Upham's Corner Online

Spiritual Sidelines - Walking with the Comforter

On Pentecost Sunday, Rev John Odams of Pilgrim Church focused on the church's birthday and the importance of the Holy Spirit in our lives. His message is one of hope for all, regardless of spiritual orientation. Reflections on his message. We can walk with the Comforter and experience a fuller, more meaningful and fulfilling life.
Happy Birthday Church

Birth-Days and the Holy Triune

Pentecost is one of the prominent feasts in the Christian liturgical year and is celebrated seven weeks (50 days) after Easter Sunday, hence its name. Among Christians,Pentecost commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus as described in the New Testament Acts of the Apostles 2:1-31. For this reason, Pentecost is sometimes described as the "Birthday of the Church."

Of the members of the Holy Triune - Father, Son and Holy Ghost (Spirit) - the Holy Spirit is probably the most illusive. Most Christians can identify with the "Father" as God, often referred to as "God, the Father." Recent movements have sought to degender the Supreme Being by using feminine terms ("Mother" and "her" - shocking for some) or avoiding gender specific pronouns (but not "it").

The Son refers to Jesus Christ, son of carpenter Joseph and mother Mary. The Bible's new testament is devoted to the life and teachings of Jesus, to the future of life here on earth and to the journey to, and promise of, eternal life.

A child born nine months after the union of egg and sperm establishes a sequence of birth-days, exactly one year apart that are recognized as symbolic affirmations of existence. We focus on the person or institution whose anniversary lets us turn our myriad thoughts to one and only. Birth-days are for celebrating and sharing and the Christian church's birthday (Pentecost) is no different especially if our relationship with the church is strong.

We are a Work in Progress

On Sunday, May 19, 2013, Rev. John Odams of Pilgrim Church, in a sermon entitled "Greater Still Greater" focused on the Holy Spirit in our midst. His message is applicable to all, regardless of religious/spiritual belief.

"We are a work in progress," he announced at the beginning of his sermon. Instantly, his words felt energizing and hopeful with a spirit of gladness and goodwill. Imagine a work of art as it is shaped into form and message. Imagine the magic of the artists, known and unknown, all of whom are "in creation." Surely, we are works of art who will turn out beautiful and inspiring.

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." Noticeably missing from the Bible's famous opening words is the caveat "before" because there was no BEFORE. God created and we are all that is and shall be. In making humankind, God included the variable of free will. God made us and let us out of the box, free to do our "own thing," shouting back as the day of rest began: "Hey, good luck." God released us with no anchors (secret or otherwise) of control. We are not puppets with invisible strings of steel tying us to our Maker. In fact, unless we are in relationship with God, God does not exist (for us).


God's assumption about humankind included the notion of obedience. Despite the presence of free will, God expected that we would not go astray. Yet, that is not what happened. The Bible's many stories give us the impression that God may have had some regrets on how the whole affair of creation turned out. By all accounts, God appears to be like the frustrated parent who keeps trying to get the children to turn out well but they just won't listen.
  • In the Old Testament, God gives Moses the Ten Commandments.
  • The first five books of the Bible (the Torah) provide a foundation for Judaic Law.
  • In the Old Testament, God is a god of wrath.
  • The New Testament offers two more commandments: Loving God and your neighbor
  • In the New Testament, God tries a new tactic: being a god of love.
Were any of these strategies effective?

The journey from life on earth to "life in heaven" is a selling point for Christianity, a way to attract people into a belief system that posits more beyond the grave. Some Christians look forward to crossing the River Jordan from this temporal life to eternal life; others are more focused on the here and now. Whether the Jordan is crossable or not, heaven on this earth can exist in our time.

"God sent us the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit, the Comforter." (Rev. John Odams)

But questions arise and highlight our confusion about the Holy Spirit. Why did God send the Holy Spirit? Wasn't Jesus good enough? And besides, what's in it for me?

The invisible, untouchable and unprovable spiritual essence - holy and ethereal - purportedly provides benefits now and today, for me in my lifetime - like strength, confidence and power, right? Knowing that God is with me, that I am ever present to the Holy Spirit - well, I ask you. Wouldn't that give you more confidence? Shouldn't I feel stronger, more self-assured and more powerful in my dealings with other people?

Pursuing Success

The qualities of interpersonal strength are illusive (just like the Holy Spirit) and cause seekers of success to pursue literature and courses in leadership training, relationship building and the importance of power structures in all walks of life. Colleges, self-development institutes and charlatans all offer the promise of what they say comes from following their teachings - usually money.

The more we pursue these goals on our own, in isolation, on the assumption that we can figure it out, the more our own human limitations leave us trapped in a formula of rigidity, limitations and isolation. As we climb to the top of the mountain, we become ever more enamored of ourselves. "Yes, I am King. Yes, I am Queen. I rule this mountain." But in the surrounding distance, fog-enshrouded and invisible, is a breathtaking beauty that vanishes as we assume our reign of royalty so far removed from what is real.

Courses and books on success rarely include a chapter on the Holy Spirit. For good reason. What we gain from the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives may include some increased confidence, better relationships and more "power," but those are coincidental by-products. Any attempt to formulaically tie them into the Holy Spirit as a cause celebre is false reasoning.

The Holy Spirit brings only one message focusing on our relationship with God, or stated more correctly, the possibility of a relationship and what that brings to our lives.

Walking with the Comforter

Just to begin the process of coming into relationship asks that we turn to face our Maker and admit to our own inadequacies. We must give in to God, letting go and letting God. What we get by so doing is an amazing sense of peace because we realize we are no longer alone. The weight of the world is not just on our shoulders. We travel in partnership - with one, two or all three members of the Holy Triune. They accompany us on our journey. Give God the steering wheel, the reins, the responsibility. I welcome my new partners into my new life.

In the week of Creation, God gave us free will and shouted back: "Hey, good luck." But God also said: "I'm here when you need me."

Free will is not the freedom to toss litter into the street or speed or cheat on taxes. In fact, free will is a term that ostensibly misprepresents itself. In giving us free will, God is giving us the opportunity to be in relationship, to admit that we are not, cannot be, in charge. By being "in control," we miss the true beauty that is present in life because we are blinded by our own sense of self. We have become God and we no longer need another. "I don't need God. I've got my life all figured out."

Rev. John Odams explained that the Holy Spirit remains with us always and shows us a different way to be in communion with life and with God. He closed his sermon, again referring to that famous river: "We are a work in progress and will never be complete until we reach the other side - complete in the glory of the Father as heirs to the Kingdom."

Do you believe in the message of eternal life? Do you even believe in God?

Stop for a moment, taking pause at the breathtaking moment when your own life manifested real as you slithered down that painful birth canal. Have faith that you are here for a purpose, fully unknown to you. "Breathe on me Breath of God" says the famous hymn. "Breathe in the Breath of Life. Walk with confidence, hand in hand, the Comforter at your side."

Posted: June 3, 2013 Nancy J Conrad

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