Listen to the audio of today’s Reflection:
I’m trying to catch my breath a little this week after the hustle of Holy Week, so we’ll be re-posting a few past Reflections. This one was originally posted on April 22, 2019. Thanks for your patience with these re-runs.
Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit
15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”
23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30 I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, 31 but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.
Today’s Gospel reading comes from John’s account of the Last Supper. In this part of the reading, Jesus promises that God will send the Holy Spirit into the world to be with the church forever. Obviously, a seven-or-eight-minute Bible Reflection doesn’t allow us to say all that needs to be said about the Holy Spirit, but a couple of the things Jesus says about the Spirit in this passage seem especially important for us to give some thought to.
First of all, look at how Jesus describes the Spirit in this passage. He says that the Spirit will be “another Counselor.” The fact that he uses the word “another” here suggests that Jesus regarded the Holy Spirit as continuing to do the same work that he himself was doing when he was among us in human form. You might remember that Jesus says in several places that his own work is the work of the father. So what Jesus says in today’s passage really seems to express the idea that there’s a tremendous continuity about God’s work – past, present and future. So when the Holy Spirit works in our lives, molding and shaping us and causing its fruit to ripen within us (fruit listed as “love, joy, peace, goodness, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”), that Spirit is doing the same work God has been doing since time began.
The other particularly interesting thing Jesus says here is found in verse 26. Jesus says the Spirit will “teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said to you.” This suggests that the Spirit will be continuing to show us how the teachings of Jesus are to be applied in the changing circumstances of our lives. The time came in Christian history when the Spirit told us, for instance, that we should no longer tolerate slavery. At another time, many of us believe, the Spirit told us that women are no longer to be subordinate to men. Obviously, not everyone came to the same understanding at the same moment – just look at the Civil War and the continuing disagreement in various denominations about the role of women in the church. What seems like the movement of the Spirit to some people can seem completely mistaken to others.
I recently attended a workshop led by John Bell of the Iona Community on the Isle of Iona off the coast of Scotland. The theme of the workshop was how we might celebrate and reflect on the role of the Holy Spirit in our worship. In the course of his time with us, John handed out a list of ten things most people don’t know about the Holy Spirit. Here they are:
Number One: Half of the world understands the Holy Spirit to be male, and the other half understands her to be female. (In both Hebrew and Greek, the word for “Spirit” is a feminine form.)
Number Two: The first appearance of the Holy Spirit was not on Pentecost. (You can find references to the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, including occasions where David said the Holy Spirit was speaking through him.)
Number Three: The Holy Spirit takes considerable interest in the financial accountability of Christians. (The story of Annanias and Saphira in the fifth Chapter of Acts makes that abundantly plain.)
Number Four: The Holy Spirit has demonstrated a desire to expose “fake news.” (In John 16, Jesus says the Spirit will “Guide [us] into all truth.”)
Number Five: The Holy Spirit is the primary agent by which God effects that frightening thing called “change.” (Acts 10 tells about the Spirit’s role in wiping out the kosher laws for followers of Jesus.)
Number Six: The Holy Spirit sometimes works through a committee. (In Acts 15, the Spirit guides a committee of leaders on how gentile Christians are to live out their faith.)
Number Seven: The Holy Spirit is sometimes a comforter, but is also sometimes a troublemaker for the Lord’s purposes. (You’ll find an example in I Samuel, chapter 11.)
Number Eight: As one of the three persons of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit has an appreciation for diversity. (The twelfth chapter of I Corinthians talks about the different gifts given to believers.)
Number Nine: The Holy Spirit does not operate only through Christians. (In Isaiah chapter 61, the Spirit speaks through Isaiah.)
And Number Ten: The Holy Spirit has been enabling beauty and artistry since the people of Israel were wandering in the desert. (You’ll find an example in Exodus 35.)
So there you are: It turns out there’s more to the Holy Spirit than lots of us tend to think
Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit, your continuing presence at work in the world today. Help us to open ourselves to that Spirit, and to listen for its teaching in our lives. Let that Spirit empower us in our service to you, and let it transform us in the image of Jesus. Amen.
(The other readings for today are Psalms 98 and 146; Isaiah 30:18-26; and Acts 2:36-47.)