John 14:15 – 27
By Rev. David Ahearn
Our passage today belongs to what is called the “farewell discourse” in the Gospel of John. Jesus is preparing his disciples for this death. It is his last will and testimony. Much of his teachings did not make sense until after His resurrection.
Jesus is worried about his followers – not only the 12 disciples, but especially Mary of Bethany, Lazarus, and Mary of Magdala – who are central figures in the Gospel of John. His physical body will leave them, but Jesus will not leave them as orphans.
Jesus promises that he will send to his disciples an Advocate, the Holy Spirit who will be their parent.
There is an elderly woman in my church who lost her husband 20 years ago. She goes to his grave every week and talks to him out loud, literally.
She describes her day, tells him what’s happening with their children and grandchildren, and she asks for his advice. She feels him speak to her from the grave, helping her through times of troubles.
In the same way, Jesus is gone but is also present with us. This presence we call the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit has two main works—the first task is the one we read in the second chapter of Acts, that the Spirit unites everyone in the church, even across all languages and nationalities; Jesus also introduces a second work of the Spirit in the Gospel according to John—that the Spirit comes to us as a kind of teacher and parent combined.
But why do we need a Spirit to teach us when Jesus left behind his teachings? When we don’t know what to do, why can’t we just go to the book and look it up?
The answer comes to us when we think about good parents. The best parents don’t just give their children a bunch of rules when they are babies in a short list and then expect them to follow those brief rules for the rest of their lives. No, we parent aren’t just rearing children. We are rearing adults we want our children to become.
My mother brought me to church every week. My church was very, very dedicated to world missions. I often met missionaries who worked in Brazil, in Africa, and sometimes in Asia. From my earliest days, I learned to imagine the church as a worldwide movement that included all persons in one family
My wife’s father is a very famous theologian in Japan. Our two countries – Japan and the US were enemies in World War II. My father-in-law was in a military school when the war broke out. He made a vow to the emperor of Japan to die rather than surrender to the Americans.
But the war ended, and somehow our two nations became friends. A church in Kansas City in the United States gave my father-in-law a scholarship to do his doctoral theology studies in America. So, from his earliest days, his main mission in life was to form deep bridges between the Christian churches in the US and in Japan.
So both of us learned from our parents about the worldwide community of the church. But guess what happened when my then fiancée and I decided to get married? Both of our parents were against it.
I think my mother had some prejudice against Asian people, to be honest. And my wife was an only child. Her father would never admit it, but he could not bear the idea of his daughter moving far away.
Now, both my wife and I had a decision to make. What did it mean to be faithful children? When we decided to get married, we went against our parents’ superficial wishes in order to live out the deepest values that they taught us.
Parents want their children to learn not just obedience but real wisdom. It is our responsibility as parents to give our children wings, and then find the courage to watch them spread their wings and fly.
With my own children, I’ve tried to follow these reminders:
1. Give my children not only love but also respect. They should feel not only my affection, but also should feel safe. Home should be a refuge, a place where they are completely accepted and know they are loved.
2. Respect means showing confidence in my child’s capabilities. I tried to let my children express some wishes from every early age. At first it was perhaps only choosing which vegetable to eat, or picking out what t-shirt to wear. As they grew up, we tried to give them more choices about more important things in their lives. Often they made mistakes in the choices, but that’s part of growing up.
3. Teach my children that they have some control over their lives. Often they don’t fly in the direction we would have predicted. They need to develop their own good judgment and their own wisdom. I hope I gave my children a strong foundation, but it is up to them to build the house that they will live in as adults.
“I will not leave you as orphans,” Jesus says. He comes again as the Holy Spirit to be that divine parent to us. So what kind of parent is the Holy Spirit?
First, I firmly believe that God does not want blind obedience to simple rules. God wants Jesus to grow in wisdom. If Jesus just gave us a rule book, we wouldn’t need the Spirit to help us know how to live. The Spirit helps us to remember the many things that Jesus said and did, and apply the right lesson to the right life-situation. And the Spirit will teach us new things, guiding us along the path in each new age.
I teach courses at LaGrange College in ethics, peacemaking, religion and science. Knowing how to be a Christian in this complicated new age requires Christians who are wise. How can we be faithful Christians when thinking about genetic therapy? Or artificial intelligence? Or how to have good, healthy relationships in this age of social media?
Jesus never talked about these things directly. We need to read the Scripture faithfully, of course, but we’ll never find any clear rule about them. The Spirit teaches us like a good parent. Jesus gives us a strong foundation. But the church needs intelligent, wise Christians who can imagine and dream and discern how to live in this new age.
On this day, we are especially thankful for the parents and teachers who guided us. These are the ones who gave us not just knowledge, but wisdom and support and encouragement. I am a teacher now, but every time I come to a graduation, I remember all the mentors and teachers who guided me.
I never could not do anything to say thank you to them. And so now I just “pay it forward,” by being a mentor to the generations of students who come to me.
Let’s give thanks that Jesus doesn’t ask blind obedience, but works in us by the spirit to rear up wise, well-grounded adults in the faith. And we are thankful for all the parents and teachers and mentors in our lives who have helped us along this path.
We must not only give thanks, but we must to vow to pay it forward. Be the Spirit of Christ in someone else life. Help them grow, become wiser, become more free.