In the old doo-wop lyrics, by Sam Cooke, Darling You-Ooo-Ooo Send Me! what it means to be “sent” is not elaborated very much. But we can tell it is a pretty superlative experience
In the Gospel of John, the bestowing of the Spirit, John’s “Pentecost”, is brief to the point of being abrupt. “When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’”. At least this seems abrupt until we realize it is not without a context that rapidly expands (probably toward “more than we can ask or imagine”).
The function and significance of the Spirit in the Johannine corpus and community is profound.On Pentecost Sunday this year it might be worth reading both gospel portions from John since they may interpret each other.
Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
The Spirit is given to those who have been (twice) offered the blessing of Shalom, given joy producing evidence for his resurrection, and then sent by Jesus, in at least somewhat the same way that the Father sent Jesus.
So how did the Father send Jesus? What did the Father send Jesus to do that Jesus sends his followers to do? What can we learn about the way God sent Jesus into the world that will help us understand how Jesus sends us into the world? A list could be extensive but the near context seems to suggest at least 3 parallels
• Into The World.
• In The Power Of The Holy Spirit.
• To Practice Forgiveness.
Into The World
There is a longstanding notion that Christianity is primarily about getting out of the world (going to “heaven” which is somewhere else). Perhaps much of this popular sentiment owes more to Platonism and Gnosticism than to Christian Theology (see NT Wright’s Surprised by Hope). But whatever might be said about the place of our destiny in Christ, we needn’t be confused about the direction of our mission. Jesus prayed to his Father saying “Just as you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world” (John 17:18).
In the incarnation, the direction of God’s movement was into the world. If we follow Jesus then our own going into the world is to be patterned on God’s own going into the world in Christ. It may be too much to call this a continuation of the incarnation but it certainly seems to be a continuation of the ministry of the incarnation. What are the implications for our congregations of being sent into the world?
Jesus taught us to pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth (here) as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10). The focus for Christians is not to be escaping earth for some other realm, but rather we are taught to expect God’s rule and government to invade the earth and become active here in our midst! What will that look like in your community ? Perhaps you have been sent there to see it happen?
In The Power Of The Holy Spirit
But power to do what? After Jesus’ temptation , Luke says that “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside (Luke 4:14). When he began his ministry Jesus said “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor’. Jesus told his disciples that this recurring connection between Spirit Power and spreading good news now applies to them. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere– in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (NLT Acts 1:8).
Rather than become embroiled in technical-theological questions about how and when we receive the spirit (at baptism? at confirmation? at a spiritual crisis?) Perhaps it is better to simply ask: “Is the Holy Spirit presently active in your life? Do you recognize Spirit-power in your own life or the lives of others? How do you expect the power of God to be in you life? … in your church ? What are you planning in light of the Spirit’s presence in your life?”
To Practice Forgiveness.
Jesus said “if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven”. But is this talking about declaring forgiveness by God that is available in Christ or is it about forgiveness by us toward those who offend us? At the very least, if we expect the power of the Spirit to be manifest in our midst one of the wonders we ought to see is the wonder of forgiveness. Perhaps we still have a lot to learn about this.
In the context of the John’s Gospel the mandate regarding forgiveness follows being sent into the world and receiving the Spirit. In the context the imperative to forgive seems the very reason we have been sent into the world and empowered by the Spirit. Perhaps the prerequisites for the power to both proclaim and practice forgiveness are first accepting our mission of being sent into the world, and then deliberately receiving the same Holy Spirit who empowered and enabled Jesus.
That we still have a way to go, as we continue to hope, is epitomized by another (this time poignant) song by Sam Cooke (that I find myself praying) called Change Is Gonna Come… performed the same year as the March on Washington.