The Holy Spirit: Bridging Past and Future

John 14:25-27 and 16:12-15

The Holy Spirit: Bridging Past and Future

May 20, 2018      Maple Grove UMC

 

To build bridges of healing, compassion and justice

through our relationships with God, self and others.

          Again, that’s Maple Grove’s new vision statement and throughout this year we’ll seek to see all that we do as the building of bridges. In this worship series we’ll ponder how the church can bridge the generations, how to build bridges out of poverty, and return to the idea of building bridges of reconciliation. But we shouldn’t think that all the bridge-building is up to us. The chief bridge builder, of course, is God who sent Jesus to bridge all gaps—any gap between God and us, the gap between sin and forgiveness, the gap between feeling lost and knowing we’re beloved.

          Specifically, on the Day of Pentecost, we celebrate how God sent the Holy Spirit upon the disciples to bridge from their time with Jesus to the time after Jesus; to bridge from their fear and hiding to the courage to tell everyone about Jesus; to bridge, in other words, from the time of the disciples to the time of the church. And according to John’s Gospel, the Holy Spirit—often known in John as “the Advocate,” or “Comforter”—continues to be our bridge. The Holy Spirit now serves as our bridge between the past and the future—that is the Holy Spirit helps us look back to who Jesus was and what Jesus taught, and the Holy Spirit helps us look ahead to what Jesus would have us do next. Let me tell you what I mean.

 

          First, the Holy Spirit bridges us into the future. In John 16 Jesus promises to guide his disciples into all the truth, to declare to them things that are to come. We might wonder, teach them all what things? Did Jesus leave some important information out? Why more teaching? Well, because new life situations call for new understandings of Jesus, new circumstances require new ways of applying our faith.1 For example, after Jesus ascended into heaven, how would the disciples cope with the absence of Jesus? How would these Jewish disciples learn to pray and eat with Gentile believers? How would Christians respond to Roman persecution? to Nazi Germany? To the Sexual Revolution and feminism? to climate change? the global refugee crisis? Come, Holy Spirit, we need some more truth!

          The idea that there is “more truth” sounds radical and dangerous to some people. It can be more comfortable to believe that God has told us everything there is to know and that it’s neatly sewn up between two covers, preferably in King James English. However . . . God spoke through the prophet Isaiah saying, “From this time forward, I make you hear new things, hidden things you have not known” (48:6). In the fullness of time God sent Jesus to make a new covenant with people, and through a vision to Peter God taught the disciples to do a new thing—to disregard the rules and eat unclean food with Gentiles. The Holy Spirit leads us to new truth, bridges us into the future God envisions for us.

          As I mentioned before, some of this new truth we need has to do with ways the world keeps changing. My grandparents grappled during the Great Depression with whether to keep teenagers home to work and help feed the family, or sacrifice and let them finish high school. My parents wondered whether too much TV would corrupt their kids (probably so). Parents of my generation worried about the influence of violent video games and social media. Goodness knows what my children will face as parents. We need new truth for new times, and the Holy Spirit bridges us into God’s future.

          But some of the new truth we need just has to do with going through the stages of life. If someone tried to tell you when you were 7 what you’d need to know at 17, it wouldn’t do any good, would it? It’s not that it isn’t true, it’s just that you don’t have the life experience to grasp it. You don’t need that truth yet because you can’t understand that truth yet. Again, if someone tried to tell you at 17 what you’d need to know when you were 40 . . . or 70, you wouldn’t really be able to hear it. You’re not ready for it, don’t need it yet. The Holy Spirit bridges us from age to age, teaching us what we need to as circumstances evolve.

          Let’s face it—sometimes it’s hard to know what to do, what decision to make, what kind of person you need to be. As difficult as these struggles are, Jesus promised not to leave us on our own. Jesus sent the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to teach us all things and lead us and to lead the church into all the truth. The Holy Spirit is our bridge into God’s future.

 

          But here’s the thing—the Spirit always leads us into the future by leading us back to Jesus. The other side of the bridge that takes us to whatever is next, is firmly grounded in what Jesus taught and who Jesus was in the past. As Jesus puts it in John, the Holy Spirit will not only “teach you everything,” but also “remind you of all that I have said to you.” The bridge forward is also the bridge back . . . back to Jesus.

          One of the early Christian definitions for being lost was “to have amnesia”—that is, to forget who we are, whose we are, how Jesus taught us to live. Therefore, to be a Christian means, in part, always to be reminded of Jesus.2 And that is what the Holy Spirit does—it bridges us always back to Jesus.

          James Somerville has suggested that the first disciples must have had some painful and confusing times after Jesus ascended. They must have looked at each other with anxiety and shock. They were like children left without their parents. One of them, most likely Peter, probably blurted out what they had all been wondering: What are we going to do now?

          “Wait,” one of them replied, “do you remember? Jesus told us he was going away. But—remember?—he also promised to come back to us. He said he was going to the Father, and that he was telling us ahead of time so that when it happened we would still believe. Well, now it’s happened—we don’t need to be afraid; we need to believe. Remember?”

          The others nodded their heads, Yes, Jesus had said that. We remembered now! It’s all coming back to us!

          “In fact,” one of them went on, “he said that we’d remember all this because the . . . what did he call it? Because the Advocate—that’s it—the Holy Spirit would remind us of everything he taught us when he was here.”

          And suddenly it dawned on them: they were remembering the things he’d told them, as if he were right there whispering in their ears. And in that same moment, they realized that they were not alone, that Jesus had kept his promise.3 That’s the work of the Holy Spirit—to lead us into the future by reminding us of the past.

          That’s why we get together here every week, some of us several times a week—to be reminded of Jesus, to recover from our amnesia, to let the Holy Spirit build a bridge to the future that is firmly planted in what Jesus said and who Jesus was. Sure, some things may still confuse and trouble us. But we don’t ever have to wonder about whether to welcome strangers—the Holy Spirit reminds us that Jesus always welcomed strangers. We don’t ever have to wonder whether or not to give to the poor—the Holy Spirit reminds us that Jesus said to always give to the poor. We don’t ever have to wonder if it’s okay for the church to take risks or for us to put ourselves in dangerous situations—the Holy Spirit reminds us that that Jesus didn’t let even the cross stop him from doing God’s will. We get to wondering about things; it’s not always clear what to do next. And then it dawns on us—we do remember what Jesus said and who he was. We’re not alone in our struggles.

          The Holy Spirit bridges us into God’s future by leading us back to Jesus. Come, Holy Spirit!

                   

1 See Fred B. Craddock, John (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982), 113.

2 Craddock, 113.

3 James G. Somerville, “Who Will Take Care of Us?” The Christian Century (May 6, 19998), 471.

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