Comforted by the Spirit of Truth

 May 27, 2012

John 14:15-19; 14:25-27; 15:26-27; 16:12-13Pentecost Sunday
Elizabeth M. Deibert

God of power, may the boldness of your Spirit transform us, may the gentleness of your Spirit lead us, may the gifts of your Spirit be our goal and our strength, now and always. Amen.

Now the most commonly read text on Pentecost by those of us who celebrate the day is likely the narrative of the day from Acts 2, the story I told the children, a story of wind and fire and tongues.   This year, I thought we would take the verses from Jesus’ farewell discourse in John which refer to the Comforter, the Advocate, the Spirit, the Paraclete.   Those who were here last week may recall that we read from the opening 2 Corinthians, a passage about paraklesis, about receiving comfort from God and sharing it with others.   In some ways, this text explains how we are empowered to share comfort, peace, love, truth with others, through the gift of the Holy Spirit at work in us.  

Last year I missed Pentecost at Peace, as I was at a Credo Conference in upstate New York.   Pentecost is one of my favorite days in the church, because I’m a fan of the Spirit.   I love the stories of Jesus’ life and ministry.   I appreciate the sovereign protection of God, but I feel closest to the Holy Spirit.   I feel nudges from the Spirit, little reminders throughout the day.  Do you ever get those nudges from the Holy Spirit that you should call someone or do you suddenly remember something that you almost forgot or do you get that push from the Spirit to apologize, to admit you were wrong, to be quiet before you say something you will regret.   I experience the Spirit helping me write sermons.   If you don’t know it already, it is a miracle that I stand here in front of you most weeks.   It is a true sign of the power of the Spirit that I have something to proclaim each week.   At least three or four times each week, I talk to the Spirit about my need for inspiration.   The word, inspire has its roots in the Latin word for “breathe into”   I am totally dependent on spiritual CPR every week.  I can still sing, as we did last week, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” but in some ways, the mysterious Holy Spirit is my best friend. 

 As a woman I feel like the Spirit is where my gender connects best with the Godhead.   The Spirit is thought by many to be the feminine aspect of God’s personality.  The Old Testament Hebrew word for Spirit is “ruah” a feminine noun.  The New Testament Greek word for Spirit is “pneuma” a neuter noun.  The word for truth, as in Spirit of truth, used three times in our text, is a feminine noun.  So while we know God is beyond gender identifications and we would never want to anthropomorphize God by turning God into the image of us, instead of the other way around, I find it very helpful to think of the Spirit as feminine.   It provides some balance to the Trinity.  So when we read our text, you will note that I am shifting to feminine pronouns.   I do not do this lightly or without the support of diverse scholars – Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox -- who believe that this is justified.  

John 14:15-19; 14:25-27; 15:26-27; 16:12-13  "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees her nor knows her.   You know her, because she abides withyou, and she will be in you. 18 "I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 
25 "I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 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. 27 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.

"When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, she will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.

  "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, she will guide you into all the truth; for she will not speak on her own, but will speak whatever she hears, and she will declare to you the things that are to come.   (New Revised Standard Version -- adapted)

A 14th Century fresco in a small Catholic Church southeast of Munich, Germany depicts a female Spirit as part of the Holy Trinity.   (image on screen) The three are con-joined at the bottom and are in a single robe.   The Spirit is flanked by Father and Son.    There’s an ancient debate between east and west, a conflict about the language of the Nicene Creed between the Orthodox and Catholic (long before the Protestant Reformation) about whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father or from the Father and the Son.    These verses seem to support that Eastern view of the Spirit coming from Father, yet it is Jesus who promises it.   I am grateful for Biblical and theological and church historians, who work on these matters.   I am equally grateful that it is not my job to do that.   I am content to receive the ancient and modern creeds as the communal and generational wisdom to guide my faith as I serve in leadership of Peace Church.   I tend to agree with St. Augustine who said, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity (LOVE).”   I also find creative writing like that of The Shack, by William P. Young, to be helpful in stirring my imaginations about the Holy Spirit.

Jesus promises the disciples that the Spirit will come, will remain with us and even in us forever, and will teach us what we need to know, will remind us of all Christ has done.   He says that the Spirit will be dependable and full of truth.   You see, that Greek word for truth also has the connotation of uprightness and trustworthiness.     

The Spirit is your advocate, your counselor.   The Spirit especially advocates for the weak and the powerless.   Jesus said at the beginning of his ministry, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to bring good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, and release to the captives/the oppressed.”   The Spirit fills you so you can be fruitful in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.     The Spirit will nudge you when you are getting away from those, and you can by grow in them by listening carefully to the Spirit.

By the Spirit God created the earth.  By the Spirit God raised up leaders and prophets in Israel.   By the Spirit Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb.   By the descending dove of the Spirit Jesus was baptized and empowered.   By the Spirit the risen Christ is present with the church.  

The Holy Spirit is the Giver of Life, the Renewer of Life, and the One who transforms us into disciples of Christ.    On Pentecost, the Spirit overwhelmed the people.   I’m not sure it sounds comforting to have tongues of fire on your head and a strong wind blowing inside the room.   But for the early Christians, this was a transformative moment, one that clearly demonstrated that what Jesus had promised (the coming of the Spirit) was now true.   Christ was ascended, but they were no longer alone and no longer afraid.   They began to experience in their fellowship a new quality of life.   The Spirit can move us to respond in faith to the Gospel.   Some of you are probably experiencing a nudge from the Spirit to do something faithful today.   Don’t ignore that nudge.   Learn to pay attention to those nudges, those gentle suggestions from the Holy Spirit.   

In the small chapel at Aldersgate in London, there is a plaque on the wall that reads: "On this spot on May 24, 1738, John Wesley's heart was strangely warmed."
One day Leslie Weatherhead a well-known London preacher went there and while he was reflecting on Wesley's "warmed heart" and praying in one of back pews suddenly the chapel door opened and an old man with a cane proceeded to walk down the aisle. When this man came to the plaque, not seeing the young preacher in the back pew, he read out loud the words: "On this spot on May 24, 1738, John Wesley's heart was strangely warmed." The old man dropped to his knees and exclaimed, "Do it again, Lord! Do it again for me!"

Time and time again the followers of Jesus have testified to a similar experience and such transformations began on that Day of Pentecost following Jesus' resurrection when his first disciples were moved by the Holy Spirit's flame.  
The Holy Spirit is dependable and worthy of your trust.   So rely on the Spirit to assist you in times of temptation and weakness and fear and confusion.    Practice listening for messages from the Holy Spirit.

Anne Lamott in her best-selling book, Traveling Mercies tells of her fear at the appearance of the slightest mole on her body.  This was because her father had died of a malignant melanoma.  Lamott did not grow up Christian but she started attending, almost by accident (by Holy Spirit) a lively little Presbyterian Church with a small African-American congregation and first began to feel the love of God there.   With funny wit, Lamott confesses that she finally came to her senses about this uncontrollable fear about melanoma and about life in general.   She said to herself one day, “Yes, I do believe in God.”   And she wrote on a scrap of paper these words: "Hey God, I am a little anxious. Help me remember that you are with me. I am going to take my sticky fingers off the control panel until I hear from you." Then she put the note in a drawer of the table next to her bed and surrendered her future to God no matter what.   Jesus sought to assure his disciples that they did not have to have their "sticky fingers" on the control panel of their lives.    Peace I leave with you.   My peace I give to you.   I am sending another to be your Advocate, your Counselor, your Comforter.   This One is always offering peace.  Think of this Spirit wrapping you up securely, tucking you in bed, that kind of comforter.   Think of the Spirit eating dinner with you when you feel alone.  Think of this Spirit filling you with the truth, power, and goodness of Christ so you can be a comforter and truth-bearer for others, an Advocate of the powerless, a counselor to those who need a friend. 

The Spirit is a strangely peaceable powerful presence.   Think of the soothing nature of watching a candle or campfire burn.   Think of the power of the wind to effect change, to move things that are usually stationary.   Trust in the Spirit to breathe life into all the withering, dry places of your life.   Finally, live by the Spirit – boldly free to be a disciple of Christ, not counting the cost.   Make this day a day of new commitment to be spirit-ual, spirit-filled.  Cultivate your ability to listen for the Spirit in nature, in scripture, in prayer, and in those spiritual nudges which are constant.   Even now the Spirit is blowing away all your doubt and fear.   The Spirit is burning away all your complacency, leaving your heart warm and clean.  The ultimate Truth of Life, this trustworthy Spirit of God, is your Comforter, filling you with love and with power and with the grace to live as Christ’s follower.

Let us pray:  Praise and glory to you, creator Spirit of God;
You are truth.   You come like the wind of heaven, unseen, unbidden.
Like the dawn you illumine the world around us;
you grant us a new beginning every day.
You warm and comfort us.
You give us courage and fire and strength beyond our everyday resources.
Be with us, Holy Spirit, in all we say or think,
in all we do, this and every day. Amen.