Readings: 1 Cor.12:1-11, Jn.2:1-11
Although traditionally on this, the second Sunday of Epiphany, we should be concentrating on Jesus revealing his glory to the world, as in the story in the Gospel, I would rather major on something else that comes out of the epistle reading. That’s because last week I talked in some depth about the need for us to follow the new Testament practice of asking to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Just to remind you briefly, and for the benefit of those who couldn’t struggle through the snow last week, being filled with the Holy Spirit is, according to St. Paul, an on-going need. We should continually be asking to be filled with the Holy Spirit because it is that in-filling which equips us to be better Christians and allows us to understand better what God is calling us to.
Today’s epistle comes from a lengthy part of this letter which concentrates specifically on the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Corinthian church had clearly been subject to internal divisions over precisely this matter and St. Paul was writing to them to straighten out some of the difficulties that had arisen.
Now when I was reading through the chapter I found that one line leapt out at me, from verse 3, ‘No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit. Given that we had been thinking about the ministry of the Holy Spirit last week, it seems to me that what we find here is a justification for our need to be filled, to be baptised with the Holy Spirit, so let’s think a little about what this phrase, ‘No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit’ actually means.
It’s not quite such an issue now so many of us have double glazing, but in this cold weather that we’ve been having, have you noticed how hard it can be to look through a glass window into the outside world if you get rather close up to it? The first thing that happens is that our breath fogs it up and we can’t see clearly. We, ourselves, get in the way of looking through glass and seeing what’s really going on outside in the cold world.
And a similar thing happens with mirrors. You may recall that Ali and I went off in our caravan for the October half term. Whilst we were away we had quite a cold snap, and I found out just how difficult it can be to have a shave using a mirror in the campsite facilities on a cold day. I kept steaming it up with my breath, and then missing where I was supposed to be shaving.
When the weather is cold, and the glass is cold, it’s difficult for us either to see out, or to see our own reflections. What we need is for someone to warm the mirror or the glass up for us so that it stays clear when we get close. If we think in spiritual terms, that cleaning and warming of the glass or mirror is an effective metaphor for the work of the Holy Spirit.
I don’t know about you, but I find some of the comments by those being called ‘The New Atheists’, such as Richard Dawkins and Eddie Izzard, as being hard to fathom. How can they be so blind to the reality of something which seems so obvious to us? Well here is the answer. We can only say that Jesus is Lord because the Holy Spirit has cleared our vision. If that doesn’t happen, we remain blind to spiritual truth.
I think it’s also true to say that the more we give ourselves over to be filled with the Holy Spirit, the more completely we can see the truth about the Lordship of Christ. The one follows on from the other. Those for whom their spiritual vision is fogged will not see clearly, but, as anyone who has tried to clear a cold piece of glass will tell you, windows keep fogging up.
That’s why, as I mentioned last week, elsewhere in Ephesians 5:18 St. Paul says, ‘Be filled with the Holy Spirit’, or more particularly, ‘Be being filled’, go on being filled with the Holy Spirit. Fill us Holy Spirit, and help us to see Jesus clearly. The more we are filled, the better we will understand what it means to say, ‘Jesus is Lord’.
There is, however, another side to this. Everything I have said so far is with respect to looking out through fogged glass that has been warmed and cleaned, but you’ll remember I also talked about trying to use a cold mirror, and how the same thing happened. We fog the mirror with our breath and can’t see ourselves clearly.
I mentioned last week how some people can feel very happy, perhaps ecstatic, when filled with the Holy Spirit, but the converse is also true. As well as helping us to see Christ more clearly the Holy Spirit also reveals our own nature to us as well, and that can be very uncomfortable. Some of those things that we think we do for the purest of motives can seem decidedly grimy when the Holy Spirit clears our vision for us.
And so, far from the baptism of the Holy Spirit leaving us with perpetual silly grins on our faces, in fact it can be quite discomforting. Maybe that’s what John the Baptist meant when he said Jesus would baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire. We may well be able to see that Jesus is Lord far more clearly, but we will also see ourselves more realistically.
But then this is necessary because the work that Christ wishes to do within us is both transformational and generous, provided we are willing. If we briefly look at the way in which Christ begins to reveal who he is in the first of the signs in St. John’s Gospel what we see is the chief steward at the wedding feast doing as he is told, and Christ transforming six stone water jars filled with water for washing into very high quality wine.
Now leaving aside all the signs and symbolism that fill this story, the most obvious thing is the amount of wine. Those stone water jars were very large, and there were six of them. The amount was equivalent to750 litres of wine, or 1,000 bottles of wine, or if you like, three large wheelie bins filled with the highest quality wine.
The water was utterly and totally transformed, and the transformation was both generous and undeserved. And this is why I find myself returning to this need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. She reveals Jesus to us so that we can say Jesus is Lord.
She reveals us to ourselves so that we can see how much we need the Lord to transform us, and then Jesus shows just how willing he is to begin that work of transformation so that instead of merely being water fit only for washing in, we become something of far greater and long lasting value. And it all begins when we start to recognise how much we need the Holy Spirit to fill us. Amen