Jesus presence in the world

Pentecost 2010

John 14:8-17 , 25-27

Marian Free

In the name of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

Language is an interesting and powerful phenomena. It is interesting because it is fluid and alive. Words that meant one thing 100 years ago can, today, mean something quite different. For example, the word “let” which we use to mean “allow, permit”, once meant “prevent or hinder”. Pedantics among us moan about the misuse of language and grammar, but our complaints will make no difference as language continues to move and change around us. Language is powerful because it both describes and defines our realty. We need to be careful with our language for this very reason. On the one hand, we try to ensure that the language we use is adequate to describe the world around us. On the other hand we try to make sure that language that we use doesn’t confine and restrict. What we rather crudely call “political correctness” is, in fact, an attempt not to limit people by the language we use.

For example, few of us today would call someone a “spastic” not only because that became a derogatory term but also because it presumes that their physical condition is all that there is to be known about them. We would now refer to a person with “cerebral palsy” – indicating that they are an individual with a variety of gifts and limitations. They are a person first and their disability is only one part of who they are.

Religious language is not sheltered from these sorts of developments and changes. Many of you will remember that there was a time when we spoke of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. In fact if you were to take a look at the Athenasian Creed at the back of the Prayer Book, you would see that the third person of the Trinity is called the Holy Ghost. I can’t remember when that turned to Holy Spirit, but I can remember a young curate making a joke about Casper the friendly Ghost as he tried to explain that perhaps spirit was a better word for the third person of the Trinity. Somehow, with the passage of  the years, the expression ghost became associated with supernatural beings and therefore less respectable as a term to be used for God.

Ghost or Spirit, the third person of the Trinity is also known as the Paraclete or Advocate as we see in today’s gospel. The early church experienced the Spirit in a variety of ways. The Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove at his baptism but at Pentecost, the Spirit descended on the disciples as tongues of fire. It seems that in the early days the Holy Spirit acted in a variety of ways to empower the disciples and to speak through them and for them. The Spirit provided gifts of leadership, teaching and administration as well as the more dramatic gifts of speaking in tongues and prophesying and was to be known through its fruits. It is through the Spirit that the disciples were able to say “Abba, Father”, and the Spirit interceded with sighs too deep for words for they did not know how to pray as they ought. Paul told the Corinthians that their bodies were the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Language does not seem adequate to completely capture the nature of the Holy Spirit and the experience of the early church.

John’s gospel sheds some light on this problem. As we have seen, chapters 13-17 of John’s gospel form Jesus’ farewell speech to the disciples. Jesus is preparing the disciples for his death and for their life without him. In today’s reading from that gospel, Jesus is reassuring the disciples that they will not be left alone when he goes – he will send them another Advocate to be with them forever. The Advocate – the Holy Spirit was not necessary while Jesus was with them, but now that Jesus is departing, the Holy Spirit will take his place – teaching the disciples and reminding them of everything that Jesus has said to them.

Though Jesus is to depart from the world, he will still be present with and in the disciples in the third person of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit, another Advocate, the spirit of truth. Future generations will not know Jesus in his human form, but they will continue to be guided and taught by the Holy Spirit whom the Father sends. In this way, the Spirit represents “the ongoing presence of the revelation of God in the world[1].”

John’s formulation is very Trinitarian. Jesus in his human form reveals the Father. When he can no longer be present in this way, the Holy Spirit continues the work of empowering and enabling the disciples to do the works that Jesus has done. The Spirit will dwell in the disciples just as the Father dwelt in Jesus. The disciples, those who believe in Jesus, in some way become part of the relationship between the three members of the Trinity. The Spirit will be in them, they will do the works that Jesus did, Jesus and the Father will be revealed through them.

Jesus has radically changed how we understand God. In the Old Testament God was known to be present in the fire and in the cloud, God spoke to the prophets and entered into debate with Abraham and Moses. In Jesus, however, God physically entered into the world. In the Holy Spirit God remains not only in the world but in each one of us. Our relationship with God is personal and intimate because of the presence of God within us. If we open ourselves to that presence, we will be led by the Holy Spirit in all that we do and say. If we allow the presence of God to work within us, then God’s presence will continue to be known to the world.

At different times in our lives our experience of the Spirit may be dramatic or it may be restrained. There may be times when we are aware of our hearts burning within us, times when we know the deep peace that Jesus promised, times when we are forced to depend on the Spirit because we have no other source of strength and times when the Spirit impels us to do things we did not think we could possibly do.

Jesus says that has not left us orphans. Neither has he left us powerless. He continues to be with us and in us through the Holy Spirit and he has empowered us to do not only the works that he has done, but greater works beside.

Just imagine how different the world would be if each of us took Jesus’ promise seriously and gave the Spirit reign in our lives to continue Jesus’ work in the world.


[1] Moloney, Francis, J. The Gospel of John. Minnesota:The Liturgical Press,1998, 401.

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