Sermon for Sunday, May 28th, 2023, the Festival of Pentecost

The Lessons: Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 104:24-36; 1 Corinthians 12:4-13; John 14:8-17

The Text: John 14:15-17

The Topic: Obedience to Christ is a condition for receiving the Holy Spirit


The Karre language of equatorial Africa was difficult for the translators of the New Testament, especially when it came to the word Paraclete. How could they describe the Holy Spirit?

One day the translators saw a group of porters going into the bush carrying bundles on their heads. They noticed one didn’t carry anything. They assumed he was the boss, who was present to make sure the others did their work. However, they discovered he was not the boss. Rather, he was present so that, should anyone fall over with exhaustion, this man would pick up then man’s load and carry it for him. This porter was known in the Karre language as “the one who falls down beside us.”

The translators had their word for Paraclete.[1]


The word “Paraclete” is a transliteration of the Greek word Paraklete used to describe the Holy Spirit in John 14:16. This word, translated “Comforter” in the King James Version of the Bible, means “one who comes to the aid of, supports, strengthens, defends.” The principal meaning of the word here is “one who strengthens and supports as a companion.” In the context, Jesus is giving his farewell discourse to his disciples, and assuring them that when He has left them, He will send the Holy Spirit to be their divine Companion on earth to help them in all their times of trial.

The Holy Spirit speaks in every Christian, and we must train ourselves to hear what He reveals to us, and to do what He commands us. Our Gospel lesson today contains this key of obedience, for in it Jesus tells his disciples, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”[2] Then the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit to teach the new Christian all things and remind him of all Jesus’ teachings and commandments.[3] The Holy Spirit guides the believer in discerning and knowing all the truth that God reveals to His people on earth. That is why He is called “the Spirit of truth.”[4] The Collect for today reinforces this insight with the prayer, “Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort.” In similar vein, a prayer from the “Family Prayer” section of our Prayer Book contains this petition, “Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldest have us to do, that the Spirit of Wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see light, and in thy straight path may not stumble.”[5]

Anglicans generally teach that the Holy Spirit is given at Baptism, and that a believer is empowered by the strengthening gift of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation when he ratifies the baptismal vows made on his behalf by parents and godparents. Why is it right that each believer should either make these vows at Baptism or ratify them at Confirmation? An answer to this is that the Bible clearly links a Christian’s profession of faith to the gift of the Holy Spirit. For example, St. Peter, when asked by the crowds to whom he had preached his first sermon what they should do, replies clearly:

Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.[6]

Here, too, in John 14:15, the Lord Jesus Christ plainly tells the disciples that if they love Him, they will keep His commandments. He implies that if they keep His commandments, He shall give them the Comforter (Paraclete, Holy Spirit) to live with them forever.[7] Again, the gift of the Holy Spirit follows and accompanies obedience to God’s commandments. The Holy Spirit is sent and given by the Father and the Son as God’s greatest gift to the Church, so that, beginning her life in obedience to God, she may grow even more in her love for God and obedience to Him, as well as in discernment of the truth.

By contrast, the world, that is, the unbelieving world, cannot receive the Holy Spirit because it neither sees Him nor knows Him.[8] How is this so? The unbelieving world lives in sin and selfishness; therefore, it cannot see, know, or receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can only be discerned, or “seen,” and known by believers who love, know, and obey God. Earlier in the Gospel according to St. John, Jesus confirms this truth when He says to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,”[9] and “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”[10]


The wisdom and knowledge given by the Holy Spirit both to the Church as a whole, and to every believer, belong to a different order than the truths of this world. The Holy Spirit brings light to so many dark corners if we only let Him do so. The Spirit of truth has so much to reveal to us about the meaning of our lives and of life itself, indeed of all reality. But for us to walk in the light of His reality, we must live our daily lives in obedience to God. Are you keeping the Lord Jesus Christ’s commandments daily, and receiving guidance from the Holy Spirit?

[1] p. 115, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.

[2] John 14:23

[3] John 14:24; 14:16-17

[4] John 14:17

[5] p. 595, Book of Common Prayer, 1928

[6] Acts 2:38-39

[7] John 14:16

[8] John 14:17

[9] John 3:3

[10] John 3:8

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