Our world is just about totally intolerant of silence. Have you noticed? Have you noticed how nearly everybody has decided that “louder is better”? It’s like, if you aren’t sure what you are talking about, at least say it louder and more passionately than your opponent, then maybe no one will notice if you’re right!
It seems we are encouraged to be loud in every aspect of our personality – demanding, perpetually offended, self-promoting, always right!
In the course of our days, its TV in the morning, music in the car, FOX News in the doctor’s office, music at the grocery store, cell phones ringing, people talking – my ears are ringing just thinking about it!
In our little Southern-American corner of this world, some people get extremely “loud” about their faith. Always talking about Jesus, wearing t-shirts about Jesus, displaying bumper stickers about Jesus, running for office in Jesus’ name . . .
For all that loudness, the world doesn’t seem to be getting any better! We’re still as mean, evil, greedy, and self-centered as we ever have been. If hollering changed people, you’d think this world would be in a little better shape, wouldn’t you?
Instead of more volume to our faith, we might need a little more depth. Instead of loud faith, maybe some more living faith. More “abiding,” less hollering.
Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day on which we remember the full-scale arrival of the Holy Spirit. Traditionally, preachers use the second chapter of Acts today. In our world, the traditional story of Pentecost fits right in! Disciples rushing out into a crowd of thousands, preaching and speaking in a confusing jumble of languages, acting like their “hair is on fire!” That is Luke’s version written in the second chapter of the book of Acts.
There might be another version, though. John might have given us a different description of what the presence of the Holy Spirit might mean. In his description of the last night Jesus and the disciples spent together (chapters 13-17), Jesus teaches a lot about the Holy Spirit. It all centers on the presence of Christ and the connection we have to him through the “Companion.” He calls this presence “abiding.”
This is the “Quiet Pentecost.” It might not be the Pentecost story we want, but it might be the story we need. Let’s start with the beginning of John 15:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes[a] to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed[b]by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become[c] my disciples. (John 15:1-8 NRSV)
In John’s “Last Supper” story, Jesus talks a lot about “presence” – God’s presence with him, his presence with God, God’s presence with the disciples. Here, Jesus is talking about the value of being connected. He uses the image of a vine, which most of us still understand.
In this image, “abiding” means being connected to Jesus like branches are connected to a vine. This is the only way to stay alive in the faith – to stay connected to the source of all spiritual nourishment, Jesus Christ. There are plenty of “branches” in this world that are beautiful and green, but won’t last long because they aren’t connected; they do not abide with Jesus. There are some “fans” of Jesus, some very loud ones, who might fit this description. If we aren’t abiding in Jesus, we’re withering, not long for this world!
To “bear fruit,” to make disciples, we must stay connected to Jesus; we must abide in Jesus.
In this section of John, for as much as Jesus talks about “presence,” he talks a lot about “absence,” too. Ironically, his physical presence in this world must decrease for his spiritual presence to increase.
At this point, Jesus knows that he cannot give up the mission God has given him. Yet, the “powers that be” feel threatened by that mission and are planning to silence him – permanently! Jesus knows he will not be with his disciples for very much longer, so he tells the what to expect in his absence:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion,[a] who will be with you forever. This Companion is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world can’t receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you. (John 14:15-17)
This “Companion” will be an eternal companion, as opposed to a limited, finite, physical presence. “You know him because you have been living with me all this time,” Jesus seems to say.
The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you. (John 14:26)
The Companion’s voice will sound very familiar.
“When the Companion comes, whom I will send from the Father—the Spirit of Truth who proceeds from the Father—he will testify about me. You will testify too, because you have been with me from the beginning. (John 15:26-27)
When the Companion arrives, then and only then (?) will we be able to testify about Jesus. So, in Jesus’ absence, there will be a familiar-sounding, courage-inducing, word-producing presence that will abide with us.
This Companion, this abiding presence, is something the world needs, but something that only the believer can know (“whom the world can’t receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him.”)
The world doesn’t need louder disciples. The world doesn’t need more noise. The world needs the Companion, the Holy Spirit, to abide with it and teach it all that Jesus said. How does the world get that Companion? By connected, abiding-with-Jesus disciples bearing fruit and making more connected, abiding-with-Jesus disciples.
It’s hard to watch this beautiful world suffer. It’s hard to wish that they would see the truth about “sin, righteousness, and judgment.” Its hard to watch this beautiful world stumble blindly about, following the loudest (and sometimes the least connected) voices.
Paul offers us one last word of comfort. In his letter to the Romans, he seems to know how we feel:
We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now. And it’s not only the creation. We ourselves who have the Spirit as the first crop of the harvest also groan inside as we wait to be adopted and for our bodies to be set free. . .
26 In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans. (Romans 8:22-23, 26)
The NRSV says “the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”
When we who abide, feel the pain of a world groaning and suffering . . .
Feel the pain of a world so noisy that it can’t hear the voice of Jesus . . .
So busy that it can’t feel the presence of the Companion . . .
When we feel that pain, and don’t know what to say . . .
There is a deep and abiding presence, a quiet presence, that knows exactly what to say. When we are weak, there is a strong, silent presence . . .
When we feel separated and lost, there is – through the power of the Companion, the Holy Spirit – a presence of Christ out there, abiding with all us sinners. We should take great comfort in that. If we can just be quiet enough to hear it, feel it, and abide in it. Abide.