The Spirit // Sara Wolbrecht // May 24, 2015 // Acts 2:1-21
I want to talk a little bit about the Holy Spirit this evening. Because it is after all, Pentecost Sunday. Because we have already in the past weeks talked about prayer, and how God speaks to us, and that God is on our siiiide, and that we’re invited to follow Jesus into a particular way of being where God and the Spirit of Jesus continues to be a part of our everyday reality. And because many of us often struggle with understanding who or what the Holy Spirit is. Can I get an Amen? So today we talk about the Spirit.
It can get a little dicey trying to talk about the spirit, because we’re trying to describe something as real, even though it is non-material. Sometimes for something to be “real” we think that it has to be something we can touch, see, taste, smell, hear – that it needs to be accessible by our senses and scientifically accessible. Yet there are realities that are just as real but they are non-material. They transcend our senses. We can’t see it, yet they’re just as real as the things that we can see. Here’s an example. Holding and embracing somebody that you love. You can feel them, smell them, hear them, see them, and giving them a kiss you even taste them. They’re real! But their essence, your love for them, the shared history you have with them, all of that is just as real as the fact that you can hold them. Would you agree? The spirit exists in that real, non-material way. It’s there. It’s real.
What is the spirit? The best way I have heard for talking about the Spirit in a non-churchy, relate-able way, is to call it this: Spirit = animating energy. When we talk about the spirit we’re talking about the spirit that animates things. In both Hebrew and Greek, the word for spirit is the same as the word for breath. Rua. Nooma. Both mean spirit and breath interchangeably. We need breath in order to live, and we recognize on some level that we also need spirit to keep us alive. It’s the electricity that we’re plugged into. That’s what we mean by animating energy. We need it. The electricity we’re plugged into. Like breath.
We experience this animating energy in many different ways. We have an intuitive awareness that there is spirit within us, that we have it as a part of us—what they said, it like totally killed my spirit—Girl, I am in good spirits today. We have our own meter that tells us where our spirit is. And then we also experience it externally, like in other people—That person, they walk into the room and it’s like they just lift my spirits. We also experience a communal spirit sometimes. Have you ever been in a crowd, at an event – there can be this sense of being overcome by the spirit of the place. Have you ever experienced that? We’ll experience things like this sometimes, and really all we can do to describe them is to use words like feeling, sense, miracle, vibe, it just wasn’t right, or I just knew it. Spirit. Electricity. Animating energy.
The Christian story argues that the life-giving spirit that fuels the very energy in us, and fuels the energy of the world around us, that spirit we tap into sometimes, is actually personable and relatable, it is relational at its core. The Christian story tells us: the spirit is there, what you feel and pick up on is real, and can be related to and accessed by regular everyday people like you and me.
In the Bible, this is what we find – this real, relational animating energy that is present in us and in all things. Although we recognize the day of Pentecost as the pouring out of the holy spirit, that life-giving spirit has always been around. In Genesis, the spirit is mentioned in the second verse of the whole bible. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. Genesis 1:1-2. At creation, the spirit is there, it is God’s presence and power within creation, without God being identified with creation. Does that makes sense? Present, but not creation itself.
The spirit was also present in the prophets of the Old Testament, enabling them to speak and act for God. At his baptism by John, Jesus was specially equipped with the spirit, for his remarkable public ministry.
Then on the day of Pentecost, as we heard a few minutes ago, Jesus’ followers themselves were filled by the spirit.
Thinking about what we saw and heard – it is most significant to note that the wind came ‘from heaven.’ Remember, this is right after Jesus has ascended to heaven. The whole point is that this wind comes from, is sourced from the same place where Jesus is now. The whole point is that this wind and fire and spirit showing up, is the creative power, the animating energy of God coming from heaven to earth. Although the spirit has always been present – since creation – the spirit is now identified as Jesus’ own spirit. Jesus present in the world in a new way. God is acting in a fresh way, remaking the world and them too. This is all a part of the larger movement of God that we have talked about, particularly on Easter – that God is working to restore and renew all of creation.
And if you continue reading the book of Acts, it is the story, the account of this community of people who were trying to figure out life after Jesus is physically gone – but what they have in them is this animating energy, the spirit of Jesus. The spirit enables them to live out an incredible life – sharing all they had with generosity, sharing food and life together, healing and freeing those who were sick or oppressed. They show us the kind of life that is possible with the spirit of Jesus at work in us. Jesus has conquered all things, even death and all forces of evil, he is the Lord of all, so his energy, the power to be and do something quite new, is available through the Spirit to them, and to us, and to all who call on him, all who follow him, all who trust him. The spirit is available to those who ask.
And the asking is important. The choosing is important. One of the things we can do is look back at what Jesus said about the spirit when he was still around – hindsight, 20/20, right? So we go, Oh! THAT’S what you meant, Jesus! One of these places is important for us to note: Jesus said this about spirit in Luke 11: "Which of you parents, if your child asks for bread, will give them a stone instead? 12 Or if they ask for an egg, will give them a scorpion? 13 (Jesus is asking this to say—you would never do that to your children. You know better). If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" Luke 11.
Jesus is saying: we know that we want to give good things to our children. Yet compared to God—we have no idea what that real generosity of a parent is. For Jesus there was a deeply held belief that God is infinitely generous. That God gives the spirit without measure, without holding back, with that sense of overflowing abundance. And we can live with a view of a God who is generous, and when you find your own spirit lacking, depleted, tired, exhausted, confused—there is an animating energy, a spirit beyond you. Past that point where you end. You can live in such a relationship with God that you have the same sort of connection with God that Jesus has that you can ask and receive essentially a spirit from outside yourself. Who will guide, add to, embrace, fuel, your own spirit. Jesus’ insistence is that God is infinitely generous and just waiting like a loving parent for us to ask.
For Jesus this is not a transactional thing—that God has this many units of spirit and if we are lacking we can borrow from God, that at some point God might say I’m out—come back next week. No. For Jesus this is an endless relational reality. In John chapter 3: For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the spirit without limit. Without limit.
In Christian circles there is some Christainese, some language about the spirit that get used a lot, but may be unfamiliar to some of us. We say and hear things like: Filled by the Holy Spirit. Anointed by the Holy Spirit. Power of the Holy Spirit. People say things like: Send down your fire. Spirit, fall fresh on me. Which out of context can sound a little strange, or at least confusing. But think of it, again, as animating energy. That these phrases, are prayers, this is the asking for the spirit needed when someone wants to live in that animating, relational energy of God that exists beyond themselves. Oh, yeah. That makes sense. The power of the Holy Spirit. Spirit, fall fresh on me. I need some animating energy here. Ask, ask, ask.
A few years ago I heard John Ortberg speak at a luncheon about his new book at the time. And one of the central points of his book is about grace. We know that salvation is given by the grace of God. There’s a common Christian picture: there is a great gap between us and God because of sin. And what bridges that gap? Jesus. GRACE. Pure gift—nothing we can do to earn it.
Ortberg’s point is that grace doesn’t just end there. Ok, it’s done! There is also a gap between who we are now, the “current me” and the “transformed me.” God’s version of me, who I am supposed to become as the Spirit shapes me – as I grow and become the best possible version of myself. And this is not a legalistic, we’re all trying to look like cookie-cutter Christians. We’re talking about God who is on our siiiide, the spirit at work in us as we continue to grow. The me now, and the me that I can be.
The thing is – and I want you to hear this – we think that we are responsible for bridging that gap by our own efforts. But we can’t. This gap, too, can only be bridged by grace. God’s hope for us and the world, and the reason we have the gift of the Holy Spirit, is not just for us to be saved by grace, it is for us to live by grace. That our daily life would be given, guided, guarded, and energized by the grace of God. To live in grace is to flow in the Spirit, to be fueled with that animating energy.
And so we wake up every day and ask – because the Father gives the spirit without limit. We stare down the big decisions about who to date and what school to choose and what person to marry and how much money to give away and what house to buy and how to deal with the anxiety, the depression, the addiction, the frustrating family member – and we turn to God and we ask, ask, ask. Because we live in grace and our God is infinitely generous.
And we know people in our lives who keep asking, who over time are in tune with the spirit. Who are the people you most respect and listen to for their humor, their wisdom, the ones who you are drawn to? Most of the time, those kinds of folks, their inner life has been so shaped by God’s grace that when you are with them something’s going on with them that we can’t put into words – but you know it’s good. There is authenticity, vulnerability, a comfort they feel just being themselves. There is a shaping that is going on in them. Their spirit is being shaped by the spirit of God. Moving from the “current them” to the “transformed them.” Can you think of someone like that? Not that they’re perfect. Stay close to those folks – they give us living examples of what it means to have animating energy and grace. They are living in that dynamic relational reality with the spirit of Jesus.
Throughout our lives, but particularly in our 20s and 30s we make decisions about how we live our lives that will shape us for years to come. What we do now, matters. It’s the stuff like: rhythms of exercise and what we eat, and what we choose to study, who we spend our time with and invest in. But on this Pentecost Sunday we name how we once again have the choice to choose who we want to become by choosing to live in the relational animating energy of the spirit of Jesus. To figure out what that means, together. And to keep choosing that life, to keep asking God who is infinitely generous – so that through the slow metamorphosis of the spirit through time we can become “the me I want to be.” The best version of ourselves.
There is so much more for us to say about the spirit. And with time, we will. But today, now in this moment, friends – I invite you to close your eyes. And hear this: that the spirit of Jesus is present in the world. Those flashes of life and light and beauty and the miraculous and something beyond yourself – it is real. Hear, too, that the spirit of Jesus is in you. It is real, relational, and on your siiiiide. The Holy Spirit is there to help you become the best version of you, to live a life similar to the generous, powerful life we see in some of the folks in the early church. The spirit is there and it is always your choice whether to pay attention, to notice, to live in that relational reality with God and to let grace speak, to form you, and be stirred up in you.
As the band comes back up, we’re going to sing, and with our words, Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Come Holy Spirit, Come. We sing these words naming our own hope for the animating energy of God to be stirred up in us.
And we also take this time to ask, as we always do: God, what are you saying to me today? And what should I do about it?
Let’s pray: God, we thank you for the spirit of Jesus alive and present in us and the world. So move us by your Spirit in these moments we share, so that we may hear you, know that we are your beloved, and choose you once again. Amen.