do. And if we are called to anything on this Pentecost by God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – it is simply – and that isn’t simple at times – to love.
- John 15:26 - 27
- John 16:4b - 15