The counsellor, comforter, spirit of truth, teacher, helper there for us all

Mary Copping, 14 May 2023

Acts 17:22–31; John 14:15–21

Jesus used many words to describe the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity: Paraclete (meaning advocate or counsellor), comforter, spirit of truth, teacher, helper. These he used on the evening before his crucifixion, to try and comfort his disciples, saying that though he was going away he would not leave them ‘as orphans’ but would ask the Father who would send the Holy Spirit. Of course they were deeply disturbed, losing their master and friend and not understanding what Jesus could mean by the Holy Spirit.

And do we really understand what this means now? At other churches I have been asked, ‘Have you been baptised in the Holy Spirit?’ or ‘Are you filled with the Holy Spirit?’ Often I wasn’t quite sure what they meant, but it sounded a bit worrying – not sure that I wanted that.

And we know that Jesus kept his promise and sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, a powerful wind, flames of fire, various tongues – a demonstration of the Spirit’s power that we will celebrate in two weeks’ time. Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit, and that promise is still for today. His promise is to empower us and the Church to do the work of the kingdom, whatever that means for each of us and for our churches.

In our reading from Acts we see a Paul who was completely transformed from when he was cursing these terrible Christians and wanting them stoned, even holding Stephen’s cloak while he was being stoned. Here now he is preaching powerfully about the wonder of the existence of God and the wonder of the risen Christ.

He had had his experience on the road to Damascus – a demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power. He saw a bright light and heard the voice of God. And he was transformed into a powerful servant of God. In our reading Paul was preaching in Athens and he was relating the gospel to where they were, relating God to their statue to the unknown God – a good example for us to speak to people where they are and to relate Jesus’ teaching to their lives.

In his letters to the churches Paul would often speak about the Holy Spirit: the gospel came to you, not just in word, but ‘in power and in the Holy Spirit’. And here he is demonstrating that.

On his last evening Jesus speaks a lot about love to his disciples. In the Greek there are different meanings of love. Philia is an affectionate love, the type of love that involves friendship. Storge is the natural love that family members have for one another. Eros is physical love, the type of love that involves passion and romance.

But the word Jesus is using is the Greek agape, the unconditional, sacrificial and selfless love that God shows us through Jesus. And Jesus is clear that following the commandments to love God and to love our neighbour are the ways to love him. It means seeking the good of the community and the flourishing of everyone instead of focusing only on one’s desires.

This is the kind of love that it is wonderful to give others – the love described in 1 Corinthians 13 – patient, kind, not envious, not irritable. How hard it is for us to give that love to others, especially if we are tired, impatient, short-tempered! But here we have the Holy Spirit to help us.

Many years ago I led an alpha course at this church. We watched the talks by Nicky Gumbel, then we were free to agree or disagree. It felt a good springboard for discussing our faith – not sure if Nicky Gumbel would have approved! When we came to the session on the Holy Spirit, some people stated that they .definitely hadn’t had any experience of this third person of the Trinity.

We then went on to discuss the experiences we’ve had that have taken our breath away – a beautiful sunset, a newborn baby, a wonderful work of art or the nudges we’ve had to phone a friend when it was just the right time. This is the Holy Spirit touching us and working in and with us. The Holy Spirit can also help us in our prayers, if we wait on him. From Romans 8, ‘In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us.’

God through his Holy Spirit works with us and in the world all the time. Yesterday’s Community Day was a demonstration of this – the Holy Spirit’s power through dedicated and committed Christians in our church community working together to welcome many, many people to God’s house.

A person from another church came in yesterday and was amazed at all that was happening in and around our church. A young boy quietly wrote his name on a card and tied it to the rope there – very moving. Someone said to me that this was the best fair she had been to in years. Thank you to you all.

This morning I read an email from someone that said, ‘He was there’ and I thought, ‘Yes, God was there in power’. I then read further down and realised they meant that the photographer was there. I liked my version better!

The Holy Spirit is not a doctrine to be studied; he is a person to be experienced in power.

The American pastor Randy Clark said that the Holy Spirit is not a doctrine to be studied; he is a person to be experienced in power. He is the power of God for those who believe.

Are you filled with the Holy Spirit? Have you been baptised in the Holy Spirit? I don’t know, but I do know that the Spirit helps us in our weakness and gives us strength and does amazing things when we call out to him. Amen.