Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 17:22-31; John 14:15-21
Rev John Howard, Methodist Church of Great Britain
“You know him because he abides in you, and he will be in you.” (John 14.17)
In his biography, Let the Trumpet Sound, Martin Luther King Jr. describes how in the midst of the Montgomery bus boycott, when daily he was receiving intimidation and threats to his life, he came to a point where he felt he could take no more.
In the middle of the night, after receiving another threatening phone call he went down to the kitchen and prayed to be given a way out – to flee the conflict and live out his days somewhere in peace.
He speaks of how “in that moment I felt the presence of God as I had never felt it before. It seemed that he was speaking to me and to me only and saying ‘keep on traveling in this way and I will be with you always.’” King said that all the external difficulties were just as they had been, on the outside nothing had changed, but he felt as if now he could face the very worst that the world could throw at him.
In two weeks’ time the church will be celebrating Pentecost and the powerful images of the Holy Spirit of God – the fire and wind – will be described again in the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples in that upper room.
In today’s Gospel we have something very different.
John clearly refers to the coming of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus says, “And I will ask the Father and he will give you another advocate, to be with you for ever.” However, the nature of this gift could hardly be more different. The Pentecostal Spirit described by Luke is active, dynamic, like a roaring wind; to John the Spirit is the advocate, the silent presence, that which transforms the inner, amidst the exterior storm. What Martin Luther King experienced in his kitchen is precisely what John describes in this passage of his Gospel.
There is no contradiction here, as Luke and John describe differing aspects of the same entity to which Christians have given testimony for two thousand years.
There are times when the dramatic, the miraculous, the dynamic, the spectacular, makes all the difference. However, in most of our experiences of life it is the inner resource, the sense of the presence of God that Matthew spoke of at the very end of his Gospel, “And lo! I am with you always to the end of the age.”
Recently I spent a week listening to church leaders from Syria. I have just returned from visiting Christians and Muslims in Gaza. I know from my own experience, and from what I have heard from them, how important the sense of this inner presence is today.
It can be the comforter when we face experiences in life that take us to the brink; it can be the voice of calm in the midst of conflict; it can be the warmth of feeling valued, of feeling loved in the midst of tragedies that freeze the soul. But however it manifests itself it is the presence of God, which can transform us within to face up to the struggles of life every day.
May we each hear that promise for ourselves that Jesus gave to his disciples: “You know him because he abides in you, and he will be in you.”