Sermon Commentary for Sunday, June 12, 2022
John 16:12-15 Commentary
You may have heard it said that the Holy Spirit is the “shy one of the Trinity.” The description is meant to denote how the Spirit of Truth always points us to Jesus Christ—as Jesus seemingly describes in our passage today.
It seems to me, though, that an unintended consequence of this descriptor is what Rev. LaVerne McCain Gill once referred to as the “conspiracy of silence” about the Holy Spirit. Of course, this isn’t true for every church tradition—for which we can be ever grateful to God—but if we were to survey who most Christians believe is the most important member of the Trinity, we’d very likely see how our Christocentrism has led to a lack of knowledge and awareness of both Yahweh and the Holy Spirit.
Last week was Pentecost, and if you preached the gospel lectionary text, then you know that Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to his people after he went away, and that the Spirit would be continuing the Christ’s work here on earth as “another Advocate” in and among us. We’re still in the same setting as last week’s text (Jesus’ final discourse and prayer before going to the Garden of Gethsemane).
Jesus has said a lot of big things to the disciples, and the disciples have a lot of questions that they mostly keep to themselves (see v 18 for instance), so it isn’t all too shocking that Jesus says he has more he’d like to say but for the disciples’ sakes, he won’t. Who doesn’t get overwhelmed reading John 13-17? The love that Jesus exudes on behalf of the whole Trinity, the largeness of our calling as Christians, the path of abiding through obedience in the face of suffering and hatred… it’s a lot. It’s a lot to know, and even more to remember when we need it.
God promises to be there to help us remember. This is literally what Jesus is saying about what the Holy Spirit will do in verses 12-15. The Holy Spirit, as the declarer of Truth and as the God who is love, will declare to us what is to come, and all that belongs (WHICH IS EVERYTHING) to the other members of the Trinity will be made known to us. Because the Holy Spirit is the God-still-with-us.
The story of God is the story of all things. What is “to come” is the basis of all our hope in this life. And most fundamentally in Christian orthodox belief, what is to come is Jesus Christ, or God-with-us. Remember the early Christian hymn? “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.”
Further, what is “to come” is uninterrupted union with God the Father, Jesus the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in the new heaven and new earth. The Trinity’s members belong to one another, and by the Holy Spirit, they are given to us. We know them by the Holy Spirit who declares them to us, and through that very act of declaring, we know the Spirit. What is shy about that?
Raymond Brown synthesizes Jesus’ words throughout the Gospels on how God shows us the connection among the Trinity: “What Jesus is to the Father, the Paraclete is to Jesus.” And yet, no orthodox Christian describes the Father or the Son as “shy” even though their wills are united in purpose. If we thought of the Father as shy, we’d fall to the heresy of the clock-maker god—the god who was once involved through creating the world but has since stepped back and is no longer active. And if we thought of the Son as shy, then what do we make of the Incarnation? God is not shy; this is not truth, and the very presence of the Holy Spirit in and among us declares a different reality: God is still active and with us.
God may sometimes be subtle, but God is not shy.
Some like to say that the church is the “third testament” of God, since the church is the embodiment of the living Spirit of Truth binding God’s people together in the body of Christ to the glory of the Father. (The Holy Spirit is a communal promise, after all.) The community of faith has stories to tell of God’s abundant goodness in the world. Given to us by the Spirit, all of the Father’s “yeses” are “amens” in Christ. All of the attributes of God—God’s goodness, love, mercy, forgiveness, power, provision, peace, joy, faithfulness, self-control, kindness, etc.—all that belongs to God, the Spirit not only tells us about through the Scriptures, but makes them experientially known to us.
It is a “conspiracy of silence” when we do not tell the story of what the Spirit has made truly known to us. As the Spirit passes along every good gift from God, we have the opportunity to realize that we are caught up in the self-glorying work of God.
About a month ago, I described one aspect of glorifying as delighting. Here Jesus says that the Holy Spirit delights him when the Spirit literally takes in hand (the literal translation) what belongs to Jesus’ and communicates (declares) it to us. The same goes for the Father because each is working towards the same end: reconciliation and restoration of their creation. This is what God has been about since the fall. And even further, before the fall, God was about overflowing love and goodness. Love has always been there, here, everywhere.
And God is not shy about love. God delights and glories in love and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, tells us to do likewise, leading us to explore the heights and depths, lengths and breadths of God’s love for us—even that love manifested in the world. Because love belongs to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit takes it and opens it up for us to know.
So please, please, don’t call the Spirit of God shy. Instead, listen to and share what the Spirit of Truth makes known to you; do so in word and deed. Do so for the glory and delight of God, in the hope of the reality that is already breaking in and will come to be: Triune God, Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer, forever united with us.
Call the Spirit the one who reveals the good, the beautiful, and the true to us. Better yet, call the Holy Spirit God… But, for the love of God, which we so desperately need to know and declare, do not call the Spirit shy.
One particular work of the Holy Spirit is emphasized three times in these three verses. Jesus says that the Spirit will “declare” what is to come, “declare” to us what belongs to Jesus, and take what is Jesus’—which is also the Father’s—and “declare” it to us. (These last two clauses with the word “declare” are exactly the same.)
To “declare” is to report, to teach, to disclose, to provide information, to announce or to proclaim. Jesus says that he can’t say much more to his disciples because they’ve reached their limit: the Spirit will continue the declaring work. This is an active picture of how the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, continuing the ministry of love of the Father and Son as God-still-with-us. Each person of the Trinity possesses the same love for humanity, each person of the Trinity is interested in declaring that love to humanity.
Is the Holy Spirit the Father and Son’s ghostwriter? A ghostwriter is a person hired to write behind-the-scenes for someone else—things like speeches, books, blogs, etc. (anything public facing). The person who hires them is the person who actually gets the credit for what is written and published, not the ghostwriter. And often, we’re not told that a ghostwriter has been used: they are could go forever as nameless and unknown. (Besides the paycheque, that is…)
It is not so for the Holy Spirit: we know the Holy Spirit even as the Holy Spirit shares with us the works “authored” by the Father and the Son; the Holy Spirit expresses love for us in ways that that are distinct from that of the Father and Son. This is why it is so important that we pay attention to how we speak of the Holy Spirit and describe how the Spirit interacts with us as the Spirit of Truth. (The same goes for every member of the Trinity, actually.)
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