May 20, 2018 – The Day of Pentecost
Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
The Rev. Dr. Susan Kraus
Just before Jesus ascended to heaven forty days after the resurrection, he told his disciples to go to Jerusalem and wait for the Spirit to come to them in a few days’ time. He promised them this: “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). At Pentecost the Holy Spirit did come in utterly unmistakable ways, like a violent wind and tongues of fire, and in a miracle of language as people spoke in languages they did not know and were understood. Our lesson from the Gospel of John helps us understand who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit does. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth who bears witness to Jesus Christ as Jesus has borne witness to the Father
From the day of Pentecost recorded in The Acts of the Apostles until now – and for as long as there is a church on earth – the Holy Spirit is at work in the lives of the followers of Jesus. The action of the Holy Spirit may be strong and unmistakable, as it was on Pentecost, or it may be as subtle as the “still, small voice of God” we need all our attention to hear.
How does the Holy Spirit act in human lives? It would be impossible to answer this question fully, but as a beginning we may say that the Holy Spirit creates in us a desire to live our lives in conformity with the life and attitudes and aspirations of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit moves us to become more and more the persons we were created to be – beloved children of God, made in the image of God, made to grow into the likeness of Christ. Through the Holy Spirit we receive the grace of God that supports our Christian journey.
The action of the Spirit is often hidden. Do you remember this parable about the kingdom of God? Jesus said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour [about sixty pounds] until all of it was leavened” (Luke 13:20-21). We cannot see the yeast. We only see its powerful effects. St. Paul identified many of the effects of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). When we see these qualities in our lives and in the church, we may give thanks to the Holy Spirit. When we see the opposite of these qualities, I think we must seriously question what “spirit” is at work.
Christian tradition teaches us the importance of what is called the “discernment of spirits.” We certainly believe that the Holy Spirit may prompt our behavior. But there are other possibilities. We may be prompted by our own selfish desires. And we may be influenced by spiritual forces of evil. How do we know before we act? This is an extremely important question. If you have ever been mistaken in your discernment of spirits, or if you have witnessed the results of such a mistake in the life of another person or in the church, you will know what I mean.
Remember that the Holy Spirit is the spirit of Christ. We can test what we think are prompts of the Spirit by examining them in light of what we know about Jesus. We may ask ourselves if the action we feel prompted to do is something aligned with the teaching of Christ. We may ask ourselves if it is likely that Jesus would ask us to act in this way. If we study the Gospels and pray with them until our hearts are full of the knowledge of Jesus, we will become better able to discern the true prompting of the Holy Spirit.
Often the work of the Holy Spirit is subtle. Learning to understand and act upon the prompting of the Holy Spirit is a spiritual exercise that takes regular practice. How might the Holy Spirit speak to us? This speaking may be an interior experience. For example, have you ever felt suddenly moved to pray for someone you may not have been thinking about at the time? This could happen anywhere and at any time. Do you pray then and there or do you talk yourself out of it, promising to pray later when you are at home and it’s “time” for prayer? What should you do? When the Spirit speaks, act. Stop and pray wherever you are. You may feel the Holy Spirit move you to make a phone call or speak a kind word to someone or write someone a note or an email or offer someone some help. With practice, active response to the promptings of the Holy Spirit becomes habitual in our daily lives. And we find that our action in following the guidance of the Holy Spirit is often validated by others. Someone may tell you, for instance, that the phone call you made was just what the person needed at that very moment.
The Holy Spirit also speaks to us through other people. Someone’s spoken or written words may touch our souls and inspire us to deeper faith or greater love for God, our neighbors and ourselves. The example of someone’s life may be the means the Holy Spirit uses to speak to us. Another person may invite us to join an activity, and we feel that the Holy Spirit is speaking to us in that invitation. Again, when the Spirit speaks to us, and we are convinced it is the Holy Spirit, it is good to act. This is one way that we make real the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “thy will be done.”
In our spiritual journeys as followers of Jesus the Holy Spirit moves us by speaking to us and actively guiding us. That is part of the story. The other part is that the Holy Spirit is often silent. Nearly every mature Christian will experience this silence, and it is a sore trial. Holy women and men teach us that God is actually drawing us toward God in these times of silence. When God seems absent, we learn how much we need God. If we remain faithful, our love for God will grow in the silence.
When the Spirit is silent, how do we wait? Attentively and actively. There is nothing we can do to “force” the Holy Spirit to speak to us, but we can prepare ourselves to hear the Holy Spirit. Take time for silence. Pray, even when prayer seems dry and useless. Come to church and receive the Holy Eucharist, even when you don’t feel like it. Read the Bible and other spiritual writing. Continue to serve and give. Learn patience and humility. Have faith in Jesus’ promise: “Seek and you shall find. Knock and the door will be opened to you.”
Jesus said, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” Day by day may we prepare our hearts, in every way the Holy Spirit guides us, to be the home of God, now and forever. In Jesus’ name. Amen.