Rejoicing in the Power of the Spirit.
First Reading Acts 2:1-21
Psalm Psalm 104:25-35, 37
Second Reading Romans 8:14-17
Gospel John 14:8-17, 25-27
Our Thursday Bible Study group has been faithfully studying Paul for many months. In honor of the 150th Anniversary of St. Paul’s Church in Macon, we have been getting to know our patron saint better. Through the narrative of Acts and working through the epistles, we noticed how Paul greeted people in a fledgling Christian community. “Have you received the Holy Spirit?” We puzzled over this question. Paul did not ask if they had heard the story of Jesus. He did not ask if they had seen signs and miracles and healings. He did not ask if they believed. He did not ask “are you a Christian” by any human metric or judgement. He asked the one question above all questions that transforms lives, guides us, and makes a gathering of people the Church. “Have you received the Holy Spirit?”
Our group then pondered how one might formulate a reply. How do we know? How do we know we have received the Holy Spirit? As I look out at the saints of St. Paul’s, none of you have fire dancing over your heads. When we talk with one another, it is usually in an intelligible language we all understand. I’m not always sure I have any divine power welling up inside me. And when I do feel such feelings, I usually take a Tum’s or some other antacid. How do we know? Have we received the Holy Spirit?
Jesus prophetically teaches us what to expect. Philip asks Jesus to “Show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus knows humanity better than that. When will we ever be satisfied? But Jesus knows what we need, and explains. “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” Jesus describes the complete unity between the Father and the Son. More than a metaphysical mystery, Jesus is proclaiming a relationship of such oneness that the sent one completely identifies with the one who sent. And even after Jesus returns to the Father, this relationship is not broken or ended, but transformed and expanded. “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.” The Holy Spirit is Jesus’ successor and is the promise of his continued presence and his return. We are also Jesus’ successors and Jesus remains present through us. How do we know if we have received the Holy Spirit? We know because the Spirit abides in us and is with us. The work of the Holy Spirit will continue across generations, leading the Christian community through Jesus’ own life and teachings, until Christ returns.
But how do we know? One major theme of Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit is power. At the first Pentecost, a new power was bestowed upon humanity, and all present were amazed and perplexed. Not the kind of power humanity seeks in the world. God power! We are promised power from the Spirit. But the point of this power is to point to the Spirit, which points to Christ, who points to the Father.
The power of God has nothing to do with self promotion, or even self protection, but has everything to do with restoring unity and relationship. This is why the giving and receiving of the Holy Spirit is so characteristic of our mission. The outpouring of the Spirit enables Peter and the Apostles and us to communicate, to connect, to reconcile, and to see the common threads running throughout the history of God’s dealings with God’s people. The power of the gift of the Holy Spirit is sudden and sustaining, powerful and persistent, reclaiming and reconciling.
We are united by by the indwelling of God in each of us, by our acceptance of God’s grace, and by our response. The Spirit makes each of us missioners, longing to share a common life with God ... the common life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The gift of the Holy Spirit is our adoption certificate, by which we are children of God, and heirs to God’s promise. We will know we have received the Holy Spirit by how it transforms us and its power that works through us.
When our common life is filled with and guided by the Spirit, we are given a means to be one with God, as the Father and the Son are one ... one Body, longing and striving to be reconciled with God and one another. We live differently, guided by the Spirit, to locate, claim, and utilize our authentic voices, gifts, and skills to love and serve. We see the world through God’s eyes, where all of creation is valuable and beloved. We are compelled to love like Jesus, without barriers, boundaries, or conditions. When the Christian community lives this way, the world will notice. Some might accuse us of being drunk at nine in the morning. Others will say, ‘I’d like to have some of that’. And we will welcome them, because all who seek Christ are welcome at God’s table.
Jesus said, “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.” This day of Pentecost, we are all together in one place. There is a fire in each of us, igniting us, and filling is with power. Receive the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Spirit has been given, and continues to be given. It is a present and future blessing. We have been given so many gifts, but the Holy Spirit is a gift of a different order. It brings light and truth. It brings changes within us, in the moral and spiritual nature and capacity of humans. It brings with it the affection, and heart, and character to wish and desire and power to do right. The gift of the Holy Spirit opens to humanity, in a degree never known before, the life of holiness, which allows us to live with God, to know God, and to love God. In the language of scripture, the gift of the Holy Spirit has created afresh the nature of humanity. Today we celebrate the birth of renewed humanity and the Church. This is the day when a new divine power came into the very inmost souls and beings of humans, changing us from our old selves, filling us with new energies fresh from the very heart of God, begetting humanity anew from the deadness of sin and giving new birth through the Spirit, gifting us the power to become true children of God. Amen.