Thank you, Holy Spirit
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Nicole told me recently that I’m a champion for the Holy Spirit and I said “What a great thing to tell me – thank you.” If you’ve been around me for any significant length of time, you’ve heard me refer to the Holy Spirit as the Cinderella of the Trinity (before the glass slippers and pumpkin carriage and so on) – never getting to come along to the gala events with her step-sisters. You’ll often hear people praying in the culture and thanking God – “Thank you, Lord!” People can often be heard thanking Jesus “Thank you Jesus!” they cry. When is the last time you heard someone pray “Thank you Holy Spirit!”?
The Cinderella of the Trinity is what the Holy Spirit can be. It’s a good thing to take one Sunday to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. We endeavour of course to never leave the Holy Spirit behind and to be Trinitarian in all our praise and prayer and worship and thanks and preaching and table gathering and the things we are called to do. Our actions. Because the Holy Spirit is about our actions too. This supernatural Spirit of the Living God effects the natural – the Holy Spirit is not just something floating around up here and the Holy Spirit is not just about endless thought or speculation or someone for us to hold internally, but someone who informs and effects our every thought, action, attitude – which means the Holy Spirit affects everything – all that we are – as we go through our days.
The Holy Spirit is wild and unpredictable. The Holy Spirit is compared to fire, touching everyone who was gathered around that room on that long-ago day of Pentecost. Compared to a wind that bloweth where it listeth. “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit,” as Jesus tells Nicodemus in a late-night talk. Outside of our control. How does that make us feel, we who so want to be in control of things/situations? Extra-biblically compared to a wild goose – unpredictable (and if you’ve never heard the story about how I found out that even domestic geese can be pretty unpredictable, do ask me about it sometime). Compared to a bird hovering over the waters in Genesis. Compared to a dove which comes down in the scene from Matthew 3 which we read this morning and alights on Jesus.
A dove. Peace. A gift. Fire. A refining fire. Also a gift. The gift of the Spirit. Thank you, Lord, for the gift of your Spirit. Thank you Holy Spirit, for all that you do. For all that you are. The gift of God. God the three-in-one. How wonderful to see all three in this scene today.
First of course we have to talk about good old John the Baptist. The forerunner. The one who went ahead. The one of whom Isaiah said “The voice of one crying in the wilderness; ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” because in the olden days messengers would go ahead of a leader as they travelled, announcing the leader’s coming and preparing the way. This is not unfamiliar to us of course and if we lived in a centre of national political power (as opposed to the centre of the universe) we would know about the preparations made for motorcades when everything is shut down and we’d be sitting in traffic while the way was being prepared.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
And so we read that the Holy Spirit came with tongues like fire touching all those who were gathered. We read about refining fire and sing “Refiner’s Fire” and “search me O God, and know my thoughts, cleanse me.” Refine me by your Spirit.
Which is a gift from God. It’s not something we could do on our own. Self-refining. If it were we would have already done it surely. The Holy Spirit is the gift of God which underlies all of the things we’ve been talking about over these many weeks in Matthew’s Gospel about who we are called to be and what we are called to do. Before any of that, there is the advent of the Holy Spirit on that Pentecost Day. Before that there is Jesus approaching his cousin and his cousin is aghast. “You need to be baptizing me!” John the Baptist says. Jesus talks about fulfilling all righteousness. In other words, bringing a situation about- fulfilling. Righteousness not in terms of Jesus’ own perfection or perfecting (like Jesus was imperfect in some way and needed to repent) but righteousness in terms of living in a right and harmonious relationship with God. This is what Jesus and His Father and the Holy Spirit of God are bringing about. All three of them working in concert, speaking of harmonious relationships. The Holy Spirit of God drawing us into that relationship – holding out a hand as it were and saying “Come on in and join the dance.” Best dance ever. “Come on in and join us at the table.” Best table ever.
Jesus is identifying himself with us. There is a picture on the Out of the Cold section of our website. Like many things we don’t know what the future will bring with God’s Out of the Cold ministry here at Blythwood, but we know we won’t be forgetting Jesus’ words about “whatever you did for the least of these.” We won’t be forgetting Paul’s words to the people of Galatia when he told them that when he and brother Barnabas were being commissioned for kingdom work they were asked by James and Cephas and John to one thing only – to remember the poor. “Which was actually what I was eager to do,” writes Paul. We’re not going to forget this. In many ways we step out into an unknown future every day, sometimes it just seems a little more acute. How could we have any peace in this kind of situation without the dove that alights on us? There’s a picture of a woodcutting which depicts Christ identifying with, standing with, being with, those who are cast to the margins. I like this woodcutting a lot. How much have we learned about what it means to come alongside people in the same way God comes alongside us? Not simply in a “let me give you a hand up rather than a hand out way” but in a “thank-you for extending the invitation to me to stand with you, to sit with you, to stand with you as we line up for food together and then sit and eat together” way. Some of what I’ve most meaningfully and deeply learned about God on Saturday evenings have come in those moments. Jesus identifies with us and says I am going to line up along with everyone else so that all righteousness may be fulfilled. It is all a part of a way being made for us to live in God’s house. I’m not talking about living at church (though often I feel I’m doing that – but not really) but being “at home” with God – living in loving communion with God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
Speaking of whom, they all make an appearance in the next scene:
“And when Jesus had been baptized, as he came up from the water (sounds like immersion to me), suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’” (16-17)
Here is a truth about God. We’ve said from the beginning of this series that Matthew out of all the Gospel writers is most concerned to show what the Christian life looks like. What does it mean in our days, as we go about our days, to follow Christ? In order for us to be coming to an understanding of what it means, of what following Christ practically looks like, we need to be coming to an understanding of what God is like. In this scene, we see very clearly that God is a communal God. Our God is three-in-one – three persons one essence, as God has been described, and I can’t do any better than that word-wise. It’s not something I can get my mind around and I’m not expected to, none of us are. I wouldn’t have it any other way really. God is a communal God and we are all made in God’s image and we were all made for community. It’s part of the reason the last year has been so hard, isn’t it? It’s part of the reason we have tried too hard to maintain connections with one another. From time-unfathomable, God, in the persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit has existed in loving communion.
So, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
These are some pretty deep truths but if you’re watching church on Victoria Day Weekend I think you’re ok to hear some deep truths about God. The Holy Spirit descended like a dove and alighted on him.
The Holy Spirit at work from Jesus’ conception. The Holy Spirit leading Jesus into the wilderness (and we must always remember that even in the wilderness we experience God’s presence and provision and protection). Jesus talking of performing miracles through the Spirit of God. Jesus’ final command to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ final promise “Remember I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
This same Spirit coming on the followers of Christ on that first Pentecost day. The advent of the Holy Spirit. Like Christmas in May but without the snow and food and presents (which is maybe just as well). The Holy Spirit in us. We talked two weeks ago about Jesus being between us and I’m not making hard and fast distinctions here because we don’t need to. I said two weeks ago that if something is coming between us, remember who is between us.
Christ in you, the hope of glory. The Holy Spirit of God. Oh sure the Holy Spirit had come on people before or seized them even for a while but this is now something else entirely. The Holy Spirit of God. God with us.
The power of God. Empowerment for service. A cleansing fire. A mark of our identity. The down payment on the inheritance that is ours as adopted daughters and sons of God. The giver of fruit – love joy peace patience kindness goodness faithfulness gentleness self-control.
These are all things that the Holy Spirit does and we are thankful for them. We mustn’t stop though, at what the person of the Holy Spirit does. I want us to think for some moments before we close of the vision of God here that Matthew describes – a look at Father, Son, and Spirit acting in concert and in tune with one another. It speaks not only to what we are called to do as the Spirit empowered church but who we are called to be. The inter-relatedness among Father, Son, and Spirit has been called the Social Trinity – as I said we’re social beings and we’re made in the image of God. We’re social beings. This Social Trinity has been described like this – “The Social Trinity is conceived of as a relational community of equality and mutuality within which the distinctive identity of each person of the Trinity is fully maintained as Father, Son, and Spirit… All three persons of the divine community mutually indwell one another in a relational unity while maintaining their distinct identities.”
I believe that we’re called to reflect this divine community of Father, Son, and Spirit. This divine community has been portrayed in different ways. It’s been called the divine dance. It’s been thought of and portrayed in images like this one. We talked two weeks ago about the call on our lives to account for one another. It can be so difficult in the waters of individualism in which we swim. Autonomy. Individual rights. Individual spirituality. These often seem to rule the day. In the middle of this, we are invited into participation in the divine life of Father, Son, and Spirit which is a life of mutual indwelling, mutual communion, mutual koinonia, mutual sharing, or fellowship. The Holy Spirit connects us to this life and connects us to one another. Let us not forsake then, communion with one another. Fellowship with one another, scattered though we may be geographical. Scattered though we may be because of public health restrictions. We celebrate the Holy Spirit today in spite of such scattering. The tie that binds our heart in love of God and one another. The tie that calls us into participation in the divine life of Father, Son, and Spirit, and each other’s lives too. Why?
So that God’s glory may be known and shown in us and through us. May the Holy Spirit’s peace, guiding, strength be with us. May the Holy Spirit’s invitation to fellowship, to communion, be accepted by us. May this be true for each and every one. Amen