s032cg01 Somerton Park 3/6/01 Pentecost
"This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you." John 14:17 and:
"I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it." John 14:13-14
I suppose that some might find that what I say here "goes without saying" - yet I think that it is important to realise that Jesus does not invite us to ask anything and everything from him. Clearly we might as well "save our breath" - as well as our knees - asking Jesus to help us rob a bank - for all we might see ourselves as a modern day "Robin Hood" and plan to use the money for the alleviation of the poor and needy. It would not matter if every other of the bank's depositors were atheistic hedonists, devoted only to satisfying their own selfish whims. God cannot and does not accede to each and every request made; if for no other reason that it may well be at the expense of someone else.
Actually the illustration about the bank is not all that trivial and "obvious". What if all the other depositors were people of other faiths? We have only to think of those places were conflicts occur. Does God favour the Protestant over the Catholics in Northern Ireland or vice versa? Does God favour the Albanians over the Serb population in Macedonia or vice versa? Does God favour the Israelis over the Palestinians in the Holy Land or vice versa? If God will not help us rob someone else of their savings, (for of course the money doesn't belong to the bank - it belongs to the customers of the bank) be they people of other faiths or no faith, God can hardly bless our shooting people of other faiths or those of no faith!
Everything we ask must be "in his name". We must be lead by the Spirit - it can never be us leading the Spirit - for led by our human nature will usually mean that other's rights will be neglected in favour of our own. It is impossible that we are ever likely to be more charitable towards others by our own exertions than the leading of the Holy Spirit will encourage us to be. Of course it would indeed be blasphemous to suggest so. And so part of the Spirit's activity is for us to recognise the rights of others and to realise the truth that God protects other people's rights as well as our own - whoever they are, whatever their faith or lack of it, however they live their lives. Everyone does have a right to food, water, shelter, freedom from oppresion and discrimination ...
What is this "world" that Jesus talks about - the "world" that can't receive the Spirit? I was struck by another passage of St John's gospel recently, it was John 16: 7-9: "Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: about sin, because they do not believe in me ..." I suddenly thought, of course the "world" as we might initially think St John means - doesn't think about sin, righteousness and judgement at all. To our chagrin, most ordinary people, (if there actually ever are such people) try to get on with living their lives to the best of their ability. Many Church people lament the fact that "ordinary" people have lost any perception of sin altogether - and as a consequence the first task on our agenda is to bring home the reality of sin and its consequences to the ordinary mass of people.
But of course, the reality is that the people who crucified Jesus were those who DID know about sin and righteousness and judgement, the religious authorities of Jesus day. It was not the ordinary people of Jesus' generation and beyond. Such people as these are not interested in the least about speculating about sin, righteousness or judgement ... Those topics were and remain to this day the stock in trade conversation and deliberation of the religious hierarchy. They were well used to debates about who sinned, the person or the parents ... So it was these people who were so terribly WRONG about sin and righteousness and judgement. It is these people who John calls "the world", those who cannot receive the Spirit. The "world" of which John speaks are not the ordinary populace who are trying to get on with living at the very least not at the expense of others. The ordinary populace have got better things to do than concern themselves with sin righteousness and judgement, and it is only when the Church bring these, so called "eternal truths" to their attention, that they start to get frightened, rather than affirmed. No - those in the "world" are those who crucify Jesus for his association and acceptance of others, those of the ordinary populace. And of course I do not restrict my meaning to those of the Jewish religion, but Christians, who can just as frequently do the same.
And of course it was the religious authorities that didn't believe in Jesus; but not in the sense that they didn't acknowledge that he was the coming messiah, the Son of God, the Word made flesh ... They were wrong about sin because they didn't believe in Jesus who they crucified for sitting down and eating with people other than themselves ... This was Jesus' sin and it was inexcusable. And so I suspect some who call themselves Christians, are also wrong about sin, righteousness and judgement, suggesting that Jesus would not have associated with people other than card-carrying baptised, communicant and tithing Anglicans :-)
Again I was struck again by some other words of St John, about the vine and the vinedresser and abiding in Jesus, as our gospel passage talks today about the spirit abiding in us. "Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5). This is not a cosy relationship we personally have with the living Lord - if we abide in Jesus we are at one with the original and continuing mission of Jesus - sitting down, eating and accepting the offerings of others. If we are not doing this we can indeed do nothing - nothing useful for the kingdom anyway.
The Spirit abiding in us that we celebrate this and every Pentecost also is not a personal possession that we have for our own personal edification. The Spirit takes us beyond religious debate about sin, righteousness and judgement, for ourselves or for others - to an acceptance of others and what they can contribute to our existence.
For there is no need of God's Holy Spirit to lead us to individuals who are like minded to ourselves. We do need the grace of God's Holy Spirit to relate to others who think and worship and live differently to ourselves.
Most of my local congregation will be aware that our Diocesan Synod has just met, and it has been my experience of Synods, as with many other meetings, that they can be formal and alienating. I personally find the shear number of people involved, and the complexity of the arguments overwhelming. And yet Synods are vital. It is the activity of the Holy Spirit of God that brings the assembly together. It is my conclusion that we, like the Israelis and the Palestinians are brought together by the Holy Spirit - and it is up to us to learn to live together. We can argue and bitch as much as we like - after all it is only we ourselves who are hurt. Certainly God is not edified in the slightest. How much would the Synod change if we looked for the good in other people? ... that it is not a contest, but an exploration for truth, to which all can contribute? Except I suppose those who want to bring the sins of others to light, to proclaim their own righteousness and judgement on everyone else, who thinks differently from them. It is precisely these of whom Jesus speaks of as the "world", and who are so tragically wrong, those whom, for all their "blessed assurance", neither the Spirit or God abides in them.
The Spirit bids us disregard sin, righteousness and judgement and leads us to accept others as Jesus seemed to be ever willing to accept others too. It is as we are led into this that we come to know the Spirit who abides in us, and as we ask God to be merciful and accepting towards others, we will find ample evidence that this prayer in particular is answered, and the Father indeed is glorified in the Son.
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