I Believe in the Holy Spirit
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The Battle of Britain ended in October of 1940. It’s been said that the Royal Air Force won this battle simply by continuing to exist, thereby preventing a German invasion of the United Kingdom. During this battle, Prime Minister Winston Churchill thanked the people of the RAF with these words – “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.”
When we consider the line of the Apostle’s Creed that formally introduces the third person of the Trinity, we might say something similar. Never before has so much been said about such a powerful truth, such a powerful mystery, by so few words. I believe in the Holy Spirit. You know when I say mystery I’m not talking in terms of Agatha Christie or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle but something that is beyond our comprehension or ability to fully grasp.
I believe in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit that brooded over chaos at the dawn of creation. The Spirit that brooded over Mary at the dawn of a new creation in Christ. The Spirit that came upon people like Saul, like David, like Elijah and Elisha (who asked God for a double portion of the Spirit). The Spirit that came upon those chosen by God to speak prophecy. The Spirit that broods over the creation of a new people in Christ in the Church. The Spirit that was promised to his followers by Christ. John 14:16 – “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”
The word here is advocate. We hear advocate and we might think of a lawyer, especially if we speak French. Advocate goes back to the Latin vocare which we hear when we say “vocation” – something you are called to. It means to be called to come alongside. It goes back to the word used in the original language of the New Testament. Paraklete means someone called to one’s side. Someone called to plead one’s case. Someone called to comfort – to come alongside those who grieve.
I believe in the Holy Spirit.
The one who gives us the power to believe. The one by whom we can even say “I believe in God the Father Almighty and in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord” and “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” The one who creates faith in us because we are never to think that we are the only ones with a role to play in our faith. Take a look at 1 Corinthians 12:3. The Holy Spirit is the one on whom this whole statement of faith is dependent!
The one who is with us always. The one who abides with us. John records an extended conversation that Jesus has with his disciples about the then promised Holy Spirit in chapter 14 of his Gospel. Jesus says “You know him because he abides in you, and he will be in you” (John 14:17) The Spirit teaches us and reminds us – (John 14:26) “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.” How wonderful! The Spirit reminds us. The Spirit reveals truth to us. What a good thing to pray. Precious Lord reveal your heart to me. Reveal yourself to us by the power of your Spirit.
The Holy Spirit’s power. The Holy Spirit is compared to fire. It’s compared to wind. “The wind bloweth where it listeth” as the KJV so famously puts it in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. Something that is beyond our control. Something that does unexpected things within us and through us. Unforeseen things. Unimaginable things maybe. Have you ever held an attitude or a thought or a love that you know could not have come from you? Have you ever been able to extend forgiveness to someone and you know it could not have come from you? Have you ever felt a prompting to call or write or talk to someone and you knew when all was said and done that it was the Holy Spirit’s prompting?
This is the creative power of the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit that brooded over the beginning of creation and the same Holy Spirit that brooded over the coming of Christ into the world. The Spirit which brings order out of chaos. We talked at the beginning of this series about how the Creed reflects God’s story of Creation and Fall and Redemption and Consummation. The Creation story is one of harmony. Of good. Of communion between God and humanity and creation. Things went wrong. As you read through the first 10 chapters of Genesis, things get progressively worse until we come to the scene where, in an act of hubris and pride and self-sufficiency, people wanted to build a tower to the heavens. “We’ll make a name for ourselves,” they say. Their plans are frustrated by God and the result is a division of people by language. People become divided.
And we all know what the result of division has been and continues to be amongst the human family.
We see the promised Spirit of God coming amongst Christ’s followers in the passage that we heard from Acts this morning. This force from outside themselves that comes like a rushing wind. It fills the place where they are gathered. It comes upon Christ’s followers individually like tongues of fire. This Spirit that gives them the ability to speak. And not just to speak of anything but to declare the mighty acts of God, God’s deeds of power, as Luke puts it. This Spirit that is breaking down barriers, just at God in Christ has broken down the barrier of sin that separated humanity from God. As the Holy Spirit brooded over new creation at the dawn of time, the Holy Spirit broods over the creation of a new community. A community in which it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what language you speak. A community that is one through the power of the Holy Spirit. We’ve said before that we can be leery of words like power. We talked about this the first week briefly when we talked about God as almighty. Too often power is used to subjugate and differentiate and oppress. Too often power is used to set groups of people in opposition to one another. The power of the Spirit serves to break down divisions. It serves to foster understanding. It serves to create fruit in us individually and as a community of faith. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. One of my favourite things to do when I was CE coordinator here was to sing “The Fruit of the Spirit” with the children.
“Clothe yourself with,” these things wrote Paul on another occasion. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. The Holy Spirit as bond of love. The Holy Spirit as the conduit through which the love of God is poured into our hearts. We sing about this image of the Spirit when we sing “Blest Be the Tie That Binds”. This idea of the Holy Spirit as the channel of God’s love. It’s based on verses like Romans 5:5 “… and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” What a wonderful mystery. What a wonderful truth. This image of the Holy Spirit as the channel by which God’s love is poured into our hearts. The bond of love within the Trinity itself. The channel by which we are swept up into the circle of love that’s existed from time eternal between Father, Son, and Spirit. It’s been compared to a dance. I’ve told the story before about being in Scotland for the first time at the age of 18. I was part of a band exchange program during high school. Our band was invited by our hosting band to a dance. At one point our hosts were involved in this Scottish folk dance which involved everyone going around in a large circle. We were all kind of standing around the periphery until a hand came out to invite me in. I joined in as best I could. Watching the steps. Imitating the steps. Learning the steps. The Holy Spirit as bond of love. I remember going to Bolivia and seeing how the Holy Spirit we share with our Bolivian sisters and brothers transcended language and culture. We came back and asked ourselves how are we seeing the same kind of thing in our family of faith here? Are we seeing it? Let us pray to God to pour out God’s Spirit of love on us if we’re not. When we meet one another is the Holy Spirit in me recognizing the Holy Spirit in you? Pray to God that this is the case!
Finally there is this idea that we have both an individual and communal experience of the Holy Spirit. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good,” as Paul writes to the people of Corinth (1 Cor 12:7). We do not lose our individuality in the Spirit and at the same time we are knit into one body in the Spirit. “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…” (1 Cor 12:13) Someone has said “we become more truly ourselves as the Spirit broods over us and as our lives are knit together with other lives and stories.” The Cappadocian pastor Basil wrote that the Holy Spirit “is like a sunbeam whose grace is present to the one who enjoys it, as if it were present to that one alone, yet it illuminates land and sea and is mixed with the air.”
In a little while we’re going to be gathering around this table. When we do may be reminded by the Spirit of the Spirit who comes alongside us, the Spirit who inspires faith, the Spirit who makes of us and our faith family new creations, the Spirit as the channel through whom God’s love is poured into our hearts, and the Spirit who dwells in us individually while at the same time building us as the body of Christ. May these things be true for us all. Amen