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The Spirit and the Kirk
By Dr. Todd B. Jones

First Presbyterian Church, Nashville
Dr. Todd B. Jones
Kirkin' of the Tartan, May 27, 2012

The Spirit and the Kirk
Romans 8:18-27
John 15:26-27, 16:5-15

Two Scots were talking. "How is your new minister getting on?" said Duncan. Angus said, "O fine, I think, but he's hardly settled in yet." Duncan said, "But they tell me he is one of the kind that does not believe in hell." Angus said, "Well, he'll not be here long among us before he changes his mind!"

Dr. Samuel Johnson loved the English language, and his dictionary helped to create the language's richness. He also used definitions humorously. He defined "oats" in this way: "Noun. A grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people."

Finally, a little Scottish lad came home: "Mama, I got a part in the school play!" "What part did you get?" "I play the Scottish husband," he said. "Well, go back and tell your teacher you want a speaking part."

Today we engage in the peculiarly Scottish-American custom of the Kirkin' of the Tartans. It was a service designed by the Reverend Peter Marshall to celebrate his own Scottish heritage and to raise money to support the Scottish war effort. The first ever Kirkin' was held at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. on April 27, 1941, months before Pearl Harbor, which drew us into the war. Marshall's sermon that day was entitled, The Kirkin' of the Tartans. Services are now held all over the United States and Canada that celebrate the great Scottish heritage in this land. This very day the Kirkin' is also being held in Montreat in Anderson Auditorium, and every year a Kirkin' is held in the National Cathedral of our nation's capital.

This day the Kirkin' falls on Pentecost, and you will note that we are not reading the New Testament account of Pentecost that only Luke records in Acts 2. It is kind of like celebrating Christmas without reading Luke 2! But what I want to do instead is offer some important teaching on the Holy Spirit that comes to us from other parts of the New Testament, notably from John and Paul.

First, John alone among New Testament writers offers a name for God the Holy Spirit. He calls the Spirit the Advocate. Actually, the Greek word for it is παρακλήτος, which means literally "one who comes alongside." The word is translated as the Counselor in the New International Version and the Revised Standard Version, and the Comforter in the King James Version. In The Message, Eugene Peterson calls it The Friend. All of these words, Advocate, Counselor, Comforter, Friend, speak of the Spirit as the presence of God with us. John is written later than the other three Gospels, and by this time, the Church was struggling to live with the absence of Jesus, who had probably not returned as soon as many anticipated that He would. So John alone among the Gospel writers recalls these words of Jesus: "Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you."

Jesus says, "The Advocate will testify on my behalf." The Holy Spirit always leads us to Jesus, always testifies to us of Jesus. Though Jesus was gone from His disciples and from the Church, through the Holy Spirit, the Counselor or Comforter, Christ is still present among us. And the Holy Spirit is always, in the words of John Calvin, "binding the believer to Jesus Christ." Calvin said the principle work of the Holy Spirit is to create faith in the believer.

So the Advocate, the Counselor, the Holy Spirit makes Christ, who is absent in the flesh, present in the Spirit among His people. "Christ comes to us clothed in His Gospel," said Calvin. But Jesus also comes by the Holy Spirit to us through the sacraments and through our corporate worship, and even through the preaching of the Word. So today take heart. God the Holy Spirit is indeed your Advocate, your Counselor, your Comforter, your Helper, your Friend. By the Spirit, God comes alongside of us and is always with us.

Secondly, note that the Advocate is also called by John alone "the Spirit of truth." "When the Spirit of truth comes," says Jesus, "He will guide you into all truth." In John, the word "truth" appears twenty-five times. In John 14, Jesus says, "I am the way, the truth and the life." And in John 8, Jesus says, "You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." The Spirit of God always leads you to truth, and will never mislead you or lead you astray. "He will guide you into all truth."

The Scots gave particular expression to this conviction that God guides us "into all truth." They established schools in every parish in Scotland with the Reformation in 1560, and soon Scotland's literacy rate was the highest in the world. We still see Presbyterians in Kenya and Rwanda establishing schools as soon as we help them build their churches, just as Walter Courtenay led this church to start Oak Hill School. Faith and learning belong together, and the search for all kinds of truth, or "all truth," has marked Presbyterianism at its best for all its life. In his great book, How the Scots Invented the Modern World, Arthur Herman, Norwegian in descent, tells this story well. Herman traces tiny Scotland's enormous influence from Knox's passion to have a literate people who could read the Word of God and search for truth of all kinds. This passion for truth led Scots to invent or discover the telephone, the television, radar, logarithms, electromagnetism, the use of the decimal point, hypnosis, the game of golf, penicillin, insulin, general anesthetic and the acme of all high culture, the flush toilet, just to name a few! And most people still learn in history classes that it was Scottish Common Sense philosophy that most influenced the principles found in the American Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Luther, the great German Reformer, looked inward for piety. Calvin, on the other hand, looked outward for truth. This is also always the work of the Holy Spirit, and Christian people should never be fearful of where truth may lead us, nor should we ever be suspicious of learning that is sound and open to truth. The Advocate is "the Spirit of truth," and "will guide you in all truth."

Finally, let us turn to Paul on the Holy Spirit in closing. Paul says, "The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words." The "Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."

To be human is to know what it is to feel lost and all alone. We all have been in places where we did not know how to pray. When those times come, and maybe some of you find yourselves today in just such a place, we do not have to resign ourselves to what is, but we can live in hope of God's future. The Spirit intercedes, advocates, counsels us, "with sighs too deep for words." The Spirit gives us fresh legs and lifts us up when we are down.

So, "be still," dear friends, and listen for the Spirit. In his book, Fast Company, chess master Bruce Pandolfini says: "My lessons consist of a lot of silence. I listen to other teachers, and they're always talking. I let my students think. If I do ask a question and I don't get the right answers, I'll rephrase the question – and wait. I never give the answer. Most of us really don't appreciate the power of silence. Some of the most effective communication – between student and teacher – takes place during silence."

Remember the movie, The Horse Whisperer? Tom Booker had a gift, a way with horses. In one scene the horse is frightened by the owner's ringing cell phone, and runs off. Booker, played by Robert Redford, walks into the pasture and sits down, where he waits, and waits some more. Slowly, the horse is drawn to him, muzzles up to him, and Booker leads him home.

That is often the way it is with God the Holy Spirit, who waits and waits, and who longs for our connection, so the Spirit can lead us home to God. We pray in the hope, the assurance, that "the Spirit helps us in our weakness," holds us, guides us, gives us hope, and will lead us home.


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