Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

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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The Third with them

Readings
Micah 5.2–5a
Luke 1.39–55

The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings.…This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Advent sermon, http://enemylove.com/subversive-magnificat-mary-expected-messiah-to-be-like/

Jesus was born to be a marginal person. He was conceived by Mary when she was unwed .… Thus, while the birth of Jesus to Mary was divinely justified, it was nevertheless socially condemned. Jesus, as well as his parents, was marginalised from the time of his conception. — Jung Young Lee, Marginality: The Key to Multicultural Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995), 79

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This is one of the very few passages of scripture in which only women appear. It may be the only one in the New Testament; the only other one in all scripture that I can think of is the story of Ruth, where Ruth, her mother-in-law Naomi and sister-in-law Orpah are heading out of Moab towards Bethlehem. Orpah, of course, returns to Moab but Ruth goes on with Naomi.

But today, we have Elizabeth and Mary. As I said, alone. No man in sight. And really, men are given scarce credit for this scenario. 

You know, if Luke chapter 1 were a film, Mary would be the star and Elizabeth her co-star. Her husband Zechariah would be a supporting actor and poor Joseph would be an extra. With his name in very small print.

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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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Grace, Love, Communion … (Trinity Sunday, Year A, 15 June 2014)

Readings
2 Corinthians 13.11–13
Matthew 28.16–20

 

Last week, I said that while preachers often feel the Trinity Sunday is a hard gig, I really feel that Pentecost is the hardest day to preach and to do justice to the message.

Today, I’m not so sure. Trinity may be the hardest day to preach after all. But here goes!

‘Trinity’ is the best way we have to speak of the unutterably great, incomprehensible God who came to earth in Jesus Christ and who comes to earth today as Holy Spirit.

God is unutterably great; God is beyond the understanding of our best minds. God has come to us as a human being, Jesus of Nazareth, exactly as we are yet without sin. God is poured out upon us as the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of God.

When the New Testament speaks of God, it often links God our Father with Jesus the Son.

For example, Paul begins 2 Corinthians like this:

Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is clear from the New Testament that we can’t think of God, we can’t talk about God, we can’t know God without Jesus the Son.

And then the New Testament also speaks of God in a threefold way, so Paul ends 2 Corinthians with these very familiar words:

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

And there are other places too. For example Galatians 4:

God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’

Or Ephesians 4:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

There are other examples, but let’s look at the closing verses of Matthew’s Gospel. Here, the (singular!) name of God is given as Father, Son and Holy Spirit:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.

And that’s the Name we use of course, whenever we baptise anyone. The name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

I wonder what would happen if we only baptised people in the name of the Father? Or just the Son? Or just the Holy Spirit?

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The Holy Spirit *is* the Spirit of Christ (Pentecost, Year A, 8 June 2014)

Readings
Numbers 11.24–30
Acts 2.1–21
1 Corinthians 12.3–13
John 7.37–39a

 

Today is Pentecost, which means next week is Trinity Sunday. Preachers often feel the Trinity Sunday is a hard gig, but I really feel that Pentecost is the hardest day to preach and to do justice to the message.

How do we preach the Holy Spirit, whom we picture as wind, water and fire? How do we hold wind in our hands? We know the Spirit only by the effects she has in our lives. It’s like what John says (3.8),

The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.

We only know the Spirit by what the Spirit does. We can’t pin the Spirit down. Ever. We can’t say

  • You have to believe the right doctrine to receive the Spirit;
  • A bishop must lay hands on you if you are to receive the Spirit;
  • The Spirit comes only as a second blessing to particular believers;
  • You don’t have the Spirit if you don’t speak in tongues.

We can never put the Spirit in a box or enclose her in any theological system.

With apologies to Donovan, we may as well try to catch the wind as speak of the Spirit.

One thing we do know: the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus Christ. If we speak of Jesus Christ as we speak of the Spirit, we may say words that are true. Let’s try it with a few reflections. Continue reading

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No partiality (Easter 6, Year B, 13 May 2012)

Readings
Acts 10.44-48
John 15.9-17

Pentecost is coming in two weeks’ time. The name ‘Pentecost’ comes from the Greek word meaning fifty; the Day of Pentecost comes on the fiftieth day after Easter. It’s the end of the Easter Season and the climax of Eastertide—God raised Jesus from the dead and then sent the Spirit of the Risen Christ upon all believers.

Pentecost is a big day; we often call it ‘the birthday of the Church’. We’ll hear the story then, and we know it well already: the believers are gathered together, the Spirit comes upon them as wind and fire, and they speak in other languages. And some lucky reader gets to say delicious words like Phrygia and Pamphylia.

The Pentecost story shows how much we—the Church of Jesus Christ—depend upon the Spirit as we go out into the world on God’s mission. It also shows that the Spirit continues to grow more and more of the risen life of Jesus Christ within his people and among us.

I’ve mentioned an author called John V Taylor several times. In a book first published in 1972 called The Go-Between God, Bishop Taylor spoke of the Spirit and the Mission. He said:

The chief actor in the historic mission of the Christian church is the Holy Spirit. [The Spirit] is the director of the whole enterprise. The mission consists of the things that [the Spirit] is doing in the world.

The mission of God consists of the things the Spirit is doing in the world—especially the light that the Spirit is focussing on the risen Lord Jesus. The Spirit of Jesus leads, we follow. The Spirit raises us to renewed life with Jesus.

But the people of God don’t always welcome the way the Holy Spirit works. In fact, the Spirit caught the Church off-guard right back in the time of the Book of Acts. The Spirit was raising all sorts of people to new life. The Holy Spirit was intent on tearing barriers down, pulling down walls of separation, bringing people together as one in the name of the Risen Lord.

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Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year A, 29 May 2011)

The risen life: the Spirit of unforgetting

Readings
1 Peter 3.13-22
John 14.15-21

The proud parents bring their new baby boy home from hospital. His older sister, all of four, asks if she may have time alone to speak with her new brother. Mum and dad agree, but they decide to listen in from behind the door. They hear big sister leaning over the cot and saying, ‘Quick, tell me who made you. Tell me where you came from. I’m beginning to forget!’

We are frail, forgetful creatures. Jesus knows that, so he says:

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

The Spirit ‘abides’ with us, stays with us as our Advocate, our Friend in high places. Jesus calls the Spirit ‘the Spirit of truth’; and ‘truth’ is a very interesting word in the Greek language in which John’s Gospel was originally written. The Greek word for ‘truth’ is aletheia.

A-letheia means ‘not forgetting’, ‘not hidden’, ‘unforgetting’, ‘unhiding’. In the Greek language of the New Testament, we find ‘truth’ as we recall things we have forgotten. And the Spirit stays with us partly so that we may not forget.

As far as the people of the ancient world were concerned, it was the dead who forgot.

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