You can relax; I have not gone round the "new age theology bend" with this sermon title The God in You. However, I must confess to being just a bit provocative when choosing it, especially with those people who in the last decade have jumped on the bandwagon of new age spirituality. The phrase, "the God in you" has recently been popularized by new agers. But like so many things appropriated by that movement, the idea is anything but new. In fact, it is as old as Jesus sitting at a table with his disciples preparing them for his departure.
The lesson we have just read is the continuation of last week's gospel lesson in which Phillip has said to Jesus, "Show us the Father and we will be satisfied," and Jesus responds, "Have I been so long with you Phillip, and still you do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father." All of this conversation in John's gospel takes place at the table in the upper room on the night of Jesus' betrayal. Jesus has told them that he is going away and that whatever we ask in his name he will do. We talked last week about that being God's promise to the church, to be at work in and among the church whenever it is about Christ's work in the world. That is an astounding promise. But today, we hear promises of even more staggering magnitude. First, Jesus promises not to leave them abandoned, bereft, desolate or orphaned, depending upon which English translation you might be reading. Each a suitable rendering of the Greek, which, by the way, is the word from which we get our English word "orphaned."1 Jesus is leaving his followers, but he is not leaving them orphaned-on their own. He is sending another who will be comforter, advocate, helper, guide, and intercessor-again, depending upon your English translation. This advocate will be with them forever.2
As Jesus has been their comforter, helper, guide, intercessor and advocate in the three years of their relationship with him, upon his departure they will have another, One sent from the Father.3 This advocate, who will continue Jesus' presence among them and work with them forever, Jesus calls "the spirit of truth." The three subsequent times Jesus speaks of this coming One, he identifies the advocate as the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God who proceeds from the Father at Jesus' request, who in fact will not come until Jesus returns.4 Jesus is sending the very One in the Godhead who is the bond between himself and the Father, who, because of being that bond between them, simply cannot come until Jesus returns to the Father. This One who has been named "the go-between God" will no longer be a link between the Father and the Son, for upon Jesus' return they will be reunited. Jesus is telling his followers that the gift of the God's Spirit is about to be bestowed on them. From that point on, the go-between God will be the link between Jesus' followers and the Triune God.5
This gift is not simply the spirit of life among humans-this is no universal possession. This is a gift from God specifically to Jesus' followers. Nor is this simply the human spirit at its best striving after truth which all religions struggle to give voice to as they seek after the divine mystery called "God." And it certainly is not what the new age folks assume it to be, that Platonic spark of divinity that somehow broke loose from the Godhead only to be captured by the corruption of the created order, as it longs to return to its source upon its bodily container's death.6 The Advocate, Helper and Guide Jesus speaks of is very God of very God! Yes, we can use the same language for the Spirit that the Nicene Creed uses of Jesus as the only begotten Son of the Father.
Now if you have been listening carefully, you will have noticed how very hard I have been working to avoid using impersonal pronouns for this Advocate. You see, the Spirit is never an "it." Interestingly enough, the Greek pronoun used to describe "this One" in John's gospel is neuter, neither masculine nor feminine. And here, the limitation of English boxes us in, for we have no neutral pronoun in English which is personal. That forces us into the convention of "him" or "her."7 This very personal, third dimension of the Godhead, the go-between God, formerly linking the Father and the Son, now links the Father and the Son to us, Jesus' followers.
Jesus says the world can neither see nor know the Spirit. The Spirit has not been given to the world, only to those who follow Jesus. And, in fact, when the Spirit finally does descend to the disciples on Pentecost, what does the world of onlookers conclude? They think the disciples are drunk!8 Interesting, isn't it: the world can see the manifestations of the Spirit present in the disciples, but the world cannot comprehend the Spirit.
That said, Jesus adds this next promise, the most startling promise of them all: you will know him because he abides with you, and he will be in you. This go-between God is not only being sent among Jesus' disciples so that what they, as the church, ask in his name will be accomplished. More, the Spirit of God is being sent to dwell not only among them, but within them, individually as well as collectively.9 The Holy Spirit-the present tense of God, the one who initiates the divine-human relationship we call the life of faith, the one who first quickens us to an awareness of God's presence in the world around us, the One who gives us faith, the One who makes Christ present among us when we gather in Christ's name, the one who makes Christ present at font, at Christ's table and in this preaching, this One is dwelling in us.
This is the God in you-the Holy Spirit, the advocate, comforter, guide, the go-between God-who takes residence in all who receive him in the name of Jesus Christ in the waters of baptism, not only to empower us for new life in Christ, but also to link us to Christ. As wire links a power source with a light bulb, as a conduit links a source of water with dry land, as the radar wave links the transmitter to the receiver, as electronic emissions link a wireless network wireless to a laptop computer, so the Spirit links us to God, bringing Christ's promised presence to dwell in us so that you and I continue to be Christ's presence in the world.
"If you love me," Jesus begins this lesson, "keep my commandments." And now, this is how he concludes. "They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them." For the longest time this word troubled me, especially in high school and college. For as much as I believed in Jesus and as much as I had faith in and trusted him, as much as I tried to faithfully follow him, I found it hard to honestly say that I loved him. Jesus loved me, that I had known since a child in Sunday School. But I was not all that convinced that I could, with any integrity, say I loved Jesus. And I knew better than to try to tell Jesus I loved him if I was just faking it. After all, I did not have that rush of feelings for him that I had for parents, grandparents, not to mention those wonderful girls who were coming through my life in those days. But then one day I got it. The love Jesus speaks of here is not sentiment or emotion. The love Jesus speaks of here is devotion! It is not feelings that Jesus is commanding. I mean, who can command feelings? Jesus doesn't want our feelings; he wants so much more. Jesus wants our obedience. The issue here is behavior. More important still, notice Jesus' "If you love me," here in this context, is not conditional. Rather, it is a statement of condition of fact that results in being able to keep his commandments. Jesus is saying, "If you love me, [and you do], you will keep my commandments." To keep his commandments is to love him. Authentic love is most demonstrated in us in the way we live life with and for another. We speak of a couple being devoted to one another. Sure, it begins with feelings. But then it matures, it moves into a bond of commitment and self-offering to the other that we call devotion.
Jesus wants devotion, not emotion. Jesus wants our obedience, not our feelings. Jesus wants us to belong to him totally, not simply to drop in and out at our own convenience for an emotional rush. Once I got my head around that, the problem of loving him disappeared. It had to do with how I would live my life, to whom and what would I be devoted.
And then a funny thing happened. Interestingly enough, in the forty-some years since then, I have found that such devotion, such obedience, such commitment soon also brings with it an authentic emotion and sentiment as strong as any feeling of love I have ever known. Those at Madison Avenue who are around me in those moments when Christ is touching us or filling us beyond the brim-a baptism, a wedding, a hospital communion, a healing and wholeness service, or at Christ's table in a funeral, celebrating the sacramental link we now have with the one we have lost-they can readily attest to the emotion that appears in me at such times.
Obedience to Christ's words leads to a life which not only serves Christ, but is filled with Christ. For in our decisions to welcome and be obedient, the go-between God enters your life and mine, takes residence and becomes the One who makes our obedience possible. This is the God in you: through the Holy Spirit, the Risen Christ enters us, fills us, uses us, and leads us to a life that none of us could have otherwise chosen or found, life now that has a trajectory leading to eternity, and beyond.
The Word of the Lord; thanks be to God.
Let us pray.
Descend upon us, O Holy Spirit, and fill us with your power and draw us more deeply into Christ and his life in us we pray. Amen.
1. Orphanos, is generally translated "bereft of father or parents" or, "without a teacher, guide or guardian."
2. The word is parakletos, and in all but one instance in the New Testament, is a reference to the Holy Spirit. The single exception to this is the instance in 1 John 2:1, when the word is used of the risen and exalted Christ, seated at the Father's right hand, who is the parakletos for us, making intercession to the Father on our behalf.
3. I am using the Johannine chronology of three year ministry here, simply to be consistent with the gospel. Whether one (as in the synoptics) or three, as in John, the point is the same, this coming one is from the Father and will continue Jesus' work among them.
4. John 14:16; 14:26; 15:26; 16:7.
5. John V. Taylor, The Go-Between God, (London: SCM Press, 1972)
6. New age though is Neo-Platonic Gnosticism, built upon assumptions about creation, humanity, history and divinity what are quite antithetic to the biblical witness and to the way those who wrote scripture understood and through about the world. The Bible does not understand humans to have a spark of divinity within them, called an immortal soul, which has become enslaved in the corruption of the human body, awaiting death in hopes of being reunited with its original source. Only later, as the scriptures made their way into the Hellenistic world, and were translated into Greek, could one begin to infer a Neo-Platonic system behind them. For the biblical writers, humans are souls, beloved of God, who live as God's good creations, animated by God's gift of life. This is true for the believer and the non-believer alike.
7. The feminist movement has suggested that the Spirit is feminine. As attractive as that notion might be, it has larger problems. Not only does the text insist on the neuter, but in the way the rest of the Godhead is neither masculine nor feminine, save for the physical body the risen Christ has taken with him into the Godhead upon his ascension, God is beyond gender, relating to and capable of becoming one with both male and female without rendering harm to human gender whatever it might be.
8. Acts 2:13-18
9. The argument that all of the second person pronouns here are plural, and therefore this is only a promise to the followers collectively rather than individually, begs the point at two levels. First, it ignores the intentional "hoti par humin meni kai hen humin esti" of the text, translated quite literally, "because with you he remains and in you he is." Second, given the fact that Jesus is addressing the disciples at table collectively, he has no othe option that to speak in the second person plural. How else could he address them?