Promise of the Spirit

Sunday, May 5
Sixth Sunday of Easter

Focus Theme
Promise of the Spirit

Weekly Prayer
Gracious God, through a vision you sent forth Paul to preach the gospel and called the women to the place of prayer on the Sabbath. Grant that we may be sent like Paul and be called like Lydia, our hearts responsive to your word and open to go where you lead us. Amen.
Focus Scripture
John 14:23-29

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. 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.

“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 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. 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.

“You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.”

All Readings For This Sunday
Acts 16:9-15
Psalm 67
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
John 14:23-29 or John 5:1-9

Focus Questions

1. How do “love, peace, and the doing of God’s word” connect to our care for creation?

2. Is your spirituality “other-worldly”? What does that mean?
3. Where and how have you experienced the hand of God at work in nature?

4. What is a “new” teaching that we need to be ready to receive?

5. How does the Spirit move in the church and the world today? Was creation care “our” idea?

Reflection by Professor Ken Stone
Chicago Theological Seminary

In today’s Gospel reading from John 14, Jesus speaks to his disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, Jesus tells the disciples, will serve as a teacher after Jesus has gone (v. 26). Indeed, John’s Gospel indicates that the teaching of the Spirit will expand upon the teaching of Jesus, which the immediate context of John 14 associates with love, peace, and the doing of God’s word. According to John 16:12-13, the Spirit will even teach the disciples about matters yet to come that Jesus was not able to tell them, since the disciples weren’t ready to hear such things during Jesus’ life.

If the Spirit continues to teach after the time of Jesus, then we as Christians need to ask ourselves continually what the Spirit might be teaching us in new times and places. We need to be open to emphases that earlier generations of disciples weren’t ready to hear. What is the Holy Spirit teaching us today?

Many Christians associate the Holy Spirit primarily with the redemption of humans. The redemption of the earth is not so frequently linked to the Spirit. In fact, if we look around at the damage that humans have caused to the earth, we may begin to suspect that too much emphasis on the Spirit has led Christians to an otherworldly faith. As we are only too aware, Christian “spirituality” has too often been associated with neglect of our environment and neglect of the bodily needs of humans and other living creatures. Such a faith ignores our existence as embodied creatures who share a fragile earth with other embodied creatures. 

This-worldly spirituality

However, the Protestant theologian Jürgen Moltmann reminds us, in his book The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, that the Spirit is actually “the divine energy of life animating the new creation of all things” (p. 9).  The experience of this Spirit, in Moltmann’s view, leads us beyond ourselves and our local congregations “to the rediscovery of the same Spirit in nature, in plants, in animals, and in the ecosystems of the earth.” Thus Moltmann directly links “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” with “the community of creation” (p. 10). In the view of Moltmann and other theologians, the Spirit promised by Jesus will lead us toward a faith that is the very opposite of an otherworldly spirituality.

One of the places where Moltmann directs our attention in order to help us understand this Spirit better is the Hebrew Bible. There the Spirit takes the form of the ruach of God. This ruach–translated spirit, wind, or breath–is present from the beginning of creation, moving over the face of the waters that God must command in order to create our cosmos (Genesis 1:2). God sends forth this Spirit to create living creatures, and to renew the face of the soil or adamah (Psalm 104:30), the very same adamah from which humanity, adam (Gen. 2:7), as well as all the other animals (Gen. 2:19), are created. Humans and animals have this same ruach within us. Indeed, we cannot live without it (Ps. 104:29; Ecclesiastes 3:19-21); and when we die, the ruach returns to God who gave it to us, leaving behind only our dust (Eccles. 12:7). The Spirit is therefore associated in the Hebrew Bible with the same God of creation who calls the earth and all of its creatures good (Gen. 1:31), the God who blesses us by causing the earth to put forth its produce, as God does in this week’s Psalm reading (Ps. 67:6). No wonder the earth itself is invoked when the Psalmist reminds us all to revere God (67:7). As another Psalm puts it, God’s love extends to the heavens, God’s faithfulness extends to the clouds, and God saves human and animal alike (Ps. 36:6).

What do we need to hear now?

In the light of these associations, we need to be open to the possibility, or rather the likelihood, that the Holy Spirit today is teaching us to love God’s creation just as God does. Indeed, many churches appear to be responding to just such a teaching. The UCC’s Mission 4/1 Earth is only one example of the ways in which churches of all persuasions – Mainline Protestant, Evangelical, Roman Catholic – are beginning to acknowledge more consistently the importance and goodness of God’s creation.

Yet our reading from John 14 also reminds us that it is not enough to love the earth, though that is a crucial first step. We also have to act on its behalf. As Jesus says to his disciples, “those who love me will keep my word” (14:23).  If the Spirit promised by Jesus instills in us a recognition of God’s concern for creation, we will become aware of our responsibility to take concrete steps to care for the earth and all of God’s creatures. Our Spirit-driven Mission will truly be directed to all of creation, and not only to one another. In this context, keeping the word of Jesus and the Spirit may mean recycling, lowering our carbon emissions to reduce the impact of climate change, insuring habitat for other living creatures, protecting endangered species, lobbying on behalf of environmental regulations, and any number of other forms of creation-care that the disciples in Jesus’ time could not have imagined. So this week, let us ask what steps can we take together as Jesus’ disciples, inspired by the teaching of the Spirit of Life that Jesus promised to send, on behalf of God’s earth and the community of creation.
Our guest writer this week for Mission 4/1 Earth

Dr. Ken Stone is Professor of Bible, Culture, and Hermeneutics at Chicago Theological Seminary. A Lambda Literary Award winner, he focuses his research on the relationship between critical theory and biblical interpretation and matters of gender, sexuality, animals, and ecology. He holds a B.A. from Lee College, M. Div. from Church of God School of Theology, Th.M. from Harvard Divinity School, and M.A., Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University.

For further reflection

Mahatma Gandhi, 20th century
“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.”

John Keats, 19th century
“The poetry of the earth is never dead.”

Francis Bacon, 17th century 
“God has, in fact, written two books, not just one. Of course, we are all familiar with the first book [God] wrote, namely Scripture. But [God] has written a second book called creation.”

Bill McKibben, 21st century
“There is a tendency at every important but difficult crossroad to pretend that it’s not really there.”

Jimmy Carter, 20th century
“Put on a sweater.”

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