Yesterday in Vinebranch, we began our 4-part sermon series on the Holy Spirit, “In Case of Fire.” In our scripture, Jesus makes a remarkable claim about his leaving the disciples: “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).
Let’s face facts. Most of us don’t really believe Jesus’ words here. I doubt Jesus’ disciples believed them, either. Don’t we instead imagine that life would be easier as Christians if Jesus were still right here with us, in the flesh. For one thing, if Jesus were here in the flesh, we’d get to listen to better sermons on Sundays! And if Jesus were here in the flesh, couldn’t he answer all our questions and settle all our disputes? After all, The United Methodist Church just spent a couple of weeks fussing and fighting at General Conference in Tampa. If Jesus were here in the flesh, we could just ask him what to do.
Not that we wouldn’t still find excuses for not doing it! We’d still argue and fight. We’d still misunderstand and misinterpret his words. This is exactly what we see the disciples doing in the gospels during his earthly ministry.
In fact, even though the disciples had the benefit of hearing firsthand the Sermon on the Mount and his parables; even though they experienced firsthand his great love, forgiveness, and mercy; even though they saw firsthand his miracles of making the lame walk, giving eyesight to the blind, driving out demons, walking on water, feeding the multitudes, and raising the dead, they still struggled; they still doubted; they still ran away, denied, and abandoned Jesus in his time of trial.
By contrast, what do we see them do after Jesus ascended to the Father? They find the courage, faith, and strength to turn the world upside down with the gospel. What do you think accounts for that difference? The Holy Spirit.
Besides, as I strongly emphasized in yesterday’s sermon, while Jesus may not be here in the flesh, he is here—through the Holy Spirit who makes him present to us. Our challenge is to live as if we believe that.