The Spirit of Truth

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When the Companion comes, whom I will send from the Father—the Spirit of Truth who proceeds from the Father—he will testify about me. You will testify too, because you have been with me from the beginning.

I didn’t say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I go away to the one who sent me. None of you ask me, ‘Where are you going?’ Yet because I have said these things to you, you are filled with sorrow. I assure you that it is better for you that I go away. If I don’t go away, the Companion won’t come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will show the world it was wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment. He will show the world it was wrong about sin because they don’t believe in me. He will show the world it was wrong about righteousness because I’m going to the Father and you won’t see me anymore. He will show the world it was wrong about judgment because this world’s ruler stands condemned.

I have much more to say to you, but you can’t handle it now. However, when the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you in all truth. He won’t speak on his own, but will say whatever he hears and will proclaim to you what is to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and proclaim it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine. That’s why I said that the Spirit takes what is mine and will proclaim it to you.

As always, this past week’s events seem to only add yet more fodder for preacher’s like me to connect with texts like this, but sadly the events are often painful ones, such as the one we had recently in Jerusalem, with the opening of the American embassy within its ancient walls. Certainly some Israeli political forces had their reasons for wanting to place the embassy in Jerusalem, to fortify their claim to Jerusalem against the claims of the Palestinians, but you also had two incredibly controversial Christian pastors saying prayers at the Embassy, who also had their own motives for having embassy be in Jerusalem First, you had John Hagee, the man who believes that God used Hitler to force Jews to consider a political state in Palestine, which says something who he believes God to be, a God willing to massacre 6 million Jews and also cause the death of at least, AT LEAST 45 million others, in order to bring about Israel as a political state. Secondly, you had the Pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, Robert Jeffries, who believes Jews will not go to heaven because they don’t believe in Jesus, giving a second prayer of thanksgiving to God. Now, please know that Jeffries nor Hagee have any use for the state of Israel other than as a prop in bringing about the literal second coming of Christ – which, according to Jeffries will mean the destruction of the Jews and their damnation. In their reading, and misreading of parts of the Bible, an interpretation that is truly new and novel to Christian history, only when Israel is reconstituted as a nation state, something it wasn’t even in Jesus day, and only when Jerusalem is recognized as the capital, can Jesus finally come again. Now, most political actors in Israel do not take this theology seriously, of course, and consider people like Hagee and Jeffries to be idiots, but they are useful idiots, in the sense that these sorts of Christians come to their defense on all sorts of matters, including always taking Israel’s side against the claims of the Palestinians. For Hagee and Jeffries, Israel can do no wrong, can oppress no people, does not need to find a solution to the Palestinians situation, because the Jews are God’s people, though, ironically, in the end, Jeffries believes they are all going to hell, and Jesus is coming back very soon, which will then settle the Palestinian problem, so to speak. You can imagine that this horrifies Palestinian Christians, Christians who live in Israel and in the region, and it explains why they too decried the moving the embassy to Jerusalem, as justification for a new and novel theology that is unrecognizable to them and the vast majority of Christian church. The lust, the hunger, for Jesus’ return, a return rooted in Hagee and Jeffries misreading of the book of Revelation during which they believe Jesus will wipe out non-believers, this lust, this desire for this kind of triumphalist return of Jesus, it excuses all sorts of injustices done to others. And it goes without saying that this corrupted Christian theology has such a diminished sense of who God and Jesus are – the idea that we have to clear the decks before Jesus comes back, as if God could be manipulated by our actions, as if God was simply looking for us to get 1, 2, 3 in order and then She would return. Who is this God that I can control by my actions, and our actions, manipulated by his children? This lust for the end amongst some conservative Christians has caused so much pain and hurt in this world, to people of other faiths, and even to our fellow Christians living in the Middle East.

And yet, if you look at our text today, it’s interesting that Jesus seems to imply that it would be better if he wasn’t around anymore, that without his leaving, without his death on the cross and his resurrection – and his eventual departure from them in the Ascension, without this leave-taking the Spirit, his voice in them, his voice in us, his love in them, his love in us, that voice, that Companion, would not come, could not come to them. Jeffries and Hagee are wanting Jesus’ return, as if somehow the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit given to the church on this day, wasn’t enough. Perhaps they don’t trust Spirit, perhaps the Spirit doesn’t give clear enough answers, or doesn’t clear up who’s the wheat and who’s the chaff for them, which is always part of the insider/outsider framework that every fundamentalism works within, including our own Christian forms of fundamentalism. “It is better that I go away,” Jesus says, “If I don’t go away, the Companion won’t come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” The assumption here is that without Jesus’ absence, the presence of God within them, and through them, the assumption here is that without Jesus’ bodily absence, the Companion, the Spirit of God that would eventually would fall upon them like a rushing wind, and as flames above their heads, this Spirit could not be released into the world. I think I’ve preached this in another Pentecost Sunday sermon, but it’s important to remember that Jesus could only have a limited impact on a small group while he was alive – the disciples, other women and men who formed his posse, as they say. There is only so much a human Jesus can say and do in this world– but with the Spirit, who is essentially Jesus within you and me, he can reach farther and wider than this small band of disciples who had surrounded him in his ministry. So many of us wonder about and wish for the chance to have known Jesus like the disciples knew him, in his flesh and blood, but Jesus seems to think otherwise. Interestingly, Jesus clearly believed that we would know him better in his absence, because we now have the Spirit of Truth within us, because the Companion, the Spirit, is in fact closer to us than he ever was with Peter and John and Mark and Mary Magdalene when he walked beside them thousands of years ago. Despite what Jesus says, for some believers that is not enough, the Jesus within them through the Spirit is not enough – only Jesus in some bodily form coming down from the sky and rendering judgment will satisfy them, though what it satisfies is not their thirst for Jesus, since he has said the Spirit within them is more than enough, and is all we really need of him in this life. No, it is something else they are lusting for, and it has nothing to do with Jesus – perhaps a desire for some spiritual revenge, or some sort of desire to be proven right, or maybe a thirst for power, or maybe an enactment of some sort of revenge fantasy, in which God will eliminate those they disagree with.

But if Jesus offers nothing like those things – the revenge fantasies, the control over others, etc – through his actual presence in the world, through the very Spirit that each of us bear within us, then what does this Spirit do? Jesus spells out here what this Spirit does, and though a quick reading of it sounds a bit negative, context is needed to understand why the writer of John has Jesus saying these words. Remember that the Gospel of John is likely the last Gospel written down, perhaps completed 70 to 80 years after Jesus’ death. The writer drew upon a different set of oral traditions about Jesus than the other three Gospels, and he was likely part of a Christian community that had probably experienced some recent trauma around no longer being welcomed in the Jewish synagogues where they once worshipped without any problems. As a faith in Jesus as a Jewish Messiah grew, there were obviously fellow Jews, the vast majority of them, that disagreed with this belief, and it is likely that some Christians were told to go worship elsewhere, since they professed a belief in Jesus as the Messiah that was outside the Jewish mainstream. This was clearly traumatic for this early Christian community and there are moments in the Gospel of John where this shows up, either in defensiveness or in places like this, where Jesus seems to be arguing that he will be proven right by the Spirit, or perhaps this early Christian community will be proven right, despite being told to go away by some early Jewish synagogue.

Now, having now put it into context, I don’t think that means that we can look over the truth of what Jesus is saying here about the Spirit, that when it comes to them on Pentecost, it will, as Jesus says, the Spirit will show the world it was wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment. He will show the world it was wrong about sin because they don’t believe in me. He will show the world it was wrong about righteousness because I’m going to the Father and you won’t see me anymore. As the disciples are making their way to Gethsemane, as they are doing in our text today, they don’t realize how shaken they will by the events to come and by their own reaction to it. They will abandon Jesus, they will deny knowing him, they will hid away in fear of the Romans, they will doubt why they ever followed this man, and they will wonder if anything Jesus taught them about sin and goodness and judgment and love and the Father was actually right, was true. The fact that he died was an incredible trauma as well, that he didn’t win in the way they had expected a Messiah to win. But the Spirit, the God, the Christ, within them will make it plain that the way world operates is wrong, that might doesn’t makes right, that truth isn’t settled at the edge of a sword, that there aren’t just winners and losers in this world. Jesus will be proven right, and Spirit will be the one doing the proving, the revealing of all the ways the world is wrong, wrong about the meaning of his death, wrong about what motivated him, wrong about this foolishness, this idea that love is at the very heart of the world. The spirit of Truth is what Jesus calls this gift he will leave with early church, and with us, this Companion who will tell us the truth about the world, and the truth about ourselves.

Now, the difficulty is that this Spirit of Truth seemingly hasn’t always helped us Christians discern what the truth is, or even the truth about who Jesus is. Even this disagreement I have with Pastor Jeffries and Pastor Hagee about the nature of Jesus return and their decision to ignore the suffering of the Palestinians is seemingly symptomatic of Spirit not giving us clear guidance, or perhaps, really us not doing a very good job of listening to the Companion, the Truth within them, within me, within you, within us. Maybe it isn’t it the Spirit of the Truth revealing the truth that is the problem, but it’s us, and our unwillingness to listen to this God we bear within us, and who keeps showing us and the world the truth. How many of us pray, on a regular basis, “show me your truth, show me the way, show me what love would have me do?” But even when we must pray for guidance, the question arises – is what I think is true, actually true? Aside from always filtering everything we believe through the lens of love when it comes to truth, I think Jesus leaves us with another clue on how to discern right from wrong and that is this: whose side do we take, who you and I are in solidarity with? Who stands beside us? Are we a Companion to those who are weakest, as Jesus always was? Are we fellow travelers with outcasts, the untouchables, the exiled, the nobodies, the “losers: of this world? The world says might makes right, the winners win and losers lose, and that is the way of it, and will always be the way of it. People like Jesus will always be hated by the world, because of their naiveté, their willful ignorance that he, that we might believe, really believe that a loser like Jesus, who gets himself crucified, might be the savior of the world. I’ve recently said that sometimes we need to check our Jesus, which is really me saying that if your understanding of Jesus makes you a crueler, meaner, greedier, myopic, uncaring towards others, especially the losers of this world, then your Jesus isn’t the real Jesus. But only those willing to listen to the Spirit of Truth are going to know the difference between our personal, made-up Jesus and the Jesus who actually is, the Jesus not of my making, the one who challenges me and us to love more deeply, to show compassion more broadly, to celebrate joy with others and beside others, and to do it with everyone we know, whoever they may be.

As much as many of us struggle with what is truth about religion or politics or family or our marriages, or even our children, perhaps the greatest challenge around truth is the one Socrates left us with and that was to “know thyself.” Sometimes the difficult truths within us are the hardest ones to deal with, and we do everything in our power to not let the Spirit of Truth reveal a difficult truth to us. As I’ve grown a bit older, I do know myself a bit better, I know the truth of me better than I did even a decade ago. So much of what I have come to know about myself has been difficult to deal with – I thought I was better than that, as they say, but I’m not, I’m not –, but if you love the Spirit of Truth, the God of Truth, ultimately we’re going to want to know the truth of who we are, for better and for worse. Interestingly, the difficult and painful truths about ourselves are the ones we most often struggle with, but it needs to be said that the Spirit of God, the Companion within us, tells us more than just the difficult and hard truths about us. In fact, sometimes it is harder to listen to the Spirit telling us the good and powerful and empowering truths about who we are than it is the difficult ones. If we actually do believe Jesus’ words that the Spirit of Truth is even better than having a bodily Jesus in the room with us, then this is certainly good news, very good news and Pentecost has always been treated that way in the church calendar, as a day of celebration. And some, if not most of that good news about the Spirit is not just about unmasking the ruthless and demonic elements of this world, or the ruthless and sometimes demonic truths about who we can be sometimes, then what is it telling us of the good news of us, and this world? Actually, if we listen, the Spirit of God will also show us the beautiful world we live in, and will show us that God is love, and will show us that every loving moment we’ve ever experienced has been a God moment. And that Spirit is all about showing us the goodness still within us, the goodness that can and will grow and grow until the light within us will eventually extinguish the shadows within us. If we don’t know that we are bearers of such goodness, such love, such possibility, we may extinguish our lives and thus the power of the Spirit within us. My clergy friend Matt Laney recounted a story about St. Augustine, the great African monk, who when presiding over the communion table in the 4th century, was heard to say something quite different to those coming forward to receive the gift of the table, different than the traditional words like “the body of Christ, the blood of Jesus.” No, instead, we have a record of Augustine saying to those who were about the receive the body of Christ, the bread, that he said, “receive who you are,” which is true of course, because we are indeed the body of Christ, and we are the host of the Divine, the bearers of Jesus. And after these 4th century persons received the bread, Augustine would say to them, “Go and be who you are called to be,” which was surely an invitation to be the Christ in this world, to be love in this world, to be justice in this world, to be compassion in this world. Alongside all the ways God’s spirit, the Spirit of truth, reveals the less than beautiful parts of us and the world, the Spirit also does opposite, which is showing us that we also bear the Christ, and that we can become more like love itself, more like God, than we had ever imagined possible. Come, spirit of truth, shows us everything, the light and shadow, so that we can become who were meant to be – you. Amen

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