My senior year of college I took both the most challenging and most rewarding class in my degree in religion - an independent study on the Trinity. What made it both hard and fulfilling was today’s topic - the Holy Spirit. Every week my friend and I would talk for hours about the Holy Spirit’s purpose and presence in our lives. The others discussions around the Trinity we understood. We grasped God. We loved Jesus. But the Holy Spirit...well that still remained a mystery.
Most folks who claim to be Christians would fall into the same boat as my friend and I. They grasp the concept of God as the ultimate Creator. They love Jesus who modeled how to live out our faith and paid the price for our sins by dying on the cross. But the Holy Spirit still alludes them.
I’m sure the concept of the Holy Spirit confused the disciples in today’s scripture passage as well. This is part of Jesus’s farewell discourse. He is trying to simultaneously tell his disciples that he will be leaving and give them comfort. Enter the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells them that while he hadn’t revealed it to them from the beginning, he now how to tell them that he was leaving them, but another would be coming from God. This other would only enter into their lives once he had physically departed their presence.
Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Advocate. In the United Methodist Modern Affirmation of Faith, the Holy Spirit is described as “the divine presence in our lives whereby we are kept in perpetual remembrance of the truth of Christ, and find strength and help in our time of need.” The Advocate comforts, sustains, and empowers us. In other words, the Holy Spirit gives the disciples, and us, exactly what we need to live out our faith in this world, even when it is difficult.
And perhaps that is the image of the Holy Spirit that we like to cling to the most. When I taught confirmation a few years ago, I asked the class how they envisioned the Holy Spirit. The most common answer was as a dove. One who brings peace. But that’s only part of what the Holy Spirit does. Yes, the Spirit does comfort us and stirs up our desire to draw us closer to God. But the Holy Spirit also won’t leave us alone - won’t leave us as we are. The Spirit moves us towards perfection, holiness, sanctification, and the love of God. And that brothers and sisters is hard work. Some of the confirmation students were shocked to find out that the Holy Spirit appeared as a fierce wind and fire on Pentecost. One person even remarked that the Holy Spirit is the power behind our faith.
That hits the nail on the head. Who is the Holy Spirit? The power behind our faith. The one who can answer the questions, “where is God now?” and “how is God active, alive and moving now?” I wonder how the disciples would have responded if that is how Jesus would have described the Holy Spirit to them at first. Would they have jumped ship? Said it was too much? Left the mission. Jesus is spoon-feeding them at first about who the Spirit is. The Holy Spirit is more powerful then we can ever imagine. I’ve been the work of the Spirit through mending broken hearts and healing relationships torn asunder.
As Christians we do believe that the Holy Spirit is the power behind our faith, the rutter behind the ship of the Church, even if we don’t always recognize it. Have you ever noticed how many times we pray to the Holy Spirit? During baptism we ask “that the Holy Spirit work within you” and during the celebration of holy communion to “pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here and on these gifts of bread and wine” and “by the power of your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all of the world.” We pray to the Holy Spirit because we get that the Holy Spirit has power, we just fail to claim that power in our daily lives. Jesus is trying to both comfort the disciples and tell them to claim the power God is sending them through the Advocate. We need to claim that same power today, realizing the impact the Holy Spirit has on our life and our world.
But notice what the text says next: that when the Spirit comes he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment. The Holy Spirit has the power to convict those both inside and outside of the Church about sin and prime our response to the gospel message! Have you ever got frustrated because you shared the gospel message with someone but they didn’t quite get it. Its okay - let the power of the Holy Spirit work in their lives and through you! Keep witnessing! For it is by the power and gift of the Spirit that we can share at all. We need to realize that the Spirit both goes before us and responds to our prayers. Keep praying. Keep acting. Keep following the Spirits prompting!
For United Methodists, our founder John Wesley believed that it is the Holy Spirit that moves us forward in our faith. The Spirit who inspired scripture. The Spirit that brings us to speak prophetic words. And the Spirit that propels the church forward through the ages. The Spirit gives gifts that are to be used both for the church and through the church to transform the world. The mission statement of our parish is to “share the power of Christ” but it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit, prophesied by Christ, and made a reality by God, that we are sent out to transform the world.
There is a video series for small groups by Rob Bell called NOOMA. It breaks basic Biblical teachings down to about twelve minutes, making them understandable and adaptable. The word NOOMA means breath and Spirit. In one of the videos, entitled Breathe, the question is asked, “with all that all of have going on every day, who actually thinks about their breathing?” Maybe that is what makes the Holy Spirit so confusing, so mysterious. The Spirit is as close as our breath, and needed for our Christian walk, yet just like our breath we take it for grant it until we stop and notice. Stop and realize that the same breath and Spirit that God breathed into dust to create Adam is the same powerful Spirit that Jesus introduced the disciples to that day. Stop. Notice the Spirit. In our prayers. In our very presence. In our service. In our witness. Go. Follow the Spirits leading. Amen.