We are in our third week of a four week sermon series on the Apostles Creed. The first week was focused on God the Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth. The second week was focused on His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This week the focus is on the Holy Spirit and Adam Hamilton, UMC minister and author of Creed is the source for most of my comments.
You may know that music speaks to me and that I love the hymns and music of the church. It has been fun and challenging for me to select the hymns for the worship services the past few weeks because there have been so many wonderful options to choose from. I was challenged in a different way this week. For some reason, our denomination does not celebrate the Holy Spirit in the same way that we celebrate and worship God the Father and God the Son. I love the words and music of the hymns and songs we are singing today, but there were very few familiar songs and hymns dedicated to the Holy Spirit in our song books. I’m not sure what that says about us, but the reference to the Holy Spirit in the Apostles Creed dedicated to the Holy Spirit is also very short.
Pray with me.
Holy Spirit, fill us with your presence, speak to us and through us, help us to hear your message to us today. Amen.
Take a moment to think about the voices you hear in your head or in your heart. Some of the voices you hear will be good and some will not be so good. Sometimes we hear old tapes from childhood or bad relationships telling us we’re “stupid”, “worthless”, “bad”, “unlovable”. Sometimes we hear voices telling us there is no reason to keep on living or that we’ll never feel better than we do right now.
Sometimes we hear voices that uplift and support us, telling us “I love you”, “I care about you”, “you made my day”, “I’m so thankful for you”. Sometimes we hear actual voices that lead us to be more authentically human; they inspire us to serve and challenge us to be more than we otherwise would be. Loving parents and relatives provide these voices. The best leaders in religion, politics and business do the same.
When we speak about the Holy Spirit, we are speaking of God’s active work in our lives, of God’s way of leading us, guiding us, forming and shaping us; of God’s power and presence to comfort and encourage us and to make us the people God wants us to be. The Spirit is the voice of God whispering, wooing, and beckoning us. By listening to this voice and being shaped by this power, we find that we become most fully and authentically human.
The word spirit shows up about five hundred times in the Bible. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word usually translated as “spirit” is ruach. In the New Testament the Greek word is pneuma. The words have multiple meanings including breath, air, wind, and spirit. I found it interesting to learn that the original Hebrew name for the Spirit of God was feminine. We have a tradition of referring to God as He, even though I’ve been taught that God has no gender. Even so, thinking about the Holy Spirit as feminine was intriguing.
The Holy Spirit is common in the Old Testament. There are 80-90 references to the Spirit of God in the Old Testament, depending upon how one translates the Hebrew word ruach. The Spirit is often described in the Old Testament as empowering and giving special gifts and abilities; however the Spirit’s most frequent work is in ensuring that God’s voice is heard, so that God’s purposes and will can be conveyed. For example, we see this work of the Spirit in 2 Samuel 23:2, where King David declares, “The Lord’s spirit speaks through me, his word is on my tongue.” In Ezekiel 36:27 God says, “I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” In these examples, we can see that the Old Testament shows God’s Spirit working primarily through the leaders – guiding, influencing, and speaking through them so that they pursue God’s will.
In the New Testament, God’s Spirit plays a different role and we get a prophetic glimpse of that role in Joel 2:28 which looks ahead to the early church’s experience of the Holy Spirit. There God says, “I will pour out my spirit upon everyone; your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.”
Compared to the Old Testament, the New Testament is filled with references to the Holy Spirit, starting with Jesus and John the Baptist’s conceptions it explodes across the pages of the Acts of the Apostles, as the Spirit falls upon all believers.
Jesus calls the Spirit the paraclete. This Greek word comes from two words: para, which means close by, very near or beside; and kaleo kal-eh’-o, from which we get our word call. Paraclete is a term that was used in some legal circles to describe an advocate for the defense – a defense attorney – whose job was to come alongside or stand by the accused, serving as this person’s advocate. Hence, some versions of the New Testament translate paraclete as “advocate”. Outside the judicial system, the word was also used to describe those who came alongside people who were hurting, to hold and comfort them. Hence paraclete is sometimes translated as “comforter” or “helper”. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says the Spirit will guide us into truth, help us remember what Jesus taught, and flow like rivers of spring water within us.
Jesus told his disciples that he would not leave them alone but would send the Spirit. In Acts 1:8, just before Jesus’ ascension into heaven, he said: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
And then Acts 2:1-4 states:
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability.”
There is an interesting connection between the creation story in Genesis and this passage. In Genesis, God breathed into and filled the man and woman animating them and giving them life. Here God breathes upon Jesus’ followers and fills them and makes them new. This is the re-creation of humanity by the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit convicts us and quickens our conscience when we’re doing wrong. The Spirit urges us to act selflessly in our care for others. The Spirit makes us long to be more than we are at the present and to become more like the people God intended us to be. Paul describes the Spirit’s work and its impact on our lives as the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” There is much more to be said about the fruit of the Spirit, and I understand Robin will be delivering on a sermon on that topic. Stay tuned for more.
So, we’ve heard about God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Christians believe in one God. We also believe the Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God. That’s just confusing. We see all these aspects of God in the Bible. We call this God in three persons the Trinity. But, this doctrine wasn’t spelled out in the New Testament, nor explained by Jesus, so again there is much about God that we don’t know.
One illustration or analogy for the trinity is the atom. Atoms are made up of three types of particles: protons, neutrons, and electrons. All three are essential to make an atom. The protons, neutrons and electrons act upon one another and bind each to the others. Perhaps we could think of the atom as analogous to God, who by his very nature is constituted of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These three are bound together such that God is not God without Father, Son and Spirit, in much the same way that a helium atom is only helium with a certain number of protons, neutrons and electrons.
I was one of the many that read the novel The Shack years ago when it came out. One of the aspects of the novel that enlightened and challenged me was the interaction between the characters that depicted the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As I remember it, they sometimes had different points of view and they influenced one another. They were in relationship with one another and worked together to heal the character in the book. It was a fascinating depiction of a holy relationship that is truly a mystery.
There’s a symbol on the front of the bulletin today. I thought that it was helpful, showing the relationships between the parts of God that we have recognized. It shows clearly that God is three persons, but that The Father is not The Son and The Son is not the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is not the Father.
Adam Hamilton explains the trinity this way. The Father, Son and Spirit share one essential divine nature that is distinct from everything else in all creation. That divine nature essence, or “stuff”, of God is omnipresent – God permeates all creation and holds it together – and yet the divine essence is distinct from creation. This one substance that is God is indivisibly Father, Son and Spirit. Each member of the Trinity thinks, wills, and acts. The three are in an inseparable relationship with one another that reflects love, community and a unity of being and purpose. They are one, and because there is one essence that is God, whatever one member of the Trinity does the other members do as well, whether they are creating, redeeming, or sustaining. Wherever one member of the Trinity is (Father in Heaven, Jesus on the Cross, Spirit in the human heart), the others are as well.
So, now that we understand the Trinity, (we do understand it, right?) let’s turn to why our belief in and experience of the Holy Spirit matters.
You’ve no doubt experienced the Holy Spirit and may not have known it, Christians believe the Spirit is at work all around us, all the time. There are times I feel a nudge – a thought that comes across my mind, to call on someone I hadn’t thought of in a while or to speak with someone I might otherwise have ignored in my “busyness”. There are times when some flash of insight comes to me that I’d never thought of before and I believe this is often the Spirit’s work. Recently, I had this happen when thinking about an issue of conflict within the church and I believe the Holy Spirit provided an option that had the potential to resolve the conflict. There are moments when I feel the presence of God in my life in the form of warmth, love, or a sense of peace. Most of these experiences, I believe, are the work of the Holy Spirit.
I believe that the Holy Spirit is God’s presence at work upon and within you, too. Long before people become Christians, the Holy Spirit is working to woo and beckon them to God. We speak of this work of the Spirit as God’s prevenient grace.
When we finally decide to trust in Christ, it is the Spirit that works in us to reconcile us to God. We describe this work of making us right with God as God’s justifying grace, and it too is a work of the Holy Spirit.
After being brought into right relationship with God we’re meant to be transformed, becoming the person God intends us to be. This process of transformation is referred to as sanctification. And this too is a work of the Holy Spirit, forming and shaping us from the inside out.
In our daily Christian life it is the Spirit that nudges and beckons us this way or that. It is the Spirit that helps us pray. It is the Spirit that equips us with gifts to serve others. It is the Spirit that grants us the strength and grace to become increasingly like Christ. When we open ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit, we find power to be transformed and to be useful in fulfilling God’s purposes.
The Spirit is already at work in your life, seeking to speak to, call, form, shape and empower you. But the Spirit will not force himself (or herself) upon you. You can resist the Spirit or welcome and invite the Spirit to work in you.
At the beginning of this sermon, I asked what voices you listen to. I now invite you to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and to invite the Spirit to be at work in you, comforting, guiding, shaping and empowering you.
Please pray with me:
Come Holy Spirit I need you. Breath of God, fill me wholly and completely. Form and shape me into the person you want me to be. Lead me to do what you want me to do. Empower me and use me; speak to me and through me. Produce your fruit in me. Help me to listen to your voice above all other voices that clamor for my attention. Come, Holy Spirit, I need you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.