“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Wow, a Shakespeare quote right out of the box. Pretty impressive don’t you think? This is a line from Hamlet, one of Shakespeare’s most quoted plays. But it is also a play that has a ghost as a main character. There is something, well, if not rotten, then just a bit strange in Shakespeare’s Denmark.
It is interesting to me how many supernatural sorts of television programs and movies there are these days. iZombie, and Supernatural, and Walking Dead, and on and on. And I’ve been a Science Fiction and Fantasy reader from my childhood, so I love this fictionalized exploration into the unknown. But what about our real world heaven and earth? Are there more things than we have dreamt about? Depends on how well you dream, I suppose.
Well, before I get too far off the track, let me declare the subject for this week’s Bible study and sermon. We are on the third statement of the Apostles’ Creed in our Credo series. “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” That’s our content, that is the object of our study. We are going to dissect the Holy Spirit. Umm. We are going to try and pin down... We are going to try to define ... OK, we are going to amble around the subject of the Holy Spirit for a while and see what comes out.
The first thing that we note from the creed is how bald the statement is. We don’t have any subordinate clauses to flesh out this word about the Spirit. We don’t have any external references that will locate us in time or space. We don’t have any descriptive adjectives that will give us handles on the Spirit. It is like grasping the wind, like catching our breath. Like capturing a ghost.
Every now and then you see an older version of the creed and notice that it talks about the Holy Ghost. When I was younger, I thought that the Holy Ghost must be like Casper, the Friendly Ghost. But holier. Actually, I had no idea what it might be like. But certainly not the scary kind of ghost. Something good. Something useful. Something... that was just a little bit more than nothing.
Most of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the Spirit. We are a bit skeptical of those who go overboard on the whole subject. They strike us as odd, as unnatural. And we don’t want anything to do with that sort of thing. We don’t want to lose control like that.
This might be a big part of the issue with the Spirit, who’s in control? Jesus tells us the Spirit is like the wind, you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It is just there. Or not there. Out of our control. Which makes it even harder to grasp. And makes us less likely to seek the Spirit when we need it. Or Him. Or Her. Or whatever.
So, what is it that Spirit is supposed to do for us? If we believe in the Spirit, then we ought to understand at least a little, don’t you think? Well, this is what Jesus told us the Spirit was all about during what has come to be called the Farewell Discourse in the Gospel of John. Take a look.
John 14:15-27 "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 18 "I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them." 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, "Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?" 23 Jesus answered him, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. 25 "I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, 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. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
There is a lot that we don’t know about the Spirit, no question about that. But if we listen carefully to what Jesus tells us here there is a lot that we do know. Or can believe in anyway.
First of all, we can know, or believe that access to or awareness of the Spirit is a function of faith. It involves a relationship with Jesus Christ. “The world,” John quotes, “cannot receive” the Spirit. The world doesn’t know the Spirit. Not because they aren’t worthy, but simply because they don’t have this relationship of love that opens the door to the experience of the Spirit. Oh, it is possible to have an experience of God without a relationship with Jesus the Christ. But to know and be known by the Spirit takes something deeper, an act of will, an offering of self to the Lordship of Christ. “I will not leave you orphaned” says Jesus. I will not leave you Fatherless, out of touch with the Father. There is a connection, a link to the Father that once came from the person of Jesus and now comes through the Spirit.
The function of the Spirit, according to Jesus in verse 26 is to teach and to remind. This Advocate (which is the Greek word “paraklete” and is sometimes translated Helper, or Comforter, or Counselor) is that abiding presence which connects to our sense of who we are. We are reminded of what we already know. We are reminded of the teachings that we learned as children but may have forgotten. Or chose to set aside for a time. It is the Spirit that comes and whispers in our ears to remind us that we are better than we sometimes behave. It is the Spirit that comes to remind us even in the darkest of nights that we are not alone. It is the Spirit that reminds us that we are loved - especially in those moments when we feel most unlovable.
It is not just what we already know that is recalled by the prompting of the Spirit. We are pushed further, we are asked to climb higher. The Spirit also teaches, calling us to new levels of understanding and experience. The Spirit works with our spirits to claim deeper truths and new applications, we are stretched beyond our childhood faith as we grow and learn and live into the realm of the Spirit. We have much to learn under the tutelage of the Spirit.
Which brings us back to the question implied in the title of this essay. I know the reference is from a film that is about ridding us of the supernatural. But here I guess I claim it for the opposite. When we wonder who we are or whose we are, who you gonna call? When we need a reminder of what we know to be true, who you gonna call? When we need a boost, to learn more, to be more, who you gonna call.
I believe in the Holy Spirit