An Intimate Pentecost: Reflections on John 14:8-17, 25-27
I'd invite you to take your seat and the curtain would draw back and the painting would begin in darkness but then, one by one, the characters would light up.
There is Philip who asks Jesus to show him the Father, while Jesus, in whom the Father dwells and through whom the Father works, is standing right next to him. "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father" (14:9).
There is Nicodemus who doesn't get how he is supposed to climb back into the womb when he is a grown man. "How can one be born after having grown old?"(3:4)
There is the woman at the well who doesn't understand how she's supposed to get living water when the well is too deep. "Sir, you have no bucket and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?" (4:11)
There is the man by the pool of Bethzatha who thinks healing can come from bubbling water while the Healer stands right next to him. "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me" (5:7).
There is Thomas, who in chapter 14 has just revealed a literal understanding of "the Way" (14:5). "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" Jesus then tells him "I am the Way, the truth and the life."
And now the spotlight illuminates Philip as he takes his turn at misunderstanding.
"Show us the Father and we will be satisfied" (14:8).
We know the panoramic, pyrotechnic Pentecost that comes around every spring. Do we understand that there is also an internal Pentecost that involves audience participation? According to 14:25-26, Pentecost is on the way. "I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 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."
Pentecost comes with tongues of fire but before that, it comes through the promise of Jesus (Jn. 14:26) and the breath of the Risen Jesus in (Jn. 20:19-22). It doesn't wait for the 8:30 am service on May 19th. The epistle text for this week is Romans 8:12-17. Here Paul affirms that the Holy Spirit is present in our inner lives witnessing to our spirit. "When we cry Abba, Father, it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God..." In Galatians 4:5 he says, "Because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba, Father!' So you are no longer a slave but a child and if a child then also an heir, through God."
We yearn for new life (Nicodemus), for spiritual hydration (woman at the well), for healing (man by the pool), for guidance into an unknown and frightening future (Thomas), and for knowledge that God's promises are true (Philip). Our texts point to an intimate Pentecost, to the Holy Spirit at work in our inner lives and in our world drawing us into intimate relationship with God who delivers on all God's promises.
"Misunderstanding at Pentecost" can become "Miracle at Pentecost" without a big crowd and special effects. The change happens when we realize who is witnessing within us and who is standing beside us.
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.