May 15, 2016

Pentecost Sunday
‘THE SPIRIT OF PRESENCE’

BIBLE READINGS
Psalm 104:24-33

Acts 2:1-21
John 14:8-27     

REFLECTION

A woman once had to confront a very difficult question. She was asked, “Why is it difficult for you to pray?” She answered, “Prayer is difficult for me because it’s just that Jesus seems so long ago and so far away.”[1]

She is not alone. Many people also experience the same thing. For them God seems to be hidden or is up there in heaven, far away from our day-to-day reality; while Jesus feels like a man confined to our history in the past.

The good news is that even the disciples, those closest to Jesus, had also experienced the same kind of feeling. After Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven, they too felt that Jesus had abandoned them.

Indeed, in our reading from the Gospel of John, Jesus was trying to anticipate this sense of abandonment that his disciples would feel after he left. He was having his last meal with them and he knew that he would soon be taken away from them. So he wanted to use the time to remind them that no matter what happened, he would always be with them.

This event reminds me of my own experience recently in Indonesia. Most of you would know by now that about a week ago I married my then fiancée, Rita, in Indonesia. The wedding was a joyful experience and it was great to see some members of our congregation there.

But we both knew that soon the party would be over and we had to be separated again: I had to return to Australia and she had to stay in Indonesia. And it was difficult to say goodbye to her at the airport. It’s true that we had done it many times before, but the frequency never diminishes the pain. We tried not to be sad, but each goodbye was always difficult. So I tried to comfort her by reminding her that our separation was only temporary and we would soon be together again. And I reminded her that we could still communicate via video-call on Skype (which we do at least once every day). I know meeting via video-call is not the same with being physically together, but at least we still can see each other’s face.

I think my experience was not that much different from what Jesus was experiencing in his last meal with his disciples. Jesus too reminded his disciples that he would always be with them even though he would not be present any longer physically.

And he promised them that he would send the Helper, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who would be with them while he was ‘gone’. We may liken the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ communicating with us via video-call on Skype. The Holy Spirit can be seen as something that represents Jesus while he is ‘away’.

But we must not push the correlation between the Holy Spirit and a video call on Skype any further. Like I said, communicating with our loved one via video cannot replace being together physically. A video only represents our loved one; it cannot replace his/her being. The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, does not only represent Jesus; the Holy Spirit is Jesus himself. When the Holy Spirit is with us, Jesus is with us.

We often think that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. It is true, but not in the sense that the Holy Spirit is only a part of who Jesus is or that the Holy Spirit is an incomplete version of who he is. No, in the Holy Spirit reside the fullness of Jesus’ presence and being. Indeed the Holy Spirit tells us one thing: that Jesus was not a past reality; he is a present reality. So Pentecost means, first of all, the Jesus is forever present![2]

The Greek word that Jesus used in the Gospel of John to mention the Holy Spirit is paraclete. This word has been translated into different words in English: Helper, Comforter, Advocate. But the word itself cannot be easily translated word to word from Greek to English. Literally the word means “to come alongside another”.[3] Indeed the Holy Spirit comes alongside us to help us, comfort us, and gives us advice. In the Holy Spirit, Jesus is not a distant reality; in the Holy Spirit, Jesus walks alongside us just like he walked alongside his disciples around 2000 years ago. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ saying to us, “Here I am”.

One of my favourite hymns in our hymnbook, Together in Song, is the song number 658 by Daniel Schutte: I the Lord of Sea and Sky. The song is more popularly known by the lyrics in its chorus: Here I am Lord.

Daniel Schutte got the inspiration to make the song from the calling of the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 6. Before he became a prophet, Isaiah had a vision. In his vision, he was in the heavenly court and he heard God asking the question, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And Isaiah, trembled and amazed by what he witnessed, responded by saying, “Here am I; send me!”[4]

Pentecost, however, is the day when it is God who says to us, “Here am I.”

I once heard a true story about a man, say named, David. He was a man who lived a simple life. He was neither rich nor highly educated.

Every day, at lunchtime, he would return from his workplace to his house to have his lunch. He preferred to eat the meal that his wife prepared for him than eating out to save money.

His church was located not far from where he lived, so on his way back to work, he always stopped by his church to pray, day after day. Again, David was a simple man. He did not know how to compose a long prayer with beautiful words, so every time he prayed in his church, he simply said, “Lord Jesus, here I am.”

One day, David fell seriously sick and he did not have enough money to pay all the medical bills. Fortunately, the members of his church knew about his situation and they supported him not only in prayers, but also financially. But still, it was not enough.

One night, as he was lying sick on his bed, he had a vision. In his vision, he saw Jesus visiting him in his room. Jesus came to him and said the same words that David had always said in the church, day after day. Jesus said to him, “David, here I am.” Jesus is indeed a living presence who has always walked by his side and never abandons him. Soon after this encounter, David was healed from his illness.

Pentecost is the day when Jesus, in the Holy Spirit, tells us that he is with us wherever and whenever we are; in whatever situation we find ourselves.

When the believers gathered together in that one place in Jerusalem, they were scared and confused. When Jesus was crucified, their faith was shaken, but their faith was soon restored when they witnessed that he had been risen from death! Yet, now, just the moment when they thought that everything would be fine, Jesus ascended to heaven, leaving them behind once again.

It was like watching a game of football or soccer. One minute our team maybe in front; the next minute it may be back to square one or even be on the brink of defeat.

It was the same with the disciples. They thought that the resurrection would mean the end of their loss and confusion. They thought that from now on Jesus would stay with them just like he had always been. They were wrong. Soon after Jesus left them once again.

But he didn’t leave them orphaned. On the day of Pentecost, he returned, albeit in a different kind of presence. And, just like the resurrection, the coming of his presence on that Pentecost Day changed these fearful disciples to become courageous people. They were brave because, in the Holy Spirit, Jesus was not only a reality in their past, but a continuing reality in their present life.

Friends we cannot really separate Easter from Pentecost because on Pentecost Day, we too are proclaiming that Jesus is alive. And he is alive because the Holy Spirit is alive within us, guiding and strengthening us to continue Jesus’ mission on this earth, until God’s Kingdom is fulfilled.

Amen.

Rev. Toby Keva

[1] Rev. Dr. Hal Brady, We've Got Spirit, Yes We Do!, (May 19 2013) on http://day1.org/4756-weve_got_spirit_yes_we_do

[2] Rev. Dr. Hal Brady, We've Got Spirit, Yes We Do!, (May 19 2013) on http://day1.org/4756-weve_got_spirit_yes_we_do

[3] David Lose, Pentecost B: Come Alongside, Holy Sprit, (posted on May 18 2015) on http://www.davidlose.net/2015/05/pentecost-b-come-alongside-holy-spirit/

[4] Isaiah 6:8 (New Revised Standard Version)