A Letter from the Senior Associate Minister to Presbytery
Can We Handle What Jesus Has to Say?
August 7, 2014
I was part of a pastor and elder group gathered in Camp Hill, PA who were brought together to think about the future of the Synod of the Trinity, the work of presbyteries, and current state of the church. One member of the group pulled out his Bible and asked to read the following passage from Eugene Peterson’s The Message. It is from the Gospel of John chapter 16 when Jesus is giving his final instructions to the disciples before his arrest and crucifixion. The passage seemed to hit a nerve with our group and opened up new directions for our discussions.
Jesus says…I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t handle them now. But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is. He won’t draw attention to himself, but will make sense out of what is about to happen and, indeed, out of all that I have said and done. He will honor me; he will take from me and deliver it to you. Everything the Father has is also mine. That is why I have said, “He takes from me and delivers to you.” (John 16: 12-14)
I was struck by the bluntness of Jesus’ words. He told his disciples there were more things he could tell them, but they were not yet ready to hear them. Perhaps he knew they were not prepared to hear about his crucifixion and death, or the surprising earth shattering nature of his resurrection, or even what would become of them and the church in the years to come. If you are like me, I like to know where things are headed. I want to know all the facts before I take action. I do not want to act in the dark or in ignorance. I want to know the truth of the whole picture before I move forward, even with the knowledge that there may be some surprises up ahead. If I were one of the disciples I might have responded to Jesus, “Tell me the whole truth. I can handle it!” But Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. So he did not tell the disciples everything at once. He promises them only the comfort of the Friend, the Spirit. He does not instruct them to take charge of the fledging church and to lead it where they think it should go. Instead, he tells them to wait until the Spirit takes them by the hand and guides them into the future and all Truth. Again, this is a difficult posture for many of us. We like to lead. We like to rely on our own wisdom, giftedness, and our own understanding of the way we think things ought to be. Waiting on the Spirit to reveal the Truth about what we are experiencing in our lives, our particular church, or our denomination, is a tough spiritual exercise. Waiting for the Spirit to take us by the hand and lead us in the direction God desires us to go, in uncertain times, is an act of faith. This takes patience and forbearance. Over the years I have learned that God takes me to places I would rather not go, introduces me to people I would rather not deal with, and into a future I never envisioned. I have so much yet to learn about God’s ways. How about you?
I have had many conversations with pastors who are having challenging yet constructive conversations with their sessions about where we find ourselves as a denomination. People want to hold to a Biblical hermeneutic that has integrity, while at the same remaining open to the new things God is doing in and through us all. As the passage from John points out, “Do we need to know all the answers to what is happening to us right away…TODAY…NOW?” When the future looks a little cloudy, do we trust the Spirit to come and take us by the hand to guide us, or is our inclination to forge on ahead with what we know at the present? Jesus promises his disciples that all will be revealed in its proper time. The blessings, knowledge, and Truth of the Father that has been given to Jesus will be delivered to us at the right time. The Spirit will “make sense” of it all, Jesus says, when we are ready to hear, believe, and act. Yes, these are challenging times given changes in the church and the culture all around us. My hope is that we might make a commitment to waiting on the Spirit to guide us into the future, and to trust that all things are in God’s hands, even as we boldly serve Christ, and proclaim his transforming love to the world.
In Christ’s grace and peace,
Rev. Dr. Douglas E. Portz,
Senior Associate Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery
P.S. I would encourage you to read the entire John 16 passage from The Message as food for thought. Pastors might even use it as a devotional with their sessions. One never knows where the Spirit might lead? Have a great rest of the summer!
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