HOLY SPIRIT COMPASS (text)
HOLY SPIRIT COMPASS
This short sermon on the Holy Spirit was delivered extemporaneously on Sunday, June 7, 2009 at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel in Madison, Wisconsin.
There is a process of waiting for the Holy Spirit. We are told some of this in the writings during the period of time when there’s a waiting time in the church’s calendar. But during the post-Pentecost season, and until the time of the apostles themselves, we are told that the Holy Spirit is already with us and that the Holy Spirit has been with us. We know this because the Holy Spirit – and we say it all the time – is the giver of life. And so as we breathe and have life, the Holy Spirit is with us. What is it that we wait for?
Sometimes we get confused. Sometimes we think we know stuff that we don’t. We often think of the Holy Spirit in a way that Pentecostals talk about it because they use this story of Pentecost as the way to show forth the power of the Holy Spirit. They often talk, and mis-talk, about different ways that the Holy Spirit works. The Holy Orthodox Church has always taught the Holy Spirit is a giver of many gifts to us, but we forget that the fundamental process of the Holy Spirit is as the comforter. Comfort comes in many different ways. We say that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth. So put those things together and you understand truth is the comforter and truth is the giver of life. Or let’s put it better than that, truth is what life is. If we are not operating in truth, we’re operating against life itself. Part of what truth is and part of what we are gathered to do in Holy Church, in gathering the gifts of the Holy Spirit, is to be open to the fullness of truth. If we’re open to the fullness of truth, language becomes a sharing of the Holy Spirit, that is God speaking the truth.
It doesn’t matter what language is spoken, if you’re speaking the truth it can be understood. If you speak lies, they’re confounding no matter what language you speak. The issue we have to come to is the issue of the truth. So be comforted. If we seek comfort in God, we must be willing and be able to grasp and become part of the truth, to be gathered in the truth. So you gather by the Holy Spirit of truth. Jesus Christ says, “I am the way, the truth,” and you notice also that the Holy Spirit is never separated in the way that we worship, separated from Jesus Christ, nor the Father. We always say, “The Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” We never really separate the Holy Spirit from that. And if you’re listening, you can see that because the Holy Spirit is that which proceeds from the Father and he gets his substance from the Son. The Holy Spirit is that of God which is still present with us. So creation happened a long time ago and is sort of an overarching – remember we’re talking about the Holy Trinity and how the Son was a historical life that began and ended, just like ours does. And the Holy Spirit is something that continues to bring us into that overarching, the portion of infinity, the portion of eternal life. So the Holy Spirit is what gives us life, but also gives us eternal life and he does this by comforting us by bringing us to a knowledge of the truth. Not just a knowledge of the truth, but the comfort of the truth. Comfort of the truth is to understand that everything that is truth is part of God.
Now keep this in mind – that means whatever mistake we make when we tell the truth about the mistake, we are with God. But as long as we conceal the truth, we are not with God. Does this make sense? That doesn’t mean that we go and tell everybody every little secret or whatever, that’s not what that means. What that means is that we’re willing to admit the truth when we need to admit it. Let me be clear about that: We’re given a sacrament of confession for this reason, to allow us an opportunity to tell the truth in a sacred and safe place that allows us to be confronted with God’s love in the midst of our truth, to be comforted in the truth. It’s from that place of truth that we begin our journey of reparation of any damage that may have been done by what we did or by fixing that which we are doing wrong, by adjusting our lives. So it’s by the truth that we can make adjustments to our life. And this – I’ve said this before – is like a compass and a map.
The compass works to help give us directions so we can read the map. If you have a map and don’t know which way north is, it doesn’t matter how great that map is. Sometimes you can read other kinds of signs and symbols to give you some idea of north. Sometimes people give you signs and symbols to help you understand the way. In Holy Orthodoxy we’re full of signs and symbols to help us in our journey. But sometimes we have the map and don’t have the compass, so we don’t have the direction. The compass gives us direction by focusing on north, by focusing on which way to read the rest of the map, which way to orient ourselves.
This is what is meant by the comforter of truth, the Spirit of truth and the Spirit that is the comforter. It’s by getting to the truth that we begin to acknowledge what direction God is and then we can take the map that’s in front of us and be able to walk whichever direction we need to go.
In the beginning of Acts, we are told that the people travelled from different locations and places to Jerusalem to honor the fifty days past Passover. They came as pilgrims to be in Jerusalem, to hear the truth – and, in Acts, what they heard was the Holy Spirit speaking the truth to them, to the apostles, in their own language. This is an important aspect of the Holy Spirit speaking through Apostles: God’s not going to speak a language that you’re not going to understand. So if you think God is so far away from you, the Holy Spirit enables you to hear everything regardless of where God is. Let me ask you a question. Where is God? God is everywhere. So where can you hear God? Where can God speak to you? Anywhere and everywhere.
When you’re walking among the signs and symbols, orient yourself to true north so you know which direction to go. As you’re walking, as you’re traveling, as you’re journeying, you can always know what direction you need to go.
You can always know the next proper thing to do. And as the gospel says, you will know the commandments of God because of God’s love and the great commandment is? Love. Love one another. That’s it.
So if you are not sure what direction north is, it will always be clear by the Holy Spirit, by the truth given to us by the life of Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit that’s been passed onto us by the apostles – which, through historic succession, are the bishops and priests that followed. The church through the ages has preserved this for us so that the Holy Spirit can be present with us in reality as breathing-ness, as life itself, as the voice that God uses to speak through preachers and through teachers and through priests and through bishops; that they can bring to us the truth to be our guide and our guardian and our map, to give us the way to go.
But the true direction to orient ourselves always is love. If you feel a little lost, you are not sure what to do next, you can always ask yourself this one question: What is the most loving thing to do? You ask yourself what is the most loving thing to do you can never go wrong. You will always be following the Spirit, you’ll always be following the Spirit of truth, you will always be following the comforting Spirit and the Spirit of all purity and holiness and the Spirit of life because all things proceed from God through that power of love.
The original audio for this sermon an be found here