Writing between 1142-1144, William of St. Thierry wrote of the Holy Spirit: “To the children of grace and the poor in spirit, he is their advocate in the exile of this present life, their consoler, their strength in adversity, their aid in hardship. It is he who teaches them to pray as they ought, who keeps them firmly close to God, who makes them pleasing to him and worthy to be heard” (The Enigma of Faith, 100).
This vividly captures the work of the Holy Spirit as the Advocate-Helper, a description given by Jesus in His final talks with His disciples. The “sweet guest of the soul,” as He’s been called, is given to the disciples of Christ as “another Advocate/Helper” like Jesus. As such, this means that we cannot say that we would be better off if Jesus was still with us in bodily form. Jesus Himself told us that He was going away but that He was sending this other Advocate/Helper so that we would not be left as “orphans.” In other words, the presence of the Holy Spirit was intended to have an effect equal to the effect of Jesus’ bodily presence!
But I’m not sure that we always believe this today. I think many of us feel like orphans who lack the felt presence of God in their lives. If you do, please know that this is not what Jesus intended, and He gave the Holy Spirit precisely to eliminate such feelings. Today, I invite you to lean in close as we come to know the Spirit as our Advocate-Helper.
In the middle of the fourth century, Cyril of Jerusalem famously composed a series of nineteen lectures designed to instruct candidates for baptism on the faith to which they were committing. In his lecture on the Holy Spirit, he had this to say that’s particularly relevant to our topic today: “And why did he call the grace of the Spirit water? Because by water all things subsist; because water brings forth grass and living things; because the water of the rain showers comes down from heaven; because it comes down one in form but works in many forms. For one fountain waters the whole of paradise, and one and the same rain comes down on all the world, yet it becomes white in the lily, and red in the rose, and purple in violets and hyacinths, and different and varied in each. So it is one in the palm tree, and another in the vine, and all in all things; and yet it is one in nature, not diverse from itself. For the rain does not change itself and come down first as one thing, then as another, but adapting itself to the constitution of each thing that receives it, it becomes to each what is suitable” (Catechetical Lectures, 16.11-12).
Today, we’re looking at the Holy Spirit through the image of living water. Why did Jesus refer to the Spirit as living water? Cyril of Jerusalem is on to something. The Spirit refreshes and gives life to dead souls, and like rain that falls on a garden of diverse flowers, it produces diverse expressions of gifts and benefits in our lives. So, let’s know the Holy Spirit better by knowing him as Living Water.
In speaking of the Holy Spirit, Cyril of Alexandria (ca. 376-444) wrote, “But, rather, just as we should say that the fragrance of sweet-smelling herbs which assails our nostrils is distinct from the herbs so far as their conception in thought is concerned…even such an idea, or rather one transcending this, must you imagine about the relation of God to the Holy Spirit. For He is, as it were, a sweet savour of His Substance, working plainly on the senses, conveying to the creature an effluence [“something that flows out”-mc] from God, and instilling in him through Itself participation in the Sovereign Substance of the Universe. For if the fragrance of sweet herbs imparts some of its power to garments with which it comes in contact, and in some sort transforms its surroundings into likeness with itself, surely the Holy Ghost has power, since He is by nature of God, to make those in whom He abides partakers in the Divine Nature through Himself” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, XI.2).
Cyril of Alexandria means this: Because the Holy Spirit is God, those He fills and influences are permeated with the “fragrance” of God. The Spirit, by His influencing and indwelling work, produces a divine “scent” within those in whom He resides. This idea of a divine scent also dovetails with the image of the Spirit as a fragrant oil, an image used throughout the Bible. Today, we’re going to explore this imagery of the Spirit. The Spirit as a fragrant, anointing oil carries rich implications for His ministry under the new covenant of Jesus Christ, and it has something powerful to say to us today.
Do you remember singing this hymn? “Make me a servant, Lord, make me like You; For You are a servant, make me one, too. Make me a servant, do what You must do; To make me a servant; make me like You.”
In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul writes of singing both with his spirit and his mind. The old KJV puts it, “I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also” (1 Cor 14:15). If we are to follow Paul in his desire to sing with his entire being, then we must understand what we’re singing when we sing “Make Me a Servant.” We’re actually asking the Lord to change our hearts, ambitions, and desires toward a service-oriented perspective. We’re asking him to move us outside ourselves and into the lives of others. We’re asking him to show us that the world of our interests and concerns is far bigger than ourselves. We’re asking him to let us see the world through his eyes.
What happens when Jesus answers this prayer? What happens when the concepts of this hymn sink into our hearts? We serve. We reject Sunday-only Christianity. We reject a me-centered approach to Church and ministry. And, we become “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (Jas 1:22). So, that’s what Be the Sermon Sunday is all about. And this is why we’re going to worship God today not only in word, but in our deeds.