Jesus and the Holy Spirit
Genesis 1.1-11, John 14.15-30
I was reflecting on this many times during my recent time away. I find the idea of the Trinity very difficult at times, but of course only because I am not very imaginative and the whole concept is very complex. I did wonder if I should talk about the effect of sublimation on mixed substances and the interactions of proteins, sugars and salts. Well it just made me think in my business life I covered some pretty complex issues of science so why should religion ever prove to be a problem. I’ve come to a conclusion that putting any sort of constraints on God is just silly. So he came to earth in human form as Jesus and when Jesus left in human form, there was to be a spirit in his place.
It’s probably worth reinforcing the concept of the Holy Spirit as it comes to us from the Greek, Paraclete. Let’s just say comforter doesn’t quite give a good explanation and the one I prefer is: “someone who stands alongside you in times of need”. Helper, advisor, councillor, advocate all have their meanings but a single word for me just doesn’t quite cut it. But make no mistake, the Spirit is not someone else or indeed something else but just God in a different form. Just as ice, steam and water are all the same things chemically, H2O, so we can imagine a deity as being, well just anything. Christianity is special amongst any of the world’s religions. The person who we believe in, Jesus Christ, is God. He’s not just a prophet, though he carried out many of the works of prophets, he is God but came to earth in a form recognisable to us.
And this is not something new, something dreamt up because from the very beginning of the Hebrew Bible we hear in Genesis that the Spirit moved across the waters. Many religions have a need for comforters. These might be in the form or statues, or relics, or artistic interpretations, visions, dreams, stories – all there to add some credibility. And of course in the time of Christ on earth, the Romans and the Greeks had many gods which had some dominance in their lives. Christianity itself is not immune from some of these ideas. Yet the baby born in Bethlehem stirred the known world of that time, kings were anxious, astrologers travelled great distances to observe. The prophet that was baptised by John was soon recognised as someone very special – the messiah. And the works and preachings of this messiah have been recorded and given to us as a testament. But that is not enough. This messiah, this Jesus, gave his life to save us and God gave that life back after 3 days. That is the uniqueness of our Christian story.
So in our passage from John’s gospel we are told out of our love for Jesus we will keep his commandments and to help us we will have a helper, a Paraclete, the Spirit of truth. Jesus was preparing his followers for a time when he would no longer be physically with them. You know that should not surprise any of us. When I go away, which I do just very occasionally, I make sure everything is prepared at home and also that help is at hand if needed when I am not there. But this parallel is not quite fair. This Spirit of truth as we are told will not be seen by the world. Surely that’s only to say to receive a gift from God you have to have your mind and your eyes open. All God’s gifts are freely given to those who are open to receive them. It is clear from v17 that the Spirit is to be with us and in us.
Jesus closest followers had observed a completely new way of life, thoughts that were to change the world. And what does the world do? Well, as in our time, part of it rebels. It’s kind of a natural human instinct or reaction. In Jesus’s time, those most worried were the religious elite, those who had built for themselves a nice living and for them, no-one was going to disturb it. What a pity that in much of our world today Christianity is not so much threatened by rebellion but by apathy and indifference.
There is a lot about love in our passage. It is clear love for Jesus is love for God, there is no distinction. This is a love that is infectious, so it is also a love for each other and for the world in which we live. We are back to the Greek here, but let’s be clear the word love here is not that of affection but more of care and respect and we can show that by obeying the commandments. It’s all about trust and if we do that then we will receive God’s love in equal measure. It’s all about commitment, about priorities. So this is very much a two way action. The answer Jesus gives to Judas confirms that. It reinforces what we heard earlier. Love is such an interesting word but if I dare to give an example of life, those who have a dog which they treat with care and respect will have that returned, even though there is no verbal communication. Love shown to a pet is by action and interaction.
Jesus prepares his closest followers for his departure, though they do not quite understand that. Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher. Disciples are learners and the Spirit is to be part of that on-going process. That’s surely true right up to this day and beyond. Every day as we grow in our faith, we will have questions and doubts and difficulties. Please don’t think you are strange to be like this. Many clergy have acknowledged that they have been in such a position. But the Spirit moves and guides and helps and comforts, not in a physical way but in showing us God’s way.
I find v27 the highlight of this passage from John: “peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you”. Probably most of us think of peace as the absence of war and that is correct but the peace Jesus refers to here is perhaps better understood as “shalom” which is peace, health and well-being. We can see the trouble in the disciples faces as they sense Jesus, whom they have known such a short time, will be leaving them. So this is the second part of God’s gifts to his followers by Jesus. We have the Holy Spirit and we have peace. That word peace has become so important to us. It is an integral part of our Eucharist when we share it with one another.
Yet I know some people find this very difficult, perhaps because there’s something in our time which is not authentic, perhaps because we are reserved and don’t go putting our mitts out without a bit more thought. Let’s separate the action of sharing peace with the thought behind. We will receive a blessing at the end, one of several functions reserved for a priest …. And the peace of God. You know I rather like saying hallo to everyone I pass. When I’m away it’s one of the signs as to whether hotel staff are well trained when the acknowledge you. Yet when you cross the pond the greeting goes a step further: “hallo how are you” and that’s starting to come here but I find that a bit hollow sometimes because it’s so mechanical and the answer is not really important. I was wicked enough once to respond: “I have terminal cancer” but the reply came back just the same: “have a nice day”. When we greet people as Christians, it must be different. When we share that special peace which Jesus has now given to his disciples, it really does have to mean something.
We learn lots from this passage. We are to live by God’s commandments. That is our way of returning some of the Father’s love. We are to have the Spirit to guide, help and support us. And we are to be given God’s greeting of peace and well being. All this for us now is to give us the support we need in life. Every day we face challenges and these will be different for each of us. In the past weeks, there have been many friends who we will see no more and funerals are occasions when we can rejoice in someone’s life. Yet we are not all born to be famous or pillars of society. Each of us is called or drawn in different ways. No army can fight if it’s all generals, yet similarly soldiers without a leader make no progress. This is also a great time for reflection, just as I have done looking out over the waves of the Andaman Sea.
As we think of the gift of the Spirit let us pause in prayer:
Lord Jesus thank you that you do not leave us desolate; pour out your Spirit to strengthen, comfort and advise us that the world may know than you live in us and we in you.