Sunday, May 24 – The Day of Pentecost

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Sunday, May 24 – The Day of Pentecost
Acts 2:1-21 / Romans 8:22-27 / John 15:26-27; 16:12-15

Things Jesus Has Yet to Say

Let’s suppose I was going on a very long trip and my parting words to you were, “There’s something I have to tell you before I go on my trip, but I don’t think you’re ready to hear it yet. After I leave, someone else will come and tell you what I have to say.”

If I were to say that, you might think, “What in the heck does he have to tell us? It must be big because he thinks we’re not ready to hear it yet. He’s already had quite a lot to say to us, as it is. What more could he possibly have?”

Well, Jesus said something similar to his disciples before he left this earth and ascended to heaven. He said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” I wonder if the disciples thought to themselves, “What more could he possibly have to say to us? He’s already told us many things that were very hard to accept. And now he says he has more yet to say that is even harder to accept? Does this man ever stop saying difficult things?”

The Book of Acts, which recounts the life of the church after Jesus ascended to heaven, tells us what some of these things were that Jesus had to say, and they were things that the disciples could hardly bear. One of them was that Gentiles were loved by God just as much as Jews. The disciples had been raised and educated to believe that the Jews were God’s chosen people and Gentiles were of secondary consideration to God, at best. Another shocker that Jesus had to say was the teaching that all foods were considered clean by God. The disciples had been brought up to believe that foods like pork and shellfish were unclean. No true believer should consume them.

You can see why, then, that Jesus said that the disciples could not bear to hear what he had to say at that time. It was best to keep these bombshells till later.

Things that the disciples had always thought were sacrosanct were being overturned. Things they felt were beyond question were being questioned. Jesus knew that it would be difficult for the disciples to accept these changes. Therefore, he told them that he was going to send someone to help them through the difficult transition: the Holy Spirit. “He will guide you into the truth,” Jesus said. “He will give you the strength to bear what you cannot bear on your own.”

This is Pentecost Sunday, the day on the church calendar when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples and all believers. And apparently one of the primary functions of this Holy Spirit is to guide us into new truth. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to the church for the express purpose of giving us the strength to deal with truths we find hard to accept.

Yet, look at the history of the church and you would never think that this was a purpose of the Holy Spirit. Instead of drawing upon the power of the Holy Spirit to embrace new teachings, the church has resisted new teachings. Throughout its history, if the church has found some teaching difficult to bear, it has simply refused to bear it. It does not always occur to the church that it should rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to bear it.

Whenever we encounter some new teaching in the church, we refuse to bear it. Take the teaching that women should be equal to men in every way in the life and work of the church. When this teaching first came forth, the church did everything in its power to resist it, and some denominations of the church still do. Arguments were put forth, and still are, that women cannot be pastors because Jesus never taught such a thing. All his disciples were men. “We cannot bear this teaching,” the church declared.

It took a long time for the church to accept that maybe this was one of those things Jesus did not tell his disciples because he knew they could not bear it. He was holding that teaching for later and relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to guide the church into this new truth and give the church the strength to bear it.

One of the purposes of the Holy Spirit is to guide us into new truth. Yet, we often resist the Holy Spirit’s power in this instance. We are afraid to change. We allow ourselves to be crippled by the fear of change. Thus, we resist the Holy Spirit’s power to give us the strength to change. The Holy Spirit is always present, always ready to make us wise and strong. But, we must open ourselves up to its power. When we live in fear and close ourselves off, we resist the Holy Spirit’s power.

Take another example: slavery. The bible tells slaves to be obedient to their masters. Paul gave this advice to the early Christians: “Slaves do not talk back to your masters and do not run away from them.” In the 19th century, 1,800 years later, Christians began to question this teaching. What led them to question it? I believe it was the Holy Spirit who was guiding them into this new truth, just as the Holy Spirit guided the disciples into the new truth that Gentiles were loved by God as much as Jews. Many resisted this new teaching that slavery should be abolished. They could not bear it. Yet, others relied on the strength of the Holy Spirit to guide them into this new truth, and eventually slavery was abolished.

As Christians, we do not rely only on the Scriptures for guidance. For, the Scriptures are clearly wrong about some things, slavery being an example. We must also rely on the Holy Spirit. Listen to what “Living Faith” says about the Bible and the Holy Spirit. “Living Faith” is the statement of what the Presbyterian Church in Canada believes. It says:

The writing of the Bible was conditioned by the language, thought, and setting of its time. The Bible must be read in its historical context…..Relying on the Holy Spirit, we seek the interpretation of God’s word for our time.

This passage from “Living Faith” is saying something similar to what Jesus told his disciples in our gospel lesson for today. The Bible must be interpreted in ways that are relevant to our time. We rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to steer in us the right direction in our interpretation. That is, we rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us into the truth. This happened when women were given full equality to men in the church. Even though the Bible says that women must submit themselves to men, faithful people of our time trusted the Holy Spirit when He told them that this teaching is not relevant to our time. The Holy Spirit has a new teaching for us, one that faithful people could not bear to hear in former times. The Holy Spirit knows that now the time has come to accept this new teaching that women must be equal to men in the church.

The same could be said of slavery. In former times slave owners in the Southern US used to Bible to support their trade in slaves. For, Paul told slaves to obey their masters. When the Holy Spirit revealed the new teaching to Christians that slavery was wrong, many could not bear to hear it.

What new teachings does the Holy Spirit have to give the church today that in former times we could not bear to hear? Might equal rights for homosexuals in the church be one of them? Even though the Bible takes a negative view of homosexuality, as it does of women’s equality and the freedom of slaves, is the Holy Spirit leading us into a new truth for our time? Does the Holy Spirit know that the time has come when we are able to bear that homosexuals should be given equal rights? It may be so, because recent surveys show that close to 70% of Canadians approve of same-sex marriage. No political party gets that high of an approval rate. Furthermore, the following denominations have already passed equal rights legislation for homosexuals: United Church of Canada, Anglican Church of Canada, Lutheran Church in Canada, Presbyterian Church USA, Episcopal Church USA, Church of Scotland, and many others.

The issue of the rights of homosexuals in the Presbyterian Church in Canada will come before the General Assembly in June of this year. We do not know what, if any, decision will be made at this Assembly. Yet, I would appeal to you to open your minds to the fact that the Holy Spirit may be leading us into a new truth on this issue. I would also ask you to trust the Holy Spirit as he guides the decision makers of our church. Whenever the General Assembly meets, each sitting is constituted with prayer. The prayer calls upon the Holy Spirit to guide the Assembly in all that it does.

Over the centuries the church has experienced many revolutionary changes. These changes have encouraged some and angered others. Conflict related to change has always been present in the church and always will be. We cannot avoid it. The thing we can do, however, is to open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit’s power and allow Him to guide us into the truth.

On this Pentecost Sunday, let us remember that it is the nature of the Holy Spirit to lead his church in new directions. The Holy Spirit is not static. He is always moving, changing, and empowering us all.

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