When I was in seminary, I audited a class entitled, “Living Biblically: Money, Sex, Power, Violence, and The Meaning of Life.” The title alone made me want to take the class. The class spent the quarter studying Jesus’ words and actions for some clues. Of course, I did not leave the class with all the answers. But the one thing that stuck with me from the class was this: when looking for answers to “What would Jesus do?” you have to look at not only what Jesus says, but also what he does. That may sound simple and obvious enough, but what we slowly began to realize is that what Jesus says and what Jesus does are often opposites. So, if you look at what Jesus says, you find some pretty harsh words about how to live life and who is to be judged. But if you look at what Jesus does, you find him living in a much more permissive and forgiving way. We came to see Jesus as one with high standards and a low threshold for forgiveness and grace. Of course, that did not mean we got all of our answers to our 21st Century questions about money, sex, power, violence, and the meaning of life, let alone answers to our questions about science, technology, and our modern world.
That is why I find our gospel lesson today so comforting. Our lesson from John today is part of Jesus’ farewell speech with his disciples – his last words during that Last Supper. You can imagine the hushed room, the feeling of something ominous approaching, the questions by the disciples, and the ever-patient Jesus trying to explain all the things they need to know. Finally, Jesus utters these words today, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” You can almost hear the frustration in his voice, as if he is saying, “I wish I could explain everything to you now fully, but I just can’t.” In the midst of the weight of such a conversation, Jesus promises something better than they could possibly imagine: the Holy Spirit. Jesus explains that Holy Spirit will come and will continue to guide the disciples. All of the things that they cannot understand now, all of the things Jesus cannot say, will be revealed to them through the Holy Spirit in the years to come. Though Jesus will be physically absent from them, Jesus will be continually present with them through the Holy Spirit, revealing truth and perhaps even revealing what Jesus would do.
I think why I find this passage so comforting is not simply because we are promised the presence of God with us. What I find comforting about this passage is that truth is not locked away in some book or some person from two thousand years ago. Truth is accessible here and now through the Holy Spirit. We call our scriptures the Living Word because the Holy Spirit enlivens the Word and speaks truth to us, even today. This is also why we still have the community of faith– because the Holy Spirit creates for us fresh encounters with the revelation of Jesus.[i] Jesus knew that our changing circumstances would bring new questions and challenges that would require us to think afresh, and Jesus promises the Holy Spirit will get us through.
On this Trinity Sunday, I am grateful that we get this passage. Although we just had Pentecost, the Church is not always great about talking about the Holy Spirit. Sure, we regularly say the Trinitarian combination “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” liturgically, but rarely do we give the Holy Spirit the credit the Holy Spirit is due. I think the challenge is that we fear the Holy Spirit a little too much. When we hear talk of the Holy Spirit, we are afraid someone is going to start acting strangely and then claim they were slain in the Spirit. We are afraid that “the movement of the Holy Spirit” is just code for the movement that a particular person or group wants. We are afraid our worship will become some seventies, hippie version of God to whom we cannot relate. I know we are afraid or at least uncomfortable because I cannot remember the last Episcopalian I know, including myself, who began a prayer addressing the Holy Spirit as opposed to God or Jesus.
But this is how I know that the Holy Spirit is still present among us, guiding us to all truth. One of the primary areas I see the movement of the Holy Spirit is in the practice of preaching. I always say that somewhere between the preacher and the congregation is the Holy Spirit. Preaching does not work without the Holy Spirit. I cannot tell you the number of times I have sat down after preaching a sermon and thought that the sermon was probably the worst one I have ever preached. But without fail, the sermons I think are the worst often receive positive feedback. I also cannot tell you the number of times I have gotten into the pulpit with a specific message in mind, only to have a parishioner speak to me later about how something I said was so meaningful to them – only I swear I never said what they think I said. Somehow the Holy Spirit helps the preacher to glean truth, and the Holy Spirit helps the congregation to glean truth. Those truths may not be the same truths, but they are truths that lead us closer to God – which is what Jesus promises in our gospel lesson anyway.
Now, I do not mean to insinuate that this revelation only comes through preaching. Revelation comes throughout our lives together. The revelation of the Holy Spirit comes in that friend, coworker, or schoolmate who says something so profound that their words stick with you for weeks, and leads you into deeper prayer. The revelation of the Holy Spirit comes in Bible Study or in an outreach activity when some experience leaves you with a profound sense of the holy in your life. The revelation of the Holy Spirit comes in the mouths of our children, who say the most sacred and surprising things that open up new truth in unexpected ways.
This is why we dedicate an entire Sunday to celebrating the Trinity. Without the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, we would not experience our spiritual journey in the same way. Perhaps we are not truly comfortable labeling the Holy Spirit in our lives or praying to the Holy Spirit, but that does not mean that the Holy Spirit is not ever present in our journey – in fact, making that journey possible in the first place. We take today to celebrate the mysterious nature of all three persons who make up the one substance of the Trinity[ii] because only through this relational nature of the Trinity is our faith enlivened and is truth revealed. So today, your invitation is to figure out your invitation. Perhaps your invitation is to pray with a person of the Trinity that you have been avoiding for a while. Perhaps your invitation is to listen for the ways that the Holy Spirit is revealing truth to you. Or perhaps your invitation is to see the movement of the Holy Spirit through others this week. On this Trinity Sunday, there is no way of avoiding invitation. The question is which invitation is for you? Amen.
[i] Eugene C. Bay, “Pastoral Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 46.
[ii] Philip Turner, “Theological Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 44.