This, my friends, is inspired.
Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
(John 14: 23-29)
You quite often hear women say that men are too impatient and arrogant to ever read instructions. It doesn't matter if it is a piece of Ikea furniture or a new television or even a ready meal from Sainsburys, women insist that men will never take the time to read how to put things together. In stead, they say, men just dive in and try to assemble the thing without any reference to the paperwork whatsoever. Invariably, this leads to the end scenario of the man standing next to a rickety cupboard surrounded by various screws and bits and pieces that were mysteriously, as far as the man is concerned, left over after their do it yourself do it yourself.
Well, I'm not going to own up to the arrogance bit, but the accusation of impatience is a fair cop. I, for one, am certainly guilty of rushing into things without reading the instructions first. When I buy a new toy, an electrical gadget maybe or something for my computer, I want to get it home quickly and I want to be able to take it out of the box and play with it straight away. I absolutely hate having to read booklets and fiddle around with wires and stuff first. Sometimes, I will leave things untouched for months rather than buck up the courage to work out how to use them. For example, I left a mobile phone, I was given as a Christmas present, for so long that when I finally did try to ring somebody I discovered I had been cut off from the network.
What really annoys me, is computer software, the programmes you can buy so you can do specific tasks on your computer which usually come on compact discs. For a start, they can take a long time to download onto the computer. And then, when it is all downloaded, so that the producers of the discs can stop their customers just passing on the disc to somebody else, without them paying for it, you usually have to register your software. You do this online over the internet. You have to fill in loads of details about yourself and then you are asked for the serial number of the disc you are registering. Finding the serial number is something I always have problems doing and it's not unusual for me to discover that I threw it out with the originally packaging. Of course, they can never just stick it on the disc itself. Oh, no. That would be far too sensible and convenient.
Anyway, if you eventually manage to get everything you need downloaded and you manage to find the serial number and get your software registered, you then have to learn how to use the software and, for a man, that is the most infuriating part of the whole exercise. I expect a lot of blokes are like me and try to work out how to use the software by trial and error without going all through the instructions. And like me I expect most blokes end up never knowing the full potential of their software. Never knowing everything it can actually do.
I think, when you read the gospel stories about the disciples, you have to come to the conclusion that the twelve men who accompanied Jesus, were, very much, typical men, especially in their inability to be patient. They wanted everything straight away. They wanted to understand everything straight away. And their failure to take their time and listen to the instructions Jesus gave them often led to them getting completely the wrong end of the stick about why Jesus was there and what Jesus being there meant. Actually, to be honest, I don't believe Jesus chose the twelve men in question because of their talents or intelligence. I suspect he chose them because they were so ordinary. So typically stupid, So macho, in fact. And people nowadays who go on about only men being able to be priests because the original disciples were men, should bear that fact in mind. The women mentioned in the gospels appear far more intelligent and capable than the men mentioned in the gospels. Perhaps Jesus chose men because the women he lived among were just far too overqualified and far too sharp for the job.
Whatever, the fact is that it is obvious that Jesus knew from the beginning that his disciples would never understand fully his message and the reasons for his actions within the three years he had to spend with them.
But that, of course, was never going to be a problem, other than for Judas Iscariot. In fact, their ignorance was an important and necessary component within God's plan. This is because, central as the incarnation of Jesus Christ as a human being was to the redemption of humankind, Jesus was only one of the divine actors in the drama of our salvation. Jesus himself, throughout his ministry, makes sure everybody knows that the lead role in the drama very much belongs to God the Father. In our reading today Jesus states, "the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me." Over and over again, Jesus points away from himself and towards the Father. Yes, Christ is the instrument of our salvation but it is the Father who uses the instrument to bring about our salvation. Jesus doesn't raise himself from the dead, it is the Father who brings about that great miracle.
But, even so, we have still not listed the full cast in this divine tragi-comedy. There is one more actor to walk onto the stage.
Jesus says to his disciples, “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you."
And here, Jesus is not just talking to the people standing, or sitting, in front of him. He is talking to every person who will, over the next two millennia and in every part of the world, decide to find out what it was that Jesus was talking about as he walked among his people.
Anybody who says that the Bible speaks plainly is uttering a great blasphemy. We cannot just look at the words in the Bible, even the words of Jesus, and say that we understand them. For a start, the Bible is a written human record of divine actions, and human language is incapable of containing the full meaning of such actions. Jesus knew this. The Father knew this. That is why the Holy Spirit has to take over where Jesus left off to continue of our education. It is like moving from primary school to high school.
This fact has always been central to the doctrine of the Anglican Communion. We have never trusted just the tradition of the church. We have never trusted just the words of the Bible. We believe in God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and we trust in the Holy Spirit to guide us in our understanding of the divine action.
I have a question. Why didn't the Holy Spirit just come to earth along with Jesus and the two of them wrap the whole thing up together and then ascend together back to the Father?
I think the answer to that is obvious. The world changes. People die, people are born. And people are different to each other. They live in different cultures. They speak different languages and these cultures and languages contain words and concepts that do not translate into the words of the languages of other cultures.
If there is one aspect of God's being, that the incarnation of Jesus Christ revealed to us above all others, it is that God is dynamic. God is active and God is reactive. The Incarnation, the sending of God's Son to our world was a reaction by God to our actions. God adapts his actions to fit his remedy to each situation that requires it.
The Holy Spirit, our Advocate, our Teacher, came from heaven to be with us for all time, because although the message of the gospel is constant it is infinitely adaptable and the Holy Spirit is the agent of God who works out the application of the Gospel for each generation, for each situation. To think otherwise is to believe that God is containable and static and God is most certainly not.
If you have a question to ask of God, do read the Bible, do ask the elders in your church. You may receive part of the answer from both or either. But you will not receive the full answer until you have asked the Holy Spirit.
Of course, the obvious question is, how do we know that it is the Holy Spirit who answers our questions and not just the voice of our own desires and prejudices? That's a difficult question and I don't have a full answer for it. But I can tell you this with complete certainty. The Father, the Son and the Spirit are one and they will never, because they ontologically cannot, contradict each other. Jesus never taught anything that didn't come from the Father and the Holy Spirit will never lead you into beliefs and/or actions that would contradict the teachings of Jesus Christ. God is love, grace and mercy. God is forgiving. The Holy Spirit will never instruct us to act in a way that is hateful, ungracious, unforgiving or without mercy. God gives us hope. The Holy Spirit will never instruct us to take righteous hope away from another person.
God the Father, he's the hard drive, that enables the computer to work. Jesus is the software, the programme that brings the computer to life and gives it a reason for existence. The Holy Spirit is the serial number that unlocks the software so that we can access it and the Spirit is also the instructions that shows us how to get the most out of the computer.
It's no good just sitting there and staring at a blank screen hoping something will just happen. It's no good just shoving the CD into the computer believing that will be the end of the story. We have to actively take part in the process. We have to be prepared to read the instructions and then, when we understand what the computer and the software are fully capable of, then we take over using the hard drive, the software and our knowledge of the computer's capability to create and discover new things.
God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. Three in one. Don't settle for less!
COMMENT: This will be the last sermon I deliver to the full Sunday congregation at St. Francis. I'm preaching on Ascension Day but, after that, our readers are down to preach until the end of the month.
God is good.