Sunday, April 14, 2013

Not As Orphans (John 14:12-21)... Holy Sprit Come: Jesus Teaching on the Holy Spirit in John's Gospel (Part 1)

We are starting a new series this morning called ‘Holy Spirit Come’. And we will be looking at John’s teaching on the Holy Spirit, specifically in what is known as the farewell discourse; his teaching at that last supper with his disciples.  We are doing it for two reasons. 

 The first is that there are a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings about the Holy Spirit, which I believe stop us from fully understanding and experiencing the promised presence and power of the Spirit. So it’s good to go back to the source and see what Jesus has to say… and John’s gospel has been called by some ‘the text book on the Holy Spirit’.

The second is that as a church we’ve been talking about renewal this year, because we want to buck the decline trend in churches in the west and grow and be effective in mission.

We started looking at Haggai, ‘Out of the ruins renewal’ and the renewal of priorities, vision and relationship.

We’ve just worked our way through the “I am “statements in John’s gospel, to refresh our vision of the Glory of God revealed in Jesus.  Our passion for the gospel is renewed as we see who Jesus is and what he has done for us.

 At the heart of renewal is allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us; renewal is the work of the Spirit. As a church we have a vision …”we are called to be an authentic, vibrant, sustainable community, growing as followers of Jesus and inspiring others to join us on that Journey” and while we may work at seeing that become a reality, in reality it is the Holy Spirit at work in and through us that makes the church a place of sustainable life and growth.  We inspire others to follow Jesus as we join ourselves to what the spirit is doing in the world around us.

I want to focus today on an introduction… On the question ‘who is the Holy Spirit?’ The passage we had read out to us today is the first of four in John’s gospel that speaks of the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete. So it’s appropriate to use this passage for that purpose. AS I was preparing for this it felt a little bit like an academic theological exercise, but as I focused on the term paraclete, I found myself encountering the Holy Spirit in new and refreshing ways, which I hope you will as well.

Let’s put this passage in its context. Jesus had told his disciples that he was about to die, he’d used the euphemism that he was going away. He then turns to comfort them; firstly he tells them that their ultimate destination is to be with him at his father’s house: That the porch light is always on. When Thomas asks for directions his response is to say “I am the way, the truth and the life’, that it is through his death and resurrection and an on-going relationship with Jesus that we will get to that destination. He goes on then to prepare his disciples for the journey before them, without his physical presence.

The journey will involve us doing the things that Jesus has done. The journey is one of Love, knowing God’s love and expressing our love for Jesus by keeping his commandments. We are called to live the way Jesus says. But it is not a journey we make alone. Jesus said he will ask the father to send another Paraclete, the spirit of truth to be with us and within us. This is the Holy Spirit, the third person of the trinity, God the spirit. If you are a Liverpool fan or a Christian your themes song is “you’ll never walk alone”

The word Paraclete, is a Greek word which literally means ”being called to the side of” or to come alongside.  It specifically is used outside the scriptures to refer to someone who comes alongside to offer assistance in a legal setting.  In many English bibles it is translated via a Latin equivalent as ‘advocate’ or as councillor; Legal counsel that is rather than a therapist. But paraclete does not give the idea of a court official, it’s more a trusted friend,  we probably understand that more these days with people acting as advocates for certain people or causes.

We probably get the best understanding of this title by relating it to “if you Love me keep my commandments”. AS it shows us a Paraclete is a friend who comes alongside, it is out of a love relationship that the Paraclete comes and stays with us. ‘Keep my commandment’ then, gives that legal setting, the paraclete helps us with obey Jesus commandments.

Another word that is often used is ‘comforter’ which we can see as therapeutic but in the old English meant someone who strengthens us.  Maybe in modern terms we’d think of a personal trainer or life coach.

The second thing that helps us understand who the Paraclete is, is the word another. I will ask the father to send another Paraclete. The implication is that we already have one who was sent to come alongside us… Jesus. The Spirit of truth that is sent is like Jesus. Paraclete is used five times in john’s writing four in the gospels to refer to the Holy Spirit and the fifth in 1 John 2:1-2 that says in Jesus we have an advocate, paraclete to plead our case before the Father, as he has given himself as an atoning sacrifice.

Another Paraclete, the spirit of truth, like Jesus, means he is God. Just as Jesus was God in the flesh achieving God’s purposes in the world, The Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, is God present in the world in spirit, achieving God’s purposes. In Zechariah 4:6 Zerubbabel is told “it is not by power, nor by might but by my Spirit say the Lord.’  While the Spirit is at work in the world, as Jesus said the world does not see or know him, because it is only in a relationship with God through what Jesus has done for us that we come to know the Holy Spirit. Theologically Christians speak of God as the trinity, God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three in one. One of John’s assertions about God is that God is Love and this is best expressed in the trinity;  the three people  of the Godhead as community  so perfectly loving  one another hat the only way to describe them is one. The celtic Christians symbolise this in their artwork through their  knot work.

Like Jesus the Spirit is sent from the father, and knows the father and makes know the things of the father to us.
John’s gospel starts with Jesus eternal origins and says that he was active in the creation of the world. In Genesis the Spirit is also present with God in the beginnings and as it says in Genesis 1:2 the Spirit of God was involve in the creation process, it hovered over the face of the deep.  The New Testament has many Trinitarian formulas and cases where the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are talked of as being active in our salvation and our sanctification.

Another Paraclete also tells us that the Holy Spirit is not just sort of star wars force, or the spiritual energy in the world like the Eastern idea of chi. The Holy Spirit Like Jesus is a person. Theologically we refer to God the father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as persons of the trinity.  It means that they are beings, and are knowable. Paraclete has the idea of a friend coming alongside, that we can know the Spirit. The Spirit teaches us, Paul talks of walking with the spirit, that we can grieve the Holy Spirit: It is not just an impersonal force.

The ‘Another Paraclete’, like Jesus was promised and has been part of God’s purpose and plans, it’s not just an innovation from Jesus. In the passage we had read out to us from Isaiah, we see the vision of the future of God’s people was that God would dwell within them by his Spirit. In the Hebrew Scriptures the Holy Spirit is said to fill people for specific tasks and purposes. Now with the coming of Jesus all who believe are to be filled with the Spirit not just the few special people but all of us, not just for a specific task but all the time. John the Baptist in john’s gospel points to Jesus and says “behold the Lamb of God, I baptise in water but he will baptise with the Spirit.”  In Acts 2 the coming of the Spirit in power at Pentecost is seen as a direct fulfilment of scripture,  specifically a prophecy in Joel 2.

As we’ll see as we work through John’s gospel Another Paraclete also means that the work of the Holy Spirit echoes that of Jesus. The Paraclete will lead us into all truth, it will bring to mind what Jesus had said, it will bring Jesus peace, ‘my peace I leave with you’, it will witness to who Jesus is, and enable us to do the same, it will convict the world of sin and their need for God. It will continue doing the things that Jesus did… In fact Jesus worked signs and wonders and was able to love sacrificially because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life, the same spirit that is now in and with us.

Ok how does this connect with us here and know.

Firstly, when Jesus returned to the Father he did not leave us as orphans, He did not leave us friendless.  He sent us another Paraclete like himself. Paul Metzger puts it like this “while Jesus returns home from his short term mission trip soon after the cross and resurrection, he comes right back in love through the Spirit.” God is now able to live within us because we have been put right with God by Jesus death and resurrection.  The amazing reality for us is that God is with us, the whole of all that God is,  is involved in loving and caring and saving us and making us whole and working with and through us to bring about new creation in the world.  .  The Holy Spirit is not just for those super spiritual types The Spirit is for, with and in all of us. So as Paul says be filled with and keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Secondly, one of the things that struck me as I looked at the word Paraclete, was the idea of the Spirit coming alongside. I don’t know about you, but often when people thing of a spirit dwelling with in someone they get the idea of possession, of losing their individuality or will and volition, that somehow the spirit takes over. The Holy Spirit is gentle. One of the images Jesus uses in the gospel is that of being yoked to Christ, pulling together.  The Holy Spirit, comes alongside like a friend, it knows us and we get to know it, to be filed with the Holy Spirit is to allow the spirit to know us and to know the spirit in every part of our lives and walk in step together.

Lastly,  As the same Spirit was in Christ, we are enabled and empowered to do what Christ has done; we can keep his commandments, we can love sacrificially and serve others, and we can see the power of God break into our world.  I’ve often thought of mission and evangelism as scary words something we do in obedience to God, often like a teenager ‘oh do I have to.’   The idea of the paraclete coming alongside revolutionises how we think of Mission.  Missio Dei is a new way that people are starting to understand what God calls us to do in the world. You see the spirit is at work in the world, doing the things Jesus does, and he invites us to go and join him and come alongside to add our efforts to what he is doing.
I love the example of one of the women in our church who was passing her local bakery recently and saw that the baker was throwing out heaps of bread at the end of the day. Now one of the things the Holy Spirit is about is calling us to care for the poor.She went home and rang them and asked if it was possible to give the bread to a local school for a breakfast programme. The baker said he'd be happy to do that... but the school closest to them had said no. The women rang some other schools and found one feeding quite a few children in the mornings before school and arranged for the bread to go there. No flash thus says the lord or anything like that just a simple coming alongside the spirit, and the spirit being alongside us.

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