“There is so much more that I want to say to you.”
These words from Jesus, as he continues his farewell address to his disciples, hit me hard this week. Hard enough that I called a “pastoral audible” and switched from my desired preaching text of Proverbs 8 to this short passage from John 16. What hit me the most about this word is that I can relate to it. There is so much that is left to be said and could be done, yet such a short time to do it in.
I think about all the things I have wanted to express to you in our time together. I think of ideas of how to go out and be a blessing to others. As well, I think about the missed opportunities to express God’s grace with the people around us everyday. There is so much that is left to be said and could be done, yet such a short time to do it in.
With only four weeks until we say those difficult words of “goodbye,” there is not a lot of time to focus on the missional aspect of ministry. Much of the work of connecting with the community in new ways, sharing God’s love to the least of these, and engineering ways we can be a blessing to others is not work I can do right now. Setting out on new ministries is certainly not ideal, right now. It will be up to your new pastor, Elad, to lead you in what it means to reach out into our communities. This is not an attitude of “giving up,” but a recognition that the mission of the church does not exist with one pastor or a selected few favorite ones. The mission of the church continues as we, both clergy and laity, work together in our task of making disciples in the name of Jesus Christ.
There is not much I can do about reaching out and encouraging us to do so. I recognize this. While I may not be able to focus on the things left undone, I can certainly focus on the things that have been unsaid. I believe our remaining time together allows an opportunity to focus on some things I would like to say to you before leaving for Covington. Over the course of these “final four” sermons, my prayer is this time will launch us into this new season with hope and a desire to serve God and others. As well, I hope these words do not reflect me so much as they reflect a life that is found in attaching ourselves to the Christ-like journey. Ministry is not about one person, but about all of us participating in the mission of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.
As we reflect on John 16:12-15 what I want to say to you is perhaps more of a reminder. That is I hope we never miss an opportunity to hear the Holy Spirit teaching us what it means to follow God’s word.
This message is at the heart of Jesus’ words. He is preparing his disciples for his departure and tells them there is much he wants to say. Of course, Jesus also says that they could not “bear it now” if he told them any more. This is not reflective of anything about the disciples’ lack of understanding, but, perhaps, a recognition that for three years they had been drinking from a water hydrant of deep engagement with the Lord. What more could they take in?
Jesus likely knew this and says their eyes would be opened when the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost. We talked about about this last week about how the Holy Spirit comes as a guide that shows us the way of following the Lord’s desires and helps us to interact with our world. Here, Jesus tells us when the Spirit comes he will be focused on teaching and guiding us to knowledge of all truth.
On this Trinity Sunday, the day we recognize how the Father, Son, and Spirit work in a relationship as one, we are reminded of truth’s origins. Ultimate truth is found in God’s character and holiness. It is the wisdom that comes from God. The Holy Spirit cannot teach anything that does not come from God. The Spirit cannot create truth, but only share it with each of us. The Spirit shows us the meaning of God’s wisdom and love in ways that gives glory to the Son.
It is important for us to remember that the Holy Spirit is always at work. The Spirit never stops pointing us to the fact that God’s truth is everywhere. We can see it throughout creation. Our Old Testament reading from Proverbs 8 connects us to the idea that God’s wisdom can be found in the world. This is the image we get from the roadside and gate imagery, which, for the original reader, would have brought to mind an image of centers of activity. In big and small ways, the Holy Spirit uses the things of this world to remind us of God’s truth and love.
For example, have you ever watched a movie or a television program and have been reminded of a Scripture story or an aspect of God’s love? Just last night, a friend of mine mentioned a scene from the classic show “The West Wing” where one character narrates a story that reminds you of the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Holy Spirit uses things that may seem less than holy in order to bring us to a deeper dependence and understanding of who God is.
To hear the Spirit’s teaching, though, we must be willing to close out the distractions and to be attentive to God’s small voice. It is difficult. I admit this. Yet, when we turn out the voices of this world, the distractions of our day, and focus on trying to seek God in the moment, we might find that the Spirit of the Living God is present and has never stopped teaching us.
Of course, when we do hear the Spirit teaching us God’s truth we may find that this truth is more challenging and difficult than we expected. It is not the work of the Holy Spirit to water down God’s truth to make it more tolerable for all. To help us to articulate God’s love in ways that reaches people in appropriate ways, yes, but the Spirit is not interested in removing aspects of God’s truth so that it would be easier to hear. The Holy Spirit challenges what we perceive to be true and right and calls us to a deeper level of hope, truth, faith, and dependence upon God.
No one likes to be challenged. In our time together I have preached some challenging sermons. I know this, because I have been challenged my much of what I have preached. One of my key preaching philosophies is that sermons should be both challenging and engaging. They should engage our souls, but in ways that are understandable and applicable to today’s world. I never want to preach a gospel that says the life of following Christ is easy, because there is nothing easy about denying ourselves and taking on what the Lord desires of us. I do ask your forgiveness if I have preached in a way that made it seem like the life of Christ is easy. It is not. Following Christ challenges everything we are and requires our full devotion.
When we are challenged by the Spirit and God’s truth we recognize that sometimes it is a truth we needed to hear. It may not feel like it in the moment, but God opens our eyes to the Lord’s character and holiness in ways that brings us to a closer walk with the Lord. The Holy Spirit guides us along the journey of faith so that Christ’s love becomes central to who we are and how we live in this world. This happens through allowing the Spirit to work in us to help us understand more of who God is.
None of us can claim to know all there is to know about God. We do not reach a point in our spiritual growth and stop only to say, “we’ve reached the zenith of the Christian life.” There is no end to how we can grow in Christian love. The journey of becoming perfect like our heavenly Father is perfect, to reflect the Lord’s love, is a daily life of understanding who God is and what this means for us, our lives, and how we engage the world around us. We need the Holy Spirit to continue to open our eyes to the Lord’s wisdom and truth, so that we might grow closer to the person God desires for us to be.
Every day is a moment to hear and to gain a deeper appreciation of who God is. The Holy Spirit is always at work in our lives in showing us what it means to follow the Lord in all aspects of our lives. The Holy Spirit never stops teaching, which means we should never stop listening for God’s voice to speak in our lives.
Just as the Holy Spirit never stops teaching, we must never stop listening for God’s voice and hear what the Lord is trying to say to us. I heard a pastor once say this, and I believe it to be true, that the most dangerous prayer we can ask is for the Holy Spirit to lead us each day. What if we prayed that prayer in a way that asks the Holy Spirit to speak to us in ways that shows us what God desires for us? Could you imagine if we prayed that prayer today, tomorrow, or even throughout this week?
I wonder what the Holy Spirit might say to each of you, to me, and to us this day and week. What word might God be trying to speak to us? What element of God’s love has the Lord been wanting to express to us? What work has God been trying to do in us?
There is so much God wants to open our eyes and hearts to. Let us always be open to the fact that the Spirit is at work in our lives and is pointing us to knowledge and love of all truth that comes from the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit.