The Spirit Who Leads into All Truth

MP3 Audio:  WS330292x_Fr-Michael_The-Spirit-Who-Leads-into-All-Truth.mp3

This homily was preached on Pentecost Sunday morning, June 23, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Fr. Michael Keiser.
During this same service, Russ Lazarus Leo was Chrismated into the Orthodox Church.

~

Gospel Reading:  John 14:15-31

“And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, God is one. Amen.

Pentecost, like Pascha, like Passover, was a feast of the Jews. They celebrated Pentecost fifty days after they celebrated the Passover. It commemorated the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

Now, God never does things by accident. Jesus rose in conjunction with the Passover precisely because it was the pass-over from death to life. The Holy Spirit is given to the world for the Church on Pentecost, because it is the fulfillment of the Law, not its abolition, Jesus doesn’t say that. Jesus says, “I have not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” But what Pentecost and the giving of the Spirit does is this: By fulfilling the law, it takes that which was external, that which was an external code of behavior, and makes it internal. No longer is it something that we carve on tablets and put in front of courthouses; after Pentecost, it is something which comes to live within us, shaping our vision, shaping our life, shaping our entire concept of what it is to live.

That’s why Jesus, in Matthew, when He is teaching the disciples says, “You have heard it said, you shall not commit adultery”–That’s part of the external Law.–“But I say unto you, any man who looks at a woman with lust as committed adultery in his heart.” That’s because now it is internal. It’s not a checklist external to us; it’s something which is supposed to shape how we look at the world.

So the external Law becomes written on their hearts, not on tablets of stone. So, that’s the first thing that happens.

The second thing that happens, of course, is that it incorporates the apostles and all faithful believers into Christ’s body, the Church. The Church is the guarantee of the Incarnation. The Church is Christ’s body extended in time and space. The Church is the presence of Christ amongst us. That’s how He guarantees after the Ascension, when He has to return to the presence of His Father in Heaven, that His presence is still here. It’s why I guess He can say He can be in two places at one time. He stands before the Father in heaven–we read this in Hebrews–and always makes intercession for us. That’s His job description. Sending the Holy Spirit from the Father to us was the last thing He had to do, to equip us to live the life of the Kingdom, in His Church, in this world.

That’s why He returned. Sometimes people will say, “Well, why did He go back? Why did He return to the presence of His Father in the heavens?” And the fact is, He had done everything here He was supposed to do. There was nothing more to do, other than sending the Holy Spirit from His Father to us, to equip us for the lives that He called us to live.

His job now is to stand before the throne of His Father in heaven, and continually offer Himself to God on our behalf. Always. 24×7. What He does is stand before the throne of His Father and say, “Ok, look, I get it, I get it, they’re not much, but we made ’em! And You sent Me to save them. And I’m offering everything I did for them, to You, on their behalf, so that they can stand with Me and eat at Your table in Your kingdom. . . .”

If He had not returned to the presence of His Father, in His humanity–and remember, He is still God and man; He didn’t leave His humanity behind Him–that makes it possible for the rest of humanity to be in the presence of God.

Truly, in our Lord Jesus, heaven and earth are rejoined. Truly, in our Lord Jesus, we now have the power, the guidance, and the direction, to return to the presence of our Father in His kingdom.

That’s why we come together to celebrate this Mass, this Eucharist, this liturgy–whatever names the Church gives to it that you wish to apply–it is something in which we join in the sharing of Christ’s sacrifice of Himself, His self-offering, His–as it says in the prayer of consecration–His one oblation of Himself, once offered. We join that with Him in heaven. What happens here doesn’t happen in Omaha, or in St. Louis, or in Belgrade, or in Damascus, or in Rio De Janeiro, because when we come together, joining Christ in the presence of His Father in heaven, we ascend to heaven, and heaven and earth meet. In Omaha, heaven and earth meet. In Belgrade, heaven and earth meet. In Damascus, heaven and earth meet. In Rio, in Tokyo, wherever faithful Orthodox come before the altar, to join their offering with Christ’s self-offering of Himself, heaven and earth meet. But the only thing that allows us to join in that, is of course the power and grace of God’s Holy Spirit.

Now, people have had contact with the Holy Spirit of God, prior to Pentecost. I think sometimes we get this idea that, you know, the Spirit wasn’t present–that’s not true. At the Creation, we are reminded in Genesis, the Spirit of the Lord moved across the face of the water. The acts of the Holy Trinity are always acts of three Persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. The Son, of course, is the Word incarnate, and He shows us the Father. It is as close to seeing God the Father, in humanity, that you will ever get in human form. But the Spirit does not, and that makes it harder for us to get a handle. The Spirit, Jesus tells us, blows where it will.

We can’t control the Holy Spirit of God. We can’t capture the dove and cage it, although we try to do that all the time. We try to get the Holy Spirit to do things we want it to do, as if we had a bird we were training. You know, He’s the Paraclete, not the parakeet. He’s not a trainable bird. The Spirit carries out God’s will, wherever He is sent to do that. And sometimes He does that in ways that make us highly uncomfortable. But the fact is that, now that the Son has returned to the presence of His Father, the Holy Spirit incorporates the apostles in that upper room, and all of the faithful, into His actual body, so that we make up that body.

Remember the apostles that celebrate Pentecost here–you heard the reading–the apostles see Jesus depart from them, He returns to the heavens, and they are kind of, “Well, I’ll wait for You to come back. I wonder what that means?” And finally a couple of angels have to say, “Guys, focus. Why stand ye looking up into heaven? This same Jesus who ascended, will return. Your job–He gave you a job–is to go back in Jerusalem and wait to be empowered from on high.”

So they do that. You got this period of maybe ten days between the Ascension of our Lord, and the day of Pentecost that comes after the feast of the Ascension, in which they go back a lot happier certainly than they were after Good Friday. After Good Friday, they assumed it was all over, they assumed they had been conned, tricked, bamboozled, whatever it might have been–until they encountered the risen Lord. But they go back happier men, but still rather timorous men. You know, they still were the ones who were hiding, because they were afraid they were going to be identified as being with Jesus, and that sort of a thing.

But it is on Pentecost when they receive conviction, confidence, focus, the courage, and the power to take what they have experienced–an experience of a risen Lord which they knew personally–and to go out and begin to tell people about Him.

Peter, a fisherman, stands up in Jerusalem on Pentecost–Remember, this was a Jewish feast, so the Jews were already gathered to celebrate Pentecost–stands up on Pentecost and begins to talk to them about Jesus and the coming of the Spirit. And at the end of this he speaks so powerfully, he says to them, “This Jesus whom you crucified . . .”–It is a bold statement. This was the same guy who ran and hid! This was the guy who denied Christ three times, standing up and proclaiming to his people that the Messiah had come, that the prophecies of the prophet Joel (which we heard read this morning) were fulfilled, that the Spirit had come, and speaks so powerfully–and to our knowledge this was the first time he had ever done so–that people are struck at the heart and say, “What must we do?” [And Peter says,] “Repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins.”

This group of men who are basically, essentially, groupies to a travelling Rabbi, who they were really attached to, suddenly no longer have a leader, except God the Holy Spirit, the Spirit that Jesus had sent.

And they themselves, therefore, spread out as far as they could go. We know Thomas got as far at least as India–it may not be exactly India, but at least far east. Others went north. Others went west. All of them, except John the Evangelist, died as martyrs. All of them had a tremendous impact wherever they went. They had power to proclaim, what before they had been frightened.

So it incorporates them completely into the Church, and empowers them to be leaders of that Church, and empowers all faithful believers too.

Another thing the Holy Spirit does is what Jesus says, “He will lead you into . . . “ what? “all truth.”

Our God is a jealous God. Had you suggested to the apostles that they slap a bumper sticker on their chariots that said “coexist“, they would have laughed at you. There was one God. They were preaching one God. They knew the truth about that one God, and they were calling–they preached Jesus, they preached a relationship with Jesus–and they called for a response.

They were in a world which was about as pluralistic as you can imagine, probably even more pluralistic than our own . . . in which all kinds of gods and religions were competing for men, and in which, by the way, they could have had a perfectly secure place in the Roman Empire, if they had wished it. The Roman Empire couldn’t have cared less what Christians believe. They couldn’t have cared less had they worshiped a sacred mushroom, as long as they also worshiped the other gods and the Emperor. “You got your sacred mushroom? That’s cool. Whatever turns you on. But you just fold that into the pantheon of the other gods, and then it gets alright, it’s ok.” And this of course the Christians would not do, because they said there is only one Lord, one Kyrios.

This becomes particularly manifest in Antioch, which of course was our mother church. Because, once the persecution community was spread out–most of the early Christians were Jews–they go to Antioch and they contact other Jews, but they start talking to Gentiles. And the Jews in Antioch were different from the Jews in Jerusalem. The Jews in Antioch were Hellenized Jews. They have seen the big city. They have seen the lights of the great wide land. And they contacted all kinds of people, all kinds of cultures. Paul was one of them. He could speak Greek, he could speak Hebrew, probably knew Latin. You know, these people weren’t people from down on the farm. They had a broad knowledge of what was going on in the world.

And the Church, they knew intuitively at that point, it was only the work of the Holy Spirit, that they couldn’t preach the same way in Antioch, or in Alexandria, or in Rome, the way they had done in Jerusalem. Because, having been faithful Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah who fulfilled the Old Testament, that’s what they preached.

The word in Hebrew is Mashiyach“. If they had preached the Mashiyach in Antioch, no one would have known what they were talking about. They didn’t know from “Messiahs”. They didn’t know from prophets. They didn’t know from the suffering servant of Isaiah. They worshiped Mithra, they worshiped Dionysus, they worshiped all kinds–they worshiped the Emperor. But they certainly didn’t worship the God of Israel. They wouldn’t even know what the vocabulary was. And had they continued preaching in Antioch what they preached in Jerusalem, the Church would have died right then.

But the Holy Spirit worked. The Holy Spirit led. And they realized they had to change their vocabulary. Nobody in Antioch, except maybe a few of the Jews who knew who Messiah was–but they certainly knew the word “kyrios”–“Lord”. And it is first, there, that Jesus is called “kyrios”. And so they began to preach about this Lord, in opposition to Lord Mithra, Lord Dionysus, Lord the Emperor, whoever that might be. And if that had not happened, if the Spirit had not led them–and that’s not an easy thing to do, because you are abandoning your own culture, to change the language that you are talking in means that you are abandoning, leaving behind the culture that you’ve been brought up to be comfortable with. This could not have been an easy thing to do. But this is how the Holy Spirit leads and guides.

But it says the Holy Spirit leads into all truth. It means precisely that the truth that God reveals is always the truth that God reveals. You read in Hebrews, Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. God Himself is impassible, there is no change in God, otherwise He wouldn’t be God.

But the situations that Christians find themselves in, as say, between Jerusalem and Antioch, the situations the Church has to confront, historically, are different. So you can’t do in Antioch what you would do in Jerusalem, what you would do in New York City.

This is why when we look at the history of the Church, we sometimes get confused. Because, we see the same Orthodox Church, preaching the same Gospel, calling people to believe the same doctrines, treating people differently in one period of history and geographical location, than they might in another period of history or geographical location. And the reason is, people are not the same here, as they are there–as the difference between Jerusalem and Antioch. And so, if you read through the history of the Church, what you see is the Holy Spirit leading the Church to do what is best at that time, for those people who are encountering the Gospel, and for their salvation.

And so at one time, the Church may be very severe and strict with people coming into the Church. At other times it is much more gentle and kind. You’ll find all things in here. You’ll find canons to do this here, and then a couple hundred years later down the road you’ll find another canon that says, “Don’t do that! What are you thinking?” Because, the circumstance that the Church is facing, that it is trying to preach the Gospel in, is different. Because people, culture, language, all these things.

We talked last night about the language of worship, and how it affects music. Well, the same thing happens to affect the way we preach, and discipline people. Even within personal ministries, a priest–if he is wise and listens to the Holy Spirit of God–often has to deal with different people in different manners, about the same issue, because different people have different levels of strength, different levels of commitment, different baggage they are hauling with them, and the priest has to be able to stand there when he is confronted about it–and this will happen–as to “How come he treated them differently than me?” Well, because frankly you’re stronger than they are. You’re more industrious than they are. You’re more grown up. You can handle it; they cannot. This is what it means when it says the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth. Not that there are new truths to be described, and no, we don’t believe there are new doctrines. But the way in which that truth is applied to people and situations, and problems and difficulties, and pains and hurts, this requires the wisdom the Holy Spirit gives us, to recognize that people are not stamped out of a cookie cutter. . . . you can pound a round peg into a square hole, but you can’t pound a square peg into a round hole.

This is why priests always have to invoke the Holy Spirit. This is why bishops, when they teach, always have to invoke the Holy Spirit. Filled with it. Guided by it. Directed by it. To be that Comforter, that Counselor, that Advocate. The word “Paraclete” literally means an “advocate” in the sense that you would have an advocate for you in a court of law. But He is also described as the Comforter. And sometimes the Comforter is the only real comfort that we are going to have. I have one translation where it says, from the Latin, “God will send someone else to befriend you.”

We can’t take the Spirit and nail it down. . . . He is giving to us the uncreated light of God, communicating to us the life of the Kingdom of Heaven, communicating to us whatever gifts God knows that we need. And different people have different gifts. Go read Galatians, read about the fruits of the Holy Spirit, look at the last chapter there, where it talks about love, friendship, patience, repentance, and the last one which we are so often lacking: self-control–the spirit of self-control.

The Holy Spirit himself is a person, as much as our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father are persons. But it’s a different kind of experience. The Spirit blows where He wills. He comes to us in whatever need we know. Paul tells us in Romans that if we cannot find the words to pray, the Spirit himself will pray with us with sighs and groans that are greater than words. We don’t pray on our own. The Holy Spirit of God prays through us, and supports the words that we send up to God. . . .

And the Holy Spirit, above all things, is always renewing us and His Church. The historic Church was not something that existed in the past; the historic Church is now, right here. Yeah, right here in Omaha, Illinois. This is the selfsame Church, with the selfsame teaching, but more than that, the selfsame personal encounter with a personal God that transformed the lives of the twelve, that transformed the lives of all those who heard Him, and transforms the lives of all those who respond to His presence in our midst.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit, God is one.

~

This homily was preached on Pentecost Sunday morning, June 23, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Fr. Michael Keiser.
During this same service, Russ Lazarus Leo was Chrismated into the Orthodox Church.

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About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
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