May 17, 2020

“Not Left to Our Own Devices”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

John 14.15-21

Luke 24.44-53

May 17, 2020

In Christianity we have many names for the Spirit – today we hear “Advocate,” but we also call the Spirit Breath, Dove, Fire, and Sophia, or Wisdom. Often when I think of the Spirit I think of creativity and compassion, the entity of the Trinity that connects us all. These are all positive connotations. We ask for the Spirit to come and be present. We want the Spirit. Yet, maybe the Spirit hasn’t always been positive or understood as we understand Her now.

This Thursday is the day of Ascension, and so I’ve split the Ascension Day texts between today and next Sunday. The Ascension is when Jesus left the disciples, left the earth. Jesus prepared the best way he could. Jesus told them that he would die. He told them he would resurrect. He told them there would be a time when he would have to go away, too. In the John passage he talks about how he will go away and the Spirit will come to be with the people in his absence. Every time he tells them what to expect, they are unable to wrap their heads around it. This is a lot of information for them to really absorb.

The people are fearful because they cannot fathom. A world where Jesus wasn’t present? They couldn’t imagine! In fact, whenever something miraculous and amazing happens with Jesus, the disciples try to wrap their heads around it but often fall short – and that is ok, because Jesus is gracious, forgiving, and reminds us of this over and over. If we remember Transfiguration Sunday, when we remember that Moses and Elijah appeared on the mountain, Peter wanted to build dwellings to stay on the mountain – a comfortable place. When Jesus speaks of his death disciples ask to be at his right and left hands because they think it will be the honored places to be, but Jesus tells them it is not what they imagine. The concept of Jesus leaving is inconceivable to them.

In the Gospel of John Jesus tells them that when he leaves, they won’t be orphaned. Dr. Richard Manly Adams, a professor at Candler Theological Seminary, writes: “Jesus is consoling in chaos, confusion, and concern.”[1] God doesn’t abandon us. We are not “left to our own devices.” One commentator used this language, and I began to think – left to our own devices. Right now, it appears we are left with only our electronic devices. Yet, we know God is with us. We are not just left with flotation or life-saving devices, for Jesus is the One who saves us. Jesus sends the Spirit. When we think of the word device, and even break it down – de-vice. We are not left to find a way out of our own vices alone – the Spirit helps us to cope, the Spirit is our Advocate. We need not fear.

In the Gospel of Luke Jesus reads scripture and then is lifted away. There is some question if this is actually an ascension text, as the Book of Acts, written by the same author, gives a more detailed description of the ascension.[2] Whether or not this is an ascension text, it is important to note that Jesus didn’t die again after his resurrection. This was not like Lazarus, where he was resurrected, but most certainly died again.[3] Jesus left the disciples through the ascension, and promised the Spirit.

The disciples were surely fearful, but the time was full of possibilities. They had more authority now than ever, being left to witness to the ends of the earth. They might have felt more confident and equipped, knowing it was up to them.

We will return to worship in the sanctuary again soon, and we might want everything to be back to normal, but they won’t be for some time, if ever. When Jesus left the disciples, it wasn’t the same – but it was still good. As we are in our Bicentennial year, as we look at the possibilities of the Hope Partnership, and as we re-enter our building, we have many choices to make intentional changes in how we do mission and how we worship.

Andre E. Johnson, an associate professor at the University of Memphis, reflected on the John passage: “I am quickly reminded that the Spirit is working. And when the Spirit is working, God will have you doing things that you thought you would never do – worshiping in places you never thought you would worship in, saying things you never thought you would say, going places you thought you would never go.”[4]

What will the Spirit have us do? How is the Spirit working in this time? May we truly reflect on what matters, and take what we have learned in this time of self-isolation to renew our relationships with God and one another. Amen.

 

[1] Richard Manly Adams, “John 14.15-21” in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press), 491.

[2] Eric Franklin, “Luke 24.44-53” in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press), 959.

[3] Larry D. Bouchard, “Luke 24.44-53” in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press), 516.

[4] Andre E. Johnson, “Reflections on the Lectionary” in Christian Century, Vol. 136. No. 10, May 6, 2020, p. 23.