Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Three in One: Holy Spirit – Acts 2:1-13 and 14-21

This week we are going to conclude our preaching series focusing on our understanding of the nature and being of our Triune God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Who are they? How do you describe them? Is our understanding of them accurate and theologically correct? We began this series by looking at God as we explored ways to express our belief in God, talk about God, and who do we understand God to be. Next, we moved to Jesus Christ as we sought to understand the bond between Jesus and God, what is the relationship between Jesus and humanity, and how we as disciples of Christ can articulate those bonds to others. Today we will turn our focus towards the third person of the Triune God as we seek to understand not only the nature of the Holy Spirit, but how we as United Methodists articulate that nature and how the Holy Spirit works in our lives today.

Who is the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit, the Holy Ghost, the Advocate...which is right? Is the Holy Spirit more than just our conscience? Do we talk about the Holy Spirit too much or not enough? Is the Holy Spirit really a benefit to us as believers? Why does there need to be a Holy Spirit at all?

All of these questions have been asked and pondered by people for centuries and continue even today. By asking these questions we are seeking to better understand all aspects of the Holy Spirit. So first let us take a look at the name. The Holy Spirit, the Holy Ghost, the Advocate...which is right?

Going back to the original text and the original language, “the Old Testament uses the Hebrew word ruah for the Spirit; that word means 'breath'. The New Testament uses the Greek word pnuema for the Spirit; that word means 'wind'. These root words remind us that that Holy Spirit is as essential as breathing and the Holy Spirit moves as freely as the breezes.”1

And this is exactly how we are introduced to the Holy Spirit in our Scripture lesson this morning. Listen again, “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” (Acts 2:1-4 NRSV).

The Holy Spirit came like a wind, pneuma, moving easily and freely. And I think God sent the Holy Spirit in this way for two reasons. One, was to shake things up a bit and to reassure and inspire the early church. This helped to create a feeling of excitement, something they had lacked lately, considering everything they all just been through. Remember these people were mourning, not only the incredible loss of their master, but the betrayal of one of their own, Judas. They had just gone through the emotional roller coaster of watching their master, beaten, crucified, and buried, as well as, continuing to have interactions with him after his death and before his ascension. This had to create a whole cornucopia of feelings within each of them. Then they watch their master ascend into Heaven, leaving them alone. Yes, Jesus had promised them that the Holy Spirit would be coming, “not many days from now”, but considering all they had just been through I would not be surprised if there was some modicum of doubt within at least a few of them. All of this is in addition to them going through the process of replacing Judas, by adding Mathias to their group. If this is not an incredible series of ups and downs I do not know what is.

Then we arrive at the festival of Pentecost. It is named from the Greek word meaning "fiftieth," because it was (and still is) celebrated beginning fifty days after the Sabbath following Passover. This is also the day of the giving of the Torah, fifty days after the original Passover caused Pharoah to let the Hebrew people leave Egypt.

Now from Jesus' death up until this point, the early church was secluded, hidden in homes and safe houses. God needed and desired to have his church public and open, available to all people. So here is reason two for the Holy Spirit coming to us like the rush of a violent wind. When this occurred a festival was happening. People from all over the land were in Jerusalem. Remember, just before his ascension, Jesus told his followers to be his witness, “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NRSV). This was their chance to be witnesses to all the world and they did not even have to leave Jerusalem!

Everyone was gathered to worship and pay homage to God and here comes these divided tongues, as of fire, that rest on the believers. They begin to speak in all sorts of different languages, and the people gathered understand. Each member of this diverse gathering recognizes their native language and all are amazed. Now some immediately begin to debunk this saying they were drunk. But Peter does not let that reason gain any traction, instantly telling the crowd that it is only 9am and they could not possibly be drunk. Peter does not want the significance of this phenomenon to be missed or devalued. He wants everyone to know that the Holy Spirit has arrived, that the Helper, the Advocate is here and things are about to change!

So What Is Really Going to Change?
What is about to change? I am so glad you asked! In a word...everything. Up to this point your relationship with God was based on rules, sacrifices, and a merit vs. consequence type of system. I do not believe that was God's ultimate desire but it was what humanity could understand. Now things have changed. God has come manifest in the form of Jesus. Jesus has taught us first hand what it means to love God, follow God, and be God to others. Jesus has modeled for us what true love really looks like; in life through his actions and in death through his crucifixion. Humanity has now had a taste of having God be a dynamic part of their life. We were introduced to a new way of experiencing God and it was working much better than the previous plan. Remember, God can only reveal to us what we allow ourselves to understand and that is the window in which the Holy Spirit will change everything. God will now use the Holy Spirit to move within us and through us. The Holy Spirit will be that connection to God and Jesus Christ. We will have an always on connection to the love, grace, and mercy that is our Triune God.

This means that we will experience a new type of intimacy with God in life and worship. We will have a tangible presence that will allow us to feel more deeply, be changed more significantly, and understand more broadly. Each and every Sunday morning I pray for the Holy Spirit to dwell within this place with us. These are not just fancy words that sound nice together or me filling some pastoral obligation. This is us as the family of God asking, yearning, and waiting with baited breath, for the presence of God. The Holy Spirit is the doorway by which we have an experience of God in worship. Those times you feel the hair rising on the back of your neck, the goose bumps growing on your arms, or you feel your heart strangely warmed...that is the Holy Spirit. That is God your Father reaching out to you, moving you, transforming you, revealing to you that God is here. That is the Holy Spirit!

Now What?
Based on that understanding of the nature and action of the Holy Spirit, our next step is to figure out a way in which we can articulate those feelings and understandings to others.

I am going to come at this from the perspective of what we as United Methodists believe. So first, how do we describe the Holy Spirit? Going back to our Book of Discipline, we describe the person of the Holy Spirit like this,

“We believe in the Holy Spirit who proceeds from and is one in being
with the Father and the Son. He convinces the world of sin, of
righteousness and of judgment. He leads men through faithful response
to the gospel into the fellowship of the Church. He comforts, sustains and
empowers the faithful and guides them into all truth”2

As United Methodists we believe that the Holy Spirit does indeed proceed from both the Father and the Son. We also believe that the Holy Spirit is responsible for a great many things in the life of a believer and disciple of Jesus Christ.

We believe the Holy Spirit to be important for many reasons. One reason is because of the assurance provided by the Holy Spirit. And that is a major tenet of our United Methodist theology. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed that “the teaching of assurance was 'one grand part of the testimony which God has given [the Methodists] to bear to all humankind.”3 We can have supreme confidence in the life, action, and work of God because of the assurance given to us by the Holy Spirit. When John Wesley rediscovered his faith, on Aldersgate Street after hearing a sermon on Romans, and his heart was strangely warmed, that was the Holy Spirit. Giving John the confidence that he was called by God and that God did have a plan for his life.

But the Holy Spirit is much more! The Holy Spirit gives us:
  • faith (1 Corinthians 12:3),
  • moves us toward sanctification (2 Thessalonians 2:13),
  • gives unity to the church (Ephesians 4:3-4),
  •  gives us hope for a good tomorrow (Romans 8:16-17),  
  • and even prays our prayers (Romans 8:26-27).
As United Methodists we place such an enormous amount of significance on the Holy Spirit that the Spirit is referenced in our Baptism, Celebrations of Communion, our Service for Confirmation and Profession of Faith, and our Ordination of Elders liturgies. This is because we believe to the Holy Spirit to be active and at work within the church.

The Holy Spirit is also at work beyond the church. Providing gifts, spiritual gifts, so that we may accomplish the task set before us as ambassadors of God Holy Kingdom. Gifts such as:
  • wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues, interpretation (1 Corinthians 12)
  • ministry, teaching, exhorting, giving, leading, showing compassion (Romans 12)
  •  as well as raising up apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors (Ephesians 4).
These gifts are meant for good and can be discovered through affirmation, prayer, discernment, and spiritual gift inventories. And when used as intended bear fruit...good love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

Our lives would be very, very different if were not for the Holy Spirit. We enjoy a wonderful connection to the Father and the Son because of the Holy Spirit. Gregory of Nazianzus wrote a wonderful description of the Holy Spirit.

The deity of the Holy Spirit ought to be clearly recognized in
Scripture. Look at these facts: Christ is born; the Spirit is His forerunner.
Christ is baptized; the Spirit bears witness. Christ is tempted; the Spirit
leads Him up. Christ ascends; the Spirit takes His place. What great things
are there in the character of God which are not found in the Spirit? What
titles which belong to God are not also applied to Him? He is called the
Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the mind of Christ, the Spirit of the
Lord, the Spirit of adoption, of truth, of liberty; the Spirit of wisdom,
of understanding, of counsel, of might, of knowledge, of godliness, of the
fear of God. This only begins to show how unlimited He is.

The Holy Spirit is a key part of our lives with Christ. And the best way I know to unlock the power of the Holy Spirit is to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Therefore, our challenge, is to take all of the dirt and debris in our lives, sin, ego, pride, selfishness, hate, and anything else that separates us from God, and replace it with the Holy Spirit. Allow those destructive things to flow away. Be filled with the breath and wind of God, be filled with the Holy Spirit and transform this world!

1. Joyner, F. Belton. United Methodist Questions, United Methodist Answers. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), p 18.

2. The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 2008. p 67.

3. Works, Volume 1. p 208.

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