Read the Gospel text here: John 14:15-21
Recognizing the Holy Spirit
There is a theater convention that was very popular especially in the 18th and 19th centuries that center around mistaken identity. One of the best examples of this is the plot of Mozart’s wonderful opera “Cosi fan Tutte” (which is hard to translate. It means something like “They are all like that.”) The main plot device is that there are two couples who are supposedly madly in love. The men are so certain that their girlfriends are so madly in love with them that they agree to a bet to test the girls' love. The guys then dress up as “Albanian” soldiers and proceed to woo each other’s girlfriends. Yes, it is very silly. It requires a suspension of belief as the primary question that has always arisen in my mind is this – so no matter how good the disguise is it really possible that the girls really could never recognize their boyfriends? Well, as is typical of Mozart it ends with a hint of sadness in the midst of all of the joy – and the music is incredibly beautiful.
Our Gospel text today is in part about seeing and recognizing. And like the two women in the opera who are looking right at their lovers but do not recognize them, I think we too have a hard time recognizing God’s working through the Holy Spirit – even though God is right then in front of our eyes. After demonstrating unconditional love and grace (foot-washing) and then explaining to the disciples that it is to this that they are called, Jesus promises the disciples that God will send to them “another” Comforter/Advocate (Paraclete in Greek). This is the Holy Spirit. So here in this text we get a hint of what the Holy Spirit looks like:
Hint #1. The Holy Spirit looks like an Advocate – “the one who stands up for you when you need it; the one who speaks on your behalf; the one who lends you a helping hand, takes your side, and won't leave you while you're down.”1.
And Hint 2. The Holy Spirit looks like Jesus – “The Spirit is "another advocate" because Jesus is the first. The Spirit, Jesus goes on to say, will abide with us just as Jesus the Word made flesh has abided with us. The Spirit is sent in Jesus' name and reminds us of what he taught (14:25). In a very real way, the Spirit mediates Jesus presence and helps to keep his promise that he will not leave us orphaned and will come to us.”1.
“In summary, then: the Holy Spirit is an advocate that looks a whole lot like Jesus. Which means that we've actually seen the Spirit lots of times. Anytime, in fact, someone stands up for another... Anytime someone acts like Jesus... Anytime someone bears the love of Christ to another... we've seen the Holy Spirit.”1.
So when was the last time you saw the Holy Spirit? Who did the Spirit look like? Perhaps the Spirit looked like a friend, a family member, a nurse or a teacher – maybe the Spirit looked like your Pastor or like Julie or a member of church or a co-worker. I have seen the Holy Spirit and – you know what – the Holy Spirit looked like some of you. This is the point. How does the Spirit work in the world now? Through God’s people – through you and me. We need to put aside the image of a God who intervenes in the world from outside or above; we need to put aside the image of a God who on the one hand might shower God’s favorites with gifts like a kind of cosmic Santa Claus but who on the other hand is so vengeful and angry that He can’t wait to reek devastation and “tribulation” on those who are not part of the inside group. There is no Biblical justification for this. “The Word because Flesh and dwelt among us…” God works by entering into human history and experience and working from within. And God reaches out in intense and overwhelming love to all – that is ALL – of God’s children. There will be no “rapture,” there will be no “tribulation” visited upon us by a removed and vengeful God. Instead God is working to transform this world that God so intently loves; God is working through the power of the Holy Spirit – that is God is working through you and me.
1. The quoted sections of the above are from David Lose’s article: “What the Holy Spirit Really Looks Like” which is posted at Working Preacher