Not My Word
Topic: Biblical Verse: John 14:23–14:31
The Festival of Pentecost[i]
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
John 14:23-31 (Acts 2:1-21)
“Not My Word”
It must have been difficult for the disciples. Ten days ago, Jesus was taken away from them for the second time. The past two months had been a roller coaster ride. Jesus triumphantly entered into Jerusalem. He was betrayed by one of their own, arrested, brutalized, and crucified. Other people buried him, and the disciples mourned. But then Jesus rose! He appeared to them and many others, until he was bodily taken up into heaven, right before their very eyes. And now they waited for whatever was going to come next. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had questions. What happens now? They certainly had questions for Jesus when he was with them – our reading from John’s Gospel is Jesus’ response to one such question – but how are they supposed to get an answer now that he’s gone? Fifty days after Easter, one of the major Jewish festivals, Pentecost, now dawns upon Jesus’ disciples in an uncertain world.
In those days two months ago as Jesus bid farewell to the disciples, he told them many things – most of which probably didn’t become clear until the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost. If Jesus’ word was simply human, like everything else they’d heard (like what we hear from day to day), what certainty could it have brought into their lives? Our words, even our good and wise words, go only so far and last only so long. If Jesus’ word was simply human, he’d be just another dead philosopher or sage, somebody in history books along with all the rest. But then Jesus rose! He ascended into heaven. And he sent the Holy Spirit to be with his people. The past two months confirmed the divine promise Jesus had given his disciples: “the word you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” (John 14:24)
Jesus brings the Father’s word into our world, into our lives. He did his Father’s work on earth, so that God’s love would be known. Not obscured or hidden away, not dependent on human effort, but given to an uncertain world that needed certain hope. Jesus, the Word Made Flesh, both did everything that we needed to do to live according to the Father’s instruction and took our place to carry the consequences of our failures to live that way.
Listening to God’s Word in the Gospel text today, you might be wondering: Do I love Jesus if I haven’t kept his word? Does God love me if I have not done what He would have me do in life? The truth is that you and I have regularly failed to follow and obey the Father’s instruction, which comes to us through His Word in the Bible. You can probably think back to those moments and choices where you, like the people of Babel, decided to follow you own path and let pride be your guide in this uncertain world. That’s why humanity was exiled from Eden, exiled from fellowship with God. But our pride fails us. Our strength fails us. And we’re still left to find our way in the world of uncertainty.
That’s why Pentecost is so important, why it’s part of the Church’s life two millennia on. Pentecost is the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise as God again gives Himself to His people. Indeed, the God the Holy Spirit is making people to be His own at Pentecost as He delivers the peace from above that Jesus won for humanity. This peace, this shalom wholeness and completeness and restoration of the way that things are meant to be, is what the Holy Spirit is pouring out on the world. The exiles are brought back in. The people scattered by divine action at Babel are gathered and united by divine action on Pentecost.
The Spirit points us to Jesus, our Savior. The Spirit brings us peace in Christ, who lived, suffered, died, rose, and ascended into heaven for us. The Spirit makes the Father’s word of life known to us, so that everyone might have the fellowship with their heavenly Father that humanity lost by letting pride be our guide. Everything that’s happening in worship today – the music and singing, the festive red colors, the message that you’re hearing right now – the point of all of it is to confess Jesus as our Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit. You and I are here now because we can have certain hope in Christ. And that’s certainly hope that our world needs.
The Spirit is at work even now, revealing Christ to the world through His Church. God continues to make people His own through His grace in Christ, using the word that we share, the word that we live. As you live out God’s instruction, following Jesus’ self-giving lead through life, you are pointing to the hope that you have. You are sharing the peace that this world can’t give. In our life together as the Church, even when it is imperfect, as we treat each other with grace and care for one another we get to see and model the new life that the Holy Spirit brings into the lives of people like us who need it. Even has He did on Pentecost, the Spirit works through ordinary people and does extraordinary things, pointing the world to Christ.
Flags from the nations of the world – many of which are from countries represented by the ESL students who gather here to learn – flank St. John’s sanctuary today, a reminder that the gospel we’ve been given to share is not restricted to people who look like you or sound like you. As we join in the Lord’s Prayer today before receiving Holy Communion, you are welcome to pray it aloud in your native language. Most of us here today don’t speak the ancient languages of Hebrew or Greek or Aramaic, and yet the Holy Spirit has still called and gathered us, making us God’s people. There is no one kind of Christian. But there is only one Christ. He’s the one in whom you can have certain hope in this uncertain world.
You are no longer an exile; you are the people of God. On Pentecost, fifty days after Easter, this is the joy that our Lord brings us together to share. By the working of the Spirit, you have peace with your Father in heaven who has indeed come to make His home with you. His promise is sure, and His Word is certain.
[i] Passage for memory:
Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.
– John 14:23–24