Thirty three years. Whoa. That seems incredible, even to me and I lived those years. (Yes, that’s right, I’m 33 years old this week... No sorry. No one is buying that.) This past Friday was my 33rd wedding anniversary. OK, our 33rd wedding anniversary. Since La Donna was there too. Wasn't she? Yes, I remember her being there. All thirty three years.
What’s that old joke? I’ve been married twenty seven wonderful years. Of course we were married 33 years... rim shot. I would never say that, of course. All thirty three years have been wonderful years. Some pretty difficult hours scattered throughout, some dark days here and there, perhaps as long as a week. But I can’t point to a bad year. And no, I won’t ask her opinion on that one. We’ll just move along here.
I’m still amazed however. Thirty three years is an accomplishment, a milestone, to say the least. But who could have foreseen all that would transpire in our lives in those years? How could we have been prepared for all the places we would go and all the changes that we would see?
Well, the short answer is that we couldn't have been prepared. No one knows the future. No one has enough wisdom, enough truth to get us through every contingency, every happenstance in thirty three years. Or more. Or less. Right? Right!
But maybe not right. Maybe we should have known more, been prepared for more. At least that is what it seems like Jesus is telling his followers in this little passage in the middle of the farewell discourse in the Gospel of John.
John 16:12-15 "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
“He will declare to you the things that are to come.” Maybe we just haven’t been in tune with the Holy Spirit all these years. Maybe we haven’t prayed enough or listened enough. Maybe the gift of knowing was right there and we just didn’t avail ourselves of it and were therefore doomed to stumble around in the darkness constantly being surprised by the turn of events that constitute our lives.
But is that really what Jesus is saying here? I’m sending your own personal oracle to let you in on the secrets of your own life. Just pay attention and there will be no more surprises. Really? Don’t think so. Let’s look again.
This passage is, as I said, a small part of the Farewell Discourse in the Gospel of John. The final instructions of Jesus to his chosen followers. I have called it cramming for the final exam. But now I’m not sure that’s it. It is more like the parent passing on instructions to the adolescent going off on a date. (But then maybe it sounds like that because Maddie just left on an honest to goodness date this afternoon (“Not a date, Dad, we’re just hanging out.” To which I say, quoting my wife (of 33 years) “if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck...”)) Or to go a little further back, this speech in John sounds like parents giving instructions to the babysitter before leaving their precious treasures with some near stranger and wanting to make sure they have all the information to cover whatever contingency might arise.
Only in this case the worried parent is Jesus, the precious treasure is the world that God so loved that He sent this Son into. And the sitters are this motley crew of incompetent bumblers bringing to mind those guys from the Hangover movies or some such. No wonder he seems nervous, no wonder he goes on for three chapters, no wonder he tries to leave and then launches into even more instruction (look at the end of chapter 14, for example). But before you smirk too much at the incompetent bumblers of the gospels, it isn’t too long until they morph into the incompetent bumblers we lovingly call the church – charged with the same task of caring for the baby that is the world sorely in need of changing!
But here in these verses the speech seems to shift a little bit, from instruction to promise. Oh, there is more instruction needed. Witness verse twelve - there is more I need to tell you, but your eyes are already starting to glaze over. So, instead of giving them more things to put on the list ( you know “when he cries, try this” or “her favorite toys are over here” or “give them this to eat, but not too much as it gives them gas”- that kind of stuff) Jesus says “Here’s how you can reach me.”
Uh, wait, you’re saying, that isn't what it says there, is it? Well, no. But then cell phones wouldn't come on the scene for a millennium or two. So, he does the next best thing. A spokesperson. A spokes-presence, maybe, spokes-spirit. When the Spirit of Truth comes... Truth, and not too long ago ( chapter fourteen to be precise) Jesus says “I Am the Truth.” The Spirit that is me, that is of me, that speaks for me and speaks what I have spoken and would speak/will speak in the future.
Here’s how you can reach me, he says. I am in touch, I am within reach. Can you hear me now? That’s the question of the era, the question to the church today, can you hear him, hear the truth, hear his voice and know that we are not alone.
But more than that, more than just a comforting presence, this Spirit, this connection, this Christ within reach (or Christ in our Contacts for the cell phone users) is a Spirit of Truth. Tell us what is and what will be. “Declare to you the things that are to come.” Wow, does that mean we can make our lottery picks based on hints from this Spirit? We can make our Super Bowl picks? Or, more realistically, we can avoid those potholes on the road of life? Well, in a word, no.
This isn’t a promise of prophetic powers. Or a glimpse into the details of a worldly future. This truth that is shared is the truth about the Kingdom of God. It is the truth about living in community. The truth about reconciliation and about forgiveness, about grace and judgement. Far more important than lottery numbers or winners of Super Bowls yet to come. And while it may not give advance warning of circumstantial potholes on your individual and corporate roads of life, it can give you tools to climbing your way out of whatever holes you might find yourselves in, it can give you guidance to help you stop digging your own potholes to sabotage yourself and those you love. The Spirit that declares to you the things that are to come is a Spirit that tells you the truth about yourself in such a way that you can, if you so choose, course correct to reduce the chances that you’ll lose control.
The fact that there have some difficult days in the thirty three years of our marriage is not a sign that we haven’t been listening to the Spirit of Truth. But the fact that we made it through those days are now into our thirty fourth year just might be.