I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
Today is Pentecost – the third greatest feast of the Church – we celebrate God pouring out his Spirit to make Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, to create the Church.
This gift of the Spirit of God is something powerful and a claim unique to the Christian faith. Jesus says, the world cannot receive [the Spirit], because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
That Spirit was dwelling with the disciples when Jesus was walking about on the earth, because that Spirit is none other than the Spirit of Jesus.
The Bible speaks to us about the first and the second coming of Jesus – the first coming when God appeared on earth about 2015 years ago – and the second coming when He will appear in glory and the sky will be lit from one end to the other – the consummation of our hopes. We are living between these two times. But we are not living in a time when Jesus is absent! Our time is not like the time between Jesus’ ascension into heaven, which we remembered 10days ago, and the pouring out of the Spirit. No. The time in between Jesus’ First Coming in the flesh and his Second Coming in glory is the time we are now living in – when that risen Lord is imminent, close, to us. Jesus can be closer to us now than when he was physically with His disciples. Jesus can be closer to us now, than he was to Mary when she carried him in her womb. Think of it. Jesus says – I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. He promises to manifest Himself to us. We know that in human relations, bodily presence is not a guarantee of closeness – even with those who have lived together for years, even with family and with spouses. Jesus promises to be present to each one of us, by His Spirit, in our hearts! You know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. [John 14:17]
And what does this teaching, this reality, that God is so imminent, mean for Christians?
Let me speak of two things:
First. The spiritual life of the Christian is not about searching for God out there somewhere in the world to find him. Rather, it is about an inward turn to know the love of God, the Spirit of God, dwelling our hearts. We turn away from this endless searching beyond ourselves for happiness to hear and to know the Spirit of Truth within. We take time for quiet and for prayer, for inward reflection, and to read the Word of God outwardly so that we can recognize that same Spirit inwardly, and we will grow in the Spirit, we will know His guidance, each one of us, personally. We are not orphans, but sons and daughters of God!
This is all the more important as the modern world provides ever more effective ways to fill us with information, with work, and with a desire for material things. The imminence, the closeness, of Jesus Christ by His Spirit in our hearts leads us in the other direction, to contemplation. You want to know God’s rest? If we want to experience more fully and individually the love of Jesus Christ – we must quiet down our busy hearts to hear him within. This is one of the wonders of Pentecost.
Second. When we know the love of God in our hearts, when we are refreshed in our times of inner quiet, we are led to move out into the world to share what we know from our experience of Christ’s presence.
Evangelism is not about telling the world about Jesus because it is something we are told we are supposed to do – it is about sharing what we truly have experienced through our encounter with the risen Jesus Christ in quiet and through His sacraments. If we feel dry in our Christian walk, we don’t keep trying to proclaim his kingdom or it will sound hollow, inauthentic. Instead, we return inwardly to be refreshed directly by our personal encounter with Jesus Christ, before we can witness authentically to the love of God. Then we will be following the pattern Jesus promised in John 10 – I am the door, if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture – our work in the world will not drain us but feed us, since, like Jesus, our food is to do the will of God. [John 4:34]
Jesus gives us the inward assurance and strength to go on, and the words to speak, and will accompany us in our journey in this life with signs and wonders. That’s a second wonder of Pentecost.
God’s Kingdom, God’s reign spread that day in the hearts of all who turned to Jesus Christ, repented of their sins, trusted in His self offering, and were baptized. That Kingdom has come and is spreading throughout the world.
How do we get more of this Spirit?
We are promised the gift of the Holy Spirit in the Gospels through Baptism and faith. In today’s Gospel Jesus makes so clear how we might receive more of that Spirit each day.
It is about obedience that Jesus speaks of so plainly in today’s Gospel:
Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
Jesus connects obedience to His commandments with what it is to love, and the more that we love, the more His Spirit will be manifested in us, will be known and seen by us and in us.
Jesus’ commandments have content – he’s referring to the moral law of the Old Testament, summed up in the two great commandments to love God and our neighbour – this is the foundations of love and the building up of the soul and of our society in love. That’s why God chose to first pour out His Spirit on Pentecost, the very day when the Jews were celebrating the gift of the giving of the Law of Moses on Mount Sinai. (The original early harvest festival from the Law of Moses, Deuteronomy 16:9-12, had become a time to celebrate the giving of the Law.)
Old and New Testaments are joined perfectly and fulfilled in this Feast of Pentecost. Jesus’ Spirit revealed that Law of Love on Sinai and now in each heart; his Spirit gives us the strength to follow it ever more closely; his Spirit will write that Law of love in our hearts as we obey him in Love.