A sermon preached today, in a continuing series on the Apostles’ Creed.
This morning as we come back again to the Apostles’ Creed, we turn to the third and final section of the Creed. Already we have thought through “I believe in God the Father.” We have considered “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son.” This morning we come to the words: “I believe in the Holy Spirit’.
The creed, we recall, is not simply a statement of right thinking and right belief. It is, rather, a statement of our fundamental human trust. Our trust is in God the Father, who created us and loves us. Our trust is in Jesus Christ, the Son, through whom God delivers his decisive ‘Yes’ to the human. And, finally, our trust is in the Holy Spirit.
We trust this God, who has shown his face to us.
We trust this God who has shown himself trustworthy.
We trust this God who will finally judge and will make all things new.
This morning as we consider our trust in the God’s Spirit, our belief in the Holy Spirit, it may be helpful to consider for a moment the language of spirituality that pervades our culture. You can’t get past a magazine stand; you can’t get through a book store or a television program, it seems, without some mention of spirituality. Even in our education system and within community organizations, you can’t escape references to spirituality.
This modern notion of spirituality is in many ways a vague idea. It’s difficult to pin down what exactly people mean today when they talk about this spirituality. Nevertheless I think we can give some general idea of what it is. Modern spirituality is rooted, it seems, in a deep dissatisfaction with the way things are – many in our culture have the feeling that there must be more to life than what they experience in the day to day, the week to week. There is dissatisfaction in relationships, dissatisfaction with how we have thought about our bodies, dissatisfaction with the technological answers our society offers to nearly every question, dissatisfaction with our distance from the natural order – there is a profound sense that there must be more to life.
Putting it positively, the language of spirituality expresses a desire for a closer relationship to nature, a deeper sense of the mystery of the world – it expresses a longing for authenticity (to really be myself), a wish for deeper more meaningful experiences of community, and a desire for relationships that are not so superficial.
How do we respond to this contemporary interest in spirituality? Our response might be mixed, and rightly so. Much of contemporary spirituality is absorbed with the self – there is a self-preoccupation that can have little place in the Christian life.
On the other hand, we acknowledge that there is in contemporary spirituality a longing for fullness that cannot simply be dismissed. Indeed, to some extent we may share the longing that is voiced in the language of spirituality today – there is good reason to be frustrated with the world we have made, to be frustrated with the superficiality and lack of authenticity that characterizes much of our existence.
But we come back to the Apostle’s Creed, and to that third moment of trust.
I believe in the Holy Spirit.
If we really want to talk about spirituality in the context of Christian faith; if we want to articulate a meaningful response to contemporary interest in spirituality, we can do no better than to come back to this statement of the Creed. For when we talk about Christian Spirituality, when we talk about spirituality in the context of Christian faith, we are in the first instance talking about the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of God. As Christians we cannot cut off the language of spirituality from the divine Spirit who has been confessed and believed and trusted throughout the life of the Church.
But then how exactly do we begin?
Where can we possibly begin to speak about the identity and work of the Holy Spirit?
Never mind that God’s Spirit is a fundamentally mysterious being to us.
Never mind that the life of the Triune God is something we cannot penetrate with our limited minds and hearts.
Just look at the fact the Bible’s many references to the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of God. We cannot possibly do justice to all that is said.
So where to start?
Well, how about at the very beginning? We read in the first chapter of Genesis: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while the Spirit of God swept over the face of the waters.”
In the Old Testament, from the beginning to the end, the Spirit of God is present. The Spirit of God participates in the act of creation. The Spirit of God comes upon individuals to equip them for particular tasks or responsibilities – think of the anointing of King David. The Spirit of God came upon the prophets to give them the words they needed to speak to God’s people – think of the prophet Micah who declared himself filled with the Holy Spirit as he preached the justice of God.
Throughout the Old Testament from beginning to end the Holy Spirit is present in the world. By the Spirit God effects his purposes in creation and in the lives of his chosen people.
But most important for us this morning, we remember those prophets who spoke of a day when the Spirit of God would be poured out in a unique, a decisive way. We read one of these prophecies from Joel this morning: “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.”
For the first followers of Jesus, for the earliest Christians, this promise of the prophets is realized in the events of Pentecost. So it was, that when the Holy Spirit came with wind and fire into that upper room, and when the disciples spoke the message Christ and it was heard in myriad language, that Peter stood up and addressed the people, saying:
“This is what was spoken through the prophet Joel. In the last days it will be God declares, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”
For the first Christians, for those who had been followers of Jesus, Pentecost was that decisive outpouring of God’s Spirit. This was the decisive presence of God that had been promised. Jesus himself had spoken of this moment. In John’s gospel Jesus says to his disciples: “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…You know him because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
So here is this Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit – an outpouring anticipated by the prophets, an outpouring promised and announced by Jesus. But what does this outpouring of the Holy Spirit mean – what its significance? What does it mean for our lives – for your life and my life? What does it mean for Christian spirituality?
Over the past few weeks, we have said that Easter is our celebration of God’s decisive Yes to the human. In the resurrection of Jesus, God says ‘Yes’ to the human.
God says: “I am with you.”
God says: “I forgive you.”
God says: “I am for you.”
God says: “I will not be God without you.”
Yet we recall that after the resurrection of Jesus, and after his brief sojourn with his disciples, Jesus ascends to heaven. As much as things have changed. As much as the world is a new place because of what Christ has done, still we wait. We wait for that day when Christ will come to make all things new.
In a sense this brings us back to the idea of spirituality with which we began. We said that contemporary spirituality is rooted in dissatisfaction with the way things are. Many in western culture live with a profound sense that there must be more to life. There is a longing for significance, a wish for more meaningful experiences of community, a desire for authenticity (really to be myself).
To some extent that longing resonates in us. Though the resurrection of Jesus means the triumph of life and truth and goodness, nevertheless we wait. We wait. We wait. The full meaning and reality of God’s yes to the human is not something we yet experience. It is something that will come in the future – the full meaning and reality of God’s yes to the human comes from the future when Christ will be all in all – when he will make all things new.
I believe in the Holy Spirit.
But what is the place of the Holy Spirit in all of this? What does all of this mean for Christian Spirituality?
In his letter to the Christians living in the city of Ephesus, Paul writes these words: “In Christ you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in Jesus, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.”
The Apostle speaks of the Holy Spirit as a pledge, or a down payment, toward the final redemption of God’s people.
Another way of saying this is to say that the Spirit brings the Yes of God into our present moment. The Holy Spirit brings the Yes of God into the middle of our lives.
Though the final redemption of God in Christ is future,
the Holy Spirit gives us a taste of that future, now.
Though the final redemption of God in Christ is future,
the Holy Spirit brings that redemption into our lives, now.
So what does the Yes of God look like when it finds a place in our history?
What does it look like when the Holy Spirit brings the risen life of Christ into our lives?
The New Testament lets us answer this question first of all in terms of our lives as individuals. The truth is we Presbyterians have tended to neglect the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We often speak of God as being vaguely out there somewhere. But God is not just out there, somewhere. As we live in the faith of Jesus Christ the Spirit of God comes
as close to us as our own breathing,
as close to us as our innermost thoughts,
as close to us as the fears that grip us,
as close to us as the temptations that test us,
as close to us as delights that fill us.
Can you imagine how it would might our perspective on life, how it would change our living, when we realize and acknowledge that the Holy Spirit is that close to us – that through faith in Christ God that close by his Spirit..
Open yourself, then, to the moving of God’s Spirit. Even more, ask God to come close to you by his Spirit
So that when you doubt, you might receive the gift of faith in Christ,
So that when you are lonely, you might find a companion in God,
So that when you are ashamed, you might find healing from Jesus.
So that when you are tempted, you might strength to follow Christ’s way,
So that when you struggle with the question of your vocation, the Spirit might
open a path for you.
God says yes to us, not just in some general way – but by the Holy Spirit God says yes to us in the most personal way. By the power of the Spirit, the risen life of Christ becomes ours in a decisively personal way. The new life of Christ will be revealed finally and fully in some future day – but even now his new life finds a place in your history and in my history, by the Spirit of God.
But let’s recall our criticism of contemporary spirituality – that it is so focussed on the self – on self-fulfillment, on self-realization. And let’s be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that the Holy Spirit’s role is essentially or finally to relate to us on a personal level.
As we read the New Testament, we quickly discover that the God’s Spirit comes close in order to form a community of God’s people. God’s purpose in Christ Jesus is not simply to pluck people out of the world and save them. God’s purpose in Christ Jesus is to create a genuine community of women and men and children – a community of those
who serve one another
who embrace one another
who forgive one another
who support one another
who pursue justice together
who display God’s mercy in all they do.
Think of the fact that the two dominant metaphors for the Spirit’s work have to do with community life. There are the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit.
The gifts of the Spirit are gifts given so that the community of faith might be formed and built up – gifts of hospitality, of teaching, of evangelism, of leadership, of compassion.
The fruit of the spirit, on the other hand, reflect a way of relating to others – with love, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness.
That’s what the church is, and is to be, a spirit empowered, spirit led, spirit equipped community of disciples. The church isn’t just another social club. It is, and must be, a community through which resurrection life of Christ breaks into our world, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
When God says yes to human, a particular community is formed – and it is the Spirit who forms us.
I asked, a few minutes ago, what a difference it would make if we saw our individual lives in terms of God’s closeness to us by the Spirit.
And what a difference it would make if we saw the church, and this congregation, as a spirit empowered, spirit led, spirit equipped community in which the resurrection life of Christ breaks into our world.
But that’s who we are.
The news doesn’t get any better than this.
That’s who we are.
A spirit empowered, spirit led, spirit equipped community in which the resurrection life of Christ breaks into our world.
I believe in the Holy Spirit.