I wonder what it was that those first disciples could not bear to hear?
Over these past few weeks of the Easter season we’ve heard Jesus prepare his disciples for his leaving. All of the post-resurrection accounts carry with them a message that things will simply not be the same after the cross.
Jesus has promised those disciple that he would not leave them desolate, but he’s not going to be around in the same way as he was on the dusty roads of Galilee.
He has promised them that he would send the Spirit, the Advocate, to guide them into all truth.
But it appears that there is a time and a season for things.
There are some things that you just can’t bear to hear right now, (so Jesus says). There will come a time in the future when the Spirit comes. In that future time you will be able to “bear” what you need to hear. In that future time the Spirit that Jesus promises will “guide you into all the truth.” For he (the Spirit, that is) will not speak on his own, but will speak “whatever he hears (from God, is understood) and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”
Then, it appears, you will be able to handle what you cannot bear to hear right now.
So, I wonder, what was it that those first disciple couldn’t bear to hear right at that moment?
Jesus had told them a good many hard to swallow things all through his ministry really.
He had told them of the necessity to forgive.
He had questioned the well-established traditions of Sabbath, of clean and unclean, of who was neighbor.
Jesus had even been willing to talk to them about the way of the Cross, and the necessity of going to Jerusalem, and of suffering and dying.
So, what was it that they weren’t ready to handle yet?
Was it the growth of the church? This discovery of how the proclamation of the Kingdom would scatter them far and wide, send them out instead of keeping them as a close-knit group?
Was it the inclusion of the Gentiles, the message that Jesus was not just for the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” but that the Kingdom was open to all?
Was it the revelation that they would not be able to stay together in Jerusalem, but would have to go out and do this?
Was it that the ministry was too big for them, and that they would have to pass off their own authority to the likes of Stephen, Paul, Priscilla and Aquila?
This was not theirs alone to do, or to protect, or to accomplish.
What was it that those first disciple could not bear to hear “right now” while Jesus was in the room with them? What was it that the Spirit would only be able to guide them into after his departure?
I think it’s a crucial question, because you see, our inclination is to keep going back to Jesus to try to settle things once and for all.
We go back looking for some clear answer to modern day issues and problems. We search Jesus’ teaching, his words over that three years of ministry on this earth, as if Jesus could have anticipated and answered every future issue and concern in such a limited time.
We groan and search for the right thing to grasp on to “back there” that would settle our present difficulties and debates, and often find ourselves frustrated in that venture.
Our hearts ache for clarity about all the complications that life presents to us now.
Jesus did not say anything about the questions that vex us.
He did not say anything about same sex partners, or abortion, or who should serve in the church, or how to shape the concept of ordination.
Jesus did not address the matters of being trans-gendered or really (now that we think about it) talk that much at all about sexuality — except to warn the Pharisees against hard-hearted legalistic actions and quickie divorces.
Therefore, all of these all these disconcerting modern-day questions and problems are not readily settled by appealing to the teaching of Jesus. They instead become a part of discerning what the Spirit is saying to us now in our time and in our circumstances. We do so, trying to match up what it is that Jesus modeled for us, and what it is that the Spirit seems to be guiding us into, all the while trying to discern the continuing presence of God in these things.
It is an imprecise business, this thing that Jesus speaks of today.
He acknowledges that there is a time and a place to struggle, and this moment may not be the one to settle everything, and so wait and watch for the Spirit to guide when the time is right.
There is something powerful about what Jesus seems to be preparing us for with his words today. He is saying to his disciples that he has more to say to them in the future, and that when the time is right, and when they can bear to hear it, he’ll find a way to speak.
If that is the promise made to those first disciples, then it is a promise that also extends to us all.
We don’t get the benefit of hearing Jesus voice anymore, not in the way those first disciples heard it.
We don’t get a direct word.
We don’t get to ask follow up or clarifying questions of Jesus. (As if, Jesus was ever very good at answering those even back then!)
No, what we have now is this curious promise and the mixture known as the Trinity. God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; a combination of the creator, the redeemer, and the sanctifier.
At its best the Trinity is a bit confusing. Three in one, and one in three.
At its worst it is incomprehensible!
But the church has found something elegant in this understanding.
It is a way of saying that God is willing to muster all of God’s self on our behalf when the world shifts and changes on us.
God is willing to come to us in whatever way we will recognize God, to help us understand and find God’s direction and guidance in that moment.
Think about it for a moment.
“I still have many things to say to you….” Jesus says. That is an assurance that God wants to be part of an ongoing dialog with us. The gift of the Spirit, the Advocate, is one that points to ongoing conversation.
“I have many things to say to you…. “Jesus says.
I think back over my experience as a parent, watching my own children develop over the years, and the conversations that we would have through all those developmental phases.
“Where do babies come from, Daddy?”
That is a question that every parent faces, and usually more than once!
The answer one gives however, evolves over the developmental arc of the child, does it not?
I do not talk of the mechanics of sex with a two-year old, nor do I talk about the stork with a teenager!
The answer that one gives as a parent, the conversation that you will have, depends upon the time in life, and situation of the question, and the events that surround it.
“I have many things to say you,” Jesus says, “but you cannot bear them now.”
I wonder, if this is isn’t Jesus acknowledging the developmental arc of his own disciples, and choosing to speak only so much to them now, just enough for what they need to face in this moment.
The promise that Jesus has “more to say to us” is also a promise that a day will come when we will be ready to struggle with and push through these questions that confront us.
The day will come, and the Spirit will be there to guide us.
Are we like that as children of God? Do we have perhaps a “developmental arc?”
Paul could only speak of the role of women within the cultural context of his own experience, but the world is different now!
And so, we take the Spirit’s guidance, and the Father’s love, and Jesus’ witness of the women walking with him to the cross, and in that mixture we discover the truth that those first disciples were not ready yet to hear.
God gifts God’s Spirit of teaching, evangelizing, and preaching are to both male and female, and God does not distinguish.
God never really had, now that we look at it, we just couldn’t bear to acknowledge it “back then.”
Where can you find it in the bible that a woman should be a Pastor?
If you ask the question looking to find where Jesus says, where God says, “Women can be pastors” — You won’t! That’s not how the question is answered by the Father, Son and Spirit.
You will instead find God’s Spirit resting on the likes of Deborah in the Old Testament, calling her to be a Judge over God’s people.
You will find Lydia in the book of Acts as the leader of a house church.
You will find Jesus entrusting the proclamation of the events of resurrection to the women who came to the tomb that Easter morning.
Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit, all in dialog with each other and in dialog with us, revealing to us the truth that we once could not bear to hear.
What is it that you cannot bear to hear right now? I’m sure there is something!
There is something that just sticks in your craw.
Something that the church is doing or isn’t doing right?
Something that you can’t quite decide what to think of? Is this God at work in this, or am I fooling myself?
What if I am wrong?
Well, this is where the Trinity comes in again!
The Spirit comes to guide, to push the boundaries, to refresh, and to encourage us.
The Son who has taught and shown us what the Father is like, and who the Father wants to reach, comes through the stories about Jesus, helping us turn over in our minds what would be consistent for Jesus, what Jesus would have done, thought, said, IF this question had been put to him.
The Son, Jesus, who was often want to walk where the more traditional would not dare to tread, and yet not willing to wander as far the zealots would wish him to go.
The Son, attending to the matters of relationship, and calling for thought, and consideration, and teaching in parables to make one think.
The Father comes to us, always more ready to forgive than we are to repent.
What if we are wrong?
Well that’s what the Father’s arms are for! They welcome the prodigal, and they gather the broken, and they plead for reconciliation between brothers, and advocate on behalf of those who have no voice, no power, and no access.
It is better to dare and do and have to run back to the Father’s arms than not to have run or dared to live at all!
Yes, I wonder what it was those first disciples could not bear to hear, and I wonder how much it sounded like the things we cannot bear to hear now.
Thanks be to God, who is willing and ready to muster all of God’s self for us, that we would never be left just to our own wisdom or to our own devices.
What we cannot bear to hear right now, that is what the Spirit will guide us into when the time is right. The Father, Son and Spirit will all meet us there, already well ahead of what we thought we could not bear to hear or consider.
This is the promise today.