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April 20, 2016

We are very fond of our tools, devices, and machines that perform more than one function. Our home printers not only print out our documents, but they also make copies and scan documents and photographs. Our mixers, iPhones, Swiss army knives and other tools and machines perform multiple tasks. We can understand how a machine can perform several functions by adding attachments, or by computer programming, but the concept of a God made up of three distinct persons eludes us. St. Patrick used a shamrock to describe how God is one being consisting of three parts. The family is another analogy. The family consists of separate people with different roles, bound together in love. But there is no perfect analogy to the Triune God, because there is simply no comparison to anything else. One line of the hymn Go, My Children With My Blessing, describes the functions of the different parts of the Trinity: “I the Lord will be your Father, Savior, Comforter/ Brother.” The Scripture texts this week aren’t concerned with the theology of the Trinity, but they are good examples of each part of the Trinity in action. We can view this week’s Scriptures as a series of three lectures—each taught by a different part of the Trinity.[1]

Jesus Teaches: “Help is on the Way.”

In Chapter 16 of John, we see Jesus spending his last hours with his disciples teaching a seminar on the Holy Spirit.  He tells them that help is on the way: “I am going to him who sent me . . . it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:5-7). He explained that after he leaves “the Spirit of truth” will come and guide them to truth and will comfort them. (v. 13).

The Holy Spirit Teaches: “Being Guided to the Truth”

There was confusion in the early church over who God intended to save by Jesus’ resurrection. In the first lesson Peter reports that he has been hanging out with Gentiles (Acts 11:1-18). Oy vey! You’ve been hanging out with the uncircumcised? The back story on this is important. Most Jewish believers thought that God only offered salvation to Jews, because God had given the law to them. Others thought that Gentiles could be saved if they followed the Mosaic law, including circumcision. Both were proven wrong by the Holy Spirit.

In Acts, chapter 10, Luke told us that Cornelius, a Roman centurion, sent emissaries to Joppa to summon Peter to come to his home in Caesarea. When he arrived at Cornelius’s house, Peter found a crowd of people—Cornelius’ relatives and friends. “Peter said to them: ‘You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or to visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. May I ask why you sent for me?’” (Acts 10:28-29).

Peter understood that God had arranged the meeting when Cornelius explained that a “man in shining clothes” stood before him as he was praying and told him to send for Peter. (v. 30). Peter gave the group the Cliff Notes version of what had transpired with Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection. “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers [Jews] who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.”(Acts 10:44-46).

We learn in Chapter 11 that Peter went back up to Jerusalem to explain himself and to clear the air on the question of whether Gentiles would be accepted into the fold without following all of the Jewish traditions and customs, including circumcision.   He told the church in Jerusalem what had happened in at Cornelius’ house in Caesarea, including how the Holy Spirit had come upon the Gentiles. His closing argument was: “It is clear that God gave those Gentiles the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ; who was I, then, to try to stop God!” (v. 17, Good News Translation). The account of the presence of the Holy Spirit among the Gentiles was the final piece of evidence that led the Jerusalem church to conclude that God had extended his saving grace to everyone through Christ’s resurrection. (v. 18).

Peter had the discernment to realize that what was happening in Cornelius’ house with the visitation by the Holy Spirit was the same experience that the Jewish believers experienced on Pentecost. It is an important lesson to remember when sorting out disagreements within the church. If we take the time to listen to others, we may see the Holy Spirit at work in our midst, teaching us something new. As Jesus taught in his seminar, the “Spirit of truth” is with us to guide us to the truth (John 16:13). We should pay attention when this happens.

The Father Teaches: “Heaven”

In the epistle lesson, John describes a course he attended in heaven taught by the Father. A few weeks ago, we learned that during John’s exile on Patmos, John was “in the spirit” when he heard a voice telling him to write a book about what he saw (Revelation 1:10). Fast forward to Chapter 21, which opens up with a description of a new heaven and earth, with God the Father, on his throne in heaven, explaining what life in heaven with the Father will be like: “Now God’s home is with people! He will live with them, and they shall be his people. God himself will be with them, and he will be their God. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain. The old things have disappeared.” (Revelation 3-4, Good News Translation). John tells us that God told him to “Write this, because these words are true and can be trusted.” (v. 5).

If you missed any of these courses, now is the time to pick them up in the published treatise—the Bible. Or just go back for a refresher course. And then stop by his office for a chat. You don’t need to make an appointment. God is in his office 24/7.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan


[1] The Scripture texts for the Fifth Sunday of Easter are: Psalm 148; Acts 11:1-18; Revelation 21:1-7; John 16:12-22.

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