But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. (John 14:26)
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and Jesus Christ the Lord and Savior. Amen.
Long before ascending back to the heavens, Jesus promised to never leave the disciples orphaned. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, the Holy Spirit is portrayed as an abstract, elusive force in God’s creation. The images of fire, wind, water as well as the image of a dove are used to portray this force that in many ways defies description.
Most, if not all, of creation requires light, air, and water to live. The very first verse of the Bible mentions the wind, water, and light. The first thing God did in creating the earth was to use wind to separate the water from the land and put light into the sky. The very images used for the Holy Spirit are rudimentary elements of creation. God even breathes his spirit into humans during creation.
All three can be serene elements in life. A gentle breeze on a sunny day sweeping in the scents of summer is soothing. The gentle lapping of waves against the lakeshore provides a blissful meditation. The melodies of timeless songs against the backdrop of a crackling campfire has ushered many toward peaceful night. Despite this beginning to sound like an ad for a meditation app, the emotions evoked by these images are very real. Fire, wind, and water do arouse beautiful images of serenity – at least sometimes.
They can also conjure images of brute force. It only takes seconds for a tornado to obliterate a homestead or town. A weak levy or flooded river will annihilate everything in its path. A single bolt of lightning (or careless match) can devastate and char thousands of acres of wildlife (and people) habitat. These images are just as real as the serene ones.
It is a struggle to describe the Holy Spirit because it is difficult to understand the Spirit. Within the Spirit, the serene empowerment coexists with the inexplicable potency of God. The Holy Spirit falls outside the ‘comfort’ or ‘safe’ zone for most of us. The Spirit refuses to be contained. It defies our words. It befuddles our logic and even our senses. Jesus told Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8) The Holy Spirit is on the loose in the world. It is always here and active, but also elusive and unpredictable. We, as human beings, don’t always cope well with those combined attributes.
We can better describe the works of the Spirit than the actual Spirit. Just as it easier to describe the effects of the wind, it is also easier to describe the fruits or activity of the Spirit.
Oftentimes the fruits of the Spirit are woven into the very fabric of our lives. Paul described the fruits of the Spirit to the Galatians as, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22b-23a) (For a musical version, track down your nearest Sunday School student.) None of those ‘fruits’ sound too radical, maybe not always easy, but not outlandish. Paul lists attributes that resemble basic decency.
However, even the work of the Spirit can seem outrageous at times. The Day of Pentecost was one of those outrageous times. Can you imagine being in Jerusalem, seeing tongues of fire, feeling and hearing a violent wind, and hearing a bunch of hicks (no offense to the disciples, but that is how the urbane tourists would have viewed them) suddenly speaking fluently in your own language? The reaction was split – was it an act of God or the results of alcoholic overindulgence? Was it the Holy Spirit or just the run-of-the-mill liquid kind of spirits? Peter preached an awesome sermon convincing at least 3000 visitors that it was the former.
The Holy Spirit is powerful. In the Apostles’ Creed, we confess: 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. Luther’s explanation to the 3rd article of the Creed reads as follows:
I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins—mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.
The Holy Spirit is loose in this world and extremely industrious – ostensibly the quintessential workaholic. There is absolutely nothing within the scope of life, faith, and the church that is not wholly dependent upon the power of the Spirit. The Spirit holds it all together. It holds us together. The power of God flows into this world in the form of the Holy Spirit, sometimes gently oozing and other times stalwartly surging, into the world and our lives.
The Spirit is alive. The Spirit is here. It is your advocate. Bask in God’s Spirit. Blaze, soar, and soak in God’s glory. The grace and peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
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)