Preached on the Sixth Sunday of Easter at St. Matthew & St. Timothy, New York
Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35
Last week Mother Carla gave us some homework. She encouraged us to think of Love as we made decisions—to ask ourselves what the loving response might be and to act out of that love.
How’d it go for you?
Did you love your neighbor? Did you love yourself? Did you ask yourself, what is the most loving thing I can do in this situation or that?
I read in a book this week that, “When Jesus calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves, he is telling us that we cannot really love either without loving both.” If I don’t love myself, I’m going to have a hard time loving you. And if I’m not very loving toward you, it’s going to be tough to love myself.
Last week John’s gospel reminded us how people would know we are disciples of Christ, “that you love one another.”
This week Jesus tells us that he will send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit—earlier Jesus describes the Advocate as “the spirit of truth…he abides with you, and he will be in you.” Here Jesus tells us that the Advocate is a gift from God, sent in Christ’s name, and that this Spirit will teach us everything, and remind us of all that Jesus has said to us.
And this is what I want to explore with you today—how we know or listen to the Holy Spirit—because I think knowing the Holy Spirit really informs our ability to love one another.
So first off—what are some names we have for the Holy Spirit? Today’s text calls the Spirit an Advocate.
Pneuma/Ruach—wind or breath in Greek/Hebrew
Intercessor—groans on our behalf
These names help us to know what the Spirit does. And knowing what the Spirit does should help us to recognize the spirit in our lives.
There is a book called “The Helper” by Catherine Marshal that I used to read every year for Lent. The book is older than me, and it uses some language we’re no longer accustomed to. But I read it every year for several years because it taught me how to practice listening to the Spirit. And I really do mean practice.
We start with what we’ve just done—naming who the Holy Spirit is so that we know who to listen for.
Then we move on to where we find the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, the Holy Spirit is inside you. For me, I feel the Holy Spirit most in my gut. For others, it may be their heart or their head. Regardless, finding the Holy Spirit requires a self-awareness that comes from turning inward.
Once we know whom we’re listening for and where to listen for it, it’s time to practice listening.
Usually we need to start small. Pay attention to the little urges, nudges, pauses and prompts. Maybe I have gut feeling that I need to leave 5 minutes early today, or that I need to call and check on my friend, or that I should text my husband to let him know I’m proud of him, or that I really ought to stay home and rest instead of attending an event.
We get these little feelings, and we wonder if we should pay attention to them, you know? That’s where listening to the Holy Spirit starts.
It doesn’t always make sense, and you may not ever know if following that gut instinct really made a difference in your day or in the day of someone else. But it gets us in the habit of listening, trusting, and acting.
As you practice, you might sometimes wonder, how do I know I’m listening to the Holy Spirit, and not some other urge or influence?
Remember that Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would remind us of all Jesus has taught us. So like Jesus, the Holy Spirit will encourage us to act in such a way that we are loving one another. Sometimes listening for love will help us tune out any other distractions.
Once we get used to hearing the Holy Spirit in some of the smaller every-day stuff, we can trust that same voice when we feel prompted to make bigger decisions. Maybe it’s time to move, take a risk at work, get out of an unhealthy relationship, start a family, choose where to go to college, or take on a new responsibility. If we’ve been practicing listening to the Holy Spirit, we will know that still quiet voice in situations great and small.
This ability to know and trust the Holy Spirit is why Jesus can say to his disciples and to us, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.”
Jesus says this as he is about to be taken out of this world. He knows the disciples will soon be faced with fear and unknowns. But because the Holy Spirit remains, the very Spirit of God that Jesus has embodied for us on earth, we are never alone and we have nothing to fear.
The more we know this Holy Spirit, the more we know the peace of Christ.
I think this peace is twofold. I think there’s the peace we experience from acting with the assurance of the Holy Spirit. I think it’s a peace that surpasses our understanding because sometimes the Spirit calls us to do things that defy logic.
But then there’s also the peace that is created when we do the most loving thing as Mother Carla challenged us to consider this past week.
The peace that Jesus leaves with us is one we experience and one we create if we but listen to the Spirit and love one another accordingly.
I spent a lot of time talking about how to listen for the Spirit because I think it’s something we have to train our ears to do. As much as we might think love ought to come easily, love is something Jesus teaches us again and again, sermon after sermon, parable after parable, and ultimately with his death and resurrection. And Jesus tells us, “the Holy Spirit will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” So if we’re to love one another, we’ve got to practice listening to the Spirit.
In two weeks we will celebrate Pentecost. Pentecost is when we remember the in-rushing of the Holy Spirit that empowered the disciples to preach boldly and in languages they had never spoken before. Pentecost is Holy Spirit Sunday.
But if our hearts are to be set aflame with the life giving power of the Holy Spirit, we’ve got to be open and ready to listen.
So practice with me. Start small and get ready for something big. You never know what boldness the Spirit might call you to, but you can trust it will be a call to love and peace.