Holy Spirit: our language teacher
Holy Spirit is like a language teacher – a personal language tutor.
Those of you who are language teachers, or who have had language teachers, will know that they have several tasks.
They need to teach the skills of the language: the vocabulary and the grammar
But they also need to teach their students how to live in the new language: how to see things in a new way, and how to think in a new way.
If you start to live in a new language, you start to make different connections.
For instance, one of the things I have wondered about is the difference between a language like Russian, which has gender differences deeply rooted in its language, and a language like English that is principally a-gender. And that must have an impact on how we think.
Or it could be little connections that open up new ways of thinking for you.
For example: Belgrade is the capital of Serbia. To somebody who does not know the language, it is just the name of a city. To somebody who knows Russian or Serbian it means much more.
Or Alexander Schmemann, an Orthodox thinker, writes a book based on the fact that ecть means both to eat and to be. We are what we eat?
When you learn a new language, you are not just learning a new skill. You are learning - and I don’t think this is an overstatement – a new way of thinking and of living.
So the goal of the language teacher is not only to teach the skills of the language, but it is to be a companion, a guide to their student, even a friend of their student, so that the language becomes part of their student and so that they live in the language.
That seems to be a great picture of what Jesus is saying that the work of the Holy Spirit is.
The Holy Spirit is described in our passage as ‘the Paraklete’, literally the one who comes alongside us. In the KJV that is translated as comforter; in more recent translations, it is translated as advocate.
The Holy Spirit is like a heavenly language teacher.
And I don’t think that it is complete coincidence that when the Spirit came on that first Pentecost he came with ‘tongues’ of fire, and that he equipped the first Christians to speak in tongues, in the heavenly language.
Without Holy Spirit we are mono-cultural.
We can only speak and think in the language or the languages of this world.
But when Holy Spirit comes, we discover another language, another way of speaking, thinking and living – a new world.
Holy Spirit helps us to see Jesus in a new way
People who speak the language of this world will speak of Jesus as an Israeli peasant, good or as bad, as a moral example or as someone who was seriously deluded. They will speak of him as criminal or a tragic victim or as a model of someone who is prepared to die for a principal.
But Holy Spirit shows us a very different way to see Jesus.
Jesus in John 16.9 tells us that Holy Spirit will prove the world wrong about sin .. ‘because they do not believe in me’.
When Holy Spirit comes alongside a person they begin to see Jesus not just as a human being, but as the eternal Son of God, the one who God the Father sent into this world. We will see him as God’s king and Gods’ ruler. We will begin to realise that to come to him and to put our trust in him is to receive life, and to be without him, to reject him, is to choose death.
We think of sin as doing naughty stuff. There is a great translation in the BCP where we pray that God will deliver us from ‘a superfluity of naughtiness’.
But Jesus definition of the root cause of sin, and therefore the Holy Spirit’s definition, is that sin is the refusal to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, refusal to come to him, to receive him or to put our trust in him.
On the day of Pentecost Peter stands up and preaches a sermon. He talks about Jesus. He ends his sermon by saying to the people of Jerusalem, ‘This Jesus, who you crucified, God has made ruler and king’. And the people are convicted. They cry out and they say, ‘We’ve rejected Jesus. What must we do to be saved?’
And they say that not because Peter has persuaded them, but because the Holy Spirit has opened their eyes to see Jesus in a completely new way.
And Holy Spirit, we are told, helps us to see the righteousness of God (v10)
In 1 John 2.29, John speaks of righteousness as right-ness, doing what is good.
Jesus taught righteousness. He lived righteousness. So while he was with his followers, they saw righteousness
But when he was gone, Holy Spirit puts Jesus’ righteousness in their minds and their hearts, in our minds and hearts: so that the man or woman who is open to God, in a right relationship with God, will desire to do what is good. She won’t do what is good because it is written down, a law she has to obey. She will want to do what is good because it is her deepest desire
St Augustine said famously, ‘Love God and do what you desire to do’.
And Holy Spirit, helps us to see judgement (v11)
It is when we look at Jesus, and at the cross, that we see most clearly the clash between the world view of our old human languages, and the new Holy Spirit language.
The old language, the old-world view, sees Jesus’ death on the cross as defeat. It is the world’s judgement on Jesus: for being a fraud and a failure
But Holy Spirit language sees Jesus’ death on the cross not as the world’s judgement on Jesus, but as God’s judgement on the world. Holy Spirit sees Jesus’ death on the cross as the final defeat of Satan, of death.
Satan did everything he could to stop Jesus going to the cross. He tried to kill him as an infant, to tempt him with wealth and power, to persuade him through friends, and to terrify him with the fear.
But with Jesus, obedience wins and love wins.
And Holy Spirit helps us to see the world in a new way
Holy Spirit is our teacher.
‘He will guide you into all truth … He will declare to you the things to come’ (v13)
The disciples can’t take it all in.
They’re in a bad place.
Jesus has spoken clearly of how he is going to be crucified. He has made it very clear that this meal that he is eating with them now is his last meal.
But, says Jesus, there will come a time, when Holy Spirit will teach you the things that you can’t understand now.
And we see that.
The death of Jesus overwhelms them.
We are told about two disciples who are walking to a village called Emmaus after the crucifixion. They were broken people. They are so crushed that they don’t realise that the person walking with them on the road is Jesus, who has risen from the dead. They say to him, ‘We believed in Jesus, we had thought, we hoped .. but it all ended in tragedy.’
And Jesus comes alongside them and teaches them.
He teaches them that his life, the Christian life is not just about suffering. Nor is it just about glory. It is about suffering and glory.
And he opens their eyes, and they suddenly realise it is him.
Holy Spirit is our personal language teacher.
But he is also our friend, a presence with us, just like the risen Jesus walking beside those two disciples.
There are times when we will be conscious of that presence.
Some people have very dramatic, explosive encounters with Holy Spirit. Not everybody, and please don’t worry if you haven’t had such an encounter. He is still with you, if you have asked him to come into your life, and to fill you. And even as we eat the bread and drink the wine today we can invite him to come into us.
And for all of us there will be times when we are not conscious of him.
One of the Puritans describes it a bit like a father walking along with his child. For a long part of the journey they will be walking together – and maybe the child will be chattering away, and the Father will be quiet. And then suddenly the Father lifts the child up, embraces her, and then places her down again and they carry on walking.
But even if we do not feel him or sense him, by faith we believe that he is with us and he will teach us – as we read God’s word
Jesus says, ‘He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. all that the Father has is mine’ (v14-15)
With Holy Spirit alongside us, we see this world as ultimately belonging to Jesus. All things: whether music, creativity, natural laws, sex and sexuality, alcohol, plants and mountain rocks.
And Holy Spirit begins to teach us how to treat these things as things that belong to Jesus. We begin to learn to use them in obedience to his Word and we use them with great thanksgiving.
And Holy Spirit helps us to see all people as belonging to Jesus: rulers, enemies, friends, family, parents and children, colleagues, customers, clients, fellow worshippers.
And we begin to learn to relate to them as people who belong to Jesus, even as they were Jesus
I guess that is what happens at Holy Communion. We take bread and wine, very ordinary things, but we look at them with new eyes, with Holy Spirit eyes, and we see how they can be used for Jesus: to bring Jesus to us, and to join us together in communion.
So Holy Spirit comes alongside us as our language teacher, and as our friend.
It will be difficult. We’ve been told it will be.
There is a clash of languages and a clash of cultures, and each one of us will feel it deep within us. There will be times when we really struggle.
And we know that it will be rough, but we also know this: that Holy Spirit is with us. We are not on our own.