May 27, 2012
John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
Whenever I fly, the flight attendant makes the same remarks as we land. "We know you have many options in air travel. Thank you for choosing our airline. Have a good day and come back to see us again."
The same talk could be made with regard to Pentecost. We have a couple of options with regard to Pentecost accounts. We need them both, of course, but which one are you in the mood to focus on this year? If you are in an extroverted, dramatic mood, you'll be drawn to the account in Acts 2. Jesus instructed his disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they have been clothed with power from on high (Lk. 24:49). They obeyed and, at Pentecost, were overwhelmed by the Spirit in the form of tongues of fire and multiple, comprehensible languages. This doesn't sound like something that happens every day.
If you are in a more inward, reflective mood this year, you might want to go with John's announcement of Pentecost, which sounds like something that could indeed happen every day.
In John 14:15-17 Jesus tells the disciples he is going to the Father and promises to send the Holy Spirit to be with them forever. Again, in John 15:26, 27, Jesus says "When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf." The term paracletos means an advocate in a legal context (Latin = advocatus). It occurs in John in 14:16, 15:26, and 16:7. A paraclete was a patron or sponsor who could be called into a court to speak in favor of a person or their cause, thereby providing advocacy. The Advocate or Paraclete has the role of speaking in favor of Jesus and his cause. He witnesses to and glorifies Jesus (15:26, 16:14). The Paraclete also aids the disciples in their witness to Jesus (15:26-27). (Ashton, 393-4)
Despite his promises of the sending of the Spirit, the Risen Lord does not find his disciples confidently waiting for him to come and breathe on them and give them the gift of the Holy Spirit (20:22). Instead he finds them huddled together in a locked room for fear of their enemies (20:19). They aren't behaving like a group of people who have been promised the Holy Spirit.
There is a reason for that. It's called selective hearing. Whenever Jesus talked in the gospel about sending the Spirit or the coming of the Spirit, it was in connection with his leaving to go with God. And as soon as the disciples heard Jesus mention his leaving, they closed their ears and did not hear the details of who was coming to be present in his physical absence. For us and for the disciples, it's possible to see someone's lips moving but not hear what they're actually saying because we are distracted by our inner pain. That's why Peter reproached Jesus (Mk. 8:32) for predicting his own abuse and death. He stopped listening too soon, and missed the good news in the bad, the joy in the sorrow. That's why Jesus' disciples in the synoptic gospels are surprised when the tomb is empty. They always stopped listening at "be killed" and missed hearing "and on the third day rise." We keep their habit alive whenever we are focused so intently on the painful aspects of our current life condition that we forget we've been promised the Spirit, and don't factor in its power and presence in our lives.
Jesus challenges the disciples for this habit in John 16:4-6. He chides them that, because he has mentioned leaving, "sorrow has filled their hearts." None of them has stopped to reflect that he's going to God and sending a gift back from God. None of them has paused to hear that "it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you."
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.