By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
June 16, 2019
John 16:12–15 (ESV)
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.
Imagine it is your first day at a new job. You have just finished the necessary orientation where you learned how to log into the various systems that allow you to acknowledge that you have arrived at the workplace and now you are on the floor learning something new. It does not matter what the job might be, no one has ever learned everything about their job on the first day. Every job is complex. Most required months of supervised training of some sort to get you into a position of being able to function effectively. After those first few months people who have been working for years learn something new nearly every day.
We spend thirteen years educating our children, and many go on from there for additional education. For some trades it might be two years, for others eight. Even after graduation those individuals may be required to complete a period of supervised work before they can legally work independently.
How many of us have considered our own personal educational process when we think of our spiritual education? How many of us would consider ourselves a master of a trade after a short period of training? None of us would. It takes years of practice to perfect a skill. It takes continual learning to keep up with the advancements of our areas of expertise. When that educational process stops, we usually stop participating in that line of work. There are many factors that are involved with this, maybe the added value of gaining the knowledge is less than the added return on the investment, so we step away until we eventually have no business. There are also points where the technology has changed to a point where our skills are no longer needed in the wider society. When I was in an economics class the professor once posed a question, “When were the best horse drawn carriages produced?” The answer is that the best horse drawn carriages were being produced while the automobile was first coming onto the market. And even today some of the chariot races that you can watch in various areas are far better than the carriages that were commonly used by families at the turn of the last century. Not many of us have visited wheelwright recently, although many of us have probably spoken to a mechanic within the past few months. People, societies, cultures all change over time this is just part of our human existence.
We learn, we adapt, we see a problem, and we come up with solutions to allow us to alleviate that problem. There are times where these innovations are nothing more than doing a task in a different way to make a process move forward more efficiently. At other times that innovation changes the course of history, like the automobile or the iPhone. We will never come to a point where we stop learning, stop innovating, or stop adapting. The process of adaptation is part of who we are, but just as much a part of our existence is a desire to slow that process down.
I have worked retail since I have lived in Kansas City. In those years I have had to relearn processes several times. The job itself has not really changed. The job of placing products on a shelf to be seen and sold to customers has been a common sales method since the advent of trade. But how we keep track of inventory, how we change the prices, how we organize the products we sell, how we organize the areas of storage, and how we move the product from those areas of storage to the sales floor have changed. The efficiency of this process has gotten to the point that a single person can much more work than was possible before. I can do much more than I was able to do just a few short years ago. But believe me I resisted the changes. I complained and I moaned, I thought it was unfair and would never work. I even changed positions at time because I refused to do what they were asking. I must admit that at times I am not the most adaptable person.
It takes time to relearn, it takes effort, it takes energy, and sometimes it takes tears. We process things at different rates and sometimes we must admit that we just do not know what is going on. Jesus spent three years teaching and ministering to the need of the people through out Judea. He spent three years showing them a life and lifestyle that could change our lives and the world around us. For three years he invested his life into the lives of others. When that time of ministry was ending, Jesus cried from a tree, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” I do not think that this statement was only for the religious and civil leaders, but for everyone who ever and will ever live. We do not know what we are doing. Many times, we come to a situation and our best effort is a guess.
The passage today takes place during Jesus’s farewell message, just prior to him going out to the garden to pray. His disciples are in a state of anxiety because they are aware that something is about to happen. Is he going to proclaim the kingdom and call Israel to arms? Are they going to slip away in the night a leave the religious leaders looking for him until he returns during the next festival? They do not know exactly what will happen, but they know something is just over the horizon. They are anxious as well because Jesus is just being weird. He took off his clothes and tied a towel around himself and washed their feet. Then he said if you want to follow him, they should do the same. Their idea of the kingdom was power and authority, not foot washing. He then speaks about a broken body and spilled blood, he tells them not to worry, and not to be afraid. He tells them he will give them peace, but not peace like the world gives. He summarizes three years of teaching in one evenings meal. He looks out the window and he see it is getting late, I imagine he sighs as he closes the lesson. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”
Imagine the scene. Imagine the person you have the greatest respect for in the entire world sitting across from you. The one person you trust to give you the truth of life. And that person sighs and says, I want to tell you so much more, but you can’t bear it now.
What caused Jesus to stop at that moment? Was it because Peter was using the whet stone on his sword? Was it because Matthew was looking in the coin purse trying to see if Judas stole any of their coins? Was it because John was starting to fall asleep because it was past his bedtime? Or was it the weight of the situation just pressing in on Jesus?
I have been trained and I have had to train others. I have looked at people as I was trying to teach and have decided that the best course of action would be to do something else for a while. I have looked at my sons at various times, after they had asked a question or shown me some, they thought was cool. They got me excited and I just start talking about these amazing forces all around us like lightening and magnetism, or a leaf. I just start spewing out information that I find fascinating and they look at me and I realize that they thought it was cool because it was red, and they were not ready to hear about the cycles of nature. We look at our children, our coworkers, our students, and our friends and we adapt as they too adapt. We adjust or change the topic of conversation. Jesus looked at his disciples and he knows they are eager to learn; they are yearning to participate in the kingdom, but they just do not understand at that point.
And they could not be ready. Their entire existence was viewed through the lenses of their culture. Their ideas of the kingdom were more closely identified with gentile concepts than the settlements initiated by Joshua. Jesus was teaching them a lifestyle, but they were hearing conquest. Jesus was teaching service they were hearing authority. Jesus was teaching peace and they were hearing a war cry. Some scholars even believe that Judas was not so much a traitor but was taking an initiative to force Jesus to begin a war.
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Does this statement cause us to pause? Jesus said these words to his closest followers at the end of his ministry. At this point they had participated in many things. They had provided healings to those that were ill. Evil spirits had released their grips over people when they spoke in the authority of Christ. Yet there was more, much more that Jesus wanted to share, but they were not able to bear it at that time. Can you see the great compassion and love in these words? Jesus who possessed the authority of the Father on earth, He was and is Emanuel God with us. He could have given a divine proclamation to instantly fill every mind and heart with light from God. Yet he didn’t. Because he wants us to grow in the relationship. He wants to take the walk with us on a journey of discovery. God does not use force to persuade. He does not coerce change. God convinces through relationship, one step at a time.
He looks at them and tells them I want to tell you so much right now, but you are not ready. He tells them this, but he does not leave them there. He goes on to say, “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. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore, I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” The things we do not understand now, those things we cannot bear now, we are not alone. Even when we feel as if nothing makes sense the Spirit of God is still with us. That Spirit is still encouraging, guiding and teaching us. The Spirit of God has always worked in those willing to listen. Proverbs says in chapter 8:
Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud: “To you, O men, I call, and my cry is to the children of man. O simple ones, learn prudence; O fools, learn sense. Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right, for my mouth will utter truth; wickedness is an abomination to my lips. All the words of my mouth are righteous; there is nothing twisted or crooked in them. They are all straight to him who understands, and right to those who find knowledge.
Slow down and listen to the call of wisdom. Take the time to learn and grow. Find what is true.
The disciples of Jesus at that time were not able to bear the fullness of his teaching but Jesus was not going to leave them alone. Even when he hung on the cross crying out, “Father forgive them because they do not know what they are doing.” He did not totally leave them alone. He is God with us. He is the image of the invisible God, showing us what life with God should look like. That life is found in taking time to worship and celebrate with the community, because Jesus made it his custom to worship in the synagogues. He would also with draw often to isolated places to pray, spending time alone contemplating scripture and just talking with God. And he would minister to the needs of the community, healing those that had illnesses and teaching those that needed understanding. This holy rhythm of life we see throughout the gospels. And it is in this rhythm we will find the understanding we seek.
I began today speaking of how times change. How it takes time to develop a skill and master it. It takes time to learn and relearn the processes in our jobs. It takes time to learn the use of emerging technologies in our world today. We may not know it all now but take the time. Wisdom is calling, are we listening?
As I was studying this week and considering all the things in this passage, my mind drifted to the world of art. I married an artist and as she pursued her degree, I had the privilege to walk beside her. I observed the development of skill that her and her classmates pursued. I could see how they made attempts to speak the realities of life through paint or clay. Art is something amazing if we take the time to observe. Art gives us a glimpse of everything around us, and art history tells a remarkable story. Often that story is cloaked in misunderstanding. The artist sees the world through eyes many of us do not possess and they try their hardest to share but so often we do not see. We cannot bear it. They attempt to transform pain and suffering, tragedy and joy into things of beauty. Or sometimes the opposite. In an episode of Doctor Who they spoke to an art historian about Van Gogh and he said, “To use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world, no one had ever done it before, perhaps no one ever will again…[he] was not only world’s greatest artist, but also one of the greatest men to ever live.” You may not know the history of Van Gogh or even care to know, we know him as an artist, some know him as an insane artist. Few know that he was the son of a pastor, and he himself became a minister. He served a community in a coal mining area of Belgium. The community was impoverished, and he hoped to help his community by giving what he had to those without. He gave up his home and he lived among those he served. And the church was upset at him for doing that. They removed him from his post. This all broke Vincent, because he loved the people and God. And to him everything seemed to be broken and lost yet through the pain he still saw beauty. This is when he began to paint. No one understood the man, yet he painted some of the most recognized works of history. He changed his pain to beauty, his sorrow to joy.
The point is that we need to take the time. Take the time to grow and take the time to know. Take the time to explore and take the time to see beyond what is right in front of you. Should we all take after Van Gogh, no he was a great artist, but he had a great many faults. But we should learn from him and from everyone around us, especially Jesus, God with us. Take the time to Love God in worship. Take time to embrace the Spirit in prayer. Take time to live the love of Christ with others as you work and serve those around you. Learn and grow. Listen and share hope. What the world might see as a strange man wandering the hills might just be the greatest master of his skill. And that great master might be just as broken as the rest of us. “There is so much more I want to tell you,” Jesus says, “but you cannot bear it now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.”
What is truth? A question Pilate asked Jesus and a question we continue to ask today. What is truth? The truth is God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him. He came to save, to redeem and restore. He came to bring hope. The world continues to spin and change, and we continue to adapt, but one thing remain God loves each of us and is calling us all to him. Scripture tells us this, but scripture also say we have a lot to learn.
As we enter this time of open worship, communion in the manner of Friends. Let us rest in Christ knowing that though we do not know he can still guide us if we are willing to listen. And let us remember that He loves and saves the world as crazy and messed up as it is. Let us ask for guidance to join him there.