Harrowing Of Hell
May 26, 2013

Holy Trinity

Preacher: The Rev. Kate Wesch

John 16:12-15

Jesus said to the disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

In the name of God; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Driving home from church week before last, I found myself explaining Pentecost to my two-year-old daughter.  “It’s a very special day,” I told her.  “On Pentecost, we celebrate the end of Easter.” “We get to hunt Easter eggs?” she asked. “Not exactly,” I said, “we did that on Easter and now Easter’s over. On Pentecost we wear red and have baptisms and light candles.  On Pentecost, we celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.”

She thought about it for a minute, and then predictably asked, “What’s the Holy Spirit?”  Excellent question.  Now, how on earth do I explain the Holy Spirit to a toddler?  “The Holy Spirit is a very special gift from Jesus.  The Holy Spirit is always with us.  It’s like we are carrying around a small piece of God everywhere we go.  It reminds us that God loves us.”  “God loves us,” she repeated and then eagerly made plans to wear her bright red “Wonder Woman” t-shirt to church.

This is a conversation I expect to continue and change over the years as her understanding (and mine) grow and change.  And she was right in asking for clarification about the Holy Spirit before attempting an understanding of Pentecost.

Today’s feast day, Trinity Sunday, throws us out of order.  It always comes the week after Pentecost when we are in the middle of a story and it is sequentially out of order.  For today’s gospel text is a pre-Pentecost story that actually takes place 50 days earlier, before Easter even.

Doyt preached last Sunday on the Pentecost story from Acts and now, we jump back in time to John’s gospel and Jesus’ last night with his disciples.  The gospel account in John is the only one to tell this part of the story which we encounter in chapters 13 through 17.  First, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples.  Then, Jesus talks, for a long time.  Jesus foretells his betrayal and Peter’s denial.  He gives the new commandment, that “just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (13:35).

In chapter 14, Jesus spends a lot of time expressing the central theological conviction of the Gospel of John: that Jesus is the tangible presence of God in the world.  The familial language used to name God and Jesus as Father and Son points to the intimacy of their relationship.  Humanity’s encounter with Jesus the Son makes possible a new experience of God as Father and parent.

In a very compassionate and loving way, Jesus is preparing his friends/his disciples, for the day when he is no longer here.  Jesus promises the Holy Spirit – a spirit which abides with us and lives in us – that piece of God we carry always in our hearts.  In this discourse according to John, Jesus says fifteen different times and ways, “I am leaving you. I won’t be here forever and you will have to continue without me.”  And in twenty six different ways, Jesus says, “I am sending you the Holy Spirit.”  Repetition, repetition, repetition….

Jesus inspires, builds up, and commissions his followers for the work they have ahead of them in a world where Jesus no longer walks among us in human flesh, but rather lives inside us as the Holy Spirit.  Then, finally, Jesus prays.  And in the written words of Eugene Peterson, “As he prays, he gathers up the life that they have lived together and fuses it into the life the disciples will continue to live, praying his life and work and their life and work into an identity – it is going to be the same whether people saw and heard Jesus living it or will see and hear Peter and Thomas and Philip living it.

The Holy Spirit is coming.  This Holy Spirit will be in them, doing in them what Jesus did among them.  The Holy Spirit, God’s way of being present with us, will make their life and work continuous with Jesus’ life and work.  The way God was present to them in Jesus, God will be present to others in them.  The leaving and the sending work together, back and forth, back and forth.  Jesus’ absence from them becomes the Spirit’s presence in them.  Everything Jesus said and did among them is continued in what they say and do” (Eugene Peterson).

He sums up all of this teaching into a prayer that will live on in the souls of those who love him and in it we see the Holy Trinity. So how do we embody the Spirit’s presence?  How is that evident in our lives? One way we do this is by the choices we make and the way in which we conduct ourselves in the world.

We are constantly making decisions as to what we will do with our time, how we will spend our money, which relationships are most important. Many of these decisions, if not most of them, reflect our character-our morality, values…

On the topic of Christian morality in his book “Mere Christianity”, C.S. Lewis has this to say: “I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before.  And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow-creatures, and with itself.

To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power.  To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness.  Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other” (Mere Christianity, 87).

This dualistic approach to morality seems harsh, but has some truth to it. Every one of the tiny choices we make on a daily basis add up and together shape and form our character.  We can choose to have our lives reflect the presence of the Holy Spirit – the tiny piece of God we carry around inside us.  Or, we can choose to deny the piece of God which abides in us and declare war against the divine – and what a sad and lonely existence that is.

Choose God.  Choose the Holy Spirit.  Choose to navigate your soul towards life as a heavenly creature, for the path to God lies in that existence.

Peterson, Eugene, “The Story Behind the Story: John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15,” Journal for Preachers, 2003.