Recently, I was hiking on a poorly marked trail. The AllTrails app had identified a 5-mile loop and an 8-mile loop hikers could follow. While the 8-mile loop seemed pretty clear at the trail head, as I went along it became a bit sketchy.
The trail slowly disappeared and a well-worn path turned into a pathless woods. As I looked around, trying to identify something resembling a trail, I noticed a small pile of rocks positioned at the bottom of a tree. I went in that direction. After hiking that way for a while, I noticed another similar group of rocks at the bottom of another tree. Some kind hiker had gone before me and left these small marks to guide my way.
I thought of that experience as I contemplated our reading for today. Jesus is speaking to His disciples about sending His Holy Spirit. Jesus does not use the title “Holy Spirit,” however. Instead, He speaks of “the Helper” and “the Spirit of truth.”
The term ὁ παράκλητος is notoriously difficult to translate. Comforter, counselor, advocate, mediator, intercessor, and helper are a few of the ways it has been done. The Spirit is someone who appears on and in another person’s behalf. He gives aid, counsel, comfort, defense, and help. Jesus promises the Spirit will guide us in the Truth (verse 13).
If there ever was a trail which has disappeared into the forest, it is the path of Truth. Our culture’s slow shift away from Christianity has made daily life bewildering. Things we used to hold in common with the world – marriage, male, female – are no longer so clear. Public reception of our faith has changed too. From new atheists who think we are ignorant and anti-science to public protestors who denounce us as hateful and homophobic advocates of patriarchy and white supremacy, the way is bewildering.
The Spirit is someone who appears on and in another person’s behalf. He gives aid, counsel, comfort, defense, and help.
We are not asking for a map. We do not need to know every twist and turn in this journey. But somedays, we are simply looking for a mark, a rock at the foot of a tree, something to direct us forward, a few words to let us know we are going in the right direction.
Today, Jesus offers a word of hope. He promises to send us the Helper: The Holy Spirit. Pentecost is our celebration that this promise from Jesus has come true. He has ascended into Heaven and sent His Spirit who speaks His words to us, for us, among us, and with us. Hearing Jesus, by the guidance of the Spirit, helps us make our way in the world.
In particular, Jesus identifies three works of the Spirit. This Holy Helper will help us see how the world is wrong when it speaks about sin, wrong when it speaks about Jesus, and wrong when it speaks about Satan. Jesus is the Son of God, even though many in our world do not acknowledge Him (verse 9). Jesus has been vindicated by His Father. Although many thought He was just another moral teacher, a misguided revolutionary, an idealistic leader, a problematic prophet whose reign would end with His death, Jesus has been vindicated by His Father, raised from the dead, and revealed to be the Savior of all (verse 10). And Jesus has defeated Satan. By ending Satan’s reign, Jesus now rules over all things (verse 11) and will bring them to their final restoration.
So, the Spirit offers us these three truths about Jesus:
- He is the Son of God.
- He has been vindicated by His Father.
- He has defeated Satan, so He now rules over all things.
These three truths are a comfort to the world-weary traveler. When I come to church, I hear these things preached. When I open the Scriptures, I understand these things in what I read. When I speak with other Christians, I hear these things confessed in our conversation. Why? Because the Spirit is at work. Our Holy Helper is offering us these three truths. This Spirit is the one we celebrate today.
Hearing Jesus, by the guidance of the Spirit, helps us make our way in the world.
Recently, there have been reports of a decline in church attendance. Interestingly, it is not so much that fewer people are going to church. It is just that more people are going to church less often. While I can understand the diversity of ways in which people can participate in church, I am less understanding of the decreasing frequency of contact. If anything, I find myself wanting to have more contact rather than less. I find myself wanting to listen to a sermon a second time or call up previous services on-line that were my favorites. Why?
Because, for me, going to church is like coming across one of the trees in the forest, a tree that has been marked to point out the way. I have been wandering in the world, confused by what I am seeing and hearing. Then I come to worship and I hear these fundamental truths preached by the Spirit. Jesus is the Son of God. He has been vindicated by His Father. He has defeated Satan, so He now rules over all things.
Like three small stones placed at the bottom of a tree, these truths help me realize someone has gone before me. I have a companion on this journey. The Spirit, sent by Jesus, who helps me has been here. That Spirit reminds me of what is most necessary. That Spirit helps me follow Jesus in a world which has lost its way.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 15:26-27, 16:4-15.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach John 15:26-27, 16:4-15.
Lectionary Podcast- Dr. James Bushur of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through John 15:26-27, 16:4-15.