Holy Spirit: Playmaker

I had a whole sermon written - all about the passage from John’s gospel we’ve just heard. But I realised late last night that it wasn’t what I wanted to say this morning. So, forgive me if this is a bit rough and ready, but this is what I want to say to you today.

The Spirit is hard to pin down. God the Father is, well, God the Father. And it’s pretty clear who Jesus is. But the Holy Spirit is harder to define. And Jesus thinks so too - he put it like this - ‘The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’

The Holy Spirit is a free spirit. Like fire, water or wind.

On FA Cup final weekend, I think of the Holy Spirit as being a bit like footballers who are given the number 10 shirt - the play maker - think Messi, Maradona, Platini, Zinedine Zidane - who all wore the number 10 shirt. Their role? To play with complete freedom, to go wherever they want to on the pitch - but not for their own glory - never for that - only ever for the benefit of the team.

The Holy Spirit is the playmaker, the number 10 of the Trinity! The Spirit is entirely free and goes wherever the Spirit wants - but only ever to further the aim of the team. Of God the Father and the Son. And their aim? To bring the kingdom of heaven to earth - to break down the barrier between the messy, troubled earth and the perfection and beauty of heaven, so that there will be more and more moments when we look around, here on earth, and say - ‘this is heaven’.

There are an infinite number of ways that the Holy Spirit does that work. And it’s no coincidence that the Spirit gets more names and images than Father or Son; the Spirit is the Counsellor, the Advocate, the Paraclete (that means ‘the one who comes alongside’), the spirit of truth, the spirit of grace, the spirit of life, the eternal spirit and so on

But there are three things that seem particularly important for us today. Three characteristic actions of the Spirit that stand out for me at the moment.

The Spirit is the spirit of boldness, the spirit is the one who goes before us and the spirit is the one who draws us close to Jesus.

The Spirit of boldness. Back at the very start of the bible God speaks to Abraham. He makes him go outside and look up. It’s night time, and God tells Abraham to ‘count the stars in the sky - if you are able to do that!’ And then ‘So shall your descendants be’. 

The Old Testament is the story of the first part of that promise being fulfilled. In the people of Israel, God creates a nation who carry his name and who learn who He is - and they’re to do so on behalf of the world. And then comes Jesus, who speaks as if he is part of this same story, and that his destiny is to fulfil that promise. And like Abraham was father to 12 tribes, so Jesus calls 12 disciples and things seem very hopeful, until it all goes wrong and he is killed.

And it seems, either Jesus was lying, and he had nothing to do with God’s work of bringing heaven to earth, or God has failed. And then comes Easter Day and everything is changed. And in his appearances to his disciples, Jesus continues to unpack the Scriptures for them and to explain how it is all unfolding, how the promise to Abraham is being fulfilled. And then he leaves them again - this time to return to his Father in heaven - promising that he will send them something wonderful; someone wonderful.

And so they wait. 12 ordinary people, together with the women who had known Jesus. And even now, even after the wonder of resurrection day, even after 40 days of coaching and teaching from Jesus, they’re still not the group you’d choose to change the world. 

But that’s what they did. On the day of Pentecost, something happened, something so life changing, that - more than any other group of people before or since - they went on to change the world.  That ragtag bunch of fisherman changed everything. Today the promise to Abraham is being fulfilled. There are 2 billion Christians, the bible is the worlds most read book, by a stretch, and Jesus’ name is known and worshipped in every continent and language. 

The Holy Spirit is the spirit of transformation and boldness, who equips people to do things we never thought possible. The Spirit says - You don’t think I can create a community that numbers the stars in the sky? Just wait. You think 12 fishermen and tax collectors can’t change the world? Let’s see about that. And the Spirit says the same to each one of us - you thought that was beyond you? Think again. You didn’t believe that was possible? Just look!

Where in your life do you need that spirit of boldness today? What in you is scared, or lacks courage? What terrible hurdles do you face that you can’t even look at, let alone overcome. The Spirit says, be bold. Have courage. I am the Holy Spirit of God, and in my power, all things are possible.

Secondly, the spirit is the one who goes before us, gets things ready, and then turns back and invites us to join in. One of the signs that the Spirit is at work, is that things that seemed impossible, become possible; things that seemed blocked suddenly open up, effortlessly. The right people get in touch out of the blue; the resources that were needed appear; a conversation happens that changes everything. 

Sometimes, with the Spirit of boldness within us, we have to make things happen, and it’s difficult and hard work. But often, the very best things, the most godly initiatives, happen without any great friction - because the Holy Spirit has gone before, done the preparatory work, and now invites us to join in.

And this kind of Holy Spirit led, kingdom building work, is always a work of transformation and hope. Where the Spirit goes, hope springs up. 

And I want to tell you about something that I am sure is Spirit led that is going on at the moment for us as a church.

For some years now we have wanted to do something to support teenagers and their families in the area of mental health. You may well know that there is an epidemic of mental ill-health amongst young people today; self-harm, depression, anxiety and worse are a plague upon that generation. And we have wanted to help. But it has never quite been the right time. And things just didn’t click. 

Suddenly though, that has changed. Clearly, the Holy Spirit has been at work, and now everything is clicking into place. 

And as a result, we are in the process of looking to set up a new project - loosely called the Weald Family Hub - which will work in partnership with a charity called Fegans to provide counselling in the Primary and Secondary schools in the villages of the Weald, and support to parents who are struggling with parenting. The plan is that we host this on behalf of the local churches, schools and community - and we are hoping that some part of it will get going in September. 

It is very clear to me that this is the work of the Holy Spirit. Every door we have pushed on, has been opened wide; resources are appearing; the right people share the same vision. 

In a couple of weeks, someone from Fegans will be with us on Sunday morning, and will tell us more about their work, and I’ll tell you more about the project.  And there will be ways to support this initiative and to get involved. And for now, I ask please for your prayers - and if you’d like to find out more, do come and speak to me, or to someone from the leadership team or PCC.

That’s where the Spirit is leading us as a church - what about you? As you look around you, where is the Spirit at work? Where are there signs of hope and transformation in your family, your friends, your community? Where are doors opening that seemed closed? Where is the impossible becoming possible? Where is the Holy Spirit calling you on?

The spirit of boldness, the spirit who goes ahead and calls us on.

And third, the Spirit is the one who draws us close to Jesus.

Look back at those first apostles. What is it that marks them out? Sure they were bold in their proclamation. Sure they were brave - in fact most of them would go on to die for their faith. But at the heart of all of that courage and boldness is Jesus. Everything they do says - ‘Look to this man Jesus’. Everything that say says ‘Listen to this man Jesus’. Jesus is the heart of everything for them.

And that is the work of the Holy Spirit. 

Above all, the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus and draws us close to him. It is the Spirit that stills us as we pray. It is the Spirit who rises up within us when we praise and worship. It is the Spirit who animates the words of the Scriptures so that they become the words of life. 

For the Holy Spirit, everything is about Jesus.

And so, a final invitation to you - let the Spirit get to work. Maybe in the service today, as you sit in silence or worship in song. Maybe it would help to come and speak to someone or pray with someone during communion - there’ll be people over to the side for that. Maybe it’s something that needs to happen in the days to come. Let the Spirit draw you closer to Jesus. Because it is in him that all things are given; it is all about Jesus, and it is the Holy Spirit who points the way.

Let us pray

Holy Spirit of boldness, give us courage to do your kingdom work

Holy Spirit who goes ahead of us, call us on to where we need to be

Holy Spirit of Jesus, point us and guide to the one in whom we will find our hope.


Hugh Nelson