The Holy Spirit: how he guides us
Pentecost is very special. We have heard the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and we celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit.
And it is good to be here together today: first time in the reordered St Peter's. There is something very encouraging about being together, and we need the encouragement of each other.
It is hard to be a follower of Jesus Christ today. In fact it is, at times, a bit like a hard long slog.
1. You have to be prepared to be different, to live by a different agenda. To live for the things of Jesus Christ and not for the things of this world (wealth, comfort, status, satisfaction of our physical desires)
2. There are times when we experience opposition - or at least feel that we have become an unappreciated or unloved minority. Whereas 100 years ago, legislation was on our side; today we are increasingly finding we have to struggle against that legislation. Our church communities seem to be increasingly isolated from wider society.
One of the interesting things that is happening is that although overall church numbers are getting smaller, some churches and congregations are growing much larger. I don't think that is necessarily a sign that people are turning back to God, or that they are being more faithful than the smaller churches. I suspect that it is a sign that believers are feeling increasingly isolated and wish to be part of a large body of people.
3. There are times when someone who has chosen to be obedient to Christ can find life harder than someone who has not. It is the Psalm 73 syndrome: 'God, look at how the wicked prosper!'.
I think of the person who chooses to remain faithful to an unfaithful husband or wife; who does give significantly - and so has less money to spend on themselves or their family; who chooses to have the child; who does give up a Sunday morning lie in to come to church; who does choose to forgive; who remains a virgin and becomes an object of mockery; who gives up a highly paid job in order to work for a church, a mission agency or charity; who chooses to move onto a council estate in order to be part of a Christian community seeking to transform that place from the inside; who do choose quite literally to give up the possibility of a family, or a career, or a decent income, or a home, or even their life for Jesus and for others.
I should add that choosing obedience to Christ also brings great benefits - even in this world. Jesus said that. He said that whoever gave up home, family, field for him would receive homes, families and fields in this world as well as the next.
4. There are times when, because we have known intimacy with God, we really do struggle when that intimacy goes.That is obviously particularly the case when God seems to go AWOL, or we experience suffering.
Why am I talking like this?
Jesus in our passage is talking to discouraged disciples. In fact they were in a far worse position than us. They are a tiny tiny minority. The world has praised them, but it is starting to get hostile. He has just told them that one of them will betray him; that Peter will deny him; and that he will leave them.
But in John 14:1, Jesus says, 'Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me'. And he goes on in the next three chapter (14, 15 and 16) to tell them why they do not need to be discouraged. And he ends, in chapter 17, with a prayer that the disciples will be filled with love and joy.
And I would like us to look at 4 versesJohn 16:12-15, where Jesus gives us two reasons why we do not need to be discouraged.
1. WE ARE NOT ON OUR OWN
We have a guide - the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is a person, not a force. He is one of the Trinity. These verses sing Trinity to us. The Spirit will come; the Spirit will glorify me, says Jesus (the Son of God). All that I have (says Jesus) has been given to me by the Father
In the Lent course, we looked at the icon of the Trinity painted by Rublev.
It helps us to understand the relationship between the three persons. I won't explain this today - but I note that the Spirit cannot be separated from the Father and the Son; but he also must not be confused with the Father and the Son.
And the Holy Spirit is our guide. He will guide us into all the truth.
Truth for John is about a right rational understanding of reality. Holy Spirit will guide the disciples and us into the truth about God, about ourselves, about reality and the world, about the future. The Holy Spirit brings to us the word of God. It is what he does. He speaks. He speaks through the bible; he helps us understand the bible and he speaks directly to our hearts.
But for John, truth is more than that.
It is also about ultimacy. The true one is the real, absolute, ultimate one. Jesus, the Son of God, is the ultimate one. He does not define himself by anything else (except the Father). Everything else defines itself by him.
We have a Gustav Klimt on one of our walls. Sadly, it is not an original. It is a copy of an original.
And we are all pale imitations of the true life, of Jesus.
But the Spirit guides us into all truth so that we might become like the original in every way.
Our hope is that the Holy Spirit will make us one with the Father as Jesus is one with the Father
And truth is about transparency. If someone is true there is no falsehood, no shadow, no dark side to them.
We are far from this sort of truth. We are messed up; our motives are incredibly complex, but the Holy Spirit guides us so that we might become like Jesus - transparent, pure in heart.
And truth is about honesty. If someone is true they are honest, they are faithful. In fact, in the Old Testament, the word true when it is applied to God is used most of the time in this way. God is truth, because God is true, honest to his promises. And the Holy Spirit works in us and guides us to become people who are faithful and honest.
And our guide, the Holy Spirit: 'will declare to you the things that are to come' (John 16:13)
There are some who say that this is only talking about the New Testament, that is still to be written. Everything we need to know about the future is here in the bible. The bible talks about the suffering and resurrection of Jesus. It talks about the suffering of God's people here and now and the future glory then.
In one sense I think that is true. The problem with predictive prophecy (which is what some people say this is about) is that it is very difficult to know what to do with it when someone does claim to be able to predict what will happen. The test is if it does. And history is littered with tragic tales of people who have given up everything because one person is convinced that God has spoken through them and told them what will happen.
But at the same time, there is a role for the Spirit to speak to the people of God, and to each one of us, to guide us and to encourage us.
Paul in his conversion is told, 'And I will show you how much you must suffer for my name'. In Acts 20:23 he says, 'And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me'. In Acts 21 we are told of a prophet called Agabus, who tells Paul specifically that he will be arrested and bound in Jerusalem.
But the two are connected: the speaking of the Holy Spirit through scripture and the speaking of the Holy Spirit to our hearts and through men and women today. Jesus tells us that we will suffer. He's been talking about that in John 16:1-3; In Timothy we're told that whoever wishes to live a godly life will be persecuted. And even here (v12) Jesus says that the reason that he has not told us everything now is because we cannot bear it now. We need to know what we need to know when we need to know it.
And I can think of several occasions when the Spirit discloses the future/points us to the future: (Peter Gibson's wife, St John's hall). There are times when we need to wait on God. But the reason that he does it is to guide and encourage.
So I think of Paul going to Jerusalem. When he was arrested, he knew that God had not abandoned him.
I guess what I am talking about is the difference between big picture stuff and little picture stuff.
From the perspective of the little picture, it would be fantastic if every time we had to make a decision, or we were to go through suffering, God spoke to us directly - he treats us with far more respect than that. There may be times when he guides directly, but most of the time he says, 'You're adults. You can choose'.
But when we look at this from the perspective of the big picture, he has spoken to us, our future has been told: if we wish to live for Jesus we will face opposition and suffering - but that after that there is resurrection and glory.
So we are not on our own. We have a guide, who will be with us, who will teach us, who will change us, who has spoken to us and told us what will happen and who may even do so here and now, in his way and in his time.
2. THERE IS A GREAT HOPE
The Holy Spirit will show us the glory of Jesus. 'He will glorify me because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine'.
I find this very exciting. Everything has been given to Jesus. John 13:3, 'Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God'.
As we grow as Christians, the work of the Holy Spirit is to show us that everything belongs to Jesus: creation, the stars and planets, rivers and oceans, people, art and music, architecture, politics and economics, wealth, work, love.
It is the Holy Spirit who speaks to us and opens our eyes. He shows us that there are no no-go areas for the Lordship of Jesus. We begin to see a beautiful sunset not just as a beautiful sunset, but as Jesus sees it: as something that belongs to him, that declares his glory. We look at people, and rather than seeing them as objects who can make my life better or worse, more secure or more at risk, we begin to see them as Jesus sees them: as people who belong to him. They may be in rebellion against him, they may be blind to him themselves, but they still belong to him. And as we look at all things belonging to Jesus, we glorify him.
And even though today we do not see all things as if they belong to him, one day we will. Our eyes will be opened.
I'd like to use a you tube clip, from the BBC news a few days ago. It is about Ranulph Fiennes returning to base camp having had a little walk up a hill with a friend called Lak Pa Tundu.
We're on a journey - at times it will be beautiful; but at other times simply an incredible slog. At one point Fiennes said that all he could do was put one step in front of the other. But he said he was kept going by two things.
The first was his companion - Tundu - who knew the mountain. Tundu was his guide. Tundu was able to speak with authority because he knew the mountain. He knew some of the dangers, he knew what was round the corner and he knew how hard it was going to be. And Tundu carried the heavier part of the burden.
The other thing that kept him going, that made him try it a third time, was the hope of getting to the top.
And there will be times when we are greatly encouraged in our Christian walk. But there will also be times when it gets incredibly hard. And at those times we need to remember that there is one with us who will be our guide, the Holy Spirit. And we also need to remember that there is a hope: one day, with Jesus, we will be standing on the top of his world, and we will see it with his eyes and we will be overwhelmed with his glory.