Talking to other Episcopalians about the Spirit is like trying to explain what you mean when you tell someone that our website is doers.org (Dewars). In both cases people think it has something to do with alcohol.
Episcopalians are not sure what to do with the Holy Spirit. Many would say they have never experienced the Spirit and they are not sure they want to. It s too Pentecostal being slain in the Spirit, speaking in tongues, arm waving, television healers and the like. What is the most rational, heady, intellectual denomination supposed to do with the Spirit? We like our worship to be orderly, beautiful, and oh so English. Some wonder if we even need the Spirit? Isn t it enough just to focus on the Father and the Son?
For the most part Episcopalians and mainline Protestants don t understand the Holy Spirit. We tend to think of it as this sort of spiritual steroid given to the disciples after Jesus ascension. In this sense, the Spirit enables us to do amazing things but it is also dangerous. The Spirit can get us into trouble – just read Isaiah or Jeremiah, just ask Desmund Tutu. Following the Spirit s lead can takes us to places and involve us in causes that others might consider too risky. But we are mistaken if we think the Holy Spirit is out of the ordinary or unnecessary.
To really understand the Spirit we have to look back to the beginning of the Bible to the Book of Genesis and the story of creation. There we see that the Spirit plays an essential role in God s creation. In the poetry of the creation story the Spirit is God s creative power bringing the world out of chaos, blowing like a wind over all things, giving life to lifeless matter. The Spirit is the wind or breath of God blown into the souls of Adam and Eve to give them life, it is the image of the Divine given to us all. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures the Spirit is always there empowering the servants to God to do God s work. The Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Joseph were empowered by the Spirit. The great judges Deborah, Samson and the like were called to rule the Israelites through the power of the Spirit. The great prophets all stood up and spoke God s truth during the most difficult situations because of the power of the Spirit. And Jesus entire ministry was made possible because the Spirit of God came and rested upon him at his baptism and never left, even when he hung on the cross.
From a theological point of view the Holy Spirit can be described as the power of love. Specifically, the love that pours out of the relationship between two persons of the Trinity – the Father and the Son. It s no accident then that what Jesus wants to give his friends when he leaves is this same Spirit. And if you read the book of Acts you can see that it is this power of love that transforms the disciples from a bunch of scared novices into fearless witnesses willing to face martyrdom in order to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.
For you and me this means that the Holy Spirit is essential to our individual religious lives and the life of this community. Literally, there is no faith without the Spirit. There is no worship without the Spirit. There is no courage to love our neighbors as ourselves without the Spirit.
If you were around in the months following the fire that destroyed our sanctuary then you witnessed the Holy Spirit moving in this community in ways we had not experienced in years. If you ve been a part of either of our WomanKind Conferences then you have seen the Spirit touch hearts and minds. If you have been on a mission trip to Honduras then you have seen the Spirit at work in the people who go on these trips and in the people we serve. Indeed this very morning the Spirit is moving among us like a breeze waiting to be invited into our lives, waiting to touch these children who will be baptized, waiting to empower us as we take part in the bread and the wine. We have only to ask. The Spirit is and has always been God s gift to the church.
In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul says that the fruits of the Spirit are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When we focus on these good things we are following the promptings of the Spirit. Therefore, when you find yourself angry at your co-worker or family member pray for the spirit s gift of love to help you deal graciously with that situation. When the routine and responsibilities of life leave you with a heavy heart, pray for the spirit s gift of joy to show you how immensely blessed you are. When you are tired and frustrated, when you are out of energy and confronted with someone who needs your time and attention, pray for the gift of patience to strengthen you. When you are absorbed by your own problems and anxieties, pray for the spirit of kindness to soften your heart towards others. When you are worried about your debts, your bills, your busy schedule, pray for the spirit s gift of generosity so that you always have something to give. When you feel alone, when you feel that life is cruel and unfair, pray for the spirit of faithfulness to help you make it through another day. When it would be easier to snap at someone you love, when it would be quicker just to lose your temper, pray for the gift of gentleness to show you another way. And in everything you do, pray for the spirit of self-control so that you can live your life not only for yourself but also in service to others.
I could wish nothing more for our community, indeed for our entire denomination, then that we should welcome more and more the Holy Spirit into our midst. Because it is the Spirit that gives us passion for service, a passion for mission, and an unrelenting passion to see God s justice done in the world. Especially this month as we move into the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, what we need more than anything else is the power of the Spirit. It is only the Spirit that can help us elect the right person as our new Presiding Bishop. It is only the Spirit that can move our church s focus away from destructive internal bickering. It is only the Spirit s promptings that can remind us, in spite of our egos, that the church s only meaningful function is to offer God s redeeming love to this hurting and broken world.
On this Pentecost Sunday as we pray for the Holy Spirit to enter the lives of these five beautiful children, pray for the Spirit to enter your life as well. Because a little can go a long way, and if we are willing to be bearers of the Spirit s flame there is nothing that can stop us from setting the world on fire with the love of God.