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The Power of the Holy Spirit

Date: 05/05/2013/Speaker: Susan Tang

John 14:23-29
23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
25 ”I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.

Do you know what KOANS are?  Buddhist monks from the Zen school are trained in the opening of their spiritual eyes through the Koan method.  Students of Zen Buddhism love to tell stories about the koans their teachers give them to aid their spiritual awakening.

This an example of a famous koan: “If you clap both your hands there is a sound; but what is the sound of one hand clapping?”

These short statements or questions frustrate the logical mind.  They are paradoxes, riddles or anecdotes used to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning .. with the aim to provoke intuition and enlightenment. So for the Buddhist monks, koans serve to foster deeper understanding, and more than understanding really — but a deeper enlightenment experience – that lies far beyond mere reason.

We could say an example of a koan from our scriptures is “I am the great I am”.
Jesus had koans of his own, like “Those who find life will lose it”, and many of his parables challenge our logical minds, and stretches out thinking.

One of the more difficult koans is not by Jesus, but about Jesus. Just listen again to this part of today’s lectionary reading as John tells what Jesus said – “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name. I am going away, and I am coming to you. I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I”. …. Barbara Brown, noted preacher asks, Who are all these people? How can God the Father be His own son? And if Jesus is God, whom is he talking to? And where does the Holy Spirit come in? Is it the spirit of God, the spirit of Jesus, or someone else altogether? If they are all one, then why do they come and go at different times? How can one of them send another of them? And how can the Holy Spirit be sent by God when Jesus and the Holy Spirit are GOD?

Of course there are many orthodox answers – people have come up with many answers to get around this problem; from the Trinity is like a three-leaf clover: three leaves making up one whole; the Trinity is like H2O, which we experience as water, ice and steam; the Trinity is like a Three Musketeers and their motto: all for one and one for all, or in this case, three for one and one for three. There’s one I like that describes the Trinity as God in relationship. The Holy Spirit, the Father and the Son are intertwined and united in an exquisite divine dance.
It really boils down to us earnest but limited human beings trying to describe something that is indescribable.  This age-old dilemma that has sparked controversy since the 4th century during Constantine’s time when the Christianity was still a marginalized sect and the Roman church comprised a variety of groups and denominations much fractured by theological disputes (sounds familiar?)

And for that matter, how important really IS the doctrine of the Trinity? Someone once said, “Why not just let sleeping dogma lie?” Most of us today look beyond the archaic abstract language of the church and look instead for what of that has meaning for us today, in our lives, how does our faith play out in our earthly everyday lives?

Anyway, this is not the purpose of my message today – to explore the mystery of the three Gods in one. That is the mission of the preacher on Trinity Sunday, May 26 and the lucky preacher who gets this task is none other than Clarence.

What we will explore this morning is this strange being we call The Holy Spirit – the third person in the Trinity. The Advocate in the text. The Paraclete, to use the ancient Greek term for advocate. Unfortunately, the Holy Spirit is just as difficult a concept to explain as is the Trinity. So I guess I am also a lucky preacher to get this task.

Even Jesus had a hard time – he surmised that “The Spirit blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”

But of all the scholarly explanations of the holy spirit (and there are plenty, trust me) I like Jesus’ the best. Why? Because he describes the holy spirit as almost elusive. First you see it, then you don’t, did I see it, maybe so, maybe no.

The Hebrew Bible explains the Spirit as the ruach of God. This ruach – translated spirit, wind, or breath – is present from the beginning of creation, where God’s spirit hovered over the waters and when God created our cosmos out of chaos (Gen. 1:2). Then God sends forth this same Spirit to create living creatures, and to renew the face of the soil or adamah (Ps 104:30), the very same adamah from which humanity, adam (Gen. 2:7), as well as all the other animals (Gen. 2:19) are created.  So humans and animals have this same ruach within us.

And to this very day, isn’t the same creation and creative Spirit still hovering over our world, working to transform chaos into peace? Darkness into light? Death into life?  Unfortunately the world easily returns to the chaotic, to destruction, exploitation. Death lurks in the one-room HDB flat of a forgotten old man. Political systems have imprisoned many. Stigmatisation and discrimination oppress the marginalised. We pollute our earth. We build weapons of war in the name of security. And the Spirit has to work even harder to renew the earth, to rebuild our values, to change our mindsets, to change or warm the hearts of all peoples.

In the text Jesus promises that after he leaves us, the Holy Spirit will continue to both “teach us everything” and “remind us of all Jesus’ teachings”. Two chapters down in 16: 12-13 he says “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

Biblical scholar and Wake Forest Divinity School Dean, Gail O’Day describes the work of the Paraclete as two-dimensional: “ONE: the Paraclete’s role is essentially conserving,” enabling the “Christian community, at any time in its life, to reach back to the teachings of Jesus and ‘remember,’ to bring Jesus’ teachings to life afresh with new understanding… TWO: the Paraclete’s role as teacher is also creative,” enabling “the word of Jesus to move forward (I still have many things to say to you…) from its moment in history to the present life of the church” and give “new meanings to the teachings of Jesus as the changing circumstances of faith communities and the world demand.”

There are numerous mentions of the Spirit at work throughout the Bible. Significantly, Mary was found with child through the power of the Holy Spirit. And the holy offspring to be born will be called Son of God. You are my son. With whom I am well pleased. My Son, My Beloved. Words of such beautiful sequence as told to us in the gospels. And even more beautiful to know we are all equally God’s beloved. Just as we are as Jaime preached 2 Sundays ago. And not only us, but those who are not like us – equally God’s beloved.

What follows though is God’s sending forth of Jesus (and us) to mission. What did Jesus say just before he started his ministry? “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (again we hear of the Spirit’s work) as he is sent specifically to minister to the poor, the oppressed, the enslaved, the imprisoned, the hopeless and helpless, the powerless. To bring them the good news that they have rights, they have dignity, they have love, they have freedom, they have abundant life.

This my friends, is the same mission given to us and to our church. A lofty mission without a doubt. But remember the Spirit also works together with us in the everyday. Did you not hear the sound of it? That word of encouragement that you so badly needed, the moment you forgave, or were forgiven, that act of kindness on the bus, that welcome you felt when you first came to FCC, that shoulder offered you to cry on, the hand of friendship when you were feeling abandoned– all these moments of the elusive Spirit of love that seemed to blow in from no where. Maybe not so elusive after all. It’s just that half the time perhaps, we are not conscious of, or acknowledge her presence. We meet God as we meet God’s spirit in each other.

Finally, you do realize that the Spirit has blown each of us to FCC, don’t you?  Back 2013 years ago, when Jesus let go of his last breath (we believe for his love for us) that breath hovered in the air in front of him for a moment and then it was set loose on the earth. Breath full of passion, full of life, it did not dissipate but grew, in strength, until it was a mighty wind which God sent spinning through the upper room, setting sparks that burst into flames above heads, full of God’s own breath, and the church continued to grow, lost people found their direction, shy people became bold, gay people came out of their closets, transformed by God’s own breath, spirit.

Look around us. We are them. Blown to this church by the holy spirit. Some continue to stay for our own good reasons. Some seeking to change our lives. Some refusing to change. Some of us have rolled in here without thinking too much about it. Some of us just going through the motion. Some of us just warm bodies. Most churches are happy for anyone they can get. But God is not looking for warm bodies only – but for those who received the breath of life, full of God’s spirit, to pass it on, to share the good news, not just share but to shout the good news from the rooftops (as Rev Pat, MCC NY, preached to us).

By the power of the Holy Spirit, I call on each of us to help our church, help our community, help God, do just that – shout out proud and loud, the good news!  We need all hands on deck as we make our move to our new home, and as we embark on our re-newed mission. Are you ready for the blast-off? Take a breath. Take another. Now keep breathing. In and out. What are we breathing? We can call it air, or star dust, or we can call it God’s own breath, the Holy Spirit.