This short passage is taken from a much longer discourse between Jesus and his followers. He sees in the near future betrayal, abandonment, abuse and an unjust and torturous death. Yet he speaks with the patience of a caring teacher as he acknowledges their misunderstanding of his message. He gives them assurance that he is not leaving them alone. He explains to them that he must leave and go away in order to send “the helper” who will remind them of what he has taught them and who will advise and encourage them.
I received a phone call some years ago from a young woman asking if I would marry her. I replied, “I’m already married… but tell me about yourself!” After laughing at my poor joke she clarified that she was inquiring whether I would officiate at her upcoming wedding. I asked the date and what she envisioned for the service and told her that I would put her on the church calendar. She became emotional and asked again, “Then you will conduct the wedding?” I replied, “Of course.” And she began to cry… and said, “You are the fifth pastor I have called and everyone else said they would not marry us because we were not members in their church.”
While I respect other pastor’s standards and denominational restrictions I am always amazed at the opportunities that they pass by when they refuse a wedding service. I have seen no statistical data suggesting that church members are happier or more faithful in their marriage than non-members. And meeting with couples prior to their weddings is a wonderful way to develop relationships that can lead to a positive attitude towards the church… certainly more positive than refusing to marry them may have created.
In pre-marriage counseling I point out our western culture’s fixation with physical health… losing weight, getting and staying fit, etc. (all of which I need to attend to better). I also reflect on how much we value cognitive development; education in all forms and at all ages. We do these things well. But we so often ignore that part of ourselves that is spiritual. Even attending church is less about “worship” and more about appreciating the “show” and seeing and being seen by others. I have suggested to couples that it is perfectly fine for them to miss church and spend time with God walking on the beach… just be sure to mail your check (insert smile here)!
The challenge of our passage is that Jesus is suggesting that we should commune with God. He is telling us that we should listen for advice, encouragement and leading from the Spirit. And to most of us today this is a strange and unknown exercise. I acknowledge this struggle myself. I ponder what God might be saying and what it might sound like. And for those who claim to have a clear line from heaven… I am typically unimpressed with how they live out their lives. As Jesus said to the “teacher of Israel” Nicodemus, the spirit goes where it will… We cannot see it but we can see what it has done.
Maybe that is the key… to see what has been done. We might better learn to gauge the Holy Spirit in our own lives as we look over our shoulders to measure not the good that we have gained… but the good that we have done.