University Congregational Church
June 1, 2014
“The Holy Spirit, Who?”
Acts 2: 1-4
Something BIG is happening this week!
- You’ve read about it…
- You’ve heard about it…
- You’ve seen it advertized…
And it’s finally here! PENTECOST! You didn’t know about it?!! We’re Congregational – we don’t do Pentecost – we leave that for those Pentecostal Churches. (I saw you squish your nose up in distaste).
Pentecost is the day in the Christian calendar that we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. “Wait, hold on,” you say. “The Holy Spirit, Who?” I know, I know… we’re a little shy talking about the Holy Spirit. It’s not, well, you know, talked about in polite circles. All that stuff about speaking in tongues is unseemly. It’s just not our style.
My first exposure to the Holy Spirit was at a little Baptist church I attended some Sunday evenings with my best friend during childhood. The preacher said that it was the Holy Spirit who made you speak in other languages out loud during church; languages you didn’t even know! And, if you didn’t speak in other languages during church, you didn’t have the Holy Spirit. Then, he offered to lay hands on anyone who wanted the Holy Spirit. Now, I was only about 10 years old, but I was no fool; I didn’t think it was cool to run around speaking another language that people didn’t understand and that even you didn’t understand – just to prove you had the Holy Spirit. I didn’t want it. And I wasn’t sure it was a Holy Spirit he was offering anyway!
As I grew in the Christian faith, I just ignored anything to do with the Holy Spirit. And it was easy to do in a mainline Protestant Church – because most of us don’t know what to do with this doctrine. In fact, in preparation for this sermon, I looked in three years of periodicals, all my seminary textbooks, and at Barnes and Noble to find information about the Holy Spirit and what I came up with wasn’t worth plagiarizing! It seems to me that we may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. When we started ignoring the Holy Spirit, we may have started ignoring our own spirituality.
My quest for the Holy Spirit started in seminary. I talked to professors and other students about my understanding of the Holy Spirit and they all looked at me with blank stares… it wasn’t the hottest topic around. After all, who wants to talk about the Holy Spirit when we can argue about important stuff, like thermal-nuclear war or abortion or a missing airplane? But it seemed to me that if the Holy Spirit were part of our lives perhaps that would influence some of these other discussions.
About that time, my four year-old daughter, Erin, startled me by bringing up the topic. One day at church we sang the song, “Since Jesus Came into My Heart”. On the way home from church, Erin said, “Mom, I don’t get it… if God is in heaven and Jesus is in my heart, then where is the Holy Spirit?”
They don’t teach these things in seminary. So, I took a moment to think; actually two moments. Thankfully, she filled my silence.
“Mom, I think I know where the Holy Spirit is. It’s in my tummy!”
“Honey,” I asked, “Why do you think the Holy Spirit is in your tummy?”
“Maaahhhmm!” she exclaimed, “when I do something wrong, my tummy gets upset and that’s the Holy Spirit telling me that I’ve messed up. Then, when I am living like I’m supposed to, my tummy feels good, and that’s the Holy Spirit telling me everything is okay. See, that’s how it works.”
“Absolutely. The Holy Spirit lives in our tummies. You’re right!” I managed to say. And I’ve adopted this theology ever since. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit is the up close and personal side of God. The Holy Spirit is how God talks to us; it helps us to know God today and it lives in our stomachs.
Some people think about the Holy Spirit being strictly a New Testament doctrine. But the Holy Spirit (or at least the pre-cursor to what we deem the Holy Spirit) is in the Old Testament too. The Hebrew people thought about the Holy Spirit in terms of God’s missionary. The Spirit in the Old Testament is seen as the part of God which strengthened the judges, anointed the kings and inspired the prophets. It was the Holy Spirit which caused events to happen which would help people understand and grow closer to God.
Also in the Old Testament, the Hebrew pronouns used for the Holy Spirit are sometimes gender specific – and they are female. The Hebrew language has gender-neutral pronouns and usually those are words used to describe the deity. Occasionally a masculine pronoun was used to describe God, the Creator. But there are feminine pronouns used to describe the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, when the Bible was transcribed and translated much later, those in charge often removed or altered many of the references. So, we ended up with a spayed Holy Spirit in many Biblical passages. However, there are a few which still refer to the Spirit of God as a she. Check out Proverbs 8, for example.
In the New Testament, Jesus gives new meaning to the Hebrew understanding of the Spirit. He tells his followers that the Holy Spirit will come to them after he is gone so they will not feel alone. The major function of the Spirit at that point was to comfort.
There are some other things you might want to know about the Holy Spirit. First, the Holy Spirit is God’s mouthpiece. The Holy Spirit talks on God’s behalf. Call it the wind. Call it your conscience. Call it your tummy. Call it your heart or soul. Call it God whispering in your ear. The Holy Spirit is the voice through which God speaks.
The Holy Spirit is our guide. The Holy Spirit helps us to discern between what is wise and foolish, between what is best and what is okay. Each day is full of decisions. Most of our decisions are about things not specified in the Bible…
- Where to send the kids to school
- Whether to hire a particular person
- How to put together a budget
- Where to go on vacation
- On and on it goes.
Sometimes these decisions can become overwhelming. The Holy Spirit is there within us to guide and give light to our choices. The Holy Spirit is God within to help us discern the best of choices.
The Holy Spirit is wisdom personified. Proverbs 8 tells of wisdom with a capital “W” as an old woman, calling in the streets. Have you ever met a wise, old woman calling in the street? Think a moment about that image. Hollywood has picked up on the image many times. In Home Alone and Mary Poppins, it’s a poor, wise old woman feeding the birds who hands out wisdom freely to those who take time to stop and talk to her. Read Proverbs 9. This is the Holy Spirit personified. And next time you see an old wise woman calling to you, know that she may be the Holy Spirit.
Finally, the Holy Spirit is a friend. Sallie McFague, a theologian concerned with ecology and ethics, writes about understanding of the Holy Spirit as friend. She says that we should understand the Spirit of God as our friend so that we can develop a bond of trust and commitment to God. This way, we can exhibit mutual responsibility with God for the care of the earth. The Holy Spirit gives us hope that God is with us, as friend and co-worker.
As we grow spiritually, let us not be afraid to talk about what the Holy Spirit is doing in our lives. Let’s not be afraid to mention the Holy Spirit. Let’s get excited about a Pentecost awakening in our church.
Ann Weems wrote this poem about what the Holy Spirit can do among us:
The church is Pentecost.
The Holy Spirit is poured out upon us
and sends us out together
aflame with new life,
inheritors of the wealth of God:
We are liberated from the prisons of pettiness,
jealousy, and greed,
liberated to be the church.
We are freed to free others.
We are affirmed to affirm others.
We are loved to love others.
We are family;
we are community.
We are the church triumphant –
you, me, anyone who would come unto the Lord –
renewed, redirected, empowered
to change things and lives
together in love and wholeness.
We are the Lord’s church,
the church of justice and mercy,
the people sent to open prisons,
to heal the sick
to clothe the naked
to feed the hungry
to be alleluias when there is no music.
The mantle is upon our shoulders.
Joy is apparent in our living.
We have been commissioned to be the church
of Jesus Christ.