This Sunday the Pentecost Season begins. “Penta” means fifty. It was fifty days after Christ rose from the dead that the promised gift of the Holy Spirit came. “I will not leave you as orphans,” said Jesus to his disciples the night before his execution, “I will come to you” (John 14: 18). Who, or what, is “the Holy Spirit” (or “Holy Ghost” in the King James Version)? The Holy Spirit is the inner life or the life force of God that animates the universe and out very lives. The Holy Spirit is often the Cinderella of the Holy Trinity. We can wrap our heads around God our Father, Heavenly Parent and Creator. We get Jesus because he was a living human being with a history. He was a storyteller and teacher, one who modeled what it was like to be truly human. But the Holy Spirit? All we can do is come up with images like fire, wind, water and earth to describe her.
The Holy Spirit would bring many things, Jesus said. “The Counselor, 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” (John 14: 26). So the Holy Spirit has a teaching function. “When [the Spirit] comes he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment…” (John 16: 8). So the Holy Spirt has a convicting function pricking our conscience, smoothing down our ragged edges. “But when the Spirit of Truth comes he will guide you into all truth…the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you” (John 16: 13-15). So the Holy Spirit has a guiding empowering role as well.
Billy Graham, I believe, once said, “If the Holy Spirit was taken from the church, 90% of our activity would continue like it always has.” Sad, but true. We often wind up “playing church” instead of letting the Spirit empower and direct our activities. Prayer becomes a perfunctory activity used to open meetings, but do we really expect that God might show up and ask us to put our agenda aside and listen for the Spirit’s call?
The Holy Spirit is also known as the “Advocate” in John’s writings. An advocate is one who comes along aside you, roots for you, argues on your behalf, and who who fights for you. The Holy Spirit is an advocate during those times when your conscience accuses you and compels you to bring it to God or to the one you’ve wronged. The Spirit reminds us that Christ died and rose for that sin and we can approach God without fear of rebuke or punishment.
But there are also false voices that accuse us; voices that say we are incompetent, unlovable, and unworthy. The Spirit says to our spirit, “No, you are loved with an inestimable love. You are an accepted, forgiven, gifted person from Me to the world. Yes, you fail and fall short, but that never affects my love and support for you. I have a dream, a vision of wholeness for you. Live in my love and power.”
The Holy Spirit also empowers us for service to a lost and broken world by offering cups of cold water in Jesus’ name (Mt. 25:40), by speaking truth to power, and modeling a new way of being together.
“Keep in step with the Spirit” one translation of John’s writing puts it. Happy walking during this season of Pentecost!