John 14:15-31

Unlike some other traditions within the Christian faith, we in the Uniting Church don’t tend to give a great deal of attention to the Holy Spirit. Other than at Pentecost (of course), and Trinity Sunday (if the preacher doesn’t avoid the subject of the Trinity entirely) the spirit very much takes a back seat in our discussion of the faith.

Perhaps that’s got something to do with the way that the Spirit has become such a prominent feature in the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements within the Church, with an emphasis on with signs and wonders and miracles.

And we’re either uncomfortable with other aspects of those traditions – the emphasis there seems to be on powerful charismatic leadership, or the exclusion or othering of those who don’t fit (though let me stress that those things are far from universal within that tradition – the most inclusive and egalitarian churches I’ve ever known happen to have been Pentecostal in flavour).

Or perhaps we’re uncomfortable because we feel as if we’re missing something; that the narrative of the Bible suggests that the miraculous is a reality for the people of God, and it doesn’t often feel that way for us – that’s a sermon for another day.

Because today, as we continue our walk through the farewell discourse, I wanted to reflect on the importance that Jesus placed on the sending of the Spirit.

I’m going start, though, by taking issue with the translators of the text we just heard read.

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

“Him” and “he”. Now the New Revised Standard Version was translated 35 years ago, so I’m not really critical of the translators. In their day it was important to emphasize that the Holy Spirit is portrayed in the scriptures as a person, not the impersonal force of vague spirituality or Star Wars. But it wouldn’t be until 2007 that an English translation took seriously the fact that the word for Spirit, in both Greek and Hebrew, is feminine.

So if you have to choose a gendered pronoun, there is no excuse for choosing ‘he’ over ‘she. Those words from “The Inclusive Bible”:

I will ask the one who sent me

to give you another paraclete, another helper

to be with you always –

the Spirit of truth

whom the world cannot accept

since the world neither sees her nor recognises her;

but you can recognise the Spirit;

because she remains with you

and will be within you.

(The Inclusive Bible also typesets the words of the farewell discourse in short lines and stanzas, as if it were poetry. It’s interesting how powerful that is, hinting to your mind to approach these words as if they were a psalm, a poem, rather than the logical structure of prose.)

I didn’t mind spending a bit of time on those words, because in a way they capture the heart of what Jesus taught about the Spirit of God.

The context, of course, is that Jesus has been quite explicitly telling his friends that he is going to leave them, and that where he is going, they cannot follow.

It’s hard for us to imagine the effect these words would have had on those first friends of Jesus. They’d given up their lives to follow him, to learn from him, to be his disciples. They may not have known where they thought it was going to end – the overthrow of Rome and establishment of a new Kingdom of David? – but one thing they were surely expecting was that wherever they were going, it was going to be with him.

But, he tells them, no. It’s not. I’m going somewhere you can’t go.

So, he tells them, I will ask the one who sent me to send another helper. There’s a subtlety in the words there – New Testament Greek has two words for another, the one used here, allos, emphasises the similarity of the other, as opposed to heteros, which emphasises the difference.

I will ask the one who sent me to send another like me. The Spirit of truth.

That is the core of Jesus’ whole teaching about the Holy Spirit.

The one who sent me will send you another like me.

Which makes a lot of sense, right? The context is all about how Jesus is leaving them, but his promise is that they are not being abandoned.

I will not leave you orphaned

I will love them and reveal myself to them

We will come to them and make our home with them

She will remind you of what I have said to you

I am going away, and I am coming to you

The promise of the Holy Spirit is, at its heart, this: a promise that the followers of Jesus will not be left alone, will not be orphans, however much it might seem that they are.

A promise for everyone who has ever wondered where God, who has ever felt as if they’ve lost their connection to the spiritual, the numinous, who has ever wondered if Jesus is really for them.

And that, I think is behind Jesus famous promise of peace: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.

Peace, remember, as used by the Hebrew people, was a much richer word than ours. It was Shalom, that rightness of all things being as they should be and, in this context I think especially, of relationships being as they should be. Jesus and his followers had a way of being together – Rabbi and disciples, leader and followers, teacher and students. That web of relationships that held them together and gave them a place in the world, that was their Shalom, and it was about to be torn apart. He would be taken, and, as Jesus quotes elsewhere, they will strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter.

But here he promises that he is leaving Shalom with them, giving it to them, but not as the world gives.

Because the world can give that sort of network of relationships, the world can give a charismatic leader to follow, a teacher to learn from, a guru to look up to. But what the world gives, can be lost, can be taken, can be broken. Leaders turn out to have feet of clay. The group disappoints. The life goes from it.

But I, Jesus says, am not giving like the world gives.

The Shalom I am giving you is your place in the network, in the body, in the family of God. The shalom I am giving you is the presence of another like me, the spirit of God, who the world cannot see, but who will reveal me to you.

And Judas (the other one) asks the question: Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?

And Jesus answers not with an explanation, but a description, a promise. Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

If you love me, you will keep my words. You will hold on to what I am saying to you; my promise that you are not abandoned – not for a minute were we forsaken, one of the songs we sing at 5:30 insists; that I will ask the Father and he will send another like me, the Spirit of truth.

And we will come to them, and make our home with them. We will restore shalom.

You will not be left as orphans.