Sixth Easter • May 17, 2020
Acts 17:22-31 • Psalm 66:7-18 • 1 Peter 3:13-22 • John 14:15-21
In the Name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus made a promise in last week’s Gospel. He said, “I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.” And we spoke about how it is that his promise is being fulfilled in our remarkable civilization that our ancestors and we have created—a world where healing is a miraculous art, poverty has been nearly eradicated, wars and murders reduced to a fraction of former years—indeed, a world where more people die of overeating than of malnutrition.
In this week’s Gospel reading, John gives us a clue about how this happened. He reports that Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth….” An advocate is someone who works on our behalf, who is dedicated to our welfare, a counselor. The word is usually applied to lawyers, but it can mean anyone who works for our well-being.
The spirit of truth! Jesus did not leave us with “The Truth” but rather a particular spirit, an inclination, a desire to seek the truth, to look yearningly for that which is real. The spirit of truth is a spirit of curiosity, a spirit of inquiry. This is the very basis of the sciences, a spirit that always is searching for the truth. And it is the sciences that have made these huge advances in our welfare.
Human beings—all of us—have both an advantage in dealing with the world, and a disadvantage. The advantage is that we know things, we have knowledge that we have acquired over the space of our lives and from those who came before. This knowledge is powerful, for it gives us control of parts of the world that make a difference. For example, we know that social distancing will slow the spread of viruses and fewer of us will get sick. We know that a savings account, even a small one, will be a useful cushion to as we manage our finances. We know a lot of things!
We also have a huge disadvantage—we know things. The same thing that is advantageous to us is also a huge disadvantage in that it blocks learning anything new.
There’s a story about a young man who came to a revered monk asking for him to be his teacher. The young man went on at length explaining to the old monk about his desires, and how he picked the monk for a teacher, on and on. The monk said nothing, but placed a teacup in front of the young man as he continued to speak, and began to pour the tea. He continued to pour until the cup was full and overflowed—and kept pouring. The young man jumped up and said, “What are you doing?” The monk said, “You cannot learn anything from me; like this teacup, you are full of knowing, and there is no room for anything new.”
The spirit of truth includes within it a sort of skepticism about what we know, about those things of which we are so very certain, about what we believe, and what we are convinced we remember perfectly. I say “skepticism,” but perhaps it would be better to say “wondering.” An open attitude toward other people and the way things are, wondering if I got it right, wondering if it is really the way it strikes me, wondering…. With wondering, certitude and prejudice fall away and we are open to new ways of seeing other people, new interpretations of what we know.
When Peter was preaching to the people in front of the Areopagus at the altar to the Unknown God, I wonder how many of his listeners were open to the new interpretation of that God that Peter was offering. He was offering a God who “is not far from each one of us.” A God in whom “we live and move and have our being.” I wonder how many could hear beyond their already fixed understanding of religion and its purpose.
They were being offered a God who is immediate and available to being known, a God in whom we move and live and have our being—just as a fish moves and lives and has its being in the ocean. Much better than gods made of silver and gold, gods constructed out of the imagination of artists.
I invite. you to make wondering a habit, to have a gentle skepticism about everything, and especially a skepticism about what we know and what we are so certain of. I invite you to welcome into your life the spirit of wondering, a dedication to seeking, an openness to new truths. Our wonderful world, a world far beyond the imagination of our forebearers— this world is a result of the spirit of truth. Thanks be to God for the gift of his Spirit.