Today's gospel lesson is rich in words of encouragement for the frightened disciples of Jesus. At this point, in spite of all of Jesus' teaching, the disciples still were unable to put together two and two. It was only later, after Pentecost that they experienced their "Aha" moment. Even then, they still had a lot of growing to do. They made their mistakes even though they were the God-appointed leaders of the church. These words of Jesus are words of encouragement for all of us as well. We too have trouble living the Christian life. Today's gospel is part of the farewell discourse of Jesus. I can imagine that the disciples were still unconvinced that Jesus' leaving them could be a good thing.
There are three parts to today's gospel: the love relationship that results in keeping God's word, the promise of the Holy Spirit and God's gift of peace to worried disciples. Today we'll be concentrating on the Holy Spirit.
We Lutherans don't emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit as much as some churches. In fact, I have even heard people say that Lutherans don't believe in the Holy Spirit. But we don't often speak of the third person of the Holy Trinity, who is indeed God himself.
Martin Luther saw and experienced the integral work of the Holy Spirit in his life. Listen to his explanation of the third article of the Apostles' Creed, concerning the Holy Spirit.
I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins--mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and to all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.
It seems we Lutherans do believe in the Holy Spirit!
In the gospel of John, the Holy Spirit is referred to as the Counselor, Comforter and Helper. The Holy Spirit is an Advocate sent by God for God's people. "The whole of John's gospel manifests the fruits of the Spirit's work among the disciples after Jesus' death and resurrection in deepening their understanding of Jesus' identity and mission" (Elisabeth Johnson).
The Holy Spirit is sent in Jesus' name. Experiences of the the Spirit do not permit disregard or rejection of the historical Jesus. The Holy Spirit will teach the church. Jesus had not yet fully said all that the church needs to understand. He did not speak to each and every situation Christians may find themselves in, however, in such situations, they would experience the Holy Spirit's leading. Jesus did not leave a list of regulations to follow. It is much like what pastors experience after seminary. Professors and the practical field education cannot teach you every single bit of information for each circumstance encountered in parish life. One of my friends from seminar can attest to this. She had been pastor for one week at a church in Rothsville, PA when the church building was struck by lightening and burnt to the ground. They don't teach how to handle that in Property 101.
The Holy Spirit will bring to remembrance the words of Jesus. Have you ever had that happen? When you need to share a word with someone, from somewhere, a passage of scripture or a helpful phrase comes to mind. It is the Holy Spirit at work.
The disciples of the early church did not have it easy. They may have walked with Jesus, eaten with him and spent time in prayer with him, but persecutions were a part of their future. In John's writings, he repeats his claim that believers can live in peace, without fear, despite persecution. Because the Holy Spirit is present with the early church and with us, there is no need to be anxious.
Sometimes God's presence can seem very close and other times we don't feel a thing. Our feelings do not determine the reality of God's presence in our lives, but they do affect our perception of reality, which is what we believe to be true.
Jesus' promises are not mere words spoken in the past that belong in the past. Jesus' words are accompanied by his presence with his people through the Holy Spirit. Above all else, it is the profound love of God that Jesus has made known to his disciples and that the Holy Spirit continues to make known to us. The Spirit assures us that we are never abandoned, even in the midst of the loss, pain and sorrow that are part of life in this broken world. Because of our relationship with God, the Holy Spirit teaches, guides and empowers us to share God's love with everyone we meet.
Fred B. Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year C.
Elisabeth Johnson, workingpreacher.org.