David A. Davis
March 7, 2021
This morning I would like to invite you to join me in pondering the 7th verse in the 16th chapter of the Gospel of John. “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go. I will send the Advocate to you.”(v.7) “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away.” Jesus said, “it is to your advantage that I go away.” This departure, this absence, to see him no longer, it is to your advantage. And the disciples, somewhere inside must have been thinking, “advantage…really?” After I go, Jesus said, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.” Nevertheless, it is to your advantage that I go away. Really? Jesus mentions that he never told them everything about what was going to happen because he was with them. But he is telling them now about getting tossed out of the synagogues and pointing to an hour when they themselves will be killed. “I still have many things to say to you” Jesus went on, “but you cannot bear them now” Sitting around that Last Supper table, it must have sounded like things were going to get worse before they got better. “Nevertheless” Jesus said, “it is to your advantage that I go away”. Easier to hear, perhaps when one has never been in his bodily presence. For the disciples, though….advantage?
How many among haven’t seen children and grandchildren for more than a year. On the other hand, there have to be many households among us of more than one person where spouses, parents, and children all understand better in the last year that there are some advantages to absence. Presence and absence redefined in our lives. The advantage of absence isn’t new in the last year. For the student driver, eventually the instructor has to not be in the car when you take the road test. When you take the SAT, the math tutor isn’t there with you. Teaching a child to swim on their own is about a whole lot more than recreation. Athletes who learn to train when the coach and the whistle are nowhere to found achieve higher goals. But absence doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder. Certainly, absence is always a plus. Any parent who has ever come home to find evident of a raucous house party knows absence can come with peril. And as some of you have shared with me as your pastor over the years, absence and presence that comes with the loss of loved one….well, in just about every way it is an experience words can’t really capture. Presence and absence hits close to home in so many ways, including when it comes to faith and our relationship with the Savior we have never known “in person”. Here in the Last Supper Discourse in John, Jesus tells the disciples that his absence is to their advantage and as you and I overhear that conversation, Jesus tells us why his absence is and advantage to us as well.
Advantage, disciples! With Christ’s sending of the Holy Spirit comes the power of your testimony. Yes, the Spirit of Truth will testify on Christ’s behalf. But his call is for the disciples to testify “because you have been with me from the beginning.” They have heard everything Jesus said, everything Jesus taught, everything Jesus proclaimed. They have witnessed every healing, every cleansing, every miracle. Jesus’ hour has come and it is time for the disciples to find their preaching legs and to get their testimony groove on. The world will no longer see him and all he has said and done. The work of the Holy Spirit and the witness of the disciples, that’s what’s in play now that Christ’s glorification has come. Stop and think about it. From that moment on, after Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, the only tool in the box for the gospel made known in and through Jesus, the gospel made known by the author of our salvation, the only tool is the Holy Spirit and the testimony of the followers of Jesus. And those testimony chops would never be strong enough if Jesus hung around doing all the preaching.
“You also are to testify”, Jesus told the disciples. So far beyond the ecclesial office of the preacher is the testimony of those who follow Jesus. Remember and don’t ever forget when and how that testimony begins. “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love.” Your testimony, people of God, it was never about this preacher or that preacher. Your testimony in the world begins and ends with love.
Advantage, disciples! With Christ’ sending of the Holy Spirit comes the gift of faith and the invitation to a journey with Jesus not bound by his earthly body. As one professor once but it, the presence of Christ known not in his hands, his feet, his hair, his teeth. “The Spirit of truth will glorify me because the Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that the Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you.” The relationship promised in Christ’s absence is deeper and more robust. The disciples’ liberation from his earthly presence opens the way for each follower of Jesus to be connected not just to Jesus of Nazareth, but to the Risen Christ, the Ascended Christ, the Advocate, and that God that Jesus called Father. Christ’s absence is the means of access to the very fullness of God.
Here in John’s gospel, we might only be halfway through Jesus last discourse but we are also only hours way from the the Upper Room when the Risen Jesus appears a second time to the disciples; and this time with Thomas in the room. Jesus invites Thomas to touch his hands and touch his sides to feel the scars, the wounds of his crucifixion. “Do not doubt but believe!” Thomas exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” And the Risen Jesus offers a beatitude as timeless as those from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe.” Blessed are those who come to believe when I am no longer here in the flesh. Faith, trust, a yearning for mystery, and a glimpse of the beauty of God’s fullness. It comes in his absence. In comes to you, people of God, in the gift of the Holy Spirit. In comes to you by faith. Blessed are you, Jesus said.
Advantage, disciples! With Christ’s sending of the Holy Spirit comes the wisdom and the responsibility to have, as Jesus would put it, “the eyes to see, the ears to ear.” In the gospels that expression refers most often to those who come to understand what Jesus is saying in his teaching or with a parable. But here, in preparing the disciples for his absence, he tells them that he is sending the Advocate so they have the eyes to see the world as he sees it. The ears to listen to the world as he hears it. “If I go, I will send the Advocate to you. And when the Advocate comes, the Advocate will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” The Spirit at work in the followers of Jesus enabling them to see everything he would want them to see about the world just as if he was there pointing it all out to them. The advantage is the Holy Spirit and the “kingdom come on earth” eyes, and ears, and longing of the people of God.
WWJD. What Would Jesus Do? It was catchy back when the bracelet and the bumper sticker and the T-shirt made the rounds. I guess the phrase still hangs around a bit. But the power of the promise coming from the lips of Jesus to the disciples here in John, the profound and compelling promise that comes from the departing Jesus is that the disciples shouldn’t even have to ask. When the Holy Spirit comes, the disciples, the followers of Jesus, you and me, we don’t even have to ask “what would Jesus do” because in his absence he has given us the holy discernment, the inspired heart, and the anointed vision, to see this broken world the way he sees it. The eyes to see and the ears to hear a world full of sin and unrighteousness. When Jesus has filled you with the Holy Spirit, you don’t need him next to you to point out injustice. You don’t need Jesus walking beside you to see the evils of hate and bigotry absolutely flourishing in the world. You don’t have to have Jesus stand before you to tell you yet again to lift up the poor and to comfort the afflicted and to search for the lost. In his absence, you have the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth at work in and through you.
The advantage comes, people of God, with the Holy Spirit and the “kingdom come on earth” eyes, and ears, and longing to see not just the fallen world as Jesus sees it. But also, to see glimpses of his kingdom right in your midst. My wife Cathy and I were doing some mobile delivery of food for Arm in Arm not far from where we live here in Princeton. The delivery was just one bag of staples: a box of cereal and some canned goods. Households with children received a frozen chicken and a second back with some juice and perishables. So it wasn’t much. The delivery is contactless of course. Drop, knock, and go. At our next to last stop, we left the family the three bags on the doorstep and headed to the last visit several doors away. But before we reached the final delivery, the father of four yelled over to us. He picked up all three bags, walked over to us in his bare feet and said, “Please, I don’t want to more than our share. We are doing a bit better. Someone else will need it more.” We tried to convince him. It really was so little food; “You take, please” But he wouldn’t. And has we urged him to go warm up his feet, he turned and said, “And I would like to give so others can be helped too”.
You know if Jesus was standing there with us on the sidewalk in Princeton Thursday afternoon, Jesus with his hands, his feet, his hair, his teeth, when that father of four closed the door, Jesus would have pointed and had something to say.
Advantage, disciples. With Christ’s sending of the Holy Spirit comes the power of your testimony. With Christ’s sending of the Holy Spirit comes the gift of faith and the invitation to a journey with Jesus not bound by his earthly body. With Christ’s sending of the Holy Spirit comes the wisdom and the responsibility to have, as Jesus would put it, “the eyes to see, the ears to ear.”