Thought for the week 23rd May 2021

This week's talk is written by Rev Peter Sheasby.

The Holy Spirit

Jesus said to the disciples, "Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I send you." Then he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:21-22)

In the New Testament there are two strands that speak about the Holy Spirit. One we might call the Pentecost strand; the power of the Spirit coming like fire and wind. A fire that brings light and heat, and wind that blows strong and powerfully. It is the Spirit of charisma, the Spirit of strength, a force for God in the world. It is that Spirit that gives new life to the disciples, changing them as one commentator put it “from rabbits into ferrets”, that is from scared men to fighting men, prepared to stand up for their faith.

The other strand is more gentle, more of a breeze than a hurricane. It comes from Jesus too, as retold in those words above from John’s gospel. Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into them. The technical, theological word is “Insufflation”. I first came across it in the directions to use a puffer for my hay-fever when I was a teenager! But it is also the theological word to describe what Jesus did according to John’s gospel.

It recalls how God breathed on Adam - The Lord God formed a human being from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, so that he became a living creature. (Genesis 2:7). God breathed life into the first man; Jesus breathes new life into his disciples. A much gentler and perhaps less threatening way than all the drama of Pentecost (although not necessarily a comfortable experience, a bit too up close and personal for some I guess, especially after our Covid warnings!).

Earlier Jesus had promised them an advocate, the Holy Spirit:  The Helper will come – the Spirit, who reveals the truth about God and who comes from the Father. John 15:26

Then Jesus explains a bit more about this “person”: When the Spirit comes, who reveals the truth about God, he will lead you into all the truth. John 16:13

This is about understanding God and his Word. The Spirit will not speak for himself, but only what he hears – that is the Spirit has a direct line to the Father and tells us the truth because he only hears the truth.

Truth telling seems to be a virtue that is frequently missing in life today. Fake news has become a problem right across politics. No one is sure what the truth is sometimes and that has enabled conspiracy theorists such as those against vaccinations to be believed as much as the Government ministers and scientists who stress its importance. As we move towards stage four of the Roadmap out of the pandemic restrictions we are all wondering what is going to happen next. Telling the truth is crucial to everyone behaving correctly and keeping people safe. The same is true of our own personal relationships, being honest, telling the truth in love is not a matter of choice but of integrity. The disciples needed to tell the truth about Jesus, neither to deny nor exaggerate his words and work, because only then would other people listen, respond and come to believe for themselves.

That might seem a bit tame compared to the charismatic gifts of the Spirit from Pentecost: speaking in tongues, healing, even powerful preaching. But without the Spirit of truth and wisdom these would be valueless. The Spirit of truth enables us to know what is God’s will for us – what is it God wants us to do. It is the Spirit of guidance and direction. If I could have nothing else I would want the Spirit of wisdom, because then at least I would be able to do the right thing for God, even if it wasn’t such a dramatic thing.