John 14:25-26 – The Spirit’s Ministry

Holy Spirit

“I have spoken these things to you while I am with you. The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you. (CEB) 

“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (ESV) 

“I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you.” (MSG) 

“All this I have spoken while still with you. 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. (NIV) 

These things have I spoken unto you, while yet abiding with you. But the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you. (ASV) 

“These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (RSV) 

Calvin Holy Spirit quote

We are now in the season of “Ordinary Time” or “Proper Time” in the Church Year. It is “ordinary” in the sense that the Holy Spirit has been given to do the “proper” ongoing work of growing believers in Christ and helping them live into his directives. The Spirit is our Teacher, cultivating and stirring-up within us all that we need for the Christian life. 

As you can see from the various English translations of today’s Gospel verses, there is no uniform rendering of the original Greek word, “Paraclete.” That is because this word for the Spirit is so rich and full that it is difficult to encompass what it means with a single English word. 

A straightforward literal translation of “Paraclete” needs a phrase rather than a word: “Called alongside for encouragement,” fairly-well translates the word. All the various words used in the different versions of the New Testament are accurate – yet they merely bring out one dimension to the understanding of the Holy Spirit’s ministry. Our needs as followers of Jesus are many – thus requiring a multi-faceted mentoring ministry by the Spirit. 

“Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.” –Corrie Ten Boom 

The Spirit was sent to be with Christians continually as their Teacher, reminding them of all Jesus has said and done as the ultimate witness to Christ’s life and ministry. So, the role of the Holy Spirit is providing aid for Christians, especially in difficult situations; the Spirit helps in a time of need. The force of “Paraclete” is even more than this because there is also the dimension of the Spirit being our close companion, as well. Indeed, it is a special friend who stands up for us, advocates on our behalf, gives us remedial teaching, and brings comfort. In other words, the Holy Spirit is motivated (just like the Father and the Son) with love for us.  

Whatever we need, the Holy Spirit is something of a divine concierge in the middle of adversity who is attentive to every need. The true difficulty in describing the Spirit’s ministry with us is that the Spirit is God – and no amount of description will adequately get our minds around the Spirit. God is much too big for that. All metaphors, images, and words fall short of genuinely expressing the Spirit’s immense work. 

Perhaps a story will better illustrate the Spirit’s nature and work. When my girls were small and I was a financially struggling seminarian, we were one evening down to our last bit of food. Although they thought it was a privilege to eat Wheaties for supper, my wife and I knew the cupboard was now bare. So, we prayed. As we got up from our knees and started off for bed, there was a knock at our patio back door. We looked at each other wondering who in the world it could be at such a late hour. When I drew the shades, one of our neighbors, a little Puerto Rican woman, was outside holding what appeared to be more than her own body weight in overflowing grocery bags. As I ushered her in and before I could say a word, she said this: “I went to bed and just fallen into a deep sleep. But the Holy Spirit woke me up and told me to take as many groceries as I could carry to you. So, here I am.” 

In that moment, I knew in my head and felt in my heart a ministry of the Spirit which transcends language. What is more, the next morning our girls learned something about God that they would never get from listening to their Dad’s teaching and preaching. I must also add that this is a story which gets retold often because it reminds us of how God meets us in our need and how much God cares. 

Through such encounters with the Spirit (and I have mercifully been granted many of them!) I begin to understand and appreciate the wisdom of the saints throughout the ages: 

“When the grace of the Holy Spirit enters a soul and is established there, it gushes forth more powerfully than any other spring; it neither ceases, dries up, nor is exhausted. And the Savior, to signify this inexhaustible gift of grace, calls it a spring and a torrent; He also calls it gushing water, to indicate its force and impetus.” –St. John Chrysostom 

May you know the ministry of the Spirit, inside and out, in all ways and in all circumstances. 

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit,
That my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit,
That my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit,
That I love only what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit,
To defend all that is holy.
Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit,
That I always may be holy. Amen. 

–A Prayer of St. Augustine 

1 Corinthians 12:4-13 – For the Common Good

spiritual gifts

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (NRSV)

A gift is meant to be unpacked. It would be weird if someone was given a gift, then let it sit unopened. Instead, we typically receive the gift, rip it open, and express gratitude for the thoughtfulness. Then, we use and enjoy it.

The Spirit, likewise, has been marvelously given to God’s people. Each individual Christian is specially provided a gift to open, use, and enjoy. Spiritual gifts graciously given to us are meant for the common good of all. And this use for the common good is where the gift is different than Christmas or birthday presents.

Spiritual gifts are designed by God to be acts and words of service, dispersed for the benefit of others. They are not meant solely for personal satisfaction. So, if a person’s spiritual gift is teaching, they do not stand in front of a mirror and talk at themselves. Instead, they jump into the fray of learning and explaining, and do it in such a gracious and loving way that the enabling of the Spirit is evident.

If a person’s gift is faith, they do not merely step out and act with unusual courage for the purpose of personal betterment in a holy belief from God. They also demonstrate faithfulness to God’s people and to God’s world. The gift is for the common good of all persons.

Spiritual gifts are intended by God to be shared freely for the common good of all people so that everyone is supported for the rigors of daily life in the world.

Therefore, we are to take initiative in identifying our gift(s), unpacking them, and indiscriminately using them.  Spiritual health and wholeness can only truly be realized through everyone’s active participation in distributing their God-given abilities. Spiritual gifts are neither to be hoarded, nor miserly dealt to only people I like or my own little world of groupies and friends. Any and every ability comes from God, and is, therefore given for the benefit of all persons. Underprivileged groups need the gifts of others, as well as discovering their own resources so that everyone is built up in a society of redeemed persons.

In addition, mavericks are not helpful here. The Lone Ranger is not to be the model of aspiration. Christians are the Body of Christ, meant to function as one. Just as the Holy Trinity of divine three persons – Father, Son, and Spirit – work together in unity of purpose and harmony of being, so the persons of the Church are to unify and act as one in the mission of God. Diversity of gifts are to be expressed in unity of building up others and extending Christ’s love to the world. When we harmoniously coordinate our joint efforts in utilizing our collective spiritual gifts, the world is turned upside-down with kingdom grace and ethics.

Sometimes we might succumb to “gift envy.” We observe the talented gift of another and secretly wish it for ourselves. The proper remedy to such a malady is gratitude. When we give thanks to God for the gift(s) we truly possess, then envy has nowhere to reside and slithers away. None of God’s gifts are “sexy” in the sense that they come easily without effort and always look appealing. On the contrary, our gifts are meant to be received and developed with lots of daily mundane work so that we live into the special endowment bestowed upon us. This, in fact, takes a lifetime of development because the Spirit’s gifts are so generously large – much bigger than we originally observe at first glance. Like an engagement ring in a tiny box, receiving the gift and putting it on will involve commitments and challenges we cannot at the time perceive.

Whatever it is you do well, do it to the glory of God. Allow God to activate it and energize it for the prevailing needs of a church and a world which is in want of seeing spiritual fruit manifest in kindness, goodness, and love.

O Lord, you have taught me that without love, whatever I do is worth nothing.  Send your Holy Spirit and pour into my heart your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

John 14:15-17 – Love and the Trinity

Trinity Love

[Jesus said] “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 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.” (NIV)

“The best love is the kind that awakens the soul and makes us reach for more, that plants a fire in our hearts and brings peace to our minds.”–Noah, from the movie, The Notebook

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7)

Love makes the world go around. Love is the invisible spiritual and emotional atom giving our lives substance, energy, and meaning. God is that atom, constantly creating love within himself in an explosion of attentive fatherly protons, gracious messianic neutrons, and active Spirit electrons.

In this post Day of Pentecost time, as well as the anticipation of Trinity Sunday, we are reminded of the connection between God the Son, God the Father, and God the Spirit. Yes, as today’s Gospel lesson demonstrates to us, Christians serve a triune God – one God in three persons. Many metaphors have been attempted (attempt is the right term for my atom analogy) to try and explain the Trinity. The truth is, although some images are helpful, they all fall short. That is because I can no more explain God than I can explain my wife and daughters. Just as females are an enigma to males, so God moves, acts, and speaks in ways that are ofttimes puzzling to humanity. Maybe that is why Jesus said the world does not discern or accept the Holy Spirit. Far too many folks like nice tidy answers to clear questions. Jesus babbling about some person living in us appears highly nonsensical to a chunk of humanity.

So, for me, I continually come back to what I know and understand about the Trinity: It is an intimate fellowship of love. In love, the Father and the Son have sent the Spirit to be with us forever – the Spirit of truth. In a world where evidence-based reasoning typically eschews any sort of intuitive knowledge, there are many learned people who believe spiritual matters are best left to guys like me. Yet, we severely truncate our ability to know anything if our epistemic presuppositions are bereft of knowledge beyond our five senses. For Christians and many other spiritually sensitive people, we discern there are senses beyond taste, touch, sight, smell, and hearing. Indeed, for those with spiritual eyes to see and ears to hear, there is a vast multi-dimensional world far above and beyond the habitation of our three-dimensional space. And love binds it all together.

I once asked an extremely secular-minded friend about love. He talked of loving words and actions that are derived from biological instinct and well-developed brain chemistry. After he spoke at some length about this, I simply asked him, “Does that kind of understanding about love help you in your relationships, especially with your girlfriend?” He looked at me like I had caught him with his hand in the cookie jar. “It doesn’t – and we are not doing so well in our relationship.”

I am not here to make digs at secular thinkers. In fact, I deeply appreciate the many friends I have whose worldviews are quite different than mine. I just have personally discovered that the Bible rings true for me (and it did not for many years when I was younger) and that the Trinity is a reality because of the Holy Spirit’s witness of truth in me.

Trinity Love 2

Love is a matter of the gut and the head as well as the heart. Love can no more be relegated to limited spheres of being than a mule can be tamed with nicely asking him to settle down. Love is much too big, expansive, and powerful to be contained. So, it resides within God because God is the only Being which can hold it. God’s words and actions are not merely loving – God himself is love. And God lovingly bestows that love to us in measures and in ways we can absorb it and know it. Just as people can die of a broken heart, so their hearts can burst if filled with such overwhelming love. The Father and the Son have graciously given the Spirit to be a kind of steward of love within us – dispensing love with great care and attention in ways we feel it and may not be able to explain it with words.

I take great solace in the fact that the Holy Spirit is my Advocate. We all have times in our lives when we just cannot seem to get anywhere – or do not have the ability to express what we want. In such times, we need an advocate, someone who has the weight to be heard by others – someone who has our back when we are experiencing limitations. The Spirit is such a person. And the Spirit advocates for us in loving ways for all parties involved. The only thing impossible for God is to be unloving and unkind; it is not in his nature. Because of divine love, God sent the Son, then the Spirit, to be with us forever so that we would never be alone and always have someone to champion our well-being.

Living in obedience to the God of Love is sheer joy and delight. Laboring for the Lord seems almost effortless when we have a true vision of God high above, surveying all creation with eyes of love for his people – as well as a vision of God below and right next to us, listening with rapt attention to our every word and himself delighted with each movement we make.

Look upon us, O Lord, and let all the darkness of our souls vanish before the beams of your brightness. Fill us with holy love, and open to us the treasures of your wisdom. All our desires are known to you, therefore, perfect what you have begun and what your Spirit has awakened us to ask in prayer. Turn your face toward us and show us your great love and glory. Then shall our longings be satisfied, and our peace shall be perfect.

–A Prayer of St. Augustine, 354–430 CE

Psalm 104:24-35 – Listening to Creation

creation beauty

O Lord, how manifold are your works! 
    In wisdom have you made them all; 
    the earth is full of your creatures. 
Here is the sea, great and wide, 
    which teems with creatures innumerable, 
    living things both small and great. 
There go the ships, 
    and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.  

These all look to you, 
    to give them their food in due season. 
When you give it to them, they gather it up; 
    when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. 
When you hide your face, they are dismayed; 
    when you take away their breath, they die 
    and return to their dust. 
When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, 
    and you renew the face of the ground. 

May the glory of the Lord endure forever; 
    may the Lord rejoice in his works, 
who looks on the earth and it trembles, 
    who touches the mountains and they smoke! 
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; 
    I will sing praise to my God while I have being. 
May my meditation be pleasing to him, 
    for I rejoice in the Lord. 
Let sinners be consumed from the earth, 
    and let the wicked be no more! 
Bless the Lord, O my soul! 
Praise the Lord! (ESV) 

The earth is a complex ecosystemalive and teeming with all kinds of creatures and exuberant nature. All of creation knows and depends on its Creator. The earth bears its Creator’s fascination. The world is wonderfully intricateits vast natural systems working in sync to flourish across the earth. All creation lives with confidence in God’s sustaining grace. Humanity, along with the rest of creation, is to sing and praise the God who has made life possible by means of his powerful Spirit. 

This same Spirit which worked in creation, animates all creatures, and has left the imprint of God’s likeness on humans, is the very same Spirit which came upon the little band of believers at Pentecost, as well as being the very same Spirit which is given to you and me as followers of Jesus. Just as we listen to the ancient voices of Holy Scripture lift up the name of Jesus; and, just as we listen for the Holy Spirit to guide us in the name of Jesus Christ, so we are to listen to the voice of creation praise God. 

In a society expectant of all things fast – fast food, fast cars, fast service, fast everything – there is something profoundly spiritual about slowing down to listen to God’s Spirit speaking through God’s creation. Even though it is a hard circumstance, recent implementations of sheltering in place and quarantines can equally be a gift to us. It affords the opportunity to slow down and listen.  

Today when you eat your meals, I invite you to take the time to chew slowly, thanking God in a rhythm of praise which is connected to the gratitude of each bite. Connect with the reality that eating comes from the earth’s generosity. When walking the dog, do it slowly, listening to the sounds of creation around you. Hear the wind blowing, the trees swaying, the water rushing, the birds singing. They all give praise and adoration to the God who is pleased to fill creation with his glory. 

The lack of listening, the refusal to truly hear, was with Adam and Eve at the fall of humanity. Ever since, people have been tainted with spiritual deafness. Opening to the sounds of creation can reopen us to our divine image, which has never been lost – perhaps just buried so deep within that we are many times not in touch with it. Listening to creation also enables us to hear how it groans under humanity’s poor stewardship of the earth. The whole of creation is always singing; it is just a matter of whether we are listening, or not. 

When spending time in nature, ask yourself: How is God’s glory and love reflected in what he has made? In what way is your hope renewed or your heart stirred in response? How might I be a proper and faithful steward of this earth around me? Do I feel a connection with the land? Why, or why not? 

sunrise prayer

Every morning for generations, the Native American Iroquois people have greeted the dawn with thanksgiving. 

“It is an honor to be a human being and to have been invited into the circle of Creation,” they say to the Creator. Beginning with the grass and the trees, the Iroquois express gratitude for the other plants, the water, the wind, the sun, the moon, and the stars.  

I myself have also found a deep connection with God in his creation in the morning. Greeting the Creator as well as the oak trees and lilac bushes near my home give me the ability to frame my upcoming day with awareness. As I am present and mindful to creation, so I find myself more present and aware to the people who need my focused attention. 

Sadly, there are people who have never known the joy of walking barefoot through the grass; the wonder of staring into the night sky full of stars; and, silence to hear the voice of God. There are whole segments of our global family who have never had clean water or enough to eat. There are people who have lost their very identity because of exploitation of resources and greed. So, we need to connect with creation. We must discern that our connection with created things fosters a stronger and deeper connection to our fellow humanity. 

For when we observe the beauty in all things, we train ourselves to see the beauty in others. And where there is beauty, there is appreciation, gratefulness, and compassionate care. God speaks to us through his creation. Nature is our teacher. Let’s make sure and treat her with the respect and care she deserves. 

He Qi St Francis
St. Francis talking to the birds. By artist He Qi

Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor,
and all blessing. 

To You alone, Most High, does all creation belong. 

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through Brother Sun,
bringing us the day and giving us light.
He is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Most High, he bears your likeness. 

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful. 

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures. 

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water.
She is very useful, humble, precious, and pure. 

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night. He is beautiful
and playful and robust and strong. 

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth.
She sustains us and governs us; she produces
varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs. 

Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned. 

Praised be You, my Lord,
through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no living person can escape. 

Woe to those who die in sin.
Blessed are those whom death will
find in Your most holy will,
for the second death shall do them no harm. 

Let all creation praise and bless my Lord,
and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility. Amen. 

–A Prayer from St. Francis of Assisi