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Relationship at the Heart

This is the sermon I preached on Pentecost Sunday, June 5 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text is John 14:8-17.

Today’s gospel is a really different approach to Pentecost. We’re so used to the  excitement of tongues of fire and power and all the activity of thousands of people becoming believers in Jesus. Then we come to this quiet Pentecostal passage. And it all begins with a question, much like the one Thomas asked a few verses earlier. Thomas asked to be shown “the way,” while Philip takes it up a notch, asking to see the Father. The exchange between Philip and Jesus illustrates their relationship, the heart of this gospel.

To answer Philip, Jesus talks about his interrelational relationship with the Father. Typical of Jesus, his answer seems like a non-answer. Jesus is in the Father and the Father in Jesus. This is a major part of what defines us as Christians—the relationship between Jesus and the Father. Disciples believe either through Jesus’ words, which come from the Father, or through Jesus deeds, which God does through him. 

A common question we hear is, “What do you believe?” A more important one is “What differences does it make that you believe?” How did Jesus indicate that God was his Father? How do we demonstrate that God is our Father? Isn’t it through both our words and deeds—and don’t actions speak louder than words? What if someone asked us, as Philip asked Jesus, “Show us the Father?” How would we respond? Is it enough to tell them to look at Jesus? What are our responsibilities to illustrate the presence of the Father in the world?

Relationship with Jesus is expressed by believing. Four times in our gospel lesson, the word “to believe” is used. Each time they are present tense verbs implying continuous or repeated action, to “keep on believing,” “continue to believe.” This puts the ball in our court, shifting the focus from Jesus’ revelation of God to our acceptance of it.

We can have a relationship with the Paraclete, the Advocate. Advocate isn’t a word we frequently use for a lawyer, however, if like Ray and me you watch British shows, you will hear that expression. In Greek terms, the advocate was a legal mediator, a helper in court. This passage conveys to John’s late first century believers that although Jesus is no longer physically present with them, God’s power through the Spirit is. Through the Spirit of truth, the disciples will do the work of Jesus, and his life will continue through them. Ahh, they finally get it after the outpouring of the Spirit.

Jesus promises his followers will do greater works. How can this be? After all, he’s Jesus. Again, our greater works come  through relationship. Ours come after the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of our Lord. Ours come with the new age ushered in by Jesus’ “hour” of glory. Ours come with Jesus, having gone to the Father so that the Holy Spirit might come and be with us forever. 

And then, the greater works  aren’t really our works, are they? They are Jesus’ actions in response to our asking in his name. While Jesus performed signs and miracles, his glorification of the Father led to his suffering and death. I’m not sure, I am willing to ask Jesus, “Would you do through me whatever it costs to glorify the Father?” I want to limit the “whatever” to the miraculous and the “costs” to “not too much.” Jesus’ actions to glorify the Father included the suffering that cost him his life. What does that say about the depth of Jesus’ relationship with his Father? Jesus has promised greater works. I’m not sure if we’re ready to pay the price.

Some of us have been in relationships in which the person said they’d be our friend or partner forever. And then, somehow, it all comes apart, or they die and they are no longer part of our daily lives. It took me quite a while to adjust to being a single mother after my first marriage broke up. Jesus promises to be with us forever through the Spirit. He won’t ever leave us, even if we have left him. 

The promise of the Spirit’s continuing presence is to the community of faith rather than to individuals. We sense God’s presence in nature, but only by being part of the community of Spirit-filled believers can we find the Spirit, through whom we do greater works.

Philip asks Jesus to show the disciples the Father. Jesus’ response includes encouragement to focus on what they can see: his works. 

We northerners are well-acquainted with our two seasons: winter and construction and of course, now we are in the lovely season of construction! The road signs are a regular feature on our streets. Sometimes we only see the signs, “Road Work Ahead” or “Workers Ahead,” but there are no workers! However, we don’t need signs to know road work is happening if there are piles of dirt, freshly laid asphalt, or construction vehicles. There is the evidence of the construction—the works. In what ways are our works as the body of Christ signs that point to God’s grace? In what ways are our works part of constructing God’s grace in the world?

If we want to be transforming change makers in our broken world, we need to answer Jesus’ call to relationship with God, relationship with each other and relationship with our communities. We represent Jesus to everyone we meet. People cannot see Jesus anywhere but through us.  Just as Jesus is in the Father and the Father in Jesus; we have entered into that relationship through baptism. In these waters we engage in the life of the Spirit. He becomes our Advocate, who lives with us and is in us. 

Filled with the Holy Spirit, we have an old, old story to tell of Jesus and his, love—and a new, new story of how God is birthing sudden, surprising and undeserved new life all around us, every day. God is at work now in the world through the lives of ordinary Christians. What we do indicates who our Father is. How we live is a witness to the world about our faith relationship with the Father. 

In two weeks, the African-American community celebrates Juneteenth. Some of us are participating and standing with our brothers and sisters of color by attending the festivities on Saturday, the 18th and Sunday, the 19th. Talk to Sarah Goebel or me if you’re interested in joining us. 

Jesus’ work continues through the lives of all the baptized. We discover meaning from today’s Pentecost story, not only for our own sake, but for the sake of the world that so hungers for God’s life.


Brian Stoffregen,



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