Why won’t Jesus tell us the whole story?
In the passage we hear this morning from the gospel of John, Jesus is offering his final teachings to the disciples. They are gathered to share their last supper. Jesus speaks on and on, telling them many things. He speaks words of warning and words of comfort. He reminds the disciples to keep his commandments, and gives them a new commandment: to love one another. Jesus even says, “I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (15:15). You would think, then, that Jesus has explained it all. And yet, one chapter later, in our passage this morning, he says: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (16:12)
What a terrible teaser. What a heartbreaking cliffhanger. What else did Jesus have to say that night? What teaching of his is missing from this gospel? Why won’t Jesus tell us the whole story?_
I don’t know about you, but I often feel like I could use some more complete directions about how, exactly, to apply the teachings of Jesus to my life. Jesus said a lot, but he spoke mostly in questions and parables. Also, he was speaking to mostly Jewish crowds in the ancient near east. What would Jesus do, if he were in my shoes; or what would he ask me to do?
Here at West Concord Union Church, in our 125th anniversary year, it would be nice to have some answers, too. It’s a big moment for us. Our beloved building, erected in 1891, needs serious work to stay in commission. Deciding to stay in this building, deciding to renovate it, is a big deal. An undertaking this big should reflect our faith and our call. We need to know: What is God calling us to? How can this building most fully reflect who we are called to become, and what we are called to do?
If only God would give us a plan. If only somewhere deep in the Gospel of John we could find a blueprint for West Concord Union Church, circa 2017. No such luck. Instead, Jesus tells his followers that when they need help in the future, the Spirit will come and guide us into all the truth. This Helper will be with us forever, abiding with us, abiding within us.
Today is the day of the church year on which we are supposed to ponder the mysterious theology of the Trinity. In our scriptures we hear about all three persons in our Trinitarian formula. In Psalm 8, we give thanks for a majestic and glorious God who has created the heavens and the earth. In the Gospel of John, we hear from Jesus, our God-with-us, who lived for us, and whose rising broke the power of death and showed forth the eternal victory of love. So far, so good. Finally, Jesus introduces us to the Spirit. Is it just me, or does this seem like a weak ending to our salvation history? Is God going out with a whimper, instead of a bang? How much can this Spirit really do? How could wind or breath or fire that lives with us, and in us, possibly be enough to guide us through all of the questions and challenges that we encounter, personally, as a faith community, as a country, as a creation?
The Spirit may not be the Helper that we would have chosen. Big on inspiration, short on details. But the Spirit is who we got. This is how our God works. Despite our desperation to remain dependent, God demands spiritual maturity. She created humans with wisdom and free will. He became for us a teacher who taught with questions and stories. She inspired a bible that is a resource and a companion, rather than a schematic for the life of faith. And, He comes to us as Spirit: within and among and around us, nudging and hinting rather than dictating the way.
When the folks here at West Concord Union Church developed a vision statement a few years ago, we described ourselves as being transformed by the Spirit of Christ. How is that transformation happening now? What might the Spirit be guiding us to next?
God’s not going to give us any easy answers. There’s no secret set of blueprints, or hidden 5-year plan to discover. The only way that we will get answers to the questions that face us is to listen with open hearts to God and one another. We have started that process, in the two years of work that has gone into our renovation plans. We’ve dreamed about strengthening this beautiful inheritance, our building. We’ve dreamed, too, about renewing it, to widen our welcome, expand our accessibility, ease our impact on creation. I hope that everyone here today is moved to help make that dream a reality, making a financial commitment for what you feel called, able, and inspired to give.
It’s a big deal, what we’re doing here today, putting our money where our mouth is, putting our treasure where our heart is. And, also, whatever we do today on behalf of this set of dreams is really just a beginning. It’s a building block. We have so much still to decide and to do together. So in addition to dedicating commitment cards this morning, we are collecting prayers. We have an image of our meeting house up at the front. It’s waiting to receive your hopes for the people and the ministries that will have their home here.What is your prayer for our future together?
Holy God, we would be building: transforming our hearts, transforming our community, transforming our meeting house as your spirit guides us. Help us to build upon your solid rock. Lead us to build with courage, with creativity, with faithfulness. May all that we build be only a beginning of the work and worship you inspire. Amen.