So, one Sunday the priest was greeting folks at the church door after the service and a woman said to him, “Father, that was a very good sermon.” The priest said, “Oh, I give all the credit to the Holy Spirit.” She replied, “It wasn’t THAT good!”
Almost every Sunday—today being one of the exceptions—we recite the Nicene Creed, which is the basic statement of faith of Christians around the world. The first four lines speak of God the Father. The next 20 lines, speak of God the Son, Jesus the Christ and elaborate on his relationship to God the Father: God from God, of one Being with the Father, seated at the right hand of the Father. God the Spirit gets only four simple lines that tell us this much: The Holy Spirit is the Lord, the giver of life, proceeds from the Father, is worshiped and gloried with the others, and has spoken through the prophets. It doesn’t say much about the Holy Spirit’s relationship to the church today, even though every Eucharist, Baptism, Confirmation, and Ordination we ask God to send down the Holy Spirit.
So, who is God the Spirit—who is this mysterious Holy Ghost? And what is the Holy Spirit’s relationship to us? The Spirit spoke through the prophets and is worshiped and all that, but what is our relationship to this Holy Spirit, who the scriptures and church speak of so often?
In his letter to Christians in Rome, Saint Paul writes, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
First and foremost, the Holy Spirit intercedes for the saints—the people of God you. The Holy Spirit in scripture is spoken of as the Comforter and our Intercessor. That language in Saint Paul’s letter has always deeply resonated with me, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” It’s often, especially when life is a mess, that I don’t really know how to pray as I ought. I’ve had more than one parishioner express the same sentiment. Those are the times in our lives when the spirit is there, ready to minister to our hearts, our weakness, our wounds and brokenness, in a way that eludes words.
The Holy Spirit is our intercessor. Second, in the scriptures Jesus tells his disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth . . .” The Holy Spirit is our teacher. Jesus makes it clear that his teachings were the tip of an iceberg, and there was much more for his followers to learn. When we speak of discernment—it’s not a mental exercise of weighing pros and cons, but opening our hearts to God’s leading. That is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Take a deep breath for a moment. (breathe) Reflect on your life right now. Are there areas of your struggle, your journey, your path where you don’t quite know where to turn? “For we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” We like to think we have everything figured out, but life has its way of humbling us and teaching us how little we know and how much we have to learn.
I want to invite you into a ritual of lifting up our weakness to God, inviting God’s spirit into those parts of our life where we hold questions, doubts, fears, anxieties, and feel at times lost, confused, and need the Spirit not just to intercede, but to lead us into truth, into clarity and vision, guidance and peace.
I invite you to write a short word or phrase on this flash paper as an invitation to the Holy Spirit, and to come forward, one-by-one, to throw your paper in the fire—not envisioning that these struggles disappear in the flash of flame, but that they are lifted up as prayers, enveloped in the fire of God’s Spirit as an invitation to God. Into what areas of your life, into what struggles, weakness, pain, doubt, questions, or even pain do you invite God’s spirit to bring healing, transformation, and hope?
© The Rev. Justin R. Cannon