Category Archives: Pentecost

Connecting

Readings
Acts 2.1–21
John 7.37–39

 

The whole of our uneasy debate about the meaning of the word ‘God’ for modern [people] cries out, I believe, for a recovery of a significant doctrine of the Holy Spirit. That is where we must now begin our talk about God — God working anonymously and on the inside: the beyond in the midst. If we had not relegated the Holy Spirit to the merest edges of our theology we might never have got ourselves into our present confusions — or, better still, we might have endured our present expansion of awareness without dismay. As it is, we seem to have rarified God out of existence.… Any insight which make us exclaim: ‘Oh, now I see the connection!’ is potentially a new revelation. — John V Taylor, The Go-Between God 

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Someone asked me the other week how progressive Christians may speak of the Holy Spirit without sounding like Pentecostal™ wannabes or Evangelical® soundalikes. 

So today I’ll try to say something about how we might speak about the Holy Spirit, we who may feel shy about the Spirit. 

We need to speak of the Spirit, because the Spirit is central to our experience of faith. The Spirit is fire that purifies by burning off all our crud. The Spirit is wind that comes through like a cyclone to blow the chaff of our lives away. The Spirit is water that cleanses by half drowning us. 

The Spirit is a dove that swoops like a magpie in nesting season. 

Have you had an experience of the Holy Spirit? You probably have. Possibly, you don’t realise it. Or, you may be hesitant to talk about it. 

Let me tell you about the first time the Spirit took hold of me. The first time I know about, anyway. You may have heard this before. Apologies if so. 

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Not orphaned

Reading
John 14.15–21

 

Jesus calls the Spirit ‘another’ Advocate, which assumes that Jesus himself is already an Advocate (14:16). Giving Jesus and the Spirit the same distinctive title means they share some of the same functions. The Spirit will keep doing the work that Jesus began on earth after Jesus’ return to the Father.… After Jesus’ return to the Father, the Spirit remains with the disciples; but this does not mean the Spirit replaces Jesus. Rather, the Spirit discloses the presence of the risen Jesus and his Father to the community of faith. — Craig R Koester, The Word of Life: A Theology of John’s Gospel

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Last week, we saw that Jesus was going away from the disciples; and he needed to remind the disciples of where he was going — to the Father — and remind them that they knew the way. It was the way of Jesus, the way of the cross. 

Jesus was leaving. But, he said, ‘I will not leave you orphaned’. There will be Another with them. This Other is coming from the Father through the Son. This Other is the Holy Spirit. 

John has a particular perspective on the Spirit, and a particular name for the Spirit. Here, in the final discourse, he calls the Spirit ‘Paraklete’. 

That’s Paraklete. Not parakeet. 

A paraklete is someone who is called to be with us, called to be by our side. Different English versions of the Gospel According to John translate ‘Paraklete’ with different words. Words like:  

Advocate;
Comforter;
Helper
, or
Counsellor.

You see, no one English word can translate ‘Paraklete’. All of these words have one thing in common: they are relational. The Spirit as Paraklete mediates Jesus to us by advocating on our behalf, coming to our aid, giving us counsel or comfort where needed. 

The Paraklete is with us, on our side, even if that means showing us that we are wrong sometimes. 

For three years, the disciples had learned from Jesus in a relational way. They hadn’t learnt principles, rules, laws so much as learning the way the Teacher did things. They had learnt to pattern their lives on him, though not necessarily very well. Imitating Jesus, they were on the way to eternal life. 

Through the Spirit they were learning the deep ways of God in a relationship with God’s Son, Jesus. 

Without the Paraklete, it would have been very different when Jesus went. They would likely have to go to rules and regulations. Or maybe their memories of Jesus. Jesus’ mission would have been carried forward in a very different way. 

So, Jesus would send the Paraklete. Another Helper, Counsellor, Comforter, Advocate. They would not be orphaned. 

This Paraklete is not Jesus, but brings the truth of Jesus to the disciples. This Paraklete is not Jesus, but reminds the disciples of Jesus and his ways. This Paraklete moulds the disciples into the image of Jesus. 

The Spirit as Paraklete abides in us so we are centred on Jesus, rather than being centred on our egos. It’s a tough job to be decentred from ourselves in a liberating way! — a job only the Spirit can do. 

John is the only New Testament author who names the Spirit as Paraklete. There are other perspectives on the Spirit elsewhere in the New Testament, mainly from the Apostle Paul. 

The Spirit gives us various gifts, he says in 1 Corinthians 12, some to teach, others to help, some to heal but all to build up the body of Christ. 

Or, in Galatians 5 he speaks of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, fidelity, gentleness, goodness, kindness, patience, self-control. 

Or in Romans 8, the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. 

These ways of speaking of the Spirit are also relational. They speak of working together to build up the body of Christ, or relating to one another in the love of Christ. Or simply being a child of God.

We are people of the Spirit, the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit abides in us, and calls us to abide in Christ. The Spirit brings the things of Christ to life for us and in us. We in turn bring the things of Christ to one another. 

We remind one another of Jesus, we build each other up, whether by word or example. 

We don’t channel the Spirit by appealing to rules and regulations, though they have a place in setting boundaries to our life together. 

We bring the Spirit to one another by allowing the Spirit to mould us into the image of Jesus. 

In this way, we become a community channeling the love of God to the world around us. 

‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.’ We are not alone. The Paraklete, the Advocate, Comforter, Counsellor, Helper, is with us and among us and in us. Thanks be to God.

 

West End Uniting Church 17 May 2020

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Dry Bones Living

Readings
Ezekiel 37.1–14

There is no way to Pentecost except by Calvary; the Spirit is given from the cross.… The Holy Spirit’s function is to reflect in us the likeness of Christ—of his truth and love and power—but how could he do that with any authenticity or completeness, if he did not also lead us into the likeness of his suffering? There could be no real reflection of Christ that did not consist of bearing his cross. Thomas A Smail, quoted in Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion

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Can these bones come back to life?

It was ‘only’ a vision, but still Ezekiel felt uncomfortable. He was standing in a valley of dry old bones. And God was asking him a very silly question.

Mortal man, can these bones come back to life?

What to say? Standing in a pile of bones bleached white by the sun was not inspiring Ezekiel’s confidence. If he said No they’re dead and dusted, he could be accused of doubting God’s power. But if he said Yes Lord of course, he might have to say how on earth that could possibly happen.

So he takes the cautious path:

Sovereign Lord, only you can answer that!

Ezekiel tosses the ball right back into God’s court. But God has been around the block a few times more than Ezekiel and tosses the ball right back to him:

Prophesy to the bones. Tell these dry bones to listen to the word of the Lord. Tell them that I, the Sovereign Lord, am saying to them: I am going to put breath into you and bring you back to life. I will give you sinews and muscles, and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you and bring you back to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

How can dry bones hear anything? Yet Ezekiel prophesies, and the bones become a mighty people. No one is more surprised than Ezekiel.

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Peace is no possession (Pentecost, Year C, 29 May 2016)

Reading
John 14.8–27

Jesus says, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.’ Peace is his gift to us. Yet many of his people lack peace today.

Why, I wonder?

A sense of peace of mind, peace at heart, brings confidence and abolishes worry. A sense of peace enables us to overcome difficulties. People sense it when they are around a person who is at peace. Such people can radiate peace to others. It’s a great gift, left to us by Jesus himself. So why hasn’t everyone got it? Why would anyone lack peace?

Well, it’s got to do with what Jesus says next.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

We can’t have have peace when we let our hearts be troubled, or afraid.

The trouble is, we’re targets for troubling messages. They zero in on us like heat-seeking missiles. Especially during an election campaign. The messages we receive are worry bombs.

We worry about asylum seekers, who are wrongly called illegal immigrants. We stop the boats to stop the worry, but then we must close our hearts to people whose lives are made unendurable in offshore detention centres.

We worry about climate change, and wonder what we can do.

We worry about tax, about jobs, about our security as we get older.

The more we worry, the more troubled we are, the less peace we have.

Jesus says,

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.

What is peace? We say that there is peace when there is no war; but in the scriptures, peace is so much more than the absence of strife.

Peace is wholeness. Peace is wellbeing. Peace is the result of justice and righteousness.

The Apostle Paul encourages us to live in peace with others (Romans 12.18):

If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Paul knows we can’t be at peace with everyone, all the time; but he says ‘if it is possible, so far as it depends on you’—be at peace with everyone.

There is no place in the Christian life for a believer to be a troublemaker. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.’

Peace is meant to characterise our lives when we belong to Jesus. It’s his gift to us, not something that we can ignore or throw away.

We sense that we have this gift through the Holy Spirit who is our Advocate, our Comforter and Counsellor. Jesus intercedes for us at the right hand of God; the Spirit intercedes for us from within our spirit.

Jesus is no longer here in the flesh, but he has not left us alone. His Spirit is with us.

It seems to me that life in the Spirit has two dimensions. We receive, so we can give. It’s like breathing in the peace of Jesus Christ, then breathing out peace to others. In, and out. In and out. It is no accident that in Hebrew and Greek, the languages of the Bible, the word for ‘spirit’ and ‘breath’ are exactly the same.

A man told me a while ago that he is a Buddhist because Buddhism is a path that you walk, while Christianity is about what you believe. But that’s a false contrast.

We need to walk a spiritual path if we want to feel the peace of Jesus. We don’t screw our eyes up and believe ourselves into walking the path; we walk the path and find our faith strengthened. Jesus put it this way:

If you love me, you will keep my commandments…They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.  (John 14.15, 21)

What is the path of the Spirit? It is simple: it is receiving so we can give.

We receive Christ’s peace. It’s already ours, it’s a gift. So we receive it. We allow the peace of Christ to be real to us, more real than all the troubling messages that are thrown at us. More real than the very real difficulties we may be facing. We receive what we already have, Christ’s peace.

And we receive so we may give it out to others. The peace of Christ is not ours to hoard up!

The Lord doesn’t want me to have peace in my heart all alone; he wants us to be at peace with one another. He doesn’t want me to keep ‘my’ peace all to myself alone in my room; he wants me to be a peacemaker.

Peace is not a possession, a ‘thing’ that we ‘have’; peace needs to be exercised like a muscle. The more we exercise it, the more we have to give away. In fact, peace is like a river that flows through us to others.

Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

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Come Holy Spirit: a text from the 13th century

It is Pentecost on Sunday. This prayer is attributed to Stephen Langton (†1228), Archbishop of Canterbury. The original Latin text and this translation from Leonardo Boff, Come, Holy Spirit: Inner Fire, Giver of Life and Comforter of the Poor

Veni, Sancte Spiritus (Come, Holy Spirit)

Come, Holy Spirit, send forth the heavenly radiance of your light.

Come, father of the poor, come, giver of gifts,
come, light of the heart.

Greatest comforter, sweet guest of the soul, sweet consolation.

In labour, rest, in heat, temperance, in tears, solace.

O most blessed light, fill the inmost heart of your faithful.

Without your light there is nothing in the human,
nothing that is pure.

Cleanse that which is unclean, water that which is dry,
heal that which is wounded.

Bend that which is inflexible, fire that which is chilled,
correct what goes astray.

Give to your faithful, those who trust in you, the sevenfold gifts.

Grant the reward of virtue, grant the deliverance of salvation,
grant eternal joy.

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