Today is Pentecost Sunday. We usually read Acts 2 which details the loud celebration when 120 followers of Jesus gathered in a room and thousands gathered outside for the festival of Pentecost. A violent wind swept through, and people began to understand each other’s languages. This is the noisy side of the Pentecost story but there is a softer Pentecost. The Pentecost observance using John 14 offers a softer, quieter, more reflective one.
In the conversation recorded at the beginning of John 14, Jesus prepared his disciples for his death and the coming of the Holy Spirit. In light of the devastating news that Jesus would leave them, Philip, one of the disciples, complains that Jesus needs to show the disciples things about God because they were concerned about what would happen when Jesus was no longer physically present with them.
In verse 8, Philip asks, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus is aghast and replies, (v.9) “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and that the Father is in me?” Jesus shows how perplexed he is that Philip seems to have missed something so basic about who Jesus is, and what Jesus taught about God, the Father.
I was struck by Jesus’s conversation with Phillip because Philip didn’t get what was right in front of him. Jesus was puzzled by Philip’s lack of awareness of God’s presence. I don’t think we get the significance of Pentecost or more basically what it means to have a relationship with the Holy Spirit. I don’t think we understand that. I don’t know that the help the Holy Spirit gives us is even on our radar.
We are afraid of the same things that the disciples feared. We don’t know what is next. We want a sense of “normal” and to return to the familiar.
Jesus repeatedly said to people who were locked away in fear the same words that he repeats in describing the coming of the Holy Spirit. “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’m trying to conceptualize how we quantify that, and how do we personalize that in our own lives? What are the markers or the barometer for which we see the work of the Holy Spirit in us? How do we recognize it? How do we, unlike Philip. not miss what is right in front of us?
We read in Romans 8 that we are led by the Spirit of God and are children of God. We did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but we received a spirit of adoption. So that spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
It alludes to what Jesus told Philip in verse 15 of John 14, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” The verse sets the stage for what Jesus needed the disciples to understand, that is, loving God and keeping the commandments are not necessarily a matter of intent or willpower, but rather a matter of relationship. We may have remembered the verse this way, “if you love me, keep my commandments.” A more accurate account of what the verse actually says is, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Jesus’ words are not a directive, if you love me you will do this. Rather, Jesus emphasizes following is a practice of the heart in response to Christ’s love. That is the difference.
How do we foster a deeper awareness of the Holy Spirit that helps us not become a victim of our fear and miss the presence of God, like Philip, that is right in front of us? How do we become aware of the Spirit’s work among us? Jesus wanted to build a community that was aware of that love that comes from the relationship with Christ that we say we have.
How do we bless one another? How do we accept people with whom we may not agree? How does the Holy Spirit allow us to listen without being defensive, without needing to tell our story, and instead to listen to understand? Once we become aware of the Spirit’s help to listen to one another with open arms and hearts, then something different has happened.
The Holy Spirit fills the gap, that space between us and God, between what we say we believe and what is true, and bridges the divide between people. The Spirit creates community through the work of the spirit within us. May that be our prayer this Pentecost.