By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
May 23, 2021
John 15:26–27, 16:4b–15 (ESV)
26 “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.
“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.
Last Sunday we celebrated the day Jesus returned to His Father’s side in Heaven. Prior to this event, Jesus spent time praying. Praying for people that traversed the pathways of life with him, and for those that would eventually listen to their voices and believe. Jesus prays for us. He prays that we will be united in a common mission, to love one another. Something so seemingly simple, yet the God of the universe found it prudent to pray. I hope we all have spent time considering this over the past week.
This week we continue to celebrate. Today we celebrate the foundation of the church. How often do we slow down, take the time to reflect of that time? Have we taken time to contemplate the forty days between Easter Sunday and to the Day of Pentecost?
I love the Friends Church. I love our history and the manner we live our lives. There is one thing that I do not much care about our tradition of faith, we do not celebrate enough. The calendar is filled with days that are set aside to remind us of our shared history, A history that stretches from the dawn to the dusk of time. A shared history that reminds us that the roots of our faith run deep.
We celebrate the Day of Pentecost as the birth of the church, but it is more than that. The Pentecost feast is also known as the Feast of First Fruits or the Feast of Weeks. This feast was established early in the Hebrew history and is one of the three mandatory Feasts.
This feast is one based on hope and trust. When the children of Israel entered the land of promise they were encouraged to remember. The Feast of Passover was there to remind them of how they got to where they were. God brought them out of Egypt, God redeemed them, God liberated them from their enslavement. The celebration we commonly regard as the Last Supper, was the celebration of this feast. Every word that Jesus spoke around that table was merging the traditions of the past with emerging understanding of God’s word.
The Feast of Weeks was fifty days after Passover. The ascension of Christ occurred forty days after Passover. The number forty is symbolic. For forty years Israel wandered in the desert, as they prepared for their anticipated future. Some traditions within the Judaism reflect on the concept of preparation, and they enter a period of intensive study of the books of the law over the course of twenty-four hours. Moses gave them the law as they walked through the desert, and as they approach the feast of Weeks, they prepare themselves as their ancestors did before them.
This shows their hope and faith but the feast is also one of trust. The feast occurs at the beginning of harvest. For those that have not lived on a farm you may not fully understand how important this is. Wheat is and has been a staple of the human diet since the dawn of civilization. Just as harvest begins the faithful of Israel are to bring their tithe to the temple. Just as the harvest of the grains that sustain live begins, they would take the grains and fruits and put them in special baskets laced with gold and silver and take them to the temple. Before they know how good their crop is they give a tithe. Before they even know if the harvest is good or bad, they give what they anticipate will be enough to honor God.
I want us to think about the deepness of this day. A festival that celebrates the hope people have in God, a festival that celebrates the union of the people with God, and a celebration of trust in God’s provision. The celebration of Weeks is the celebration of an emerging people, it is the celebration of a people directed and devoted to God. It is a celebration of God and his promise of a fulfilled life.
For forty days after Passover, Jesus taught his disciples. For forty days Jesus prepared his followers for what they would become. Just as Israel wondered through the desert to prepare to enter the land promised to them, Jesus prepared his disciples.
Imagine the busiest time of your year. Maybe you are an accountant and you are preparing taxes, imagine you are a store manager the week before black Friday. It is the most important time of your year, and during this time you are urged to stop everything journey to the temple. As you approach you meditate and study the foundations of your faith, and as you approach the temple you prepare an offering based on your hopes. You review your faith, and in a moment, you publicly declare your trust in your God. What will you give?
Jesus tells the disciples, “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.” As Israel crossed the river Jordan, they crossed into a new life. God led them through the desert and now they must walk on their own. “But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you sorrow has filled your heart.”
For forty years God lead Israel in the desert. For forty years God provided for their every need. They step into the waters of the Jordan and now they must live by faith. They must look trust and entrust their lives to God, even when they do not see.
“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. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment.”
When Israel took possession of the land God promised them, they entered the period of history recorded in the book of Judges. Most of us look at this period negatively because they did not have a king and people did whatever seem right in their own eyes. The people of Israel were prepared in the desert under the leadership of Moses, and the disciples were prepared by Jesus. Israel entered the land of promise to live in a manner that seemed right in their eyes, and the disciples were to be led by the Helper who will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.
I want us to consider the similarities of the two expressions of Pentecost. Both are celebrating the emergence of a great future. A nation, or more accurately a people lead by the word or the truth revealed by God. This truth will be revealed to us by the Helper, who will convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgement. Jesus goes on to tell us how this will occur. Jesus defines sin not as transgression of the law, but unbelief. Those that participated in the intensive study of Torah before Pentecost meditate on the law, they incorporate the law into every aspect of their lives. They believe the law. True belief is trust, it is entrusting every aspect of life to the teachings. Sin is a lack of trust.
Righteousness, or right living. Jesus says because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer we will be convicted of righteousness by the Helper. To be truly righteous one lives according to their beliefs, no matter what and even when no one sees. In our contemporary age we often refer to this as being character. Those with character will do what is right no matter what it may cost. A righteous person will give their lives for another.
Then Jesus says the Helper will convict the world concerning judgement. The ruler of this world is judged Jesus says. What is the ruler of the world? Since the fall of mankind humanity was cursed with the knowledge of good and evil. I say cursed, because prior to that we only knew good. Some schools of thought take a different look at this curse, some say that this story was speaking about the emergence of the human mind. It was our evolutionary emergence. I do not necessarily agree with this school of thought but it is interesting. If evil is the shadow of good, then judgment of the ruler of the world is that there is shadow in all. We all struggle with good and evil, we all can justify in our own minds the use of evil means to achieve some end.
The helper will guide us, as the law guided the first generation of Israel in the promised land. The helper will show us, teach us, and will glorify God through us.
As I was studying this passage, I was drawn to the verses not included in the lectionary readings. Today’s section began at the end of chapter 15 and skips the first three and a half verses of the sixteenth chapter. But I find these verses to be especially important in understanding the Spirt of truth. Jesus says, “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 services 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.”
What is Jesus speaking about? Who is Jesus convicting concerning sin, righteousness, and judgement? It is those who claim faith and belief. He is speaking about us, and this is why He is praying for us.
Today we celebrate the birth of the Church. We celebrate the interaction of God and humanity. We celebrate the era of human history where we live.
We are living in the age of the church. We live during the era of history where the assembly of God’s people is not based on an ethnic group, or national boarders, but a kingdom that extends across those boundaries and concepts of men. We live in the era where people live their lives based on the convictions the Spirit of Truth puts in their very souls. This is both exciting and terrifying. God is trusting us with His name and His glory. God has worked through countless lives through out history to bring each of us to this time and place so that we can embrace Him and entrust every aspect of our lives to his guidance for one purpose, to glorify him through how we live our lives, among others.
We live in the age of history, where God does not lead us with a cloud or a pillar of fire. We live in an age of history where God does not walk in an incarnate body among us physically teaching and bringing healing to those of us who face disease. We live in an era of history where God lives with each one who entrusts their lives to one thing.
I have struggled with this passage over the past week. I have read and reread the words and studied what history can tell me about this day that we celebrate. I have contemplated the words in prayer and have just sat at my computer trying to make sense of it all. After hours of study and prayer I realized something profound. Just prior to the ascension Jesus told the disciples to wait, he told them to remain in the place their were staying and wait. I cannot imagine how Peter felt getting those directions. He tried that before and decided that he had enough and went out to fish again only to find Jesus cooking breakfast for him on the shore. He told them to wait, and they listened this time. For ten days they waited. They were not waiting to start some new religion, even though that is what eventually emerged from their waiting. But they continued to walk in the path of their ancestors and their teacher. They most likely participated in the regular celebrations of Pentecost; they may have stayed up all night reading the Torah with each other. But all at once they were compelled to act.
Today around two thousand years ago, Peter proclaimed the truth to the people. He and the others spoke in the languages of all nations declaring the word of the Lord. And they went out among the people, fearlessly living as their teacher lived. And three thousand people embraced the lifestyle of Christ that day.
I have read many books and essays concerning that first day of the church. I have heard people long that we could return to that, but one theologian wrote that the people of the first century church longed for the church of our day. Can you imagine that? We sit around listing all the terrible things that are happening all around us and we try to make attempt at predicting the time of Christ’s return. We pray and long that the Lord will return and remove us from this world, and the people of the first century longed to live in our age? We need to open our eyes. I do not want to go back. I find it amazing that every week I can look on the internet and see that people from around the world have participated in some way with us in our worship. And I am humbled to think that maybe God is using us in ways we cannot even imagine. We long for the first century church, but we have everything they have and more right here today. We have the same spirit leading and guiding us, the same power that rose Christ from the grave is available to us today. Yet we so often do not see it. We want to see three thousand in one day but we forget that those three thousand came after three years of intensive ministry by over five hundred people speaking in the name of Christ.
Those three thousand responded because people lived their lives among them every day. And those people lived loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. How many people do you interact with every day? How many people see you living your life every day? How many people have seen you live your life in a manner of conviction where you stand up for your beliefs even when it does not make sense? How many of those people have been shown through your life and lifestyle the love of Christ?
We do not always know the extent of our ministry. God does not always show us why or how our current situations are playing out in the broader history of the church. But we are right where he needs us to be, so let us embrace our place. Let us stay focused on our one purpose and command. Let us forget about everything else that distracts us from our true calling. And let us make sure that each person we interact with knows that they are loved by God.
We do not need the greatest theological education. We do not need the best programs, or the greatest cutting-edge facilities. We do not even need the best pastor to participate in this mission. We have everything that we need right here, right now. And today we celebrate the day of hope and trust. We celebrate the day that the church emerged out of a tiny province at the edge of an empire. We celebrate the church that has remained for two thousand years, because one person listened to God and loved their neighbor even when it did not make sense. And that one person shared the love that they were shown. That is the church. It is an assembly of individual people coming together because another individual shared the love of Christ with them in word and action. We do not need to do anything other than that.