Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | May 26, 2013

2013.05.26 “Ready for an “Aha” Moment?” John 16: 12 – 15

Central United Methodist Church

Ready for an “Aha” Moment?

Pastor David L. Haley

May 26th, 2013

John 16: 12 – 15


        “Jesus said, “I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t handle them now.  But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the 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 done and said.  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’ve said, “He takes from me and delivers to you.‘” – John 16: 12 – 15, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

Here’s my question this Memorial Day Weekend: What “aha” moments will we experience this summer?

You remember such moments, everyone has had one. It’s that moment when something previously puzzling becomes clear, or at least clearer. In a moment, we go from frustration to fulfillment, from despair to a world full of possibilities.

As a personal example, one reason I am in the humanities, not the sciences, is four letters: math. I always struggled with math. I remember, as a child, once crying over math homework in frustration, because I did not understand it. And, of course, if you don’t understand math easily, that’s doesn’t bode well for the physics and chemistry that is to come. Occasionally, however, there would come a flash of insight, something – not everything – would become clearer.

Perhaps it occurred while you were studying a language: whether Spanish, German, or even English. Suddenly you realized you were thinking in it, and you gained not only a language, but a glimpse of another culture.

Maybe it was a skill or a sport; remember that moment when riding a bicycle came together, and you stopped crashing into things? Suddenly, what was previously a struggle became simple. How about shifting a manual (not automatic) transmission; remember that? Some have never had the wonderful privilege of grinding gears.

Parents, remember when you first held your newborn child, earning you credentials as a parent, with the eventual realization that you would also never sleep soundly again?

The nature of life’s “aha’s” mean they do not happen often, so we grow accustomed to the long dry spells in between. During these dry spells it is easy to fall into routines which can become ruts – autopilot mode – such that we live badly in need of a new “aha” experience to revitalize our perspective again.

The good news of the Gospel is that there is hope.  According to Jesus in today’s Gospel, it is the ongoing work of the Spirit to bring us such “aha” moments, new truth to be discovered, understood, and lived.

Jesus’ promise of the Spirit who would do this, occurs in the final installment of five readings from John’s Gospel.  The crash course in discipleship is over, all the questions have not been answered, and soon the teacher will go away. But “Don’t worry,” says Jesus

“I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t handle them now. But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is.“

So the clock is ticking, Jesus has many things to say, but “you can’t handle them now.” Whenever I hear this, I am reminded of one of my favorite movies, A Few Good Men, where, Jack Nicholson, playing Marine Col. Nathan R. Jessep, says, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth.” This is what Jesus is saying, but in a much nicer and kinder way.

Given Jesus’ disciples’ track record over the three years of their instruction, he could have said this to them at just about any time, so often they did not get it. It was like explaining calculus to a child who doesn’t know their numbers, or geometry to me.  And if the previous three years were confusing, what would they make of what was about to happen – Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection?

But he wasn’t only talking to them. These words were written and first read toward the end of the first Christian century, during a time of conflict and confusion not only between Christianity and Judaism, or Christianity and Rome, but also between varying kinds of Christianity. How comforting in such times to hear that though Jesus might be gone from the scene, and that though everything was still very confused and unclear, the Spirit would always be present, and eventually the Truth would out. Sadly, that would never happen instantly or universally, and would often be subverted by power and politics, just as it often is today.

As far as I can see, Jesus’ promise of the work of the Spirit has no expiration date, and is still ongoing, even today. Today, as always in the history of the church, there are different kinds of Christians, who see truth differently, all arguing that the truth they see, is the truth the Spirit has revealed.

There are conservative Christians, whose motto is, “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.” There are progressive Christians, who believe the truth – God’s truth – changes, as circumstances change, as new insights arise, as the Spirit reveals. Perhaps we could not see it, or could not bear it, earlier. Could we have ended slavery without the Civil War, without Lincoln? I recall to you the quote I shared with you a few weeks ago, attributed to Pope John XXIII on his deathbed: “It is not that the Gospel has changed, it is that we have begun to understand it better.” Is this not the same Holy Spirit at work, doing what Jesus promised, bringing new “aha” moments to us, the modern followers of Jesus.

But there’s more: if God’s truth is absolute, it is also personal.  If we cannot understand it, maybe the time is not right.  We go through ages and stages in our lives, such that what may be true for us in our twenties, may appear differently to us in our forties, even different again in our sixties, or our eighties.  Jesus was right; if we do not understand, perhaps it is because we cannot handle it. Might the truth about us be too scary? Too overwhelming?  Maybe there is more than we know to the saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”  I have always maintained, I would only want to be young again (not that that is a possibility), only if I could know what I know now, wisdom learned through sometimes difficult and painful experience.

The truth is, without such “aha” moments in life to keep us awake and alert, we tend to resort to dogma, to ritual, to routine, keeping our eyes so fixed on the rutted road in front of us that we miss the “aha” moments that lie along the way. Are we open to the surprising, even startling event, the amazing insight, that the Holy Spirit is winging, bringing our way?

This is not a new problem. Did you know that in the eighteenth century, road and pathway designers took it upon themselves to add diversity to the daily drugery of getting from Point A to Point B?  Along common walk ways, built along the hedge rows of village-to-village paths, it became popular to construct what were known as “ha-ha’s.” Seemingly straight forward paths would suddenly disappear behind camoflagued hedge-ways. Eventually, boundary ditches, stiles with benches for resting or reflecting, and other gentle divergences were added.  Even now, I understand that designers of expressways do the same, adding gentle turns and visual diversions, to keep us from passing out in boredom from driving straight and monotonous highways.

Perhaps we need to do such things in life.  Perhaps we need to take a test run to determine to what extent ours is an autopilot existence, to see whether we can handle any new surprises the Spirit may spring upon us. After all, researchers say one way to keep the biology of our brain from becoming pathology – as in Alzheimers – is to occasionally do things differently, opening up new neural pathways.

Here are some suggestions:

Take a different route to work.

Shop in an unfamiliar grocery store.

Brush your teeth with the other hand.

Sleep on the other side of the bed.

Re-arrange your kitchen cupboards.

Ready for this: Sit in a different pew on Sunday!

And then you might want to try it in your spiritual life:

Learn a new table grace.

Read Leviticus, instead of Luke (preferably in Hebrew)

Attend an Orthodox or a Pentecostal service

Pray outside, pray standing, pray prostrate, pray alone, pray in a

group (whichever one you never do)

Look for God’s presence in an unlikely place: at work, in the

dentist’s office, the veterinarian clinic, even the DMV!

Although it may sometimes seem that God has filled our life with “ha ha’s,” let’s look for the “ahas.” Because as long as we live and breathe, it is never too late for Spirit-lead experiences.. As long as we are led by the Spirit, we can be sure there are new “ahas” to come.

“Jesus said, “I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t handle them now.  But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is.”

The French scientist, Louis Pasteur said, “The seeds of great discovery are floating around us, but they take root only in minds well prepared to receive them.”  We’ve got work to do!

[For this sermon I drew upon sermon material developed by Leonard & Elizabeth Sweet, in Homilectics, June 10, 2001.]


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