Posts Tagged ‘Spirit’

Never alone

May 20, 2017

Easter 6 – 2017

John 14:15-21

Marian Free

 

In the name of God who is with us and in us even in the moments of our darkest despair. Amen.

(Imagine the preacher bursting into song)

“Hallelujah! not as orphans,

are we left in sorrow now;

hallelujah! he is near us,

faith believes, nor questions how.”

 

For reasons unknown, this half verse of the hymn “Hallelujah! sing to Jesus”, resonated with my childhood self. While I knew all the words to “There was a green hill far away” it was the line “not as orphans” that would come to mind at unexpected moments and take me back to the safety and security of the gathered congregation of my youth and the experience of the assurance and comfort of my faith.

I have no idea why these words had such power. I was not (and at 60 years old am still not) an orphan. My life has been extraordinarily blessed. Even now I can say that I have known very little of the sorrow and loss that is an inescapable part of life.

So why, I wonder, did I feel such a strong connection with those words? I suspect that the answer lies in the very negative images associated with being orphaned. It conjures up images of children bereft of love being raised in children’s homes or worse seeking out some form of living on the streets. The phrase “being orphaned” leads us to imagine a life without the security of home and family and having to shift for ourselves with no protection from the harsh realities of the world.

So even though my family remained in tact, the promise of the words has given me the assurance that no matter what happens I will never, ever be alone. In all the circumstances I can have confidence that Jesus will be with me and will never abandon me.

No doubt this was Jesus’ intention when he spoke these words to the disciples when he prepared them for his departure. As we saw last week, the disciples are troubled and confused. They seem to be uncertain as to what they might do if Jesus leaves them. In response Jesus assures them that the connection that they have with them will not be broken even if he is not physically present with them. In today’s gospel, Jesus extends this idea by promising them that they will not be alone when he goes. He will send them the Spirit. Just as he (Jesus) abides in them, so the Spirit will abide in them. It will be, he promises, as if they never separated.

It is in the midst of this, the second unit in Jesus’ farewell speech, that Jesus assures the disciples that they will not be left as orphans. For Jesus’ listeners this would have been an emotionally charged statement. Orphans and widows were the most vulnerable members of Israelite society. There was no social welfare. There were no children’s homes. Widows and orphans were completely dependent on the goodness of others or entirely reliant on their own resources.

The strength of Jesus’ statement is increased by its position in this section of the speech. These seven verses have been structured in such a way that the short sentence about being orphaned falls right in the middle. What is more the sentences either side repeat the same ideas in reverse. That is, there are three ideas that are presented in parallel around the central idea that the disciples will not be abandoned[1]. (This is typical of the Farewell Speech in which the various units are made up of a “spiral of thought” in which the last idea is similar to the first and so on.)

In other words the section looks like this. It is framed by the notion that the love of Jesus and keeping the commandments go hand in hand (14: 15, 21). Within this frame is, first of all the idea that the disciples will be connected with Jesus forever (14:16 – through the Spirit, 14:20 – through the mutual indwelling of Jesus and within that again, the concept that the world will not be able to receive the Spirit or see Jesus (14:17, 14:19). Then in the very middle of this cluster of ideas is the promise that the disciples will not be orphaned.

The sub-text is clear, do not be afraid, do not worry, you will never, ever be alone.

In the midst of the trouble and turmoil of this world, we are promised – not that we will never come to harm – but that in our darkest moments, at the times when we feel that God is far from our reach, we have not and will not be abandoned. God is with us – Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier, Father, Son and Spirit. No matter what life throws at us we will not face it without God by our side.

“Hallelujah! not as orphans,

are we left in sorrow now;

hallelujah! he is near us,

faith believes, nor questions how.”

Words of comfort and security for a child, that remain a promise and assurance for the adult I have become. May they be for you a reminder of God’s presence that will never be withdrawn from you.

[1] John 14:15   “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 18   “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.

20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

 

Pay attention

May 14, 2016

Pentecost – 2016

John 14.8-17

Marian Free

May the Spirit of God flow through us, enliven us, empower us and equip us for our mission in the world. Amen.

 

If we were traditionalists, next week on Trinity Sunday we would recite the Athanasian Creed. Together we would affirm such things as:

“The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate: and the Holy Ghost uncreate.

The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible: and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.

The Father eternal, the Son eternal: and the Holy Ghost eternal.”

We are not going to be using that Creed on Trinity Sunday, and today, being Pentecost, we are not going to preach on the Trinity. “And yet there are not three eternals: but one eternal.” Instead, our focus is on just one member of the Trinity, the Holy Ghost or the Holy Spirit. It is interesting isn’t it, that while we proclaim a Trinitarian faith – Father, Son and Spirit – the last of these sometimes seems to be the poor cousin. God the Father is invoked in prayer and is always a part of our consciousness, Jesus is front and centre through our proclamation week by week of the gospel, but the Spirit is given only one day each year on which to shine. Only one Sunday out of fifty-two is set aside to pay attention to the third person of the Trinity.

To be fair, this doesn’t mean that preachers necessarily need to ignore the Spirit on the remaining fifty-one Sundays, but it does mean that it is easy to overlook. Unless we or our Parish have been influenced by the charismatic movement, or unless we belong to a church with a more Pentecostal bent, we are unlikely to name the Spirit on a regular basis and less likely to attribute a role to the Spirit in our daily lives.

There are a number of reasons for this. One is our English heritage. Anglicans tend to be reserved and non emotive. We keep ourselves to ourselves and by and large consider our faith to be a private matter – not something that we need to be constantly putting on show. (It is taken as a given that others hold the same or similar beliefs to ourselves.) Another reason is the Spirit itself. Of the three persons of the Trinity, the Spirit is the most illusive, the hardest to pin down. It is relatively easy to comprehend and to speak about God – the creator of the universe. Most of us have some conception of God as a force for life and love that is beyond description, but which has become so much of human experience that everyone knows what we mean.

Jesus is made real by the gospels and the fact that we have concrete stories of his life and examples of his teaching on which to base our understanding and build our relationship with the second person of the Trinity.

Karoline Lewis[1] speaking for Lutherans says: “the Spirit is the ‘shy member of the Trinity’”. Apparently, Lutherans too, can allow the Spirit to fade into the background of their awareness. Lewis suggests that like anything else in our lives – playing an instrument, running a race, we have to practice if we want to achieve a level of competence or excellence. When it comes to the Spirit, she says, we have to practice paying attention. If we are expecting to see/feel/experience the work of the Spirit, then we have to practice being conscious of the Spirit’s role in the world and in our lives. We have to teach ourselves where and how to look for it.

So where and how do you experience the Spirit in your life? When were you last actively conscious of a Spirit-event, a Spirit-idea or a Spirit-emotion? How did you recognise the moment? What caused you to label it as inspired?

If we are awake to it, we will discover the Spirit in all kinds of ways and in all kinds of moments in our lives. Think for example of those moments when an answer to a problem came to you “out of the blue”, those times when you were moved deeply by a piece of music, a stunning view, an act of love, or those times when someone said just the right thing at the right time. Call to mind those occasions when things just “fell into place” or when you knew for certain that you were making the right decision for yourself or for your family. Remember those times when you were sure that you were not strong enough to face a difficult decision or situation only to discover that your fear was unfounded and that you had all the courage that you required.

Sometimes, the action of the Spirit is public and dramatic such as it was on the first Pentecost after the resurrection. People from all traditions are moved to speak in tongues, find that they have the power to heal or are raised to great heights during worship. But for a great many of us the Spirit works quietly and subtly – nudging us forward, revealing new truths, drawing us into a deeper relationship with God, opening our eyes to the wonder of the world around us and giving us a strength that we never imagined that we could have.

To neglect the Spirit is to overlook the way in which God is a constant presence and guide in our lives and to deny ourselves the wonder and privilege of seeing God in both the extraordinary and ordinary moments of our days.

The Spirit is God’s gift to us. That gift can remain dormant, unopened, or it can unleash wisdom, wonder, courage, joy and so much more if only we would learn to pay attention and to recognise something that we already have.

[1] Working Preacher


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