St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Dear Holy Spirit”
Collect: Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
John 14:8-17, 25-27
Philip said to Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
"I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 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. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."
There were many reasons why I became an Episcopalian, and a lot of these were the same for becoming an Episcopal priest. Letting go of what came before is never easy. Some of those characteristics of my previous denomination and vocation I wanted desperately to drop. Some things took years of transition. Old habits die as quickly as an actor in a melodrama.
But there are some things I ran towards. I love having Eucharist every service. Feeling and celebrating the Real Presence of Christ in my life is one of my greatest treasures. I love that we welcome and include as many under our tent as are comfortable being in an Open and Affirming place, a place where all God’s children can grow and are loved and protected. And one of the key things I love is that we take the Holy Spirit seriously. There was an old joke in my prior denomination that the Trinity was actually Father, Son, and Holy Bible. And I get why the Spirit was not emphasized in my previous way of doing church. It is hard to control the Spirit. Like the wind, she goes where she will.
Even that imagery we are given, in both the Greek and the Hebrew languages, Spirit, Wind, and Breath all share the same word. Ruach in the Hebrew and Pneuma in the Greek. So when the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the deep in Genesis 1, or God breathed life into humanity in Genesis 2, all these words are interchangable.
The beautiful Tanakh translation of the Hebrew Scriptures translates those familiar phrases this way:
Genesis 1:1-2 “When God began to create heaven and earth-- the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and the wind from God sweeping over the water--”
Genesis 2: 7b “God blew into [the man’s]nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.”
So even from this image, we see that God is and was already with us. God’s Spirit/Breath/Wind swept in and made us who we are. (Might we say whose we are?)
And yet today, we also have a second approach. We see the Holy Spirit coming on Christ’s Church on this 50th day since Easter. Ascension was 10 days ago. But here, on this day, while in prayer, the 11 apostles (Judas had committed suicide) and remaining followers, we see the beginning of the Age of the Church. In fact, if the Gospel of Luke is a testament to the Christ, then the Book of Acts is a testament to the Holy Spirit. Throughout the Book of Acts, the Holy Spirit leads, pushes, cajoles, drags the early Church into new understandings and into ever expanding realms of the known world.
We see in Acts chapter 2 the fulfillment of Christ’s promise in our Gospel reading.
Jesus promised those with him then, and us with him now this: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 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.”
The Advocate will not be stopped. Like the wind, it will always win. Nothing can stop the wind from blowing, and nothing can deter the Spirit. On that first day, when the Spirit hovered over the deep prayer of the believers we see:
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. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.And Peter preached to the throng. Devout people from all over the known world had come to Jerusalem, and the Spirit took advantage of those gathered. Empowered and emboldened, the apostles preached and were heard and believed. And that day 3,000 were added to the fold.
Now the thing about stories is that we can choose to go along with them or not. Were they speaking in those foreign tongues, or were the ears of the listeners opened so that they could hear and believe. I do not know. But Acts tells us the what, not the how. I believe it, for the sheer fact that you and I are here, still gathering in Jesus name. Still baptizing in his name. Marking those baptized as Christ’s own forever. We are remembering him at his table, doing these things as he commanded, “in remembrance of me.” There has to be something in it, or we would not be here.
The Spirit still moves. The Spirit still speaks. There have been times and places when I said things that were what needed to be said, but I had no way of knowing that at the time.
I was in a small rural church in Texas having led a youth retreat, and at the closing service I was doing a skit where we interspersed expanding and clarifying words into John 3:16. “For God so GREATLY loved the world, that he gave his only UNIQUE begotten Son…” After we finished the verse it goes on listing some of those who God loves. “Wife abuser, child molester, midnight cruiser, stock investor, Associate Dean, Honored Marine, chainsmoker, junkie, hash toker, flunkie, redneck man in Ku Klux Klan…” And at the second I said that word, I felt something. A wince. A jab. I do not know how to describe it, but I had the real sense that someone, right there in that room was being deeply convicted. Looking around everyone kept a poker face. After the service, the pastor shared with the team I was on that one of his leaders was in the KKK and was there. He asked for prayers because he left quickly once the service was over. I had no rational way of knowing that. As Obi Wan put it, I felt a disturbance in the Force. As we would put it, I felt a prompting of the Spirit to pray, and to pray hard.
There are times and places when I arrived at the right place at the right time, for beyond my ability to coordinate things down to the second. I am nowhere near that good, even on my best days. The Holy Spirit is alive and well. I know it down deep in a place beyond my ability to communicate.
Being open to Spirit will take us into some uncharted waters. According to tradition, blessed St. Thomas went all the way to India to share the Gospel, and there are believers there to this day claiming descent from the apostle’s work.
I celebrate and thank God for the gift of this person of the Trinity. And let us lift our prayers to this person of the Godhead.
Dear Holy Spirit,
Thank you for being there for me, whether I feel it or not.
Thank you for guiding my steps when I am about to veer of God’s High-way.
Thank you for giving me words to say that are beyond my ability or knowledge. And thank you for helping the people who hear what they need from you even no matter what I said.
Thank you for continuing to use this flawed vessel as an instrument of God.
Thank you for inviting and guiding me deeper into faith, hope, and love.
Thank you for continuing to work miracles in the World.
Thank you for driving the ever-growing, ever-flowing Kingdom of God farther and further into the world so that this hurting globe can be more like Heaven each and every day.
Thank you for getting me up this morning.
Thank you for protecting while I rest.
Thank you for calming me when the worries of this world get the better of me.
Thank you for being. For being You. For being there. For being here, in this place. For being in here, in my heart.
Guide me to faith beyond my fears.
Mold me into the image of Christ each and every day. Exorcise the demons that hinder and haunt me. Train me up in the right paths for Christ’s namesake.
Watch over and protect my loved ones. Watch over and protect my enemies. Transform them, from my seeing them as enemies into beloved children of God.
To God the Father, to God the Incarnate One, to You Eternal Spirit Divine, be all honor and glory and praise forever and ever. Amen.
Blessings on this Pentecost, and happy birthday to the Church! Amen