The Holy Spirit (a sermon)

We hold to many mysteries within our Christian faith which we do not understand, cannot fully comprehend, and cannot fully explain or describe to another.

Next Sunday, we will explore a HUGE mystery of faith attempting to more fully understand the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit as a whole. But, this morning we will focus on one piece of the Trinity, which is a piece we do not tend to focus upon.

One day in seminary, we were discussing the Holy Trinity and our Christian claim that it should be ‘balanced’, meaning that the three “persons” (due to a lack of appropriate term) should be balanced and equaled, thus no one “person” of the Trinity should be given more attention or precedent.

One classmate stated “well, you know those Pentecostals have an unbalanced Trinity”.

I responded, “I suppose you are arguing the idea that Pentecostals focus heavily on the Holy Spirit compared to God the Father and God the Son (Jesus Christ)”.

After he confirmed it, I continued “if we want to hold that criticism of the Pentecostals, we need to accept the same criticism of ourselves and the Lutheran tradition as practiced”.

It was an unpopular opinion. I found myself in quite the debate about how us, Lutherans, handle the mystery of the Trinity while continuing to explain that if we want to criticize the Pentecostals for their lack of emphasis on Jesus the Christ, then we need to acknowledge that we our Trinity is unbalanced because we do the opposite… we, Lutherans, put more emphasis on Christ while at times completely ignoring the Holy Spirit.

Another day in seminary, we were debating one another as teams in a bracket. It was systematic theology, or the systematic and organized structure and thought of Church teaching. A simple systematic theology is the Apostles’ Creed which begins with our teaching of God the Father, then Jesus as human and divine, then the Holy Spirit and all those extra, left-over pieces thrown into it.

Our groups were assigned an aspect of the systematic teaching to debate its significance against our opponents. I found myself in the “Holy Spirit” group, which we thought at best would be fourth place behind Jesus Christ the divine, Jesus Christ the human, and God the Father.

But, we found ourselves debating in the final round to be determined by a vote of the professor and our fellow classmates… the Holy Spirit won that day.

The Holy Spirit won that day in a LUTHERAN seminary. Think about it for a moment.
That NEVER happens… so why was it different that day?

We spoke and debated on the role of the Holy Spirit in the past, in the life and ministry of Christ, the church and world today, as well as into the future which we do not highlight enough.

The Holy Spirit has always existed. It was not created on that Pentecost, which was already a celebrated Jewish festival commemorating their receiving of the Pentateuch, or first five books within the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament.

However, on that special Pentecost, Jesus’ closest disciples were once again hidden in a dark room, fearful and scared, because yet again Christ was gone. Christ had died, Christ had be raised, Christ had returned to heaven, and the disciples (and we) do not know what to do next.

The disciples (and we) seem to quickly forget that Jesus promised to not leave us alone.
Jesus promised to send a helper, an advocate who will comfort us, sustain us, and energize us to do God’s Will in this world.

The Holy Spirit was present at creation.

The Holy Spirit has always been, is, and will forever be God’s active work in our lives, our Church, and our world as a whole. Again, the Holy Spirit always has been and always will be.

The problem, however, is that we tend to ignore this presence of God of perhaps we do not look for it.

The reality is that the Holy Spirit is always active in our lives, through big and small means. We may not have the experience of the disciples who are speaking in their own language while those listening hear it in their own language. We might not have the spiritual gift of prophecy, dreams, or visions poured out upon us but we know that the Holy Spirit has been poured out on all flesh.

Note, it is not all people… but it is ALL FLESH.

The Holy Spirit is our driving force.
The Holy Spirit is the motor that moves us forward.
And yet, we tend to step and stand in the Holy Spirit’s way.

The Holy Spirit works in, among, through, and even despite us.

The Holy Spirit continually works through ordinary means, including the water of baptism and the elements of bread and wine in Holy Communion, in order to bring forth a kingdom that is of God and not our own.

The Holy Spirit walks us through our sacred history, which I shared a few weeks ago may begin with fear, with hiding, exclusion, prejudice, and hatred, and yet the Holy Spirit continually moves us deeper and deeper into acceptance, welcome, and LOVE… again, in, among, through, and even despite ourselves.

Last night, I was at the George Strait concert and I had been pondering how to communicate that even though you or I may not have those dreams, visions, prophecies, or ability to speak in tongues, the Spirit is still active. Then, about half way through George Strait’s set he begun to sing “I Saw God Today”, and its chorus is:

I’ve been to church. I’ve read the book.
I know he is here but I don’t look near as often as I should.
Yeah, I know I should.
His finger prints are everywhere.
I just look down and stop and stare
open my eyes and then I swear I saw God today.

How often is God, through the Holy Spirit, present in small ways that we are are not aware of and do not notice?

How often is God, through the Holy Spirit, present in big ways that we choose to ignore because it is unpredictable, uncomfortable, and/or honestly we just do not want to cooperate with it?

Probably more often than we want to admit.

It is important for us, even as Lutherans who do not normally give much attention to the Holy Spirit, to recognize the continual work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, Church, and world beyond Pentecost.

I would like to conclude the sermon with a prayer for the Holy Spirit, which is a call and response.

Let us pray: Triune God,
Give us your Holy Spirit to guide our minds and hearts upon your path.

Give us your Holy Spirit that we may know
which path to choose and which to refuse,
which choice to embrace and which to reject,
which action to engage and which to avoid.

Give us your Holy Spirit
to enlighten our minds, to strengthen our wills,
and to empower our lives to reflect your grace and love.

Give us your Holy Spirit
to cleanse our hearts and minds of sin,
to fill our hearts and souls with loving desires, and
to transform our lives o be wise with knowledge, beautiful with love,
and useful with service.

Give us your Holy Spirit,
to shine light upon your Word for us, to teach us to pray as we ought, and
to nourish our lives to bear fruit for the world.

Grant us all this for the sake of your world and in the name of Jesus the Christ.

(heavily adapted/edited from Prayers for the Christian Year, author William Barclay)
Scriptures were Acts 2: 1-21 and John 14: 8-17, 25-27
Originally preached on 9 June 2019 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN)

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