St James 1:17-21 St John 16:5-15
“It is to your advantage that I go away...
if I go, I will send [the Comforter] to you.”
We continue in this Easter season with Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples. He tells them he’s going away and they have sorrow, but he says it is to their advantage that he goes away. How can they believe that there is something better than having the Incarnate Son of God in their presence? How can we believe that the current state of affairs, the way God has ordered things, is better than if the Son were to be in our midst, coming to Ascension Church this morning? Maybe he would do a miracle in our midst, answer a question that is burning in our hearts.
It is quite natural it seems for human beings to look for signs of God’s presence in the world – miracles and wonders, to confirm that they should seek out the spiritual life. Many people asked Jesus – show us a sign! During Jesus’ lifetime, he performed miracles, which fulfilled prophesy and were to help people identify him as the one they expected. However, the miracles themselves did not normally convert hearts. And we know that from the history of Israel, in our daily readings in Deuteronomy, that the great signs and wonders that God did in bringing Israel out of Egypt were soon forgotten by the people. And in Jesus’ own day, even his own disciples sometimes forgot the signs he did – he had to remind them. [e.g. St Mark 8:14-21]
But despite this God does give us signs and wonders.
For me some of the most profound encounters, that have shaped my life, have been through encounters with holy people who inspired faith in God in me, or in circumstances which I saw as a set up by God – an encounter on a mountaintop; or in dreams, one of which I still do not understand its full meaning. These have been later reinforced by more inward encounters, in very brief moments in contemplative prayer, and in the Holy Communion of Christ’s Body and Blood.
Where are you looking for the signs of God’s presence?
When God made us, he made our souls with the ability to look at Him directly and to look out at the world – he made our souls with a window on heaven and a window on the earth. Remember Adam and Eve had to actually hide themselves in the garden from God’s presence after the Fall – they could see God before that.
The Fall of Man, resulted in the turning of our mind’s eye, that could look through this window on heaven, to looking only out into the world, to seeing only in that direction. Humanity’s response to sin, or to the hurt experienced by others, was to hide, or to seek our own truth, to no longer look up. Humanity closed that window on heaven and that way of relating to God directly and individually.
After the Fall of Man, what we knew about the world came to us through the senses – sight, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching. These were the gateways through which we learned, and then we used our reasoning mind to draw conclusions about the world we live in.
St Augustine says we were looking outwardly, only, in fact we could only know in this way – we were imprisoned in one sense – and so God appeared in our midst outwardly, where we were looking – he gave us the Law first through Moses, then appeared himself in the flesh in Jesus Christ to walk among us. Jesus showed us the perfect way of living, how to understand the Law, showed us what love looks like, and gave us signs and wonders, miracles, to assure us that he is the One to follow – and he showed us, for three years, he showed us…all the way to the Cross.
But God’s purpose in coming to us in the flesh – is to bring about the restoration of a spiritual way of perceiving God – he has come to reopen that window, in each of one our souls, on heaven.
Whatever outward signs we are given in our lives, they are not an end in themselves, but to remind us that God is here for us, and to redirect us in our way of finding him – not out there, but within and above us.
Jesus’ death and Resurrection reopens that window on heaven. And it is the Spirit of God that communicates with us now through that window on heaven that we may have access to the true and lasting treasures – to once again see beauty, to know glory, truth, wisdom, heavenly light, love.
It is the Spirit of God who reveals in our souls the truth about Jesus’ crucifixion and Resurrection. In the Gospel today, Jesus says that when the Spirit comes,
He will convict the world
concerning sin and righteousness and judgement:
concerning sin, because they do not believe in me
The Spirit shows us that sin has blinded the eyes of humanity to God – humanity can’t readily see God even when he takes flesh and dwells among us. Because of envy, the Pharisees sought to kill Jesus, they did not kneel down before Him. Likewise, the followers of Jesus have been scorned through the ages. Sin exists. Humanity is fallen. The Spirit wakes us up to the reality of sin in our hearts.
concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer
Jesus Resurrection is his vindication by the Father of His righteousness – a life perfectly lived. Faith in this Jesus, conviction in our hearts that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and a desire to follow him more closely – this is kindled by the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. The window on heaven is being reopened in our souls through our faith and baptism, and is being washed clean daily by the Spirit.
concerning judgement, because the ruler of this world is judged.
Jesus’ conviction by the courts reveals that there is a real malevolence, satan, in this world, that is actively seeking to undermine the very best of humanity – the Spirit reveals to us the devil’s judgement is up-side-down. Our conversion to Jesus Christ is the Spirit awakening us to the principalities and powers of wickedness still ruling, and waking us up to right judgement in the midst of all the shadows, the grey of this world. St Paul says we are not unaware of the devil’s tricks.
And when we have this faith we are not endlessly looking out there in the world anymore for proof, we look no further than our own souls being transformed inwardly by the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.
This transformation of a way of knowing – from knowing only through our senses, to an inward knowing, is difficult. We have followed the pattern in our lives of learning from external sources, our senses – now we must take the time to learn from within – being quiet to hear the Spirit whispering to us in new ways.
James says today, Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
The window on heaven is opened again, through Christ’s death and Resurrection, and he is bringing us to birth, to the new life of heaven, through faith and baptism, but also by daily pouring into our souls now the word of truth.
James says, that in God, There is no variation or shadow due to change. God, who is Truth, is not changing from this fashion to that fashion. Our apprehension of God and the Creation is an ever growing understanding of the nature of reality in all its complexity. It is not a shifting target – God thinks this, one day, and that, the next. Rather, He is the Rock. And our minds are being expanded gradually to see more and more of the Truth and of its implication, more and more to see and understand what love is, and to have more and more freedom to act on it. Truth doesn’t change from one picture to a completely different picture, but the resolution of the picture is becoming ever sharper, ever more clear.
Do you see why it is expedient that Jesus goes away from the disciples? To unmask the fallenness of the world and to make possible the opening up of that window in our souls on heaven and so helping us to identify and judge where worldly powers have gone astray?
Do you see why it is to our advantage that Jesus touches our souls in some way in our lives, often in an outward way, perhaps by some dramatic sign, igniting faith, but doesn’t continually give signs outwardly? He wants us to turn inwardly and to know him in a new way, to recover that window on heaven, to look in a new spiritual way on Him, on our own soul, and on the world, to grow up into full maturity.
The Christian salvation is not only a spiritual salvation. It has its root and source in the Spirit, but from there it reaches out to transform our bodies. St Paul says, that they may be made like His glorious body. [Philippians 3:20-21] There is a redemption that starts spiritually and inwardly with the gift of the Holy Spirit in Baptism and as we follow in faith, receiving every good gift and every perfect gift…from above it affects all that we are, taking us up soul and body into the life of heaven.
God is known spiritually, and that knowing changes all that we are. We begin to experience a resurrection in this life, in soul and in body.
If we are still looking for signs this morning – let us look foremost to these: to the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood given for us; and to the inward working of God’s Spirit in our own soul and body, and in the souls and bodies of those around us.
It is to your advantage that I go away…
if I depart, I will send the Comforter to you.
Worship Address: Adventist Church, Boomberglaan 6, Hilversum
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Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. Psalm 127:1,2