“The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you,” (John 14:26).
Sermon in a tweet: The Holy Spirit guides and enlivens our reading of the Bible so that by it we come to know and love the risen and living Jesus.
Have you ever had a good friend move away? Or, have you ever moved away from a good friend? Recently, a dear friend of mine, a trusted mentor and brother in our Lord moved across the Atlantic. If I’m honest, I was surprised by the degree to which I was upset by this. Of course, I was very happy for him and his family and this new opportunity but I also found myself feeling sorrow over the distance that would soon be between us, and now is.
And so there was something about Jesus’ words in our gospel reading this morning that struck me as odd and left me wanting to know more. Here is Jesus, knowing that the cross is now an immanent reality, gathered with his closest friends and he begins to tell them something they do not yet understand. Anticipating his ascension to the Father, he explains to them that he is going away and, moreover, that this ought to be cause for rejoicing: “If you loved me,” Jesus says, “you would rejoice that I am going to the Father,” (14:28).
Understand that Jesus’ closest disciples had been with him for three years traveling about, day in and day out. And now here is Jesus saying that not only is he going to be leaving them but that they should rejoice at this fact. Which is odd because from their perspective this news was instead cause for sorrow (16:6).
What is it about Jesus’ departure that is cause not for sorrow but for rejoicing?
The reason why they ought to rejoice, says Jesus, is because he and the Father will send another Advocate or Helper (14:16), that is the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit will abide with them and be amongst them, opening up a new intimacy with God, whereby the Father and the Son will come and make their home with them (14:23). Therefore, it is actually to their advantage that Jesus returns to the Father for if he does not go then the Holy Spirit will not come (16:6-7).
In his second letter to the Church in Corinth the Apostle Paul writes, “even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way,” (5:16). That is to say, once the disciples knew Christ according to the flesh but the gift of the Holy Spirit, who dwells within them, opens up a new way of knowing Christ not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. And let me just say at this juncture that wherever you are in your journey with Jesus in the Church, the Holy Spirit wants to lead you to new depths.
How is it that the Holy Spirit deepens our knowledge and thus our love of Christ? Well, speaking to his disciples Jesus said that the Holy Spirit, “will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you,” (26). The great Reformer John Calvin likened the Holy Spirit to a schoolmaster who reveals the Word to us and enlivens us to receive Christ in faith.
When you think about what it means to be a follower of Jesus how high on the list does the word “student” register?
That’s basically what the word disciple means. To be a follower of Jesus is to be a student of the Holy Spirit. How might that change the way you and I understand and practice our faith? We’ve been talking a bit about our relationship with our neighbours in the community recently, haven’t we? How might our ministry in our community be shaped by a deepening awareness that we are all—all of us—students and apprentices of Jesus Christ?
And so the Holy Spirit teaches us. But not some new information, not some word of his own, but teaches us by reminding us of the Word, Jesus Christ, and what he has said. In a very real way the Holy Spirit continues doing what Jesus began to do. A little bit later in the same long conversation that our gospel reading is taken from Jesus says to his disciples, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears…he will take what is mine and declare it to you,” (16:13-14).
This is an important point for a number of reasons. First, it means that the Holy Spirit is not some power which works arbitrarily or independently of Christ. The same Holy Spirit who “has spoken through the prophets” speaks not of himself but simply declares Jesus. And so Scripture tells us that no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3). In other words, the Holy Spirit and the Son have one joint mission: “When the Father sends his Word, he always sends his Breath,” (Catechism of the Catholic Church).
Secondly, it means that the words of Holy Scripture are the words of Jesus Christ himself. The Bible isn’t just an interesting book about a number of events that may or may not, some will say, really have happened thousands of years ago. Nor is the Bible simply good advice.
Rather, in the inspired—that is God breathed—words of Scripture we hear the word of Christ himself as the Holy Spirit enlivens our hearts and minds. The Bible is the field in which the treasure of Christ is hidden.
So, when we’re trying to discern what the Holy Spirit is saying to us, or where the Holy Spirit might be leading us, when we’re confused or questioning, we would do well to turn to the Scriptures, to sit with them, to read them, to hear them, to meditate on them, because they are Christ’s own words by which the Holy Spirit teaches us. And should we for some reason feel like the Holy Spirit might be leading us in a new direction, one that is contrary to the teaching of Christ in Scripture we should give pause and hear again the words of Jesus Christ himself about the Holy Spirit whom he sends to his disciples: he will not teach anything other than what the apostles heard from Christ and handed on to us in Scripture (John 16:13).
Here one might think of some recent articles in the Anglican Journal which I’m sure many of you have read, about a particular doctrinal change that is being voted upon at our General Synod this July.  Some of our Anglican brothers and sisters are invoking the Holy Spirit as one who is leading us into new territory, despite being told time and again by the Church catholic that such territory is contrary to the teaching of Christ.  Perhaps it would be wise to remember that we are students of the Holy Spirit and not the other way around, and that the movement of the Holy Spirit might not be the same thing as “progress” as we understand it. But I digress.
“Those who love me will keep my word,” said Jesus, “and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” It is important to spend time in the Scriptures. And I don’t mean that as some sort of general truth. I mean that it is important for you, it is important for me, to regularly spend time reading and meditating upon the words of Scripture. Every Wednesday at 11:00am a group of us meet here in the nave to read the Bible together. And I think I speak for all of us when I say that we leave each Wednesday knowing that Christ has been with us by his Spirit, teaching us. Wouldn’t it be great to see more of these groups sprouting up around our parish? Perhaps some of you live or work near each other and might might be encouraged to get together once a week or so to read the Bible together and pray. What a difference this would make to our life together! Speaking from my own experience I can tell you that nothing has enlivened my faith more than a continuing engagement with the Scriptures in the context of the Church. I think this is what Jesus is getting at when he says, “Those who love me will keep my word.” By “keep” he doesn’t simply mean “obey”—there are other words in the New Testament that better fit what we mean by obedience than the word Jesus uses here. Rather, to keep is to carefully attend to, or take care of; to guard. It’s the sense of caring for or tending to something that has been entrusted to you.
And indeed, the Scriptures are a gift to us, for they are the very words of Christ as received by the apostles and handed on from one generation of Christians to another. The Bible is the living word of Jesus which speaks to the Church in every age and in every place by the power of the Holy Spirit. And as we treasure this gift, the Holy Spirit draws us into a deeper knowledge of Jesus Christ, so that knowing Christ we may love him and rejoice in him as he and the Father come and make their home with us. So then, let us rejoice along with the disciples that Jesus has gone to be with the Father. For he has not left us alone but has sent us the Holy Spirit who opens our eyes and ears to see and hear the living Christ in new ways and sets our hearts ablaze with the love of God. Amen.
 See, for example, the headline story in the May edition of the Journal here.
 One needn’t look far to find such sentiment. For example, in a letter to the editor on p.4 of the Journal this month Doris M’Timkulu wonders if by acknowledging their lack of support for a change to the Marriage Canon the House of Bishops are, “denying the power of God the Spirit at work among them at their meeting? Are they indicating their own unwillingness to be changed by the same Spirit?” As if anything other than a change to the doctrine of marriage is a quenching of the Spirit.