I Believe in the Holy Spirit (July 11, 2019)
John 14: 15-17; Acts 11: 11-17
I Believe in the Holy Spirit
I invite you again this week to turn to page 882, the Apostles’ Creed, in the hymnal as we begin our sermon today. As we talked about last week, the Creed was the statement of what we believed. It was a way for Christians to say who was in our group and what it meant to be in our group. And I want to say it together now.
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; He ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit The holy catholic church The communion of saints The forgiveness of sins The resurrection of the body And the life everlasting. Amen.
We don’t think very much about the Holy Spirit in mainline modern protestant churches. That’s something for those Pentecostals to do; those crazy people over there with their speaking in tongues and all of that. We don’t do that here is often at least the sentiment. One of my friends took a new appointment a few years ago, and he sat down in the chair behind the pulpit during the first worship service in July, and during one of the hymns he raised his hand up and praise of God; and after service someone came up and said, “We don’t do that here pastor. Don’t you get started on that Spirit stuff.” We don’t handle the spirit very well or very often.
But I think we should think about it. You see, the Spirit works in different ways with different people. It might not be a rush of wind for us. It may not come over us and make us speak in tongues. But that doesn’t mean it’s not present. Our denomination is started by John Wesley’s active feeling of the Holy Spirit within him. The spirit works in our lives and in our churches. So what do we believe about the Holy Spirit in the United Methodist Church? What does that mean for us?
In the creed we see that we believe the Holy Spirit exists; and we believe that it is working (that’s not specifically in the creed, but I think it’s implied). That by the way is present tense, we believe the Holy Spirit is working, not has worked. And after so much about Jesus it is striking that we sit here with the third person of the Trinity and say “yeah, we believe the Holy Spirit exists. OK! moving on…”
And I think that part of the reason that the Holy Spirit doesn’t have much stuff in the creed is that we haven’t fought very often about the Holy Spirit. We’ve only ever split once over our understanding of the Holy Spirit, at least a major split, and that happened after this creed was written; and even then we weren’t really arguing about the Holy Spirit as much as we were arguing about what role Jesus played in the Holy Spirit. And when you don’t fight about something, it typically doesn’t need very much in the statement that’s trying to differentiate between us and them. But I think it also isn’t in here, and we haven’t fought about it very much, because it is so difficult to understand the Spirit. The word for spirit in Greek is pneuma. In Hebrew it’s ruach. And it also means things like breath and air and wind. And it is as easy to grasp and hold the Holy Spirit as it is to grasp and hold wind.
But I do think that recognizing that they are the same word can actually help us understand what the Spirit does in our lives, and how the spirit works within us. You see that Greek word pneuma is the root of the word pneumatic. Pneumatic is applied to great many things, but one of the things it is applied to, particularly important for us in this building, is to a group of instruments that use wind and air to work; most notably for here: the pipe organ. I know this isn’t a pipe organ, but it is based on a pipe organ. And I think part of the reason that organs have meant so much in worship over the last 400 years, part of the reason that that organs are such a beloved part of Christian experience, is because the Spirit is at home in the noise made by wind. Part of the reason that choirs were part of the beloved Christian experience is because the Spirit is at home in music made by breath. The Spirit works within us in these ways. It’s good the Spirit works in these ways for us. The Holy Spirit is the active work of God in the world. If your church does not have the Holy Spirit within it, your church is already dead. Before each service I get up here and I pray that the Holy Spirit would present, that the Spirit would fill this room, that the Spirit would fill each and everyone of you each week. And I pray that you would open yourself to the Spirit’s work in the songs, the prayers, even the sermon as you worship.
So how does the spirit work? That question, like all questions with the Holy Spirit is difficult to answer. A part of the reason is that we don’t even know what the Spirit is doing in Scripture for sure, because each time the word appears in the Greek and Hebrew text the translators have to make decisions. Because the word doesn’t just mean “Holy Spirit.” It could mean breath, in could mean wind, it could mean air, it could mean spirit. And if you decide that it means spirit, then you have to figure out is it a lowercase s spirit like David spirit, or Saul’s spirit, or even a demonic spirit; or is it an uppercase S Spirit, which would mean the Holy Spirit. And different translations will translate different times into spirit or into Holy Spirit.
But here are some examples of times in Scripture is where I think at least the Holy Spirit is active and present. In Genesis chapter 1 we see that there is a formless void, and were told that the ruach of God hovers over the deep. The Spirit is involved in the creation of the world, the active presence of God in the midst of the universe as the world is created. In Genesis chapter 2 we see that God breathed his spirit into the lifeless lumps of clay that he has made; God breathes life by injecting the Spirit.
Throughout the Old Testament we see the Spirit of the Lord come upon prophets and kings. So you see that phrase a lot: “the Spirit of the Lord came upon Saul and he prophesied,” “the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jonah and he prophesied.” The most famous of these would be the Isaiah passage, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach good news,” which Jesus quotes it his Nazareth sermon.
The Spirit of the Lord comes upon the disciples in Pentecost in much the same way that were told it came upon the prophets of old. They also immediately go out and they began to prophesy. And we’re also told in that passage that the Spirit translates their words so that they can effectively prophesy and effectively communicate to the people of Jerusalem. We’re told that the Spirit falls upon Gentiles before they even know what the church is. This was the story that was read here from the from the Book of Acts. We also see in that story, a little bit earlier, that Peter received a vision from the Holy Spirit. That also is the way the Spirit works in the world.
Then we have the stories that are difficult to understand. The Spirit guides Philip in the Book of Acts a few chapters before what was read. The Spirit guides Philip to a certain road to meet with the Ethiopian Eunuch. You might know that story. And after preaching to the Ethiopian Eunuch he baptizes the him and the Spirit falls upon the eunuch. And then the spirit teleports Philip several miles north; just physically picks him up transports him. You can’t you can’t put a finger on the Spirit; you can’t pin the Spirit down.
Of course, Paul credits the Spirit with granting gifts to each and every believer in the church; gifts that are intended for the building of the church. Importantly, that shows that unlike in the old testament, where the Spirit falls upon prophets and kings and only one time that I can think of off the top of my head falls upon just ordinary Joe (that’s the book of Amos, where the Spirit falls upon Amos, who goes and prophecies to the kingdom of Israel and then goes back to his farm and you never hear from him again). But for the most part the spirit falls upon the prophets and the kings. But in the New Testament, the Spirit falls apart each and every believer. It’s not reserved anymore for special cases.
Except of course for the most special case of all, and perhaps the most famous work of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit conceived the Lord Jesus Christ in the womb of the Virgin Mary.
All of this goes to show that the Spirit does not fit into one conceived idea. Every time the Spirit shows up it’s doing something different. It’s maintaining the world. It’s difficult to codify a set of beliefs in a creed relating to a Spirit that is so unpredictable. But it’s still extremely important for us to think about the Spirit because the Spirit is the active way that God works in the world. And it is the active way that God leads Christians to lead a Christian life.
When you feel an unexplainable urge to go to a certain place, or you feel it unexplainable sudden thinking of a certain person, that often is the Spirit at work. I’ve had many stories where people have mentioned where they said “well I was hungry for dinner and something was saying go to this place, and when I went, there was someone who I hadn’t seen forever, and we were able to catch up, and they needed me in that moment.” Or I’ve heard of people who have the spiritual gift of prayer suddenly thinking of someone that the hadn’t thought of for a while, or someone from their church or something like that, waking up at 2 o’clock in the morning. And they’ll offer a prayer, and when they wake up the next morning they give that person a call, and they find out that person that had terrible news at 2 o’clock in the morning, or was suicidal at 2 o’clock in the morning, that they needed thoughts and needed someone to call them the next day. The Spirit often works in that way, prodding us into the right direction.
The Spirit works in the church when you gain some insight, particularly some insight in a completely unexpected direction, particularly when you’re thinking about the church, or thinking about a fellow believer, or were you thinking about how best to share the Good News with someone else. We often credit the Spirit when it goes in an unexpected direction. When it just builds up and in the direction we anticipated, we will sometimes think that might be us; but when it takes a left turn out of nowhere and works out, we’ll credit the Spirit with that.
Of course the Spirit gives us gifts that we are meant to use for the joy of others. And the Spirit works within us when we are seeking to use the talents and skills we have to bring others joy in the world. When Betty is playing piano in nursing homes. When Del is playing the organ in our in our worship service. They’re taking their talents are taking their gifts to bring joy to other people. When we have choirs, when we have soloists, when we have people giving their experiences and testimonies, when we have pictures of of VBS, when Zoe is making balloon animals; the Spirit is taking our what we are offering and using it to bring joy to other people. All of these things are at least Spirit used, if not Spirit-based.
What I want you to do this week, what I want you to do today, is to pray very specifically for the Spirit to enter your heart and guide your actions. Because you need the Spirit to guide your actions. You need to be the active work of God in the world. You see, when God sees pain, and injustice, and devastation, and destruction in our world, God does not send angels with halos and wings down from heaven. God picks up one of his believers and sends them. You are the angels God uses in this world. Listen for where God is sending you. Adam Hamilton, the pastor at Resurrection just north of here, was quoted as saying “If you are not regularly asking ‘Where does God need me?’ and ‘How can I love and serve others?’ then it is possible you are not yet a Christian.” That line struck me this week. Are you asking “where does God need me” regularly? Are you asking “how can I love, how can I serve other people” regularly? If you’re not, this week I invite you to start doing just that. Let us all do that. And let us be a church led by the Holy Spirit. Amen.