Holy Spirit, Helper


Pentecost 2015                 St George’s Dunsborough

Sermon

Gospel:  John 15:26-26, 16:4b-16

When the Lord God created the first human being, he was incomplete. It was not good for the man to be alone, God said. He needed, so Genesis tells us, a ‘helpmeet’, a companion who would be by his side to take his side. The word for ‘helper’ in Hebrew is a beautiful word, ‘ezer’.

God brought the animals to the man to see what he would call them. And the man gave the animals their names. But they were not the helpmeet the man was looking for. Maybe he was their helpmeet, their champion, their companion who could speak for them and make sure their world is a place in which they can thrive. But the animals were not a helpmeet for him.

But God put the man into a deep sleep (the first recorded instance of anaesthetics), and took from the man’s side a rib, and perhaps a grain of salt. We don’t have to take these foundation myths as literal history. They are stories that tell us the truth about ourselves. That’s why they are so important.

Creation of Eve by Paolo Veronese

From the rib, God created the first woman, and brought her to the man. She was bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh. The same but different. Equal but not the same. She was the ‘ezer’, the helpmeet the man had been looking for; someone who could be a companion and a champion, speaking up for him when he could not. That was the ideal, anyway. And the reason she could be a helpmeet when the animals could not, was that not only could she be a helpmeet for the man, he could be a helpmeet for her. There was mutuality in the relationship. “The mutual society, help and comfort that the one ought to have of the other”, as the old Prayer Book describes marriage.

Those of us who are blessed with marriage know something of what it means to have an ‘ezer’, a companion and a champion, someone who stands beside us and stands up for us. I thank God every day for the ‘helpmeet’ God has given me. And I know I am more human, a more complete human, because of Rae, because I am married. We men can be a little sub-human without our helpmeets.

And Genesis is describing not only marriage but other close friendships and partnerships. We may have an ‘ezer’ in an adult child, or in a friend we’ve had since childhood, or in someone we’ve only met recently.

People who study friendship say most of us have two or three, and at the most four or five people in our lives, who are close companions and who believe in us no matter what, and who we can speak up for too when necessary. I wonder too, whether an individual dog or horse might be an ezer for a human being. Is there a possibility of mutuality of care between species? Genesis doesn’t seem to think so, but seeing a recent program on ABC TV about dogs helping returned soldiers with PTSD made me wonder again.

The gift of a ‘helpmeet’ is a wonderful provision from God. But in the Old Testament God often describes himself as our ‘ezer’. Think of Psalm 46. ‘God is our help and strength, a very present help in trouble.’ – ‘ezer’. God promises to stand beside us and to stand up for us. He is our companion and our champion. God believes in us, and possibly the most difficult step of faith is to realise the depth to which God believes in you. God knows that you are not perfect, but he does not believe that you are therefore rubbish, he believes that you are of infinite value and worth. God will go to extraordinary lengths for you. Listen to what God says:

I have called you back from the ends of the earth, saying, ‘You are my servant.’ For I have chosen you and will not throw you away. – Isaiah 41:9

 God championing us in this way makes us more human, more complete. God standing beside us and standing up for us makes us more who we are; it gives us the confidence and strength to grow into our true selves. So it makes sense to allow God to be our ‘ezer’, to stand by us in this fruitful way.

So what of Pentecost?Holy Spirit card_sgl

‘When the Helper comes,’ says Jesus, ‘the Spirit of truth, he will bear witness about me.’ (John 15:26). The Helper, the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our ‘ezer’, and this Helper comes to abide with us, to be the ongoing companion and champion for us. Jesus reveals the name of the Helper, our ‘ezer’, it is the Spirit of Jesus, his ongoing presence with us.

And he also reveals something else: Jesus invites us into a mutuality with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our ‘ezer’, our Helper, and we rejoice in that wonderful presence in our lives, and he is also inviting us to be his ‘ezer’. Jesus is asking us to be his companion and his champion, to stand beside him and to stand by him in love; to speak up for him when appropriate, to make sure the world is a place where he can thrive.

Being a Christian is mutual; it is for the ‘mutual society, help and comfort’ that Christ and we have one for the other. And the more we allow the love of the Spirit, the Helper, to permeate our lives, the more human we become, the more truly human we become.

May I suggest a prayer – just a one-off, or to do regularly? You can do this by the beach, under the stars, or in the quiet of your own home, or right now as you sit in the pew. Take some moments to quiet your breath. Maybe do some controlled breathing, counting up to 30 or 40 slow breaths. Then imagine opening your whole self outwards. If you have room, you may spread your arms outwards. Then imagine the warm love of God surrounding you, and pouring into you from every side, filling you, leaving no room for anything else. This warmth is the fire of the Spirit of God. Hold onto the warmth and carry this feeling with you through the day.

*** *** ***

We dare to think that because we also agree to be Christ’s Helper, our love for Him will make him, in some mysterious way, more Christlike. Jesus continues the work that he began on the Cross through us. The Father has tasked him with bringing the world back to him, and Christ works, not by forcing his way through the evil that resists him, but by the gentle power of love, dripping like water on stone.

What we do can reduce that resistance, can open the paths of love, can help heal the pain of lovelessness, can sometimes even remove the stones that block the path of Christ. Look for acts of kindness, however small, opportunities to bring peace, and practise the way of Christ. There’s a saying attributed to St Francis of Assisi. ‘Preach the Gospel always, if necessary, use words.’

So it is extraordinary first to take in that God loves us, believes in us without reservation, and that we can allow ourselves to bear the fruits of peace, love, joy, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22-23) that appear in our lives just from being close to the Spirit. It is even more extraordinary to know that we are invited, as Christ’s companions, to share in his work, so that with the Spirit, he is more able to bring this world to the loving end that the Father has decreed.

Meat and Right for Lent


We Believe

Meat and Right for Lent

John Warner, We Believe: studies in the Nicene Creed, Perth: John Warner, 2011
(available from St John’s Books, Fremantle)
68 pages, A4 paperback

Reviewed by Ted Witham

The Rev’d John Warner believes that “Christians should say what they mean and mean what they say”. The question raised by these substantial Lenten studies is whether most Anglicans do have a spiritual and intellectual grasp on the Nicene Creed, or whether we rattle it off Sunday by Sunday unheeding of its meaning.

One school of thought says that we don’t need to understand all the philosophical ramifications of our central statement of faith. It is expressed in the philosophical categories of the 3rd Century, not in a contemporary framework, so we should recite the Creed believing that we believe the same things about God as Christians did 1,700 years ago. There is a grain of truth in this, but if we rely on it as a reason for not trying to understand the Creed better, then Fr Warner would say we are guilty of hypocrisy – not to mention sloth.

Fr Warner divides the Creed into 30 days collected into 5 sections of various lengths. At the end of each section is a series of discussion starters. The sections are traditional — Belief in: God the Father, God the Son, the saving work of Jesus, God the Holy Spirit, and The Church and the Last Things.

The teaching for each day is both solid and solidly orthodox: meat and right for Lent. The teaching is seasoned with some helpful analogies, metaphors and anecdotes. Fr Warner is aiming to reach thoughtful parishioners, though some readers may need a little encouragement and support to get the most of out the materials.

(On a personal note, I was Associate Priest in Claremont parish when John was Rector. We have worked together in study groups and in Education for Ministry (EfM), so I am accustomed to John’s teaching style.)

The five sets of discussion starters will stimulate worthwhile discussion both on the intellectual understanding of the Creed and on the practical and spiritual implications for life in the Church. I would have preferred more discussion starters and more guidance on how best to use these materials in a group, but restricting the amount of questions will keep group participants focused on the Creed.

There are too few educational materials directing us to know and understand the central teachings of our faith. John Warner’s new studies fill a real need. I hope many parishes will want to use them this Lent.