Day of Pentecost

Believe, believe, believe.

Sacred Spaces: Sunset

Detail from "Sacred Spaces: Sunset," Matthew Nelson.  Used by permission from the artist.

Image © by Matthew Nelson.  Artwork held in the Luther Seminary Fine Arts Collection, St. Paul, Minn.

May 19, 2013

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Commentary on John 14:8-17 [25-27]

Believe, believe, believe.

While the reading from Acts will no doubt take center stage on this celebration of Pentecost, nevertheless, this gospel reading from John challenges us to think about how it is that we come to believe. In fact, in this reading from Jesus’ farewell sermon, his challenge to believe is made four times in only three verses. Jesus challenged his disciples and challenges us to believe in who he is, what he said, and what he did. How is it that we are able to love Jesus and keep his commandments?

We love the image of the dove appearing on Jesus’ head following his baptism in the Jordan. That would be a clear, outward, and visible sign that something important had happened. Likewise, when the disciples gathered in the upper room waiting as Jesus had commanded them, there was “a sound like the rush of a violent wind . . . Divided tongues, as of fire appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them” (Acts 2:2-3). That would be a very clear sign that something important had happened. If only we had such clear evidence.

I have to confess that, on the day of my Confirmation, I was hoping and praying for such a sign. I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church and the day finally arrived when the bishop came to All Saints’ Church. The boys were instructed to wear suits and the girls to wear blue skirts and white blouses. The girls were also given a white linen shawl with which to cover our heads. (This was back in the day when women wore hats to church.)

All eyes were on me as I walked up the aisle toward the bishop seated before the altar. But I did not look at them. I was looking at Bishop McNairy anticipating a sign, a feeling, something remarkable that would let me know that something important had happened. I knelt before the bishop and he laid his hands upon my draped head; “Defend, O Lord, this thy Child with thy heavenly grace . . .” I waited. I waited. Nothing. There were no doves or flames; no remarkable feeling. I rose and, with a heavy heart, returned to my pew. I was now a confirmed member of the Episcopal Church and yet, seemingly, the same old Lucy Lind — a disappointed Lucy.

Therefore, I am able to relate to Philip’s request. He turned to Jesus as they gathered around the table in the upper room that final night: “Show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Show us the Father? Now he asks? Philip has walked with Jesus. He sat at Jesus’ feet listening to his teachings, and still he feels unchanged? He does not feel different? He does not understand? I think that I can also hear the frustration and exasperation in Jesus’ voice as he turns to his friend and student, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?” (John 14:9). Perhaps Bishop McNairy might have asked me the same question.

The good news of the gospel is that, in knowing Jesus Christ, we have come to know God. In hearing the teachings of Jesus we have heard of God’s love for us because Jesus is “in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:10). All that Jesus said, all that he did, he declares, are not his words or his works but are those of the “Father who dwells in me” (John 14:10).

Over and over again Jesus challenges us to believe that he is in the Father. And if we believe, he declares to us, not only will be also be able to do the same works that he did but “will do greater works than these” (John 14:12). But how are we able to believe? How are we able to do great works in the name of a person who was crucified, died? Christ is risen, but he has also ascended. He is no longer with us. How can we, who were not with him, did not hear his teachings, did not see him, believe? We are able to believe through the power of the Paraclete, the Advocate.

As they sat in the upper room, with the power and hate of the Jewish leaders and Roman oppressors filling the air around them, Jesus assured his disciples that he was “going to the Father.” And he offered them words of comfort, “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it” (John 14:13). Little could they know how much they would need his help.

Finally, Jesus challenged them to love him and to keep his commandments. I suspect everyone seated in that room nodded their head and thought, “I do love you and of course I will keep your commandments.” But in a few short hours their teacher would be arrested and tried. In a few short hours his life would be ended and their lives filled with fear that the same thing would happened to them. Would they still love him? Could they keep his commandments?

They, and we, are able to love and keep the commandments because of the Spirit, the Advocate sent by God. Jesus declared to them and to us that the Spirit of truth would be with us forever. The Advocate would help us to hear the words of Jesus even though he has gone to the Father. The Paraclete “will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). We are able to love God and others because the love of God in the gift of the Spirit will “abide with you, and he will be in you” (John 14:17).

Through that Spirit, the Advocate, the Comforter, the Counselor, I have come to believe that I was changed on that Sunday morning at All Saints’ parish in Minneapolis. Something important did happen. I was filled with the love, the peace, the Spirit of God and that Spirit continues to fill me and lead me to keep the commandments. And that Spirit fills all of those who believe in Jesus. That is the good news of Pentecost.