Suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind.
As if on cue, on Saturday, there was a mighty rushing wind all day – to turn our minds to the celebration of Pentecost! A wind to unsettle us, to move us, unseen physically, but we feel the effects, it was something beyond our carefully controlled lives!
Today we continue to celebrate Pentecost, the third great feast of the Church year after Christmas and Easter. In Dutch the word is a bit hidden – Pinksteren – no Dutch person I’ve asked has been able to tell me why that word is used. But according to the New World Dictionary, the origin is from Middle Dutch pinxten, which is from the Old Saxon pinkoston, from Gothic paintēkuste from ecclesiastical Classical Greek pentēkostē.
In English, it is not pentacost, which would be five, but pentecost, referring to the 50 days after Easter, after the resurrection of Jesus.
This 50 days corresponds with the second of the three Jewish Feasts described in Exodus [23:16] and Deuteronomy [16:9-12]: the Feast of Weeks or Harvest of the first fruits.
50 days after the Passover, Jews were called under the Law of Moses to celebrate the barley harvest in Jerusalem. That Jewish feast had become, in the Apostles’ day, also a celebration of the giving of the Law of God on Mount Sinai. So Passover followed by the Spring Harvest, became Passover (deliverance from slavery) followed by the celebration of the Giving of the Law of Moses, which became for Christians, Easter (deliverance from sin) followed by the celebration of the pouring out of the Spirit – the writing of the Law of God on our hearts. As Israel needed direction in their common life in their newfound freedom from slavery, so do Christians need direction after their newfound freedom in Christ.
The Spirit was poured out on Pentecost and the Church was born. And the Spirit continues to be poured out through the ages.
Who is the Holy Spirit? What does the Holy Spirit do? How do we get this Holy Spirit?
Who is the Holy Spirit? (source: JI Packer’s Concise Theology)
We heard in today’s Gospel, the promise of Jesus: I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper (Counselor), to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth. [John 14:16].
The Greek word is “Paraclete” from “parakletos (meaning one who gives support), is a helper, advisor, strengthener, encourager, an ally and advocate. When Jesus says “another” paraclete, he implies that He himself is a “paraclete”, the first, and the Spirit is the replacement for his presence when he is gone and who will continue his ministry on earth (JI Packer, Concise Theology, p. 143).
The Spirit had been spoken of in the Old Testament at Creation – “the Spirit of God was moving over the waters” to bring about creation out of chaos and darkness. The Spirit of God is spoken of as revealing God’s Word to the Prophets: for example, Micah says, “As for me, I am filled with…the Spirit of the Lord…to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin” [Micah 3:8]. The Spirit is spoken about as enabling those who received the Spirit to do their work: artistic work in the making of the Tabernacle [Ex 31:2-6], to enable warriors to lead Israel into battle, such as Gideon [Judges 6:34], and Samson to have extraordinary strength[Judges 15:14-15]. And the Spirit is spoken of as bringing about inner renewal, when, for example, David prayed to God to “renew a right spirit within me, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” [Ps 51:11]
In the New Testament it becomes clearer that the Holy Spirit is a distinct person. Jesus says he is, another Counsellor. Jesus says the Holy Spirit is fully God when giving us the baptism formula [Matthew 28:19]. The Spirit is linked with the Father and the Son in blessings given by the Apostles [2 Cor 13:14; Rev 1:4-6]. In Acts, lying to the Spirit is said to be lying to God [Act 5:3-4]. And astonishingly, the Holy Spirit is said to dwell in the hearts of all believers – do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is inyou, whom you have from God [1 Cor 6:19]. Or as Jesus promised us in today’s Gospel – You know him, for he dwells with you and will be inyou. A creature cannot dwell in the hearts of all believers.
We can pray to the Holy Spirit, as we can pray to the Father, as we can pray to Jesus. And yet there are not three Gods but One God. I will speak more of the tri-unity of God next Sunday.
Who is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is God.
What does the Holy Spirit do?
The foremost sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our hearts is if we love God and one another:
- Paul says, the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. [Rom 5:5]
- Paul tells us to earnestly desire the higher gifts and then shows us “a still more excellent way” then speaks sublimely about the gift of love in 1 Cor 13 [1 Cor 12:31] . He concludes, in“faith, hope, and love abide…but the greatest of these is love. Make love your aim…”
- John says, If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit….God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. [1 John 4:12,13,16]
That “love”, that Paul and John speak of, has content – it is the writing of the Law of God in our hearts [Jer 31:33-34]. The Spirit brings about in us a radical holiness, a radical obedience to the Law of God, the Law of love, the eternal moral Law. Love is not whatever we think it is but the expression of desire in ways shaped and directed by God’s Spirit, in accordance with His Word – all else is vanity and confusion.
The Spirit is given in the New Testament also as a charism, a gift of grace. You’ve heard of the charismatic movement – a renewal movement that seeks to recover in the Church the graces spoken of by Paul? The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church defines charismata as this: “The blessings, spiritual and temporal, bestowed on every Christian for the due fulfilment of his vocation. In the narrower sense, the word is used especially for the supernatural graces which individual Christians need to perform the specific tasks… in promoting the spiritual advancement of their fellows. In 1 Corinthians 12 they are enumerated as … the word of wisdom, and word of knowledge, faith, the gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.”
Here are three examples from more recent times:
- Padre Pio– Daniëlle and I watched a movie this week about the life of a priest in the Roman Catholic Church in Italy in the last century, who was gifted with a desire for radical obedience and to share in the sufferings of Christ – to me, dependence and obedience is glory.He received the stigmata – and around him and through him there were miracles of healing, and he had the gift sometimes of the discernment of spirits in people. But he also saw the great gift of modern medicine and worked for the building of a hospital for the poorest – combining scientific knowledge with loving care for the relief of suffering and the healing of body of soul.
- Pentecostal Pastor– Daniëlle knows a pastor who had the charism of discernment of spirits – he could see in an instant what a person was struggling with. It became a central part of his ministry, but he has shied away from it when it seemed to be becoming a spectacle, a distraction – people focusing on the gift rather than the Giver of the gift. He has been moved more recently towards a focus on social action in his ministry. Whatever gifts we are given need to be carefully exercised and used only to glorify God and lead people to a greater love for their neighbour.
- Prophecy– As you may be aware some of us have been interested in discovering more about the gift of prophecy, which Paul speaks about in 1 Corinthians 14. Paul says, Make love your aim, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy…whoever prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. We have had a course in Hearing the Voice of God and now, on Wednesdays, a second The Prophecy Course, which is a follow up.
It has been an opportunity for some of us to learn to be more attentive to the way God is speaking to us today – through thoughts that come to our minds, passages of Scripture, sensations, or images that might appear, dreams or visions. Prophecy is all about the upbuilding and encouragement of others, as Paul has said.
These are some examples of what we can expect of the Holy Spirit to do – leading us to a greater love of God and neighbour, and giving particular charismatic gifts for the building up of the body of Christ – these gifts are available to us today.
This leads us to the last part – how do we get this Holy Spirit?
The Spirit is promised to us in our baptism, or the Holy Spirit can be working in us to lead us to desire Holy Baptism.
So the Spirit is in us if we are drawn to Jesus. How do we come to know His presence and His benefits more?
We know that the basic Christian spiritual disciplines (worship, prayer, reading the Bible, fasting, Sacrament, fellowship) are all simply about that – leading us to be more watchful and attentive to hearing God’s voice, it is as if they are all about being more awake and alive to the Spirit and keeping us from falling asleep.
I’ve been pleased about the teaching in the Prophecy Course. I’ve been pleased to see that it parallels very closely the teaching of the great mystics of the Church through ages, and it parallels the calls made through the ages in the Church as to how we are sanctified or led to greater holiness through purgation, illumination, leading to union with or contemplation of God. The teaching is this:
Come to know God’s promise: that He is in us! Be in expectation of hearing a Word. Give time to develop a closeness with God – read His Word, be drenched in His Word written, praying often and listen, listen, listen. Be humble, we cannot try to force God, but we make ourselves available, and are patient and watchful. Don’t do this in isolation but in the Body of Christ with others and accountable to others. We focus foremost on the Giver of the gift, not the gift. Remembering it is all about love – as God reveals to us what love is, and whatever gifts He gives us individually, it is all about the building up of one another in love.
And this really is the focus of the Bible readings in all of the Trinity season or Sundays after Pentecost that follow today – it is all about our sanctification, our growing in holiness, in closeness to God, which is to grow in Love!
I hope on this Feast of Pentecost that each one of us has a greater desire and expectation of communication with God and of being filled with His love.
Let us now prepare ourselves for Holy Communion through repentance and faith to know more deeply and fully the Gift of God indwelling us…