Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
It hasn’t always worked out for us to have Confirmation on the Day of Pentecost but, when it does, it’s a nice convergence. In truth, however, our four white-robed young people today, in their recent studies and catechetical training, have likely focused a whole lot more on God and Jesus than the Holy Spirit.
That doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit is the neglected and “weak sister” of the Holy Trinity, but it may mean that the Spirit is more elusive and harder to define, though who of us can truly define God?
As the Apostle Paul writes to his Christian friends in Rome: “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?’” (Romans 11:33-34).
And, in case you’re wondering, yes, the Holy Spirit is mentioned far less in God’s Word – and God is, by far, of the three persons of the Holy Trinity, the most often referenced in the Bible.
God is mentioned more than 4,000 times in the 66 books of Scripture (!), though there is a book of the Bible, the Book of Esther, in which the name of God does not appear at all! I will say, however, in defense of the Book of Esther that in its message God’s love and care for His chosen people is clearly shown.
But while God is mentioned more than 4,000 times in the Bible, and there are almost 1,000 references to Jesus in the New Testament, the references to the Spirit throughout Scripture number just more than 600; still, that’s a pretty great number.
I recently read an article which alleged that some claim Jesus taught very little about the Holy Spirit. That is simply not true. Jesus has a good deal to say about the Holy Spirit in Scripture and, in our Gospel today, there are some important teachings about the Holy Spirit of God.
You might have noticed that not once, but twice, the Spirit is called the “Advocate” in our Gospel text (John 14:16, 25). An advocate is one who pleads the cause of another. An advocate is a supporter, a defender, a proponent. This tells us that in the realm of the Divine we all who are in Christ have friendly counsel: the Holy Spirit is our champion and backer!
This is not to deny that there are passages in Scripture that imply that God will one day be our impartial judge. Yes, God is both merciful and just – and God expects, in our dealings with each other, that we will be the same. And the day will come when God will make that final determination about us. God will be objective and equitable; fair and just.
But the Holy Spirit of God will not! The Holy Spirit is and will be active in the heavenly realm pleading the case for us, representing our best interests, advocating on our behalf. We have a very good friend in the third person of the Trinity.
But the Holy Spirit is not only our friend in heaven and beyond this realm. The Holy Spirit is our companion, comforter, and guide right now! So Jesus says in our Gospel, God the Father “will give you another Advocate (that, by the way, implies that Jesus is our Advocate also) “to be with you forever” (John 14:16b).
You could think of the Holy Spirit in this role as a kind of divine chaperone – God with us – a resource that we may rely upon as we journey through this life.
Of course, if we turn away from God, if we choose to live apart from our Christian identity, if we choose to neglect God’s Word and the hearing of it, then the Holy Spirit of God will likely be mostly dormant and inactive within us – but then that will have been our choice.
And that’s not to say that sometimes the Holy Spirit does its work even among and within people who are oblivious and even unaware (!), though those are two adjectives which may not often describe people enlivened by the Holy Spirit.
I say this because our Gospel text speaks of the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of truth,” and truth means wisdom and knowledge, not oblivion and unawareness (John 14:17)!
I hope you won’t be surprised to hear me say that Martin Luther, for one, stressed the connection between the Word of God and the Spirit of truth. According to Luther, God’s Word is truth, and the Holy Spirit brings that truth to life in people of faith.
The first thing the Holy Spirit does through the Word is to convince us and the world of sin. In God’s Word the Spirit enables us to see ourselves as we really are: as sinners. The Spirit, through the Word, enables us to see how ugly and twisted things are, both in our lives and in the world around us.
But, through the Spirit and in the Word, we also learn what Christ has done for us on the cross to make things right. This is God’s truth revealed to us by the Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit at work in the Word of God leads us to the assurance of faith in our hearts.
Now it’s true that we may not always feel such assurance, such confidence of faith. Life can be troubling and worrisome; life can be irritating and even burdensome and painful. But even when we are perplexed and disturbed within, even when doubts and disappointments assail us, even then the Holy Spirit of God may be at work within us.
Martin Luther, in explaining the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, says that we don’t come to faith in Jesus Christ “by our own understanding or strength.” If we have faith in Jesus, if we trust in Christ at all as our Savior and Lord, it’s because the Holy Spirit has planted that faith in our hearts.
The Holy Spirit, working through the Word of God, calls us through the gospel, enlightens us with his gifts, and keeps us in the true faith – “just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith” (Small Catechism, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 1162). This is most certainly true. Amen.
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus forever. Amen.