hurches can be kind of fickle about celebrating Pentecost, can’t we? You can go to one service to find red vestments and the entire reading of the Acts 2 narrative, but go to another service to find they’re finishing up a series on the Fruit of the Spirit without even a mention of Pentecost. Not that I’m speaking from experience.
We have a real need to remember and receive what this special day has to offer. The reading from John’s Gospel for today presents us with a unique image, not just of the Holy Spirit, but of the Triune God with whom we are invited to participate.
The larger passage surrounding the Gospel reading is sandwiched between two uses of the same phrase Jesus spoke: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” (v.1 and v.27b) The word in Greek for “troubled” also means “of uncertain affinity” or “to stir or agitate.” Can you imagine Jesus telling us, “Don’t let your hearts be agitated.” Honestly. If there’s a tougher order somewhere, I can’t think of it. Thomas and Philip must have felt the same way, because the words are barely out of Jesus’ mouth for the first time when Thomas agitatedly inserts himself. We don’t know where you’re going. How are we supposed to know the way? And then Philip gets on the agitation train: Show us. Really, it’s fine… but still… just show us. These guys are troubled. And Jesus’ response to them is exactly what we need to hear for our journey. But before we get there, let’s look at a couple of places where we might get hung up along the way.
In v.12, Jesus says his disciples will do greater works than he’s done. Sometimes we get hung up there thinking this tells us we should be able to do bigger miracles than Jesus. And maybe we can, but that isn’t particularly the point. We know it’s not the point, because in v.11 Jesus communicated that works are secondary. Primary is who Jesus the Christ is in God, and that we need to believe and live into that (which we’ll get into in a moment). It’s only if we won’t believe that Jesus says to look at miracles. That’s enough to say we shouldn’t get hung up here. (But, if we really want to stay here, perhaps we should first consider Jesus’ “works” in terms of his self-giving passion and crucifixion?)
A second possible point of distraction is in v.13-14 when Jesus declares we will receive anything we ask for if we ask in Jesus’ name. This idea has provoked much discouragement and even hurt in the lives of those who are told they can receive that sought-after request if they would just ask in the right way. But God is not a vending machine, to punch in the right formula and get what we want. Jesus has been introducing the divine mission of God, and it’s likely if we are participating in that mission, what we pray for will be significantly shaped by it. It’s best here if we stick to the divine mission Jesus is introducing in his response to the agitated hearts of his disciples.
What is this divine mission? What is Jesus’ response to the agitated spirits of the disciples (a.k.a. us), that we so desperately need to hear for our journey? It is a mission of mutual indwelling, and that is good news! At first, it might seem like a fancy phrase we want to talk about, so we need to be careful not to let that become another distraction. (As much as we preachers might love fancy phrases.) Mutual indwelling is good news for a couple of reasons. First, it’s good news because of what it says about God. It reminds us God is not out to benefit Godself. The Father, Son, and Spirit are all beautifully one in the others. The Father is in the Son; the Son is in the Father; the Son asks the Father; the Father gives the Spirit. It’s easy to see why people talk about perichoresis (sometimes interpreted “divine dance”) when describing the Trinity. The Creator God is the Incarnate God who meets us in our mess, and is also the Advocate God who is forever with us. It is God’s nature to not just “be,” but to be with and in and among—and not only with/in/among Godself, but with/in/among us! That is the good news! We are not alone! We aren’t left to our failed devices and plans. God is in us and with us.
But that isn’t the end of the good news of mutual indwelling. It is also good news because of what it says about us. When we celebrate the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we celebrate the day we became a part of the mutual indwelling of God. The Advocate God does not just advocate for us; this God abides in us. We absolutely must let that sink in, and the preacher might spend time with the practical implications of experiencing abiding through various kinds of prayer. God abides in us and we abide in God. God didn’t just create us for entertainment (though we must be entertaining sometimes), or to do God’s bidding. God created us to be part of the divine relationship. Is there any news greater than this?
It's unfortunate the lectionary leaves out vv.18-24 because they offer an expanded idea of mutual indwelling as embodied love. We do see a bit of this in v.15, but without the following verses, it might be tempting to see v.15 as some kind of conditional relationship with God. (I.e., If we love Jesus, then we’ll do what he says.) What we can actually understand here is the embodied love of mutual indwelling involves service to the beloved, even if it is inconvenient or sacrificial. This is God’s character, and we are invited to reflect it.
Additionally, this divine relationship in which we participate means that although we continue to be limited in our humanity (because, as should be made clear, while we participate in God, we are not God), we receive the signs of grace offered by the indwelling Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our Advocate (v.16, 26) who helps us and draws us into God. The Spirit is our Holy Truth-teller (v.17) who guides us in wisdom beyond our own abilities. And the Spirit of God in us is our Holy Teacher and Reminder (v.26) in moments when we are overwhelmed by the world’s brokenness and are tempted to forget the good news of the God who abides in us in all things.
We don’t need to let our hearts be agitated. But Jesus knew our tendency toward that. So when he said it again (v.27), he assured us he would leave us his peace to help us. What boundless love and grace we can rest in; what matchless peace we can find as we abide in the God who has given everything for us. And what empowered witnesses we can become as we share and live the mutual, selfless love of God!
 Blue Letter Bible, accessed March 4, 2022, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g5015/rsv/mgnt/0-1/.