On the Holy Spirit
A Homily for Whitsunday
May 20, 2018
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: John 14
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen
Today, in the Christian year, we come to Whitsunday – or more commonly called Pentecost Sunday. Pentecost remembers the giving of the Holy Spirit to the church. I am always amazed how often I hear bad theology of the Holy Spirit, or even those who, after hearing a sermon on the Holy Spirit say “You know, in my 30 years in the church, I’ve never heard a sermon on what the Holy Spirit does.” Admittedly, it often seems that the Spirit is the neglected person of the Trinity, rarely do you hear about Him in sermons, and the references to Him in scripture are often vague or veiled. Perhaps, in all of this, the most troubling part is how certain parts of living in the spirit have been over emphasized, or even misused, while other, more important parts seem forgotten.
I think for Anglicans we often, unintentionally perhaps, look at ourselves much like some of our Calvinist brothers and sisters in Christ, and subconsciously think that we are the frozen chosen. When we hear of the Holy Spirit we think of those who seem overly expressive in Pentecostal or Charismatic churches and we become stiff. We are uncomfortable with that much emotion. However, the Holy Spirit is integral to the life of the Church, and so we need to have a good and proper theology of how the Spirit works.
First, I want to start with three points about what the Holy Spirit does not do. There seems to be a great deal of misinformation on this front, and we need to be able to guard ourselves against that which will mislead us or hurt our walk with the Lord. Second We will talk about three points to help us better understand the Holy Spirit. Finally, and I think most importantly, we need to understand what the fruit of the Holy Spirit truly looks like, for in this area, there seems to be much misunderstanding, and this is truly a sad thing, for a life lived in the spirit – is a beautiful life.
There are some who will say that speaking in tongues are a sign of not only having the Holy Spirit, but of salvation. This notion is firmly rejected by St. Paul in First Corinthians 12, where he makes clear that people have many different gifts, and that tongues is not universal. I would push this a little further, but as we examine these erroneous views, let us take care to have a tremendous amount of grace towards those who hold them, we do not want to be given to bashing our brothers and sisters in Christ, but I do think our modern understanding of what the gift of tongues are in error.
What we saw as we read Acts 2 this morning was truly what the gift of tongues are. That is, the gift of tongues is being understood despite the fact the one who is hearing does not speak the same language as you. This is, ultimately, what is going on here in Acts 2. Additionally, we believe that the spirit acts within the church to clarify and unify, not to confuse. So, I think this it is safe to understand the gift of tongues to be more of a translator than an ecstatic action.
However, I want to be careful. There is another side to this, a camp that believes this understanding is all well and good but the Lord doesn’t act today as he did 2000 years ago. I have said it once and I will say it a thousand more times if I have to – The Lord is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He does not change. The desires of man change, his heart is fickle, and confused – but the Lord is consistent. So, I think we must take care to not be so quick to dismiss. I have heard stories of those traveling in a foreign land, and being lost, they then find someone who understood them and gives them directions. Later, the lost person went back to thank their helper, and no one knew of one who spoke their language. I suspect this was either the spirit at work – or an angel. Let us take care to not dismiss that which we have a hard time grasping, and let us firmly grasp – that the gift of tongues is not a universal gift, and that it is more likely a gift given to clarify across linguistic barriers, and finally, it is a gift that is still given today.
The next point that is more common in our circles is the charismatic experiences. For many today we think that a life in the spirit is something like a spiritual high. We look to be leaving church feeling good, and when we don’t feel good we feel as though we have somehow disappointed God or that the Lord isn’t with us.
While I want to take care not to dismiss orthopathy – that is right feeling – I think we need to be equally careful to not assume that feeling good is the same thing. There are several problems with this idea that feeling good is a sure sign that the spirit was with us in worship.
First – if we are constantly looking for the next great spiritual high, we will inevitably fail to find it. We will wander from church to church looking for the best worship, the preaching that makes us feel the warm and fuzzy, or the church that has the right mood lighting, and inevitably the church will fail to provide that and we will move on to another, or worse to none at all.
If all we are looking for is a spiritual high - we will lose that feeling. It may be as you go to fellowship, and someone gives you a wrong look, it may be as you leave the parking lot and someone inadvertently cuts you off, or as you drive home and are reminded how terrible drivers in Prescott are, it may be the first moment your spouse says something that hurts you. Feelings are fickle and if all we want is a spiritual high, we’ll lose it quicker than a gambler with a dollar bill.
Third, if we are looking to feel good in worship – when worship doesn’t feel good does that mean that the Lord wasn’t there? Absolutely not! Some Sundays just feel filled with drudgery. I hope not every Sunday feels that way – however, sometimes our heart just isn’t in it. That doesn’t mean that the Lord wasn’t there. It may simply mean that you woke up on the wrong side of the bed, or someone said the wrong thing to you, or you have indigestion.
Let me drive this home just a little bit further – no matter how you are feeling this morning – the spirit is here, right now in our worship.
In the same vein, sometimes life in the spirit doesn’t feel good because he corrects us. If we have wandered off the path of righteousness as we so often do, He pulls us back on. He is the shepherd’s crook that grabs us by the neck and brings us back. If we are compliant it usually isn’t too painful, but how our hearts may burn when we continue in our rebellious ways. Conviction for the need of repentance doesn’t always feel good – but it is very good indeed.
Finally, when we rightly understand orthopathy – that is right feelings – we understand it has ordering our affections in the proper manner. It means taking joy in reading the word of God, taking joy in our fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, taking joy in living a good and godly life, and fleeing from sin. Orthopathy means refusing to take joy in those things that distract us from our walk with the Lord. We see orthopathy – is not a spiritual high, but a right ordering of our affections.
Our last point in what the Holy Spirit does not do is perhaps the most commonly misunderstood in our time – the Holy Spirit does not go against the Word of God. The Holy Spirit instead affirms the word, and helps us to have a deeper and fuller understanding – but again the Lord is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, so it would be totally contrary and in fact impossible, for the Spirit to “do a completely new thing.”
This comes out in two forms, first there are some that believe that the Holy Spirit has revealed to them a new way of living. Often, this new way rejects a firm biblical understanding of the nature of God, as well as what right living looks like. It rejects biblical truth, and all too often replaces it with what our culture says is true. It is the maximum accommodation of the world around us. The Spirit cannot rebel against the word of God, only affirm it.
The other side of this, that is equally troubling, though completely different, it is those who would use the guiding of the Holy Spirt as an excuse to try to get others to comply to their requests or demands. The spirit may very well lead you to persevere through dark days of loneliness, but do not confuse this with the idea that if everyone around you is saying that something is a bad idea, that just because you think it is a good idea, you can ignore them. Godly wisdom from brothers and sisters in Christ helps to correct our misunderstandings. Often, when we need to do something, it is affirmed through our fellowship not made harder. So, when we have a fanciful idea, check the word of God, and see what those around us say, and be willing to relent if it is contrary to scripture and the advice others have given you.
This brings us nicely to what the Holy spirit does do: first, the spirit is the guide. The Spirit will not guide us away from God, only to Him. So, it is critical that we are in the word, that we know what scripture says, and that we are spending time with Godly men and women. That these people may say to us, “no, I think that is a bad idea,” or “yes, I think that is a lovely idea, do it.”
Whenever I have what I think is a brilliant idea, I talk to people, not exclusively within All Saints, but certain with the lay leadership of the congregation. Sometimes, people say – yes – that is perfectly lovely, other times, there’s an awkward pause, and they say something overly polite, like, “maybe, you should think some more about that” and I do. We want to take time to explore those ideas and we are given to carefully examine if they are from the Spirit or if they are simply some fanciful, momentary desires. Some are great and from the Lord, others not so much.
The Spirit acts to guide in another way – it acts to teach us the Law. However, this idea, as we’ve seen, can be used to manipulate the law into something we like better. This is not what this means, instead it means that it affirms the law as it was written, and it writes in us a conscience. It tells us to come back to repentance, and flee from our sin. The development of a Christian conscience is the writing of the Law on our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
Next, the Holy Spirit is the comforter – he leads us through the valley of darkness and to green pastures. It is the spirit that sooths us in the dark time of tumult. So, although we want to be careful not to assign too much emphasis on how we feel, there is a time when in our darkness of mind, heart, or spirit the Holy Spirit is given to soot. Likewise, he is given to give us confidence for the preaching of the Gospel in times of stress. We see this with St. Stephen before he is stoned, he preaches the gospel boldly, though I would imagine he is trembling knowing what comes next. The Spirit comforts and strengthens us in our time of need.
Lastly, the spirit binds the church together. He is the sinew that connects the hands, and mouth, the body, and feet. We know from St. Paul’s writings that we are all given different gifts, it is through the spirit that those gifts work in chorus.
Now, I hope we have gotten a fairly clear picture of how the spirit works but what are the fruit of the spirit? We talked a little about specific gifts – like tongues, and charismatic experiences, these can certainly still be given to individuals within the church, but I hope that we can see clearly that they are not universal gifts. Other specific gifts are preaching, that is the unpacking the word of God for the propagation of the Gospel, prophecy, that is reminding God’s people of their covenant with God, or healing. St. Paul’s list in 1 Corinthians 12 is not comprehensive, but gives us an idea of what many are called to, but these are all specific gifts for specific people. So, we turn to Galatians 5 where we see the universal fruit of the spirit, it reads:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
These are the gifts given to all Christians.
Out of a life lived in the spirit comes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These sometimes are slow to blossom in us, sometimes we are trucking along just find, and get distracted, stumble, and fall. When we do we repent, and turn back to the Lord. However, we do want to see these fruits blossoming in our life for these more than any other gift, more than any other thing we talked about above, they are the sure signs of a life lived in the spirit.
The Holy Spirit is a great gift given to the church, for He guides and empowers us, he comforts us when we are in trouble, he endues each of us with gifts that we are to use to the Glory of the Lord, and the preaching of the Gospel but more than that, he gives us the fruit listed above.
We read this morning about how before Christ was crucified for our sins, before he was lifted up, before he became the perfect lamb once offered for all, he promised his disciples and by extension His whole church the gift of the spirit. On Pentecost the spirit came upon them, they preached the gospel with understanding. The spirit is still given today, however, there is often confusion with what this means.
As we have seen the spirit does not contradict itself, does not give us a spiritual high, and does not demand ecstatic spiritual signs. It may come to some in the gift of visions or something mystical, but we do not want to burden others with the demand that this must happen, and we must check those against scripture. It does guide us down a good path, it does comfort and embolden us in times of trouble, and it does unify the body of Christ, that is the church.
The final and true sign of the spirit are its fruits, the fruits that we want to be praying for, that we want to be growing in and producing. For these fruits are the fruits of a good life lived out for Christ – these fruits are again – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. For these are produced when we submit our hearts and minds to the glory of the Lord.
Let us not be afraid to desire to live a spirit filled life and to be a spirit filled church, but let us have a right understanding of what that looks like. Let us therefore be constantly praying for the spirit to be upon us as individuals and as a body of Christ. For it is the spirit that is our good guide and promised comforter. Let us desire to exemplify the fruits of the spirit and to live in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.