Sunday, May 15
John 14:8-17; 25-27
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth Your Spirit and they shall be created, and You shall renew the face of the earth.
O, God, Who by the light of the Holy Spirit did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, through Christ our Lord, Amen.
If you have been worshiping at Bethel during the past ten years, you have probably heard me offer the above “Prayer to the Holy Spirit.” Years ago, Nancy and I participated in a Christian renewal experience called the Walk to Emmaus, and there we prayed this Prayer to the Holy Spirit several times each day. It is not magical, and we didn’t have to “roll in the aisles,” but it introduced us to a way of relating with God that we can whole-heartedly recommend to everyone.
We can’t truly say that we “understand the Holy Spirit.” This is not just because we are talking about God, Who is far beyond human comprehension. The Holy Spirit is especially challenging because “spirit” as such is impossible to pin down— whether the spirit of an individual person, or of a group of people, or of an animal, of a place, of a plant such as a tree or a flower, or the Spirit of God.
In his famous conversation with Nicodemus in John chapter 3, Jesus baffled that well-educated teacher with his riddles concerning the Holy Spirit:
“Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You-all must be born from above.’ 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.”
Jesus’ words are a riddle partly because, in the language that he and Nicodemus were speaking, “spirit” and “breath” are the same word (pneuma, as in pneumonia and pneumatic).
Is it any wonder that, down through the ages since then, people trying to follow Jesus have had differing experiences of what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit ? Some folks engage in quiet contemplation, some roar with bold preaching, some serve others enthusiastically, and some run or roll on the floor or cry out— as the Spirit moves them. With over seven billion people on this planet, it is a wonder of God that every one of us might be filled with God’s Spirit in unique, individual ways.
Some of us have witnessed people having religious experiences when they did things “in the Spirit” that we perhaps did not understand or approve of. Jesus taught us to not judge others, lest we be judged. Nevertheless, the New Testament also teaches us to “discern the spirits” (1 John 4)– that is, we must not assume that every spiritual experience is of God. As surely as a person may be inspired, that is, filled with the Spirit, by God, so also a person may be full of the devil, who is also active in the realms of spirit. So when we— prayerfully— feel that some spiritual experience is not right for us, it is probably a signal that we ought to go a different way… while also admitting that we are not the other person’s “judge.”
This Sunday is the Day of Pentecost, when we remember how God sent the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ followers long ago.
You might choose to wear something bright red this Sunday, to remind us of the flaming tongues of the Holy Spirit which descended upon the believers in Jerusalem, two thousand years ago.
Then again, you might find yourself inspired to do something entirely different.
Whatever you do, do us all a favor: pray to the Father in Jesus’ name about it, making sure your choice is inspired from the right Spirit.
who are led by the Spirit of God
are children of God. - Acts 2:14