Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

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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