The Feast of Pentecost, Year B, St. Paul’s Church, Murfreesboro, May 19, 2024

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears… He will take what is mine and declare it to you (Jo. 16:13-14).

Pentecost is not a free-standing feast. It falls on the fiftieth and final day of the Easter season: a reminder of the close connection between the risen Lord and the Holy Spirit. Just as the celebration of Pentecost is keyed to the observance of Easter, so the gift of the Holy Spirit is related to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “If I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you” (Jo. 16:7), as Jesus says in our Gospel today. If he does not rise from the dead and ascend into heaven, the Spirit will not come.

So close is the relationship of the Son and the Holy Spirit that St. Irenaeus called them the Father’s “two hands” (Against Heresies, 5.6). Both are active in creation: as the Nicene Creed says, Jesus is the one “by whom all things were made,” and the Spirit is “the Lord, the giver of life.” Both work together in redemption, as well, as Jesus is the Savior and the Spirit is the sanctifier. Just as you cannot separate Easter and Pentecost, so you cannot separate the Son and the Spirit.

It’s sometimes tempting, especially at Pentecost, to see the Spirit as a sort of free agent, bebopping and jiving on his own, breaking new ground in the history of redemption. After all, as our Gospel says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (Jo. 16:13). It sounds at first like the Spirit will teach us truths that we did not know before: bright shiny newly minted truths that we couldn’t understand before because the time was not ripe. Again, Jesus in our Gospel, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (Jo. 16:12). After all, like the ad says, God is still speaking.

The trouble with this is, that while God is still speaking, God is probably still saying the same thing today as before. Our Gospel is pretty clear that wherever the Spirit is guiding us, it will be along the path that Jesus has already travelled. As Jesus says, earlier in John’s Gospel, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jo. 14:6). The Spirit will guide us into all the truth, but Jesus is still both the way that we will go and the truth we will discover at the end. The Holy Spirit leads us on a pretty well-worn path that has been trod first by Jesus himself.

It’s impossible to separate the Son and the Spirit, the two hands of the Father. The Holy Spirit never improvises, bebopping and jiving, but speaks only what he has heard from Jesus himself, as it says in our reading. “He will take what is mine and declare it to you (Jo. 16:14). The Holy Spirit is breaking new ground, writing a new page, in the history of redemption; taking the Church into new contexts and new situations and propelling us forward in ministry. But as Jesus says earlier in the Gospel of John, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (Jo. 14:25).

As Jesus says in our Gospel, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (Jo. 16:12). Here may be the most important part of this sermon: when Jesus says this, he’s not focusing on the bright shiny truths that will be revealed in the future. Instead, he’s talking about increasing our capacity for receiving the truth he’s placing before us, about our willingness to receive the Spirit who’s enlarging our hearts. It’s not about the big new thing that God supposedly wants to teach us, but rather about expanding our limited capacity to open our hearts to the truth that God has always been communicating.

Here’s the clue to what Jesus is up to. When he uses the word “bear” as in “you cannot bear them now” (Jo. 16:12) it’s the same word as Jesus “bearing” (Jo. 19:17) the cross; as the disciples “taking up” their cross and following him (Lk. 14:27); of the disciples “bearing” one another’s burdens, as St. Paul says in Galatians (Gal. 6:2). “Put up with the failings of the weak” (Rom. 15:1), it says in Romans: again, the same word. Finally, again in Galatians, “I carry (or bear) the marks of Jesus branded in my body” (Gal. 6:17). “Bearing,” in other words, is all about our own faithful perseverance, come what may. Our patient persistence in the face of adversity is the gift of the Holy Spirit, lived out in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, whose cross we have taken up.

This is the truth the disciples cannot bear now. Our confirmands are encouraging us this morning by their own willingness to open their hearts to receive the truth. For all of us, this community of faith can be the place in which God digs into our hearts and increases our capacity to bear and receive the truth that the Spirit has been sent to teach us. “Come Holy Spirit,” the old prayer says, “fill the hearts of your faithful people and kindle in them the fire of your love.”

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee