Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

Scripture Readings

Our Gospel passage this morning continues the conversation Jesus has been having with his disciples as he tries to prepare them for life without his physical presence after his departure to return to his heavenly Father, an event we will commemorate on Ascension Day, this coming Thursday. Last week, we heard Jesus talking about the need to believe that he is the revelation of God the Father to his disciples, so that they have come to know the Father as they have come to know Jesus. Perhaps even more startling is that Jesus tells his disciples that those who do believe in him will do even greater works than he has done, while waiting for Jesus to return to take them to be with him in the place he will prepare for them in his Father’s house.

This week, we hear Jesus assure his disciples that he is not abandoning them. The loving relationship of believing and knowing that Jesus has established with his disciples will continue through the agency of one he refers to as another Paraclete, in the form of the Spirit of Truth. The word Paraclete seems to have its origins in a legal context as an Advocate, one who comes alongside to speak on another’s behalf, but it has acquired broader associations as Helper, Guide, Comforter, Teacher, Counsellor. Jesus has been all of these to his disciples, but now the Spirit will continue in those roles, the initiation of which we will commemorate on Pentecost Sunday, in two weeks.

More than that, the Spirit will draw the disciples of Jesus into the very life of God, to share in the wonderful loving intimacy of the relationship that Jesus has with his Father. Jesus will continue to be present to those who commit themselves lovingly to him, for the Spirit will reveal the life of Jesus in them. The words Jesus spoke from the Father will continue to be spoken through the disciples, and the self-revealing works the Father did in Jesus will now be done through the disciples. Jesus tells his disciples that just as those who belong to the world around them could not see who he really was, so such people will not be able to see the Spirit and so will not be able to receive the Spirit nor the life the Spirit brings.

The apostle Paul encountered this difficulty when he tried to introduce the Athenians to their Unknown God whom they had searched and groped for without finding. Paul spoke to them of the God who made the world and everything in it, giving life and breath and all things to us mortals, assuring them that this God is not far from each one of us, for this God is the one in whom we live and move and have our being, whether we realize it or not. Some dismissed Paul as a pretentious babbler, some were intrigued by his new teaching, few seem to have allowed the truth of what Paul was sharing to become belief that changed how they lived.

The apostle Peter tells his readers that the clash of values between God’s kingdom and the surrounding world system can result in abuse being experienced by those who are eager to do what is right and good. Peter counsels such people to place their hope in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in their hearts through his Spirit and to persevere with a clear conscience, without being intimidated, responding with gentle respect to those who would malign them.

We live in a world that is groaning under the burden of corruption and injustice and violent oppression, a world that cannot receive the Spirit of Truth. Nevertheless, Jesus told his disciples that this Paraclete would remain with them forever, and so we believe that the Spirit of Jesus is among us still, we who have his commandments and try to keep them out of love for him.

Perhaps we have little sense of doing greater works than Jesus did, but Jesus said that those who commit themselves in love to him will be loved by his Father, and that Jesus would reveal himself to us as the Father does his work in us through him. When we find ourselves being better than we know ourselves to be, more gentle and kind, more respectful and considerate, responding in patience and peace with greater compassion and more generosity than we would naturally be inclined to, I think that is when we experience the Father doing his life-giving work in us through the Spirit of his Son.

There is hope to be found in communities surprised by the loving presence of the risen Christ revealing himself in their midst in such ways.

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