(Acts 2:1-21; Ezekiel 37:1-14)
Many of us gathered here this morning-we’re Presbyterian, I’m a tried and true Presbyterian, born and raised and ordained into—so I feel like I can call us on this- we’re Presbyterians and so we’re a little awkward around the sermon I’m about to preach. We Presbyterians we don’t much talk about the Holy Spirit. We say the Holy Spirit, but we don’t really like to talk about it much. Don’t really address much who the Holy Spirit is, what in the world the Holy Spirit means, and for goodness sakes lets please not talk about what the Holy Spirit is doing in our own lives. The Holy Spirit doesn’t get much attention so I’d like to give it not just a little attention but also try and name this thing which is so beautifully indefinable and unexplainable. Let me share a few things that have pointed me to an understanding of the Holy Spirit.
Firstly–the most helpful description I have heard of the Holy Spirit is that the “Holy Spirit is the present tense of God.” The Holy Spirit can be described as the “God is” God is working in this world, God is present among us, God is calling you, God is involved in your life, God is caring and loving, God is. The Holy Spirit makes that statement, the Statement that not only tells us who God was, what God did or what God will do in the future. The Holy Spirit tells us that God is– right now–here among us, doing something, doing something in our lives.
While I was serving a church in Trenton, NJ during seminary I would go to the Sunday School rooms in the morning before everyone got there and check in on them, to make sure they had everything the volunteers would need for the morning. One morning I was poking around one of the Sunday School rooms and looking through the “everything” box of markers and crayons- you know the one with all the mismatched markers some with caps, some without and most with mismatched caps, a green marker with a purple cap. As I was sorting through the box I found a lost craft project. Something that must have been done in the past week and somehow got placed in the mismatched marker bin. The piece of paper was cut out in a cloud shape and colored pencil in sky blue and with big black marker in children’s handwriting was written “I prayed so hard God answered me in a different way.” Reading that little child’s cloud, that lost coloring project, with a profound statement, I was stopped in my tracks. Stopped in my tracks and reminded of the ways God works in our lives. I love the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit uses little children to remind us know it all adults that God works in wonderful and mysterious ways.
The second thing that I think that helps point us to an understanding of the Holy Spirit is the very word itself. In the first text which Keeley and I read from the prophet Ezekiel, we hear of the prophesy that Ezekiel receives from the Lord. The Hebrew word that appears all throughout this scripture is the word ruach. Ruach is translated to mean Spirit, wind or breath. Ruach captures the wholeness of the Holy Spirit, it captures the indelible presence of the Holy Spirit—the presence of Holy Spirit that is as moving and swift as wind and as constant and necessary as breath. Ruach—the presence of the Holy Spirit is as steadfast as the breath we have that gives us life.
A few years ago, I worked at a non-profit organization called Association Mwana Ukundwa in Kigali, Rwanda. While living in Kigali, my friend and I decided to make the most of the opportunity to travel and visit other churches and experience all the different worship styles we could in Kigali. We visited mostly churches that had at least one service in English or at least provided a translator. We also mostly visited churches about which a friend told us or where we had some sort of connection. One Sunday, exhausted and with no Sunday plans, we took a walk down the steep hills of Kigali. Rwanda is of course the land of 1,000 hills and my legs could certainly tell that story, another time though.
As we descended one great hill, we stumbled upon a church that we had never heard of, where we knew no one, and just walked right in. We sat anonymously in the chairs lifting out hymnals when necessary, humming along to tunes while the congregation sang in Kinyarwanda. The service continued in Kinyarwanda, and we sat listening, quietly praying, worshipping without language. Near the end of the service, the pastor went to the front of the church. He stood behind a table and he took bread, and in Kinyarwanda he prayed over it, and he broke it, and he took the cup and lifted it and prayed in Kinyarwanda and the people came forward. I came forward and I looked at him as I took a piece of bread, and he looked at me and spoke words I did not know, and I dipped my bread in the wine, ate of it and returned to my seat.
And while I don’t know a word of what that Pastor said, I know that right in that moment God was there, the “God is” that is the Holy Spirit. God was in that moment, with me, with that church. There is no doubt that that was the Holy Spirit. I love the Holy Spirit because it transcends language, it overcomes discomfort, it moves in a way that just says “I am here, I love you.”
This is what I love about the Holy Spirit, its very presence is that which gives us life, the constancy of the Spirit is present even when we loose consciousness of it, even when it becomes so rhythmic in our lives that we forget to name it or be aware of it—the Spirit is still there giving us life.
Finally–The Holy Spirit is a statement maker, a bold drama queen that stirs things up, that rocks the boat, coming by fire and wind in this passage. The Pentecost text we read just a few moments ago tells us of this very bold statement which the Holy Spirit made and the very dramatic way which the spirit made that statement. The Holy Spirit makes a statement in Pentecost, a dramatic, show-stopping statement. A statement that Jesus Christ is risen and as the risen Christ, Jesus is working amongst the disciples. That’s a pretty bold statement.
That dramatic bold statement of Pentecost—the statement that Jesus Christ is risen and Jesus Christ is still with us, that’s the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit every time it moves and speaks and calls is making that bold and holy proclamation: Jesus Christ is risen and Jesus Christ is with us.
That is why I love the Holy Spirit, I love the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit keeps us from ever forgetting who Jesus is in our lives, not who Jesus was, the Holy Spirit tells us the story of how Jesus is working in our lives, the Holy Spirit weaves Jesus into our stories here and now, the Holy Spirit calls us to be at work with Jesus in this world.
I love the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit in all its drama at Pentecost makes a statement that simultaneously stirs in us something new and brings a sincere sense of peace.
Several years ago I taught a confirmation class to a group of 25 eighth grade students on the Upper East side of Manhattan, my hometown. Many of my students were curious, bright-eyed and eager to get all the facts down so they could figure out if they were ready to make that leap to join the church. One of the students however, a teenage girl forced to be at confirmation class each week by her father came into each class without a trace of a smile, seldom any words or care for the world off her iPhone. She went through the motions of the whole class, coming to each class and activity, albeit totally unexcited about being there but nonetheless, there. When the time came to write her statement of faith toward the end of the year, she texted me—a first! and told me, I really don’t know what I believe, I don’t think I get any of this, I’m not quite sure where I fall but I want to join the church. She shared her doubts with the church’s session, exclaiming that she didn’t have it all figured out and she wasn’t really quite sure about the whole thing but still wanting to go forward on confirmation Sunday and become a part of the church. Now, some might hear this story and hear the rather common hesitations of any teenager, or any believer really, and those are there but I also see the work of the Holy Spirit, pulling that sweet girl into the loving arms of her church family, confused, unsure but aware that by being in the family of God, she might be strengthened there. I love the Holy Spirit because it works in surprising unknowable ways to do things we simply can’t do ourselves.
The Holy Spirit is dramatic because of the big statement it makes—the big statement that Christ is still somehow with us, walking and working amongst us, loving us, the Holy Spirit makes the bold claim that Christ is risen! And that is dramatic, I think perhaps we often look for the other drama that the Holy Spirit can bring—the flaming fire hats, speaking in tongues, violent winds and rushing fire. But–perhaps the drama is just how big and bold and wonderful the statement is that God is with us, God is working in the world, God is here, God is. That’s pretty bold, pretty wonderful and that, that is what I love about the Holy Spirit.