John 14: 15-21
Center Moreland Charge, May 29, 2011
Do you know what we mean when we talk about the Holy Spirit? What do you think of?
The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, which means that to Christian doctrine, the Holy Spirit is to be understood as God, the same as Jesus and God the creator.
When we invoke the Holy Spirit, however, I think perhaps we invoke more of a mechanism than what for us in our time and place is the presence of God. We want God to reach out to us, we want God’s presence with us, but when it comes it is the Holy Spirit, it is not whatever image we have of the creator God.
We see the Holy Spirit as passive, we see it as almost the puppet strings that God uses to run the world-the leather reins which God uses to direct the horse that is pulling the carriage. For those of the Star Wars generation, they fall into the trap of seeing the Holy Spirit as the Force, a passive energy that can be directed by us to be used for evil or for good.
But that is not what Scripture tells us it is, is it?
The Holy Spirit as talked about today in the passage of John’s Gospel we’ve read talks about the Holy Spirit as an advocate-a teacher of truth, the leader of the Christian community beyond the time of Jesus’ presence-the eternal teacher.
Earlier in John, Jesus tells Nicodemus that those who are born of the Spirit are like the wind, which “blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”
The Holy Spirit is completely outside of our control, and is to be a guide-something to listen to, something to search for, but not something we can bend to your will. There is an old Irish image of the Holy Spirit as a Wild Goose. When I say wild goose, I don’t mean for you to think of the geese that are now camped out at their usual summertime spot along Demunds road between the county line and Marsh Cemetery, though maybe some teaching could be done using the metaphor of needing to slow down in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
No, what they meant was the wild goose that they would hear faintly in the dead of night, honking as they flew. You knew they were there, if you were quiet enough, but you didn’t know where they were coming from, and you didn’t know where they were headed.
This is how the Holy Spirit should be thought of-an independent operator in our lives, and not a tool with which to succeed in life. We are to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit, and we are not to try to lead it ourselves. Have you ever tried to put a harness on a goose?
So, the next question you may have is, “OK, that’s all well and good and poetical, but how?”
How do we listen to the Holy Spirit? How do we seek its’ guidance, and how do we then follow it?
I think there are many ways to receive the promptings of the Holy Spirit. One can read Scripture for wisdom; to study the Bible is to immerse yourself into the language of the Spirit, and lessons can be learned from the stories of the people in it, as well as the advice and commands of Paul, Peter, James, the rest of the epistle writers, and of course, the words of Jesus himself.
One can listen to the voices of experience, people of faith in our community who have lived similar situations, and can tell you what the outcomes were in order that you not make the same mistakes.
But in the end, what it all comes down to is prayer and quiet. The best way to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit is to stop for a time, be quiet, and listen to the welling up of the Holy Spirit within your own heart. Stop, and listen for it like you are seeking to hear the call of the geese flying high above in the still of the night.
Take time to do it, and be honest. Sometimes, it is definitely hard to separate your own hot temper, your own jagged resentments from what the Holy Spirit is prompting you to do, and perhaps it would be nice just once to say that the Holy Spirit is leading you to speak your mind on a matter, and let the chips fall where they may. That is always a mistake, for the Holy Spirit does not ever seek to divide, destroy, or cause hurt. The Holy Spirit is the voice of God, the voice of love, the voice of gentle reason. The Holy Spirit works against our earthly, inconstant, fallible egos, and pushed us toward reconciliation, harmony, peace and justice.
How do we seek to follow the Holy Spirit? We read about the aspects of the Holy Spirit in our Scriptures, we speak about it with our elders and with those who are wise in our lives, and we are quiet. We pray, we sit in a peaceful place and listen for what comes from within like we sit and listen for the cry of a goose in the middle of the night. We judge those upwellings against what we know of God’s love, and peace, and if they match what we know of God, that is our leading.