Over in the Gospel of John, Jesus said that after he was gone, the Father would give us another Advocate, or Helper, to be with us for ever. One translation I have says: He'll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can't take him in because it doesn't have eyes to see him, doesn't know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you!
Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit here, the third person of God. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.
You know, there’s a difference between truth and fact. If you have been with me in one of our Bible studies, you will have heard me say that we don’t want to get bogged down in fact and miss Truth. But as a Christian, I recognize, accept, and believe… the truth and the fact… that there is one God.
Now hang on, we are going to get a little theological for a minute while I tell you what I believe.
I believe the truth and the fact that there is one God. I also believe that our one true God is self-expressed as three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It’s more than something I learned as a child or recite on Sunday mornings during The Apostles’ Creed… I actually believe it!
And while it is difficult to fully grasp, since God cannot be definitively described, this concept of the unity and trinity of God is the very foundation of my Christian belief and is the root of all my personal experiences of God.
I believe the first person, God the Father, is almighty creator of heaven and earth who formed all that is, that was, and that is to come, both what can be seen and what remains unseen.
There have been times when I have known this first person of God as a loving parent caring for me as a loved child. When I have felt at risk – like when I’ve experienced great illness, or when I’ve been affected by the instability of someone threatening suicide, or when I’ve felt hopeless or helpless in my personal battles – in those moments of personal risk, I have felt God’s arms around me in a protective embrace.
I believe Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity and the Son of God, is of one substance with the Father – Jesus is the very Word of the Father. Jesus, both God and man, fully divine and fully human, and I know him to be the only Son of God.
I believe Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. I believe Jesus lived, suffered, was crucified, died and was buried in an effort to reconcile humankind to God the Father. I believe Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven – all of it, everything – will come completely together when Jesus Christ returns to the earth to judge all people.
This is the person of God who wants to know me and be my companion. This is God who stays with me through the tough times. This is who is by my side through emotions of every kind and reassures me that I am never alone.
I also know God to be the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit of God, who proceeds from and is of one substance with the Father and the Son.
In the Greek, the word is Paraclete which means advocate or helper. So another Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Advocate, is actually another Jesus. This is the presence of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, who comes to us after Jesus (who is God the Son) ascends to God the Father.
I believe the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, leads persons through faithful response to the gospel into the fellowship of the Church. This person is a comforter, a guide, and a teacher who empowers the faithful. This is the eliminator of chaos as I continually discern my calling… and the giver of peace when a friend dies.
Now all this could sound complicated if you just throw everything out there in a jumbled mess, but maybe you could think through the whole concept by thinking of a good friend. Maybe that friend sometimes relates to you as a parent who sometimes makes you feel protected. And sometimes that friend is just that – a friend who stands by your side through thick and thin. And then sometimes that friend is someone who gives you advice and teaches you the best way to go. Individual but unified. Trinity and Unity.
Now, the person of God that Jesus is talking about in John 14 is the third person – the Holy Spirit – the person who Jesus says comes to us as a gift and who will be with us always.
Whether felt as a rushing wind sweeping over the waters at creation or seen as a dove descending in baptism, the Holy Spirit actively and vigorously leads people as a comforter, a guide and a teacher who empowers the faithful. The Spirit is the eliminator of chaos and the giver of peace. Through the movement of the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to a faithful response to the gospel. God is glorified when, through the Spirit’s influence, our inner attitude is matched by our outer behavior.
In my personal life, I depend on the Holy Spirit for guidance and comfort. I am encouraged by the Spirit of God and constantly reminded of the sacrifice Jesus Christ made so that I might live.
It’s important to note, though, that this person of God is revealed to us as more than individuals. Our faithful response to the Spirit’s work moves us beyond our singleness and into the fellowship of the Church. The Spirit of God calls to us and leads us as the Church to recognize the needs of the poor and marginalized in the world. The Spirit opens our eyes to the need of inclusiveness. The Spirit pushes us to support all persons, welcoming and accepting everyone into the community of faith. What exactly does that mean? Quite simply it means that we are called to be together and seek God’s will together.
Yes, you can find Jesus at the lake on Sunday morning or in your garden or at the beach. You can be assured that God is with you when you go there. But as Christians we are called to fellowship.
The early church devoted itself to “fellowship.” Fellowship was a very important part of their reason for meeting together. It was one of their main objectives. But our modern ideas of fellowship have become so watered down that the word no longer carries the same meaning it did in New Testament times.
We are not surprised that the early church devoted itself to “the apostles’ teaching” and also “to prayer.” Apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit, these are the two most important means of growth, power, and effectiveness in the Christian life and this is everywhere evident in the rest of Scripture.
But Scripture (particularly in Acts) tells us these early Christians also devoted themselves to fellowship. They just didn’t have fellowship; they devoted themselves to fellowship. Fellowship was a priority; it was one of the objectives for gathering together. They made fellowship an imperative.
We often view fellowship as what we do in “the fellowship hall.” It’s the place where we have casual conversations and share our covered dish meals. That’s not a bad thing, and it can contribute to fellowship, but it falls far short of fellowship according to biblical standards… interpersonal relationships are so desperately needed to keep our faith glowing and growing.
If you drop off your associations with other Christians and disassociate yourself from them in worship and service, you’ll run out of spiritual enthusiasm and dedication in a short time. There is no substitute for “going to church and worshiping with others who share your faith because THIS is where we are fed by the Holy Spirit. THIS is where we come into contact with the Spirit of God who leads us in our every day lives. It’s all in the fellowship of Christian believers. It’s not in the me, but in the us.
Jesus said: If you love me, you will keep my commandments. I’ll be with you forever, the Spirit lives in you. I am coming to you. What we need to hear is that this “you” he is talking about is not the individual you. Jesus is using the second person plural. In Southern, that’s y’all. “If y’all love me, y’all will keep my commandments. Because I live, y’all are gonna live too!”
Jesus made his promise to the group, not to the single. There is nothing about individualistic faith in the New Testament. It is always about community. Being together, nourishing one another, living life together.
Now that’s a challenge for us in the COVID19-driven existence. In order to be plural, we are going to have to make some intentional efforts to be together. Life is not going to look like it did a few months ago – and there is a possibility this will go on for awhile. It may be that we never fully recover togetherness in the way we have known in the past. It doesn’t mean that worshipping together and gathering together and serving together is over. We just have to get creative right now!
Who have you checked on this week? Have you made sure someone has groceries? Have you dropped off peanut butter at the church, have you sent in your tithe, have you practiced sacrificial giving in any way?
Maybe you need to go further than that… Do you know someone who is unable to watch this sermon because they don’t have computer skills? If you are both healthy, why can’t you wear a mask and take your laptop or your tablet or even your phone and let them watch this fifteen minutes while you socially distance? If you are both in a vulnerable group, why can’t you call them and tell them what you heard or read or experienced today? Why can’t you call and sing a hymn with someone? Or pray with someone?
No, it’s probably not comfortable, but none of this IS comfortable! We are having to learn new things, and it’s pushing us out of our comfort zones, but with God’s help, every bit of this new existence can be used to glorify God in wonderful ways.
Being in Christian community doesn’t mean holding hands – it means loving each other.
There was a story awhile back (reported by the Associated Press) out of Kentucky that said: After struggling to start his car, he lifted the hood and discovered that someone had stolen the motor.
Without the fellowship of Christian believers, without surrounding ourselves by our brothers and sisters in Christ, and without the guidance and counsel of the Holy Spirit in every aspect of our lives – that story could well apply to us – without the fellowship of Christian believers, it’s like our motor has been stolen.
If you want to take that analogy a little further, think of God the Father as the vehicle, God the Holy Spirit as the motor, and God the Son Jesus Christ as the key. None will work without the other, and all are part of the same system, the vehicle, that keeps us going in the right direction.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, given to us as a gift, we are empowered to be God’s people. Worship is an encounter with the living God through the risen Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. And when the people of God gather, the Spirit is free to move us. Even if we have to gather differently for now. Gather means assemble and assemble means build, connect. When we connect – even if it’s not physically connect – however that looks for now – when we connect, we build the community of faith.
So the challenge and the invitation is to gather. We simply cannot be in this relationship alone. We weren’t designed for it, weren’t hard wired for it, and aren’t called to it alone.
God’s presence is in the Body of Christ… and we are devoted to the fellowship of community, devoted to the community of faith, devoted to the work of the Body in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.