One of the hardest things any of us has to do is to part from those we love. It is even harder to let go of someone on whom you have come to rely. As our text picks up the narrative, Jesus had just told his disciples that it would only be a little longer that he would with them. They must have wondered what would become of them once Jesus was gone. Jesus gives them a promise. He is not going to abandon them. He will be with them – but not in a way that the world could see or understand. Instead, he tries to help them understand what it means for him to abide with them in Spirit, a spirit he characterizes as being the Spirit of love and truth. It is through this Spirit, that they and we are able to enter into the divine life. It is the experience of those who love God and follow Jesus’ commands who will be in God – and God will be in them. To our human ears this sounds like an extraordinary privilege. But how can human beings be part of the eternal and divine? And yet such is the promise made by Jesus to His friends.
John 14:15-17, 25-27 Jesus said to his followers:
15”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
25”I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But 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. 27Peace 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.
When we draw on everything we know, methods and principles which are common to our ways of thinking and learning, the words presented here in the Gospel of John make no sense at all. Matter of fact, the world or as another translator puts it, the system, will not and can not understand. The promised peace spoken to in this passage of scripture is of a wholly different essence than any peace the world offers and it doesn’t come the way the world’s peace comes. We are told that when the “Advocate” (that is the comforter, the helper, the Holy Spirit) comes, he will bear witness to Jesus and will reveal the significance of Jesus’ death. I guess it is no wonder that humanity has so misunderstood salvation history. From the beginnings of human history, long before the Abraham and up until Jesus’ day the common understanding was that salvation resulted from the processing of blood sacrifices on an altar of a temple, all kinds of temples – all kinds of altars – the taking of life upon life – as if that work of humanity could assuage God’s voracious appetite. Jesus brought a corrective. He declared a different way. He called those who heard his voice to turn away from pagan practices. Jesus came proclaiming a parent-like God, one that loved creation and all that lives and breathes in it. When the Spirit reveals the significance of Jesus’ death it is not a validation of the efficacy of blood sacrifice. That practice actually reveals humanity’s commitment to the illusion that by our own wills and actions we can satisfy our own lust for blood which we have projected onto our Creator.
This need for us within the faith community to grasp what it is the world can not know or understand has been a perennial struggle. How can there be a Kingdom of God in this world? James Naylor, circa 1655, in a piece he called “The Lamb’s War against the Man of Sin”, sought to describe this Spiritual Kingdom. And like our contemporaries he wrote “The power, the glory and compass of it”, that is the kingdom, “is not comprehended with mortal understanding….” “But”, Naylor continues, “…his kingdom in this world, in which he chiefly delights to walk, and make himself known, is in the hearts of such as have believed in him, and owned his call out of the world, whose hearts he hath purified, and whose bodies he hath washed in obedience, and made them fit for the father to be worshipped in. And in such he rejoices and takes delight, and his kingdom in such is righteousness and peace, in love, in power and purity, he leads them by the gentle moving of his spirit, out of all their own ways and wills, in which they would defile themselves, and guides them into the will of the father, by which they become more clean and holy….”
So what might stand in the way? Isaac Penington, circa1661, after years of immersion in classical mysticism, came to see that immorality was the result of following the leading of the self not the Spirit and he believed that the only true redemption for a person came through total surrender of one’s self-will. He came to affirm the Quaker perspective between self will and openness, that the Spirit lead to righteousness and speaks through a fellowship. When early Quakers spoke of the cross, it wasn’t the cross of Jesus’ crucifixion, it is the cross of the surrender of our self will. In a personal letter Penington wrote that he was sensible to the striving of the Spirit of the Lord with the person and that were three things which he earnestly desired for him. That he would be led by God’s Holy Spirit into the new and living covenant, that he be daily taught of God and learn of him in this holy, new, pure and everlasting covenant and that he would be true and faithful to God, to obey and follow him in whatever God taught or required of him. And here is the crux of the matter, “to give glory to God, in discerning his life and power and the virtue of his Spirit and his grace, working all in thee, and so still ascribing the glory to him of all thou are, dost or canst do….” “ And they that are here,” Penington says “feel their own poverty and nothingness, as in themselves; and that their way to become strong in Christ is first to become weak in themselves.” This becoming weak, he goes on to say, is the way God purges us and redeems us. He says we “must wait for and come to feel the spirit of the Lord near, revealing our own sinfulness and brokenness to us that, in this hour of God’s judgment in our own heart, God raises up that good and tender plant.”
Robert Barclay, (16-48-1690), looked back from his time a full century to the words of Philip Melancthon, (1497-1560) a Protestant Reformer of Luther’s era who was a key figure in writing the breakthrough Augsburg Confession. Melancthon said “Those who hear only an outward and bodily voice, hear the creature; but God is a Spirit, and is neither discerned, nor known, nor heard, but by the Spirit; and therefore to hear the voice of God, to see God, is to know and hear the Spirit.” And here is the great line: “By the Spirit alone God is known…”
According to Barclay the scriptural definition of Christian is “one who has the Spirit of Christ and is led by it”. His fear was that Christianity had become an art form, acquired by human effort an practice. When through other ways we seek to learn about our faith whether through the study of scripture or studying church history or beliefs or even approaching our faith through nature or human behavior and we surprise ourselves that we can end up with a strong defense for the faith which, as it is said, in us lies, but fail to connect with the revelation of God in what we might call our hearts — according to Barclay we really shouldn’t consider ourselves Christians. And the opposite is true as well, that those among us who may be totally uninformed of the history, beliefs, traditions of Christianity or even of scripture but have experienced Christ’s Spirit in their lives and who seek to live in obedience to that living Word most certainly should be acknowledged as being Christian.
You see, the absolutely necessary piece of all this is that where the true inward knowledge of God exists through the unmediated revelation of his Spirit, everything essential is there. There is no necessity for anything else. In John, Jesus tells his followers that “your Advocate, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will call to mind all that I have told you.” This Spirit is the source of life and action and is the mediator between our Creator and ourselves. It is through this Spirit that the goodness and love of God is conveyed to us. You can then see how it is. Without heeding this guiding voice we can come to have a distorted understanding of God, not anything like how Jesus’ characterized God as loving father. Through this same Spirit Christ knocks on the door of our lives and is heard calling us to open that door to him. The Apostle Paul makes the argument that “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit (1Cor.12:3). The Holy Spirit is so important to us that we can’t so much as affirm Jesus is Lord without the Spirit’s assistance. In 2nd Corinthians 13 Paul asks “Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?
Don’t be troubled by all the religious practices, sacraments and creeds which a very worldly church has put in place. Don’t be distracted by the hurdles religious establishments expect people to jump. These may offer a peace like the world gives but falls way short of what Christ would have you own. Penington wrote to his friend: ”…if thou come to wait on God’s holy Spirit and to the feeling of his appearance in thy heart and learn of him to know what is good and what is evil in thy words, ways, worship, yea, and even in thy very heart and thoughts, and also choose the good and refuse the evil; they will grow easier and easier and plainer and plainer daily, as thou comest into the sense and experience of the things which they mention; and thou wilt find Christ inward revealed in spirit and as inner Word.”
There are some people who have gotten a sense of this spiritual reality through a very sensate and for them meaningful practice. It is to repeat over and over, in time to your breathing these words: “You in me – I in You”. See whether it helps you to come to sense the truth in Jesus’ words.