A crowd of camo-clad men and women were gathering around a grave. The mourners were wearing camouflage gear to pay tribute to the deceased. Like lots of people in Louisiana, the man had apparently been an avid hunter.
A couple of weeks later I took a peek at the newly arrived, freshly carved headstone. It depicts a man standing in a duck blind. His shotgun is raised, ready to fire at a flock of ducks flying overhead. The image is meant to convey an idea of Heaven as a place where their departed friend, father, and husband is doing what he enjoyed in this life untroubled by the world’s pain, toil, and sorrow.
The resurrection of Jesus does encourage us to trust that, when we die, life is changed, not ended. And people sometimes talk about this change as a sort of spiritual relocation. We go to Heaven and leave this world behind. But Jesus taught us something different. In a manner of speaking, Heaven comes to us and changes our lives here and now, day by day. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit, and we celebrate the Spirit’s work on Pentecost.
Many of my fellow preachers will focus on the Spirit’s creation of the Church. I’ve done the same in years past. But today I’m going to focus on how the Holy Spirit makes disciples.
Jesus put it this way: “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38) He was referring to the Holy Spirit. And I invite you to think of the Spirit as our enduring friendship with the risen Jesus. To explain what I mean by this, I’m going to step you through some points of intersection between what Jesus says about the Holy Spirit and what the Book of Proverbs teaches us about friendship.
During the Last Supper Jesus said, “I do not call you servants any longer … but I have called you friends.” (John 15:15) He then went on to say, “You did not choose me but I chose you.” (John 15:16)
In Proverbs, we read that a friend is different from a family member. You don’t choose your siblings or your parents. They may be very supportive. Then again, they may not like you so much. Mostly they’ll put up with you, but not always.
By contrast, friendship is deliberate. A friend chooses to be your friend. The writer of Proverbs says, “A true friend sticks closer than one’s nearest kin.” (Proverbs 18:24)
Jesus described the Holy Spirit as an Advocate or a Helper. The Spirit would “teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26) During his earthly ministry Jesus had been teaching his followers how to discern the loving thing to do—the God-shaped thing to do—in all the messy, varied, complex situations they would encounter.
Proverbs calls that kind of discernment wisdom. None of us can exercise wisdom on our own. We need counsel. In fact, wisdom begins with the recognition that we need guidance to navigate this life: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10)
The word “fear” in that passage means something like awe, the recognition that God is God and we are not. And so the wise person recognizes the limits of their own wit and the folly of self-reliance. They acknowledge their need for divine help to walk the way of love in this confusing, tumultuous world. As Proverbs tells us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart/ and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him,/ and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
In addition to giving us direction, a good counselor will also be honest with us when we’ve gone off the rails. A true friend will tell you those things that you would rather not hear. Hard truth may not be pleasant to receive, but it does more for our souls than flattery ever could. The writer of Proverbs puts it this way: “Well meant are the wounds a friend inflicts…Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another.” (Proverbs 27:6, 17)
Admittedly, some people will say intentionally hurtful things under in the guise of telling the truth in love. Their real aim is to get in a dig without taking responsibility for the pain they cause. A real friend doesn’t do this. And that’s not how the Spirit operates. As Jesus said, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)
You see, the Spirit understands us from the inside. Jesus told his friends, “The Spirit of Truth … abides with you.” (John 14:17) So, we can be assured that the Spirit’s counsel—even the most challenging counsel—comes from a place of infinite compassion. Here’s how Proverbs describes a friend’s counsel: “Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice.” (Proverbs 27:9) A friend’s counsel is “heartfelt.” The Spirit’s advice is always an expression of Jesus’ love for us.
Jesus assured his friends, “I will not leave you orphaned.” (John 14:18) Whether we are on a roll or flat on our face, on the top of our game or at a dismally low bottom, the Spirit is there. Hanging with us, guiding us, and leading us to the next step of the path we walk together.
The message of Pentecost for being a disciple is a simple one, I suppose. Sometimes you may feel lonely or lost or forgotten. Don’t give up. You’re not alone. You’ve got a friend.