Sermon for May 23
The Holy Spirit is impossible to pin down. People have been trying for millennia.
We want to be sure when the Holy Spirit is with us, in us, we want to be able to say it is not in- someone else.
There are some guidelines that are trustworthy, I’ll get to that in a minute. But the Holy Spirit is like letting go of this balloon- you don’t know which way it will go. Does that mean it isn’t real? Does that mean it isn’t holy?
This annual festival of the coming of the Holy Spirit that we celebrate every Pentecost Sunday, is a reminder that we have probably over-institutionalized the church, we have probably over-regulated faith, and we have to open ourselves back up to surprises.
Now I know a year plus of a pandemic that was quite a surprise to many of us and continues in many ways to still keep us from quite comfortably settling back -this year plus probably has you wary of surprises. We’d like to be done with the unknown. Well when it comes to the Holy Spirit, sorry not sorry, there will be surprises.
But they will be good surprises. Or at least, surprises that are for our good. They don’t always look like good surprises at first. But Romans 8:22-27 spells it out. The spirit is in us, and the spirit intercedes on our behalf, and the spirit will always be pleading and working in accordance with God’s will. Which we know is for our good, for us to be well, in the complete sense.
The spirit is in us. Paul who is thought to be the author of Romans, left no room for doubt. We have the spirit. Paul who had not known Jesus in his earthly life but was converted later- he is certain that he and those he wrote to, who lived in Rome, Rome which was seen in many ways as a center for bad influences shall we say, he was certain those believers had the spirit. And he was certain the spirit could speak for us to God when we do not have the words. Groaning like the entire creation groans towards the labor of new life God is always bringing about. Let that sink in for a moment. Remember last week we heard Jesus pray for us, this week we hear the spirit prays for us and through us to God. This is a precious gift.
Paul left no room for doubt, I was recently reminded of some interactions with Christians in my life who did doubt I really had the Holy Spirit. Because to them looking a certain way, believing a certain way, talking a certain way, being able to do certain things like speak in tongues, were the ways to determine if someone else has the holy spirit, and I did not look behave, or have that certain gift I could not have the Holy Spirit.
Notice with me that the passage from acts is very explicit in saying that those are the ways the spirit does not discriminate. Instead of a limit of who will receive the spirit or a litmus test of who is worthy it is a generous, over the top pouring out of the spirit. The spirit does not choose certain ethnicities or languages, in the first part of chapter 2, but enables the disciples of Jesus to be understood across many cultural and language barriers. And in the part where Peter explains what is going on and quotes from the prophet Joel, he makes clear that the spirit will not be poured out on an elect few but on everyone regardless of gender, age or social status. (Notice also, with me too that Peter names that moment as being in “the last days” so this is one of the Scriptures I reference when people ask if I think we are in the last days. Yes we are, as we have been for around the last 2000 years and no one knows when this time of the last days will reach completion.)
Instead of doubting where the spirit could be and what the spirit can do, we should always be wondering, what is the Spirit saying to me in and through this person, and this situation. What is God up to?
The spirit is in us. That is the promise we have from our baptism, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit from that moment on. But even that is not a litmus test because certainly the spirit has shown up before even the moment of baptism for many people.
But surely not everything comes from the Holy Spirit? That is true. Because there is sin in this world. There is a whole lot that God wants to transform and there is a whole lot that needs the wholeness God can give. There is a whole lot of work for the Holy Spirit to do. And do through us.
So how can we know, if the spirit is impossible to pin down, how do we know? So here are some guardrails. The Spirit brings truth. If a message is a lie, or a manipulation, it is not from the holy spirit. Whether that is a conspiracy theory or a message about yourself that you have absorbed, if it isn’t true it isn’t from God.
If it leads to fearfulness, not a kind of healthy respect for danger like wearing a seatbelt but fear that makes someone not able to function well, that is not the Holy Spirit either. The spirit took the believers huddling together in one room and pulled them outside where they could tell others the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. When people started ridiculing them as drunk at 9 in the morning, Peter was bold to speak the truth. The spirit was upon him, he could do no other.
The Holy Spirit will help overcome divisions yet respect diversity. That is the great beauty of this story- the people did not magically all understand a new secret language or all understand Aramaic which those disciples probably had as their first language- they all understood in their own language. What they knew, who they were was honored, even as this life giving message of God’s mighty works was proclaimed so they could understand it.
The holy spirit will bes consistent with God’s will. From Romans, and we know the general direction of God’s will, is for all to know the love of God and for all to be healed, transformed, and made whole.
But again, the spirit will surprise us. The spirit will not let us sit still for very long. The spirit will be about prophesies, visions and dreams. All that God wants for this world, and will call on us to work with all of creation on those dreams.
The other beautiful part is that the spirit does not come to just one. The spirit comes to the whole body of believers, according to chapter 1 there were about 120 of them gathered, all at once. The spirit would be poured out according to the prophet Joel, not any longer on this one prophet or this other one, but on all people. Sons, daughters, children. Young, elders, servants- and the heavens and the earth- for them the entire universe would also give signs.
Learning to trust the spirit inside us is one great step. Then we have to learn to hear from the spirit speaking to us through others. That is the exciting part for me. To learn to honor the diverse way the spirit speaks through each of us with our individual expressions.
So we have teams and committees and grace groups and in all of it we hear one another and it’s beautiful. The holy spirit has been at work in us during this last hard year, to help us feel connected to each other through prayer and conversations and zoom meetings when we couldn’t be together. The holy spirit has been inspiring us to do new ministries and new outreaches, as individuals and as a church. The holy spirit is alive in this church and I give thanks to God.
The Holy Spirit has been with us I think in one more way, helping us to be respectful of one more kind of diversity that we have among us now: diversity in how we are feeling about the coronavirus lately. Because there are those who are totally done with living under a pandemic, those who are optimistic but still cautious, those who got vaccinated a long time ago and those who are still deciding what to do. That’s why we will continue to take a posture of caring for all and do as much as we are able to include people along the continuum of our sense of safety. So we gather outdoors and wear masks to help others feel safe, you can stay or not for the coffee hour when masks may come off, you can stay home and watch or listen through facebook and zoom. We honor one another and honor the holy spirit’s work in us even as we groan with anticipation for God to do even more, for God to work through us even more, and groan for the whole world to be free of the sorrow and death the pandemic has brought.
Let’s let go of trying to define, deny, cage, or pin down the holy spirit- and open ourselves to where the spirit is calling, amen? We know the spirit will lead us well. Amen.