Companion. Advocate. Comforter. Helper. Counselor. Friend. Mediator. Intercessor. Strengthener. What do these words have in common? They are all ways to translate a Greek word used in our scripture reading for this Sunday as we continue our worship series, Credo: What Christians Believe and Why with “The Divine Presence in Our Lives.”
In John 14:26, Jesus says, “The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you.” In Greek, the language of the New Testament, the word that is translated “Companion” is parakletos — and it can be interpreted in many different ways depending on the context of belief and experience: Companion. Advocate. Comforter. Helper. Counselor. Friend. Mediator. Intercessor. Strengthener. It is a way of describing the character and work of the Holy Spirit.
Sunday, as we continue our series “Credo: What Christians Believe and Why”, we will recite an affirmation of faith called A Modern Affirmation. It was written in the 1950’s by a United Methodist Bishop as a more modern paraphrase of the Apostles Creed. In it we say, “We believe in the Holy Spirit as the divine presence in our lives, whereby we are kept in perpetual remembrance of the truth of Christ, and find strength and help in time of need.” What do we mean when we recite those words?
While our affirmations, including this week’s Modern Affirmation, try very hard to capture all these ideas, words, and descriptions of the Holy Spirit, the intent that is common among them is to convey the power of the Holy Spirit to provide us with “strength and help in time of need.”
All of this is points toward helping us recognize the reality of God’s presence with us in every moment of our lives, regardless of what’s going on. When we look at all the various words and ideas trying to convey the meaning and role of the Holy Spirit, we see that they all express a way of filling the particular needs we have as we go about our lives. Sometimes we need one thing more than another thing. God knows what we need even when we don’t and is present with us in our need. Sometimes we need clarity. God is there. Sometimes we need a friend. God is there. Sometimes we need a guide. God is there. The list goes on. No wonder the word parakletos has such breadth of meaning.
In both Hebrew and Greek the word translated Spirit — ruach in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek — can mean breath, spirit, or wind. What I think Jesus most wanted us to understand about the Holy Spirit is how God is always with us — as close as the next breath we take and as present as the breeze on our face. As I think of The Holy Spirit in this way — as our strength and help in time of need — I remember the story of Derek Redmond.
Derek Redmond was a world-class runner, A British athlete whose Olympic dreams and aspirations were hampered by injuries. Yet he persisted. In the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Derek was in his best form ever, clocking his fastest times in four years. He had won the heat and advanced to the 400-meter semi-final race. He was even favored by some to win the whole thing. He started strong and was in perfect position in the field. And then a sickening pop in his hamstring sent him sprawling on the track. Medics rushed to help, and he waved them away. He struggled to his feet, knowing he was out of the race but determined to cross the finish line anyway.
A stir in the stands revealed a man, Derek’s father, plowing through the crowd and then jumping the rail to join his son on the track. In one of those Olympic moments that will stand out for all time, the heartbroken Redmond tearfully clung to his father’s support, and together they moved down the track toward the finish line. When Redmond finally hobbled across that finish line, the 65,000 fans in the Olympic Stadium rose to their feet in a standing ovation. “It was just me and my dad at that finish line,” Redmond later told reporters. “the man who has supported my athletic career since I was seven years old.”
I think the Holy Spirit works in our lives something like that — strength and help in time of need, helping us across the finish line when we just can’t do it on our own.
In preparation for this Sunday’s exploration of the Holy Spirit as The Divine Presence in Our Lives, think about when in your own life you have experienced God’s presence, giving you the strength and the help you needed, right when you needed it most. When have you felt encouraged or guided in a particular direction? When have you felt that still, small voice nudging you toward a choice or reminding you who God calls you to be?
I look forward to exploring these Ideas and answers with you on Sunday in the Sanctuary.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster
John 14:15-17, 25-27
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion, who will be with you forever. This Companion is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world can’t receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you.
“I have spoken these things to you while I am with you. The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you. “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.
“It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.