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“What You Can Believe About the Holy Spirit”

1 Corinthians 6:19, Galatians 5:22 - 23

One Monday morning when I was an Associate Minister, I went to visit a woman in the hospital. When she saw who I was, she immediately said, “Oh good, I’m glad you’re here. I have some concerns about what happened at church yesterday!” I expressed my surprise that although she had been in the hospital on Sunday, she was thinking about the worship service. “Well, I heard that the Sr. Minister took off his robe and rolled around on the floor acting like one of them Pentecostal preachers!” she exclaimed. I assured her that I had been there and that the Sr. Minister had done no such thing.

It took me a few days, but I finally got the situation sorted out. In this particular church, there was a chancel area that was a few feet above the seating. Since it was summer, the Preacher thought it was a good time to be a little less formal so he didn’t wear a robe or a suit jacket when he preached. Nor did he stand behind the pulpit – he walked down the stairs and preached from the ground level. Evidently someone told the lady in the hospital that the minister was “down on the floor preaching!”

It’s been my observation that many mainline Protestants find anything we associate with Pentecostalism as somewhat distasteful. Unfortunately, that has occasionally spilled out into how we feel about the Holy Spirit. “Speaking in tongues?” you ask. “Not me!” “Laying on of hands? The miracle of healing? I don’t think so.” But the Holy Spirit has been around eons before any of our contemporary skepticism.

So what can we believe about the Holy Spirit? This is the 4th in a series of sermons about “How to be an Open-minded Christian Without Losing Your Faith”–a book written by Jan Linn. Next week will be “What can We Believe About Other Religions” and the following week will be “What can We Believe About Moral Questions”. There are copies of the previous sermons on the information table in the foyer.

Let’s begin with the scripture lesson–a psalm of David’s pleading that the Spirit of God stay with him. Read Psalm 51:1-12.

The first thing we can believe about the Holy Spirit, says Jan Linn, is that it is a lot more than a holy ghost. The idea of “a holy ghost” creates a suspicion that the Holy Spirit was nothing more than emotionalism without adequate restraints. You know–people speaking in foreign languages out of the blue; ministers disrobing and rolling around on the floor; a disabled man throwing his crutches in the air and dancing around. At a time when people want more rationality along with their faith, ghostly things aren’t particularly enticing.

Instead, the Bible points to the Holy Spirit as the mystical dimension of our faith in God. The Holy Spirit is God. The Holy Spirit is Jesus. It is the mystery that the idea of the Trinity tries to express, yet cannot explain. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit is a creating force for life. Another Bible Dictionary explains it this way: God is Creator; Jesus is the Re-Creator; and the Holy Spirit is the Trans-Creator. The Holy Spirit is the culmination of human and cosmic liberation. Last week we talked about accepting on faith that God exists. It is the Holy Spirit in us that offers the possibility for faith to occur. The Holy Spirit creates the possibility for our innate knowledge of God.

The Holy Spirit is “God’s breath” breathed into human beings that makes us living beings. In fact, the Old Testament word for Spirit is “ruah” which literally means activity. The Holy Spirit is the God–activity in us…the life and soul of what we are created to be. James Denney said, “To the people who wrote the New Testament, and to those for whom they wrote, the Spirit was not a doctrine but an experience. Their watchword was not, believe in the Holy Ghost, but receive the Holy Ghost.”

The Holy Spirit not only gives life, it protects life. When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, it was the Holy Spirit who went with him and helped him to overcome the trials set before him. Likewise, we are assured that the Holy Spirit is available to us when we are in the wildernesses of our lives.

The Holy Spirit is also our tutor–our reminder of what God’s will is. Jesus told his disciples that when he left, the Holy Spirit would come and remind them of all he had taught them. Sometimes the Holy Spirit stirs our memories so that in crucial times in our lives we remember something Jesus said or did that helps us to make a decision or feel a sense of security.

And who hasn’t heard of the “gifts of the spirit” and the “fruit of the spirit”? The Holy Spirit is the gift giver and fruit basket decorator. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to gift you and I with abilities, talents, and traits so that we can do God’s work in this world. If you have the gift of music, it’s a gift from God given to you by the Holy Spirit. If you are gifted in teaching, that’s the Holy Spirit working in you. If you are a leader, or hospitable, that is the Holy Spirit working in you.

So, the Holy Spirit is a lot more than a ghost. She has a job list that is extraordinarily long–breathing life into people, protecting, tutoring, and giving gifts–so don’t ever confuse the Holy Spirit with Casper the Friendly Ghost. Casper just floats around while the Holy Spirit breathes life, lessons, and love into this world. One writer says that the Spirit energizes the body of Christ in a way that worship, fellowship and leadership in the church are the animations of the presence of the Spirit.

I especially like the next thing Jan Linn says about the Holy Spirit–that it makes baptism something more than getting wet. When Jesus was baptized, we’re told that the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove. Anyone can take a bath; but it’s the Holy Spirit that makes our baptisms mean something after we’ve dried off. Water is the symbol–whether it is sprinkled, poured or surrounding you–for a deeper spiritual gifting.

The Holy Spirit is ultimately about bringing unity to believers. Jesus refused to allow boundaries and barriers erected by people to separate them from one another. Time and again he knocked down those social, political and religious walls. And after Jesus ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit brought Jews and Gentiles into the same new Christian movement. It wasn’t easy, given the traditions and regulations of each culture to combine these two groups into a cohesive church. There were problems over head coverings, roles, rules about circumcision and food preparation, and so on. But the Holy Spirit does not play favorites. God has called all of us into ministry together.

The final thing open-minded Christians can believe about the Holy Spirit is that its power cannot be bought, but cannot be had without a cost. The Spirit does not force itself on us; it comes by invitation. How many of us would pay to go on a trip to see the “Fountain of Youth” if it could be established that it really worked? How many of us take vitamins and eat in a way so that we have more energy? The Holy Spirit is really what we’re seeking–a sense of vitality and aliveness–that cannot be purchased or taken in pill form.

But once we have it…we are enthusiastic about God’s work! We can’t be squelched or hushed–we want to share what we’ve been given. All of a sudden, when we have the Holy Spirit, we see things we didn’t before about our own lives and the needs of others. You cannot buy the power of the Holy Spirit but once you have it, it comes with a price. Life is not the same again.

The Holy Spirit has power to help us live and move and have our very being as disciples of Jesus, but it is a power we claim, not one that intrudes without invitation. And the question is, will we make the choice to accept and welcome the Spirit’s leading in our lives so that we are more effective witnesses in the world?


Resources Utilized:

Harrison, Everett F., editor. “Baker’s Dictionary of Theology”. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. 1960.

Linn, Jan G. “How to be an Open-minded Christian Without Losing Your Faith”. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2002.

Richardson, Alan & Bowden, John. “The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology”. Philadelphia: Westminster Press. 1983.