Behind the Curtain

According to the 2016 Consumer Automotive Index, 87% of Americans dislike buying cars.  87%!  That’s an incredible number.  In fact, this study goes deeper:

  • 56% of Americans would rather clean their homes than buy a car
  • 34% would rather wait in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles to renew a driver’s license to drive a car than buy the actual car itself, and;
  • 24% of Americans would rather have a root canal go through the process of buying a new car

People don’t object to owning a new car.  It’s the process of buying a car that many consider to be painful and difficult.  (Now to be clear, I’m certain that this isn’t true at our many fine Owatonna car dealerships…but up in Faribault…)

And, according to the study, a major part of the problem is the sense that when talking to the sales person, there is someone else behind the scenes, “pulling the strings.”  You may have experienced this.  You go back and forth, and the sales person says “wait…I need to go talk to the sales manager.”  Then they come back to you…then back to the sales manager…and so on.  You find yourself negotiating with an unknown, unseen person.  People hate that!  I hate that!  You, probably hate that.

It’s feels like the Wizard of Oz, with the sales person saying “pay no attention to the person behind the curtain” when the person behind the curtain is really the one with all of the answers.

I think that this is how the disciple Phillip must have felt that day he was talking to Jesus.

Jesus is giving his disciples what is really his last will and testament. He is saying to them the most important things he has to say before he departs from them. While he is doing this, Philip blurts out, “Lord, just show us the Father; that will be enough for us. All we want is to know who God really is and what God means for us. Show us that, and this whole 3-year trip with you will be worthwhile.”  Basically, he’s saying “Jesus, show us who is behind the curtain…show us God!

And you can hear the frustration in the Jesus’ voice when he replies to Philip, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you all this time?  We’ve traveled together 3 years, and you’re still clueless?”

Then Jesus says, reassuringly, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I have spoken to you I don’t speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me does his works. Trust me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”

Jesus is raising the stakes here:  You want to see God?  You want to know God as God really is? Then look at me…listen to me. I am God the Son, I am one with God the Father.

That’s some really good news. It means, in the words of the theologian, Thomas Torrance, that “there’s no God hiding behind Jesus.”  God isn’t hiding behind a curtain…there isn’t a curtain!   When we see Jesus, we see God.

It’s easy for us just to start ripping on the disciples for being dense…for not understanding Jesus.

But to be fair, maybe the disciples knew so much about God, that they had forgotten to actually know God.

Following Jesus, after all, isn’t so much about facts, details and knowledge.  Phillip and the others knew for sure that God was all powerful, all knowing, and without limits. That’s important…but Jesus is teaching them (and us) here that the faith is really about a relationship.  Jesus said “I and the Father are one” and “when you have seen me, you have seen my Father.” When you know Jesus, you know God.

So how do we come to know God?  That’s at least partially why we’re all here today, right?  We know there is a relationship, and we want to deepen it…we want to know God…and it’s a kind of a struggle at times.

Throughout the Old Testament, God’s people had tried to come to know God by following the law.  And they failed.  And during the days Jesus walked the earth, his disciples tried, but as we’ve seen, they often didn’t get it.

It’s no different now.  We look…we try…but sometimes we miss seeing what God is up to in the world.  We are blind to what God is doing…we don’t give credit to what God is doing…we forget to look around and see.  We’re really no different than Phillip and the others.

We spend time and energy looking for proof, or even evidence.  We often say, “seeing is believing.” But we forget that maybe it’s not proof we should seek…rather it’s a relationship.

But Jesus knew this.  He expected it.  And he knew that this would be hard for us.  And so, he sent help.  Jesus tells the disciples that there will be “another Advocate.”  In John 14:16 he says that he will send “another Advocate to be with you forever, the Spirit of truth”   This Advocate is the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit has been called the “shy member of the Trinity.” I have to admit, as Lutherans, we’re not all that good at Holy Spirit talk.

We totally get God the creator… the one who fashioned heaven and earth out of nothing.

And Jesus?  The second part of the Trinity?  Jesus is our guy!  We spend the vast majority of our time and energy thinking and talking about God the Son, the divine Incarnation, “God-with-us” as Jesus Christ who taught and healed, suffered and died.

But God the Holy Spirit? When Lutherans come face-to-face with the Holy Spirit, we get a little bit nervous.  Because the Spirit can take us outside of our comfort zone.  The Holy Spirit’s job description is not always clear to us.

That’s why John’s Gospel is helpful for us today.  Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit is about the ongoing, daily relationship that we have with God.

Here’s how it works:  You can’t be in any kind of relationship with someone whom you don’t even know. Right?  We all know this.  If you want to be friends with someone? Step one: Get to know the person.

And that may be one of the most wonderful aspects of this Pentecost gospel. Jesus says that through him we can know, really know, the truth about God. Yet he doesn’t expect us to do it all by ourselves.  We forget that.  And because of our stubborn, independent streak, we try to do it on our own.

But remember that the phrase: “God helps those who help themselves,” was never said by Jesus; and it’s not in the Bible.  And the truth is, we can’t come to know God on our own.

So, Jesus loves us enough to give us the Holy Spirit. That Holy Spirit, that “Advocate,” will continue Jesus’ teaching among us. There’s so much for us to know about God, so much more than Jesus could tell us in just three years, that Jesus sends the Advocate to guide us and to teach us.

What does the Holy Spirit do? That question finds its answer in today’s gospel. The Holy Spirit teaches. The Holy Spirit reveals.  The Spirit reveals God the Father…the Spirit reveals Jesus the Son.   The Holy Spirit doesn’t just “draw back the curtain” so we can see God, the Holy Spirit reminds us that there is no curtain!  God the creator, Jesus the Savior and the Spirit are here…available… accessible…and we can develop a relationship with God.  And that’s good news.

Today, the Holy Spirit reminds us to ask:

  • When you are confronted with some difficult decision, or you’re wondering “What is the most loving thing for me to do in this situation?” You can ask the Holy Spirit for help.
  • When you come to some crossroads in life and wonder, “What path does God want me to take?”  you can ask the Holy Spirit for help.
  • When life is overwhelming, and you God feels distant, ask the Holy Spirit, “Where is God now?  Help me to see!”

Remember, you are not in this alone.  The Holy Spirit is real and is with you.  And the Holy Spirit reveals to you the God who wants nothing more than to be in relationship with you.

Today is Pentecost. It is the festival of the Holy Spirit.  And Jesus reminds us today that we don’t have to live, obey, or serve God on our own!   Thanks be to God for the gift of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit who’ll teach us everything…we need to know.

Amen.

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