Sermon May 20, 2018

“Do We Hear the Voice of Jesus?”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
1 John 15:26-27   16:4b-15
May 20, 2018

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” John 16:12i

Until is can be proven otherwise, I’m going to take Jesus at His word. I have expanded a bit on what He said long ago to His disciples. I think Jesus still has many things to say to us. Indeed, as the world around us changes, Jesus speaks new truths and calls us in new directions.

Just as He did when calling the early Christian movement out into the wider world, when He pronounced “clean” what for centuries had been seen as “unclean,” when the church offered God’s truth not only to practicing Jews but to previous heathen Gentiles, so God is speaking today. Can you hear it?

Note this, too. Jesus speaks of sending One who will speak to us in Jesus’ absence and it is today that we celebrate that promise kept. The Holy Spirit fills our lives and this room and makes Jesus a lived reality even in His absence. Jesus comes to us by way of the Holy Spirit.

Why? Because Jesus isn’t here. He does not walk this earth or dispatch messages on the internet. Jesus, the man born some two thousand years ago, is with God, the three in One.

The fact that we can still speak of knowing the mind of Christ should not be surprising. Many who have suffered the death of a loved one know what it’s like to have to make decisions now that the loved one is gone. Haven’t you heard people say that they know this is what their loved one would have wanted? It is stated over and over again. Now how is this possible? Their loved one is gone. It is possible because of all the people in the world they knew the departed best. They know the mind of the one who can no longer speak. “Well,” someone might say, “that’s different, isn’t it? I mean they knew and lived with the one who has passed.” That ‘s right it is different. We have not lived with Jesus in the same way the disciples did. That is what makes this all the more amazing to me. I believe I have a sense of the mind of Christ. How? Because He has been made known to me by the intervention of the Spirit. I can speak of having a relationship with Jesus as much as those who cling to their relationship of a relative long dead. It is the Holy Spirit that makes this possible. Jesus gave little instruction on how to live out a modern marriage; He said practically nothing about how to parent an adolescent. But if I were to ask you to seek the mind of Christ in such matters, it would be perfectly reasonable. Jesus is still speaking if we will listen for the wind of the Spirit.

And if this is not enough to convince you that Jesus speaks to us through the Holy Spirit, I ask you to listen to the testimony of others. You have heard them. They speak of being strangely stirred. They may have heard a direct command and sought to follow it. They may have heard nothing but been moved by an experience and changed.

Yesterday we held a memorial service for Bert Stickney. At its conclusion we sang a familiar hymn, Amazing Grace. Well it was amazing. That hymn was written by John Newton –a slave trader. He came to find the mind of Christ, to learn that what he was doing for profit would not profit his soul. A man was changed by the wind of the Spirit.

Or put a camera in my hand and suddenly I become alive to what is around me – the light and shadow, the unexpected marvel. Two days ago I sallied forth to climb Mr. Wheeler in the Lake Willoughby area. It was said to have a wonderful view of the Mt. Pisgah and the lake. I came to Eagle Rock and there was the view I had been promised. Yet it was only one of the marvels set before me. Wild flowers abounded. I felt deeply blessed by the moment I had been given. I descended got in the car. It was about 7:00 when I set off for home. I decided I would take a detour, that I would take a chance. I traveled back to Lake Willoughby on its eastern shore. The sun was setting, but I wanted to catch the fading light as it played on the lake. I finally came to the North shore. There was no wind and the light radiated off of the eastern shore as I looked out on this wonder set before me. The voice of the Spirit may be like:

A saturated meadow,
Sun-shaped and jewel-small,
A circle scarcely wider
Than the trees around were tall;
Where winds were quite excluded,
And the air was stifling sweet
With the breath of many flowers, —
A temple of the heat.

There we bowed us in the burning,
As the sun’s right worship is,
To pick where none could miss them
A thousand orchises;
For though the grass was scattered,
Yet every second spear
Seemed tipped with wings of color,
That tinged the atmosphere.

We raised a simple prayer
Before we left the spot,
That in the general mowing
That place might be forgot;
Or if not all so favored,
Obtain such grace of hours,
That none should mow the grass there
While so confused with flowers.1

It comes unbidden. All one must do is turn aside and behold. The Spirit of God is like the wind all around us. Behold its wonder.

Finally, Jesus come to us by way of the Spirit because a love that takes God to the cross would not leave us adrift. If you came doubting elements of your faith, be sure of this: the spirit will guide you.

This is particularly good news in this age. Ours is a time that embraces moral relativity. Gone is the simplicity of authoritative truth. Like Newtonian physics it has been replaced by Einstein’s general theory of relativity. I don’t pretend to fully, even partially, understand Einstein’s theory, but here is what one expert called a simplified consequence of relativity: Events that occur at the same time for one observer could occur at different times for another.2 This has resulted in a revolution in our ethical discourse. Since all things are relative to the space and time that one occupies, to speak of universal moral truths becomes problematic. How can I claim my truth over another’s truth?

This has not all been bad. It requires all of us to assume far greater humility for our truth claims. But when ethics is left unanchored to an absolute, chaos waits in the wings.

God is the anchor for our moral conduct. God is the final judge of a person’s character.

But wait,” someone might say. “Where is God? How can something we cannot see or measure serve as our guide?” Fair question, right? But here’s the thing. Science has the same problem with Einstein’s theory. One writer points out Although instruments can neither see nor measure space-time, several of the phenomena predicted by its warping have been confirmed.” It is by observing the phenomena predicted by his theory that it is given the imprimatur of scientific truth. That is exactly what people of faith are saying about the spirit. In their own lived experience, in the unfolding of human history, the hand of God is at work. It was predicted by Jesus and the phenomena predicted by God’s gift of the Holy Spirit is all around us.

Do we hear the voice of Jesus? We do if we will but step aside and see the wonder around us. It can come in a blinding light of a soul’s transformation or in the subtle wonder of a meadow confused with flowers. Jesus still has something to say. Do you hear His voice? Let us pray…

1 Robert Frost, Rose Pagonias

iJohn 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 

26 “When the Advocate[a] comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning….

16:4 …But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them.

I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate[a] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about[b] sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 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. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.