The Holy Spirit and the Church

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

This Sunday’s Readings are:
Acts 16:9-15
Psalm 67
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
John 14: 23-29

Click here to access these readings.

This morning we hear about the Advocate; or, in other translations, the Encourager or Comforter.  These translations lead to the joke that those who don’t go to church on Sunday morning and sleep in are “attending the church of the Holy Comforter.”  But all these words – the advocate, the encourager, the comforter, even the friend – all of these are translations of the single Greek word paraklete, or paraklaytos.  Jesus will soon ascend to sit at the right hand of God the Father and no longer be among humans.  And another, someone who the Father will send in Christ’s name, will come to teach, to lead, to remind the disciples of what Jesus said; to encourage, to comfort, to advocate; to paraklete. 

        Now, in John’s gospel, Jesus pretty clearly identifies this paraklete as the Holy Spirit.  But following the crucifixion, there were a number of people who stood up and said, “Oh, that paraklete guy, yeah that’s me.  I’m the one who can interpret what Jesus said.  I’m the one who will continue his teaching.  I’m the one who understood Jesus, not that other guy over there.  Listen to me, not to him.”  And we see a bit of this infighting in Acts and the epistles, and especially in 1 Corinthians, where some say they’re with Paul, and others to Apollos.  This is something that was happening rather often in the first century, and it’s something that’s happened ever since.

        Now, we always have to be cautious of someone who says that they speak directly for God.  We can interpret God’s word for us, sure.  We can discern what God may mean by his presence in our lives, yes.  But we come to some pretty shaky ground when we think that God gave me these specific words to tell you

        And, sure, we can enter into this way of thinking pretty naturally and innocently.  God really is present in our lives, talking to us, guiding us, and loving us into the fullness of Being.  God is concerned with us – that’s all of us as a group and as a people – and with us, each and everyone, individually.  I believe that God called me, Timothy Robert Hannon, born in New Jersey husband to Helene and father of Gwendolyn and Fiona, to be a priest in his church.  Through thoughtful prayer and discernment, through looking at God’s voice to me in my life and through talking to others about it, I actually think that God led me to be a priest and to stand up here each and every week to tell you all that God’s word to you is LOVE.  I do believe that.

        But the question isn’t whether or not God is present in our lives but in how God is present in our lives.  Again and again, we hear in the Bible about how God is present to people – but how is God present?  Most often, when God reveals himself, it is to a group of people: the Israelites in Exodus as they fled from Egypt, or to two men on the road to Emmaus, or to all the disciples when they were mourning the loss of their beloved teacher and friend.

        And when God reveals himself to just one person, it is always at the service of the community.  Why does God reveal himself to Moses in the burning bush?  Not to make Moses feel important or good about himself, or because he really just likes Moses and doesn’t want to talk to the rest of the rabble.  No, it’s to equip and inform Moses so that he can go into Egypt and lead an entire people from slavery.  And Jesus comes to Peter after the Resurrection not just to guilt him and make him feel bad, but why?  What does Jesus tell him, three times, to do?  Feed my sheep.  Peter, get out there and feel my sheep. 

        Now, an introvert, this aspect of the Bible and the Christian life used to make me feel uncomfortable.  I like being alone.  I like sitting down with a good book on a stormy, rainy day.  I like sitting out at the shore and just quietly watching the ocean.  And I like these things, because I’m filled by them.  I meet God in them.  God is present in the quiet, and I believe that God heals me and nurtures me in the quiet.  And, in many ways, I think that my relationship with God was built during the beautiful, quiet moments, alone, just me and my God.

        But when we seek to understand what God is trying to say, when we seek to know God’s will in our lives and in the world, when we hope for and in the kingdom, we do this in community as the Church.  That’s the real reason we in the Episcopal Church have so many committees and delegations and conventions.  Often we get lost in them, thinking that the BAC or the vestry or the convention is really important because we get together and not that we get together because together we can more fully and completely hear God speaking to us.  We gather together each Sunday and on days throughout the week not just to do our own personal, individual prayers alone, but this time just with someone sitting next to us doing her own personal, individual prayers.  No, we come together so that we may bring each of our needs, our hopes, our yearnings, our loves, and our joys together, together before God.  And after we pray together, hear the Bible together, and join together in the Eucharist, then we go out, separate but together, to bring the love of God into a needy and despairing world.

        And this work of the Church is the work of the Spirit.  For there’s a reason that, in the Creeds, the parts that deal with the Holy Spirit all have to do with the community that is the Church.  Think about it.  The Creeds begin with God the Father and creation.  Then they move to God the Son, which is all about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and what that life, death, and resurrection did to bring salvation to us all.  And the next part, that third part, is about the Spirit, and it’s about the Church.  It’s about the good, everyday, sun-up and sun-down work of today, which is the life of the Church.  And this work is life.  It is the worship and glory of living a life to God, of the encouragement of the prophets, of Baptism and the forgiveness of sins, and of the Resurrection of the dead in the world to come.  In all, the Holy Spirit is the giving of life to our community and, through this community, through the Church, to the world.  The Holy Spirit is life.

        Soon it will be Pentecost.  Just two weeks and it will be green season again.  And we call this long season “the season of Pentecost” because it is the season of the Church, of the movement of the Spirit not just in our hearts but in all our hearts, individually and collectively.  It is the season when we all listen to the word of God and live a life not just dedicated to good works or good programs, but a life dedicated to the burning center of all existence: God the Almighty, God the Encourager, the Advocate, the Friend, the Comforter.  God the giver of life, love, and hope.


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