Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 14:23-29
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Although, in two weeks we will celebrate the feast of Pentecost, the birthday of the church, the day the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, we get a little foretaste in today’s gospel, of the significance of that event. Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will come to them, teach them, and advocate for them. We Episcopalians get a little uneasy when there is talk about the Holy Spirit. I honestly think it is because mystery is something we 21st century Christians, cannot seem to get our heads wrapped around. I also think we may have some misunderstandings about the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity. Despite the fact that we don’t often talk much about the Spirit in Christian Formation classes, coffee hour discussions, and in some churches, not even in sermons.
Even so, our liturgy, our catechism, and our hymns provide us with a framework of rich, theological teachings about the Holy Spirit. Our Creed for instance, asserts that the Holy Spirit is the “Lord and Giver of Life,” the “one who spoke through the prophets.” It goes on to outline the mystery of the very act of the Holy Spirit, God’s own act, of his divine Son receiving our human nature from the Virgin Mary, his mother. If you notice something in those words, this is all about God acting: giver of life, inspiring prophets, and incarnating flesh. I believe we sometimes make all this mystery too complicated, too heady, and maybe, just maybe it’s much simpler. The Holy Spirit is “God at work in the world, and in the Church even now.” God is actively working in our lives and through the Church and her work; God is continuing his mission of salvation in the world.
The church is a visible sign of God’s work, not merely as the gathered body of believers, but as people who are transformed so much by the experience of God, that we are moved to action; moved to make present God’s reconciling love in the world. When we respond to love, we are able to recognize the Holy Spirit, present in our lives. There was a lovely woman in the church I served, prior to my beginning this current ministry, that despite any hardship or doubt she encountered, or even in times of joy and celebration, it was abundantly clear to all who knew her, that Christ was at the center of her life. She did not wear a big cross on her neck, she did not put a bumper sticker on her car to proclaim it, she did not wear a T-shirt with the words emblazoned on it, but it was the mere fact of how she loved others, how she served the least, lost, and lonely with whom she encountered, loving as Jesus loves all creation, that she clearly claimed Jesus as Lord, as ‘Adonai,’ ‘Yaweh,’ ‘God.’
The narrative of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and what it meant in her own healing was so compelling for her, that the Spirit’s work in her life, changed her. She recognized God’s presence working in her, not because of something she did, or some special gift she was given that no one else had. She had become aware of the Spirit’s presence already working in and through her, simply because she was seduced by love. God was teaching her to love. As promised by Jesus, the Holy Spirit will actively teach us everything, everything about loving God and loving neighbor, and empower us to love likewise.
I believe my friend, and each of us who become aware of the Spirit’s presence in our lives, experience that mindfulness in many ways. We can become aware through our wrestling with scripture, through our participation in the sacraments (Holy Baptism/Holy Communion), and some through engaging in a committed life of prayer. The church teaches us that scripture is the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and it shows God at work in nature and history, to set forth the life and teachings of Jesus, and to show Good News of the Kingdom for all people. We come to understand scripture by the help of the Holy Spirit, who guides the church in its interpretation. We do not stand alone as individual interpreters of scripture, but we do so in community, listening for the Spirit’s teaching of truth, together as the assembled body of believers. We test truth through scripture, not as a means to proof-text our own agendas and theological ideals, but through engaging the narrative of salvation as a whole, which points to Good News for all creation. It is in community, community strengthened and led by the Holy Spirit, that we are able to hear the teachings of God. The Spirit still speaks to the church! I used to teach my Lectors that their ministry was of upmost importance on Sunday morning. I reminded them that the Holy Spirit who inspired the original writers of the text, was actively engaged in the hearts of those to whom they were reading, and was actively working in them, as they proclaimed the Word that day. In that area of liturgical service, the reader is holding a special ministry as the power the Spirit, actively works through each of us.
We can become aware of the Spirit’s presence in us the church, through the sacraments of Holy Baptism, and Holy Communion. Baptism is more than a rite of passage for infants. It is more than “fire insurance,” and it is more than a mere family ritual. Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us and makes us members of Christ’s body, the Church, and inheritors of the Kingdom of God. We are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and thus, brought into new life in the Holy Spirit. We become a part of that discerning body, who together with others, recognize in each other, the presence of the Holy Spirit working in and through our lives. All of our ministries, our community, our worship, our prayer, and our study, have its origins in our common life found in Baptism, following the example of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is this body gathered together, that participates in the Great Thanksgiving, the Feast, the Eucharist, and the Holy Communion.
This new community in the Spirit is gathered to offer a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, united in the breaking of bread and sharing of the cup, in the receiving of the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, that we are made one Body with him, that he might live in us, and we in him. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit, that bread and wine become the real presence of Body and Blood. It is in this sharing of this meal that we find forgiveness, are strengthened in our union with Christ and each other, and we look forward to the banquet, which is to come. In the Eucharist, the Holy Spirit is present and actively working in and through our lives. From this table, we are fed, nourished, strengthened, and empowered to go out into the world, to share the Good News of grace, mercy, and reconciliation in the world.
So, here the conversation about the Holy Spirit may get a little uncomfortable. The Church is on a mission, not our own individual mission, not our private projects, nor a corporate journey of mere self-preservation. The Church is sent out on the mission of God, and that undertaking is God reconciling the world to God-self and yes, we have a big part to play! We are called to open our eyes and our hearts, look around us wherever we are planted, and widen the circle of love beyond our four walls. We are planted as a community of reconciliation in our neighborhoods, not merely as a spot for the faithful to gather, but as place of training, preparation, strengthening, and discerning, with the help of the Holy Spirit, so our gifts may be ignited and so we may become ambassadors of grace in the world. That is a pretty tall order! Yep, you’re right, but my sisters and brothers that is what it means to follow Jesus. Here is the best part; we don’t have to do this alone. God is with us … even now. In all that we undertake, God is at work. In all we do, God is at work. In any endeavor of reconciliation, God is with us. God is bringing about reconciliation in the world and despite how overwhelming it seems; this work we are called to do, Jesus said, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled, don’t be afraid.” After all, it’s not our mission, it’s God’s and with God leading the way, what are we afraid of?