Ahhh…summer. It is here. I love summer. To me, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. And with summer comes vacation time—or so I’ve been told.
But what sort of vacation? A relaxing trip to the beach? Camping? Soaking up the sun by a pool? After all, vacation is supposed to be a time to “get away from it all,” or so I’ve been told.
Maybe not. An increasing number of people are diverging from conventional vacation mode as one of the fastest growing segments of the tourism industry is now “adventure travel.”
Rather than looking to get away from it all, some people are looking to experience an adventure. This might mean trekking through a jungle, climbing a mountain, or cycling through a developing country.
Whatever the nature of the adventure, the common theme is the desire to connect to nature; engage with another culture; and/or challenge physical limits.
Travel experts divide adventure travel excursions into two categories: “soft” adventures and “hard” adventures.
A “soft” adventure involves getting out but not getting too far away from the evening dinner buffet. For example, snorkeling would be a soft adventure. You can get up close and personal with sea life, but in shallow water, free from worry about a pulmonary embolism ruining your vacation… and your life.
A “hard” adventure, on the other hand, would involve actually donning scuba gear and heading down into the depths shark infested waters.
For most adventures, you have to have a guide to direct you and keep you on track. A good adventure guide will help you plan your trek, provide a packing list, the extra equipment you’ll need, maps and even make some arrangements for your lodging and meals.
What you will have to provide for any “adventure” is the willingness to take the adventure.
In the Gospel of John, when we look at Jesus’ last words to his disciples, we can see them as an advertisement for the adventure the followers of Jesus will have ahead of them. The Twelve had followed Jesus up and down Galilee, on the long road to Jerusalem, and through the deserts of Judea. They had been in storms that could have drowned them, confronted demons that terrified them, and seen miracles that blew their minds.
They had been with Jesus, their guide and friend, every step of the way, but the time was coming when Jesus would go to the cross, the grave, and then ascend to heaven— leaving his followers behind to continue the adventure of sharing and living the Good News.
For this adventure, however, Jesus knows his followers will need a Guide. And so Jesus promises to send them the “Advocate,” the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father.” (v. 26)
As the Spirit has testified to Jesus’ person and mission, the disciples will now take that testimony to the rest of the world. It will be an adventure because that testimony won’t be welcome in a world that is hostile to the truth about Jesus.
Earlier in chapter 15, Jesus warns, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.” (vv. 2-3) Not the most appealing adventure sales pitch, is it? We wouldn’t blame the disciples for heading to the beach for some boat drinks with umbrellas in them.
And that truth remains today. It is easier to skip the Gospel Adventure and just get away from it all. But that’s not what Jesus would have us do.
In our text, Jesus is speaking of his coming assentation to heaven. The Disciples wonder what’s going to happen, and Jesus tells them that this faith filled adventure is going to continue and their Guide will be his Holy Spirit.
Now it used to be that hiring a guide meant you would have someone directly on the ground with you, in whose footsteps you would follow. While that’s still true, technology has made it possible for you to be guided virtually instead, tracked by GPS and connected via radio, or mobile or satellite phone, to a guide who is always monitoring your progress, always with the big picture in mind.
Jesus is saying something similar to his disciples.
They won’t have Jesus as their on-the-ground guide anymore, but Jesus tells them that’s ok because the new Guide will help them expand their trekking capacity and keep the big picture in mind. “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (v. 7)
The Holy Spirit Guide will point out the twists and turns in the route and help the followers of Jesus know what to look for as they trek into the world.
Jesus tells the disciples their Guide will point out the wrong paths the world has taken—paths their proclamation of the Gospel will correct.
While there are numerous wrong paths, in our text there are two in our text Jesus focuses on.
First, the Holy Spirit Guide will help us with the problem of sin.
The world’s idea of the nature of sin is that sin is something a person does, or commits. And I suppose, on one level this is true. But the Holy Spirit helps us go deeper to understand the cause of sin.
Too often people think all we need to do is work harder and do more good things than bad things and someday God will decide we qualify for heaven. But the world has it wrong.
The problem of sin is not what we do with our hands, but who we are in our hearts.
Too often we think goodness is something we do. But Jesus showed us that goodness is not simply doing, but by being.
Therefore, for our journey, the Holy Spirit Guide provides us with a new nature, a new heart. We are a new creation.
Unfortunately, the world’s idea of righteousness is that the more good we do the more righteous we are.
The Guide, Jesus says, will help the disciples see what true righteousness looks like, using Jesus himself as the model.
So yes, Jesus may be ascending to heaven, but through the Spirit he will continue to guide and empower his followers to do what he has done—living lives that reflect and embody the Good News.
Sin is not overcome by good works.
Sin is overcome by being Christ-like.
The Holy Spirit Guide shows us how.
The second thing the Holy Spirit Guide will help us with is the Truth.
Jesus says, “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.”
“Truth” is a major theme in John’s gospel. In fact, it will be Pontius Pilate who asks the question on the world’s mind as they are confronted with Jesus: “What is truth?” (18:38)
The truth is, is that Jesus himself is the way, the truth and the life (14:6). Meaning, if we emulate Jesus, our lives will be true. Our lives will be lives of integrity, honesty, service, selflessness and humility— all of which are counterintuitive from the world’s point of view.
But what truth do we want to live in?
The truth the world believes—that power is better than compassion, that wealth is better than generosity, that some are in and others are out?
Or do we want to live in the Truth of God—that God’s grace, revealed in Christ Jesus, and sustained by the Holy Spirit is sufficient for all? That love is better than hate.
The Holy Spirit Guide leads us to Truth.
A few weeks ago we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. When the Holy Spirit Guide arrived it launched the disciples on a new adventure of following in the ways of Jesus.
If the disciples wanted to follow Jesus to where he was going, then it meant following his way, his truth and his life in spite of the dangers, twists and turns that would surely come.
This remains true today.
The only way to navigate this Gospel adventure—which will be soft some days, and hard others—is with a Guide who will take what Jesus has said and done and “declare it” to us so that we will glorify him (vv. 14-15) and reveal to us and others the bigger picture that is God’s Kingdom.
This will require us though, to take on this Gospel Adventure.
Following Jesus has never been about retreating from the world to a tropical island and “getting away from it all.”
It’s always been about following the way, the truth and the life of Jesus for the purpose of changing the world for God’s glory.
And it’s an adventure for sure.
Sometimes it will be soft and easy. Sometimes it will be exceedingly hard. But always there will be the Holy Spirit Guide.
May we continue, always, to adventure together. Amen.