This Fall Abingdon Press will publish The Holy Spirit, a new collaboration by Stanley Hauerwas and me. We hope the book will be read by pastors and their congregations that they may have a fresh encounter with the Holy Spirit. It’s been said that the Holy Spirit is the most neglected aspect of the Trinity. May this book be used by the Holy Spirit to address that!
We’ve Got an Advocate
That the Holy Spirit incorporates us into Godʼs very life is not only found in the letters of Paul. In the gospel of John, Jesus promises that though he will return to the Father he will ask the Father to send the “Advocate, the Paraclete,” who will be with us forever. That “Advocate” is the “Spirit of truth” whom the disciples will recognize because, “You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be with you.” (John 14: 17) The Advocate is sent to “teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14: 26). The Spirit has distinct work to do: to make us one body, the Body of Christ.
That the Holy Spirit is here called “Advocate” indicates that in Christ we are more than simply accepted by God or even justified by God. The Advocate continues to plead for us, represent us to God in ways greater than our ways and speak in our behalf to God better than we could speak up for ourselves. At the same time the Advocate is God representing God to us, revealing God to us in ways that we could not have come up with on our own.
That the Holy Spirit “will teach you everything and remind you” of all that Jesus said is immensely reassuring. None of us is born Christian. We must learn the faith and, in the Holy Spirit we see that God loves us enough to teach us all we need to know to be with God. Jesus commands us to do some extraordinary things in his name but never commands us to attempt to obey him by ourselves. Jesus tells us some astounding truth that is easy to forget. Therefore the Advocate reminds us. Here is truth we cannot teach ourselves, truth that is not only a great mystery to us but also truth that we, in our human sin, cannot attain on our own. Therefore the Advocate is a truth-teller.
We know a person who suffered a great wrong at the hands of another. She was justifiably angry at the injustice perpetrated against her. In an encounter with her wrongdoer her rage boiled over and she was in the process of, “Giving him a piece of my mind.” In that moment she, “remembered that Christ commanded us to forgive our enemies. I said, ʻLord, Iʼll try to do what you want me to do, but youʼll have to help meʼ.” We believe her remembrance was the work of the Advocate, the true eternal truth-teller, the Teacher, the Living Reminder otherwise known as the Holy Spirit.
We spend most of our lives outside of the sacred precincts of the church. Thankfully, the Advocate is with us “forever,” at all times and places, helping us to be the disciples Jesus calls us to be.
The love that is Trinity is a wonderful but also a harsh and dreadful love, a love that (we learn in Christʼs resurrection) cannot be destroyed. Christʼs church is given the extraordinary opportunity to participate in the love that is God in a world that knows not God.
The Holy Spirit rests upon bodies, first on the crucified body of Jesus, then on the often full-of-holes and beaten Body of Christ, the church.
A little church in Alabama had been saving for a decade at last to build its own church and to enable the congregation to move out of the rented space where it worshipped. A couple in the church had raised four foster children. One Sunday, during the prayers of intercession, the couple said that social services had asked them to take on three more children who had become homeless. They asked the church for prayers,“to help us find a larger place to rent so we can take in these kids.”
With that, one of the oldest members of the congregation blurted out, “We donʼt need to pray for that. Letʼs give them our building fund money!” There was applause. That Sunday the church gave the entire building fund to enable the family to have a larger home. We believe that such a miracle is attributable only to having ordinary people pray, “Come! Holy Spirit!”
The Holy Spirit is the agent of the Kingdom of God. That Kingdom is present, often hidden, in the church. The Holy Spirit is the way that God keeps actively loving us in time, the way that the Trinity keeps showing up to us, keeps pointing us toward the truth embodied in the Crucified. By Godʼs love, we live in the Age of the Spirit, that new time in which the church exists and testifies to the world that our time is not our own. God has taken time for us and the sign of that divine intrusion is the Holy Spirit at work in the church that is lives and works in the world.
God through the Spirit draws us into the life of the Trinity making possible a people who would otherwise not exist. The Spirit must have a body on which the Spirit can rest. That body turns out to be called “church.”
Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon