by Rev. J. Michael Solberg
at The Union Church of Hinsdale, U.C.C.
From the 10:00 a.m. Service
on Sunday, May 24, 2015
“What Is the Holy Spirit, Anyway?”
(Pentecost, Acts 2:1-21)
Spirituality is very big these days. It seems like everybody wants to get spiritual. Book stores and the internet are full of stuff on spirituality. A quick look at Amazon.com gives you the titles Spirituality: A Search for Balance and Enlightenment, and Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality without Religion. And then you see all the titles with numbers: Spirituality: The Top 25 Best Techniques for Becoming Enlightened and at Peace, and Spiritual Marketing: A Proven 5-Step Formula for Easily Creating Wealth from the Inside Out. The books are not limited to human spirituality, for you also find, Other Creations: Rediscovering the Spirituality of Animals. So, everybody wants to be spiritual.
While I appreciate all the interest in spirituality, on this Pentecost Sunday, this day we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, I feel compelled to highlight that we Christians don’t take a back seat to anybody when it comes to spirituality. Including our Jewish roots, we have been doing the spirituality thing for about 3000 years. Spirituality is all over the place in the Bible, it is part of our worship, and it has been part of ordinary Christian life for 2000 years.
If you are Christian, you are spiritual. If you don’t think of yourself as particularly spiritual, that may be because Christian spirituality takes a very different form from the spirituality normally talked about in our society. In modern America, spirituality has become largely focused inward. It is about me and my search for something intangible, significant, and perhaps even divine within me. In other words, spirituality, according to most of the books on Amazon, is about my spirit.
Christian spirituality is different, though. Christian spirituality is about The Spirit. The Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is something that lives and breathes and moves inside me, but it doesn’t originate with me. It is not my spirit, it is the spirit of God present in me. Spirituality is not about developing me, it is about communing with the Holy Spirit.
But what is this Holy Spirit, anyway? What are we talking about when we are talking about the Holy Spirit?
Of course, you can’t really nail this down in precise terms, for the Holy Spirit is God, and God is beyond our comprehension, but it might be helpful for me to give an analogy. Analogies are limited, of course, but I think this points in the right direction. Imagine being with a group of friends, sitting around talking. The conversation flows from deep and personal to funny and light. Maybe you are sitting in a comfortable living room, or around the kitchen table, or on the back deck, or around a camp fire. Clearly everyone in the conversation knows each other very well, and cares deeply about the others. In the middle of the conversation, someone gets up to, I don’t know, grab another cup of coffee or a beer, and goes off to another room. The person is gone, but is also somehow still with you. The personality is still present. The spirit is still real. The person is not physically present, but is still among you.
That presence is something like the Holy Spirit. And to go beyond the analogy, God continually renews that presence. God continually stays with us, even when not physically present. Or something like that.
But then we have to realize that one of the most important things about the Holy Spirit is what that personality, that presence, is like. What does this person who is present, but not physically, actually care about? What is this person’s contribution to our relationship? What character does this presence want to give our circle of friends?
Answer that reveals why Christian spirituality is so different from most spirituality in the world today. Because what this spirit cares about, is always sending us out to be for others. The single most important thing about the spirit of God is that it is a “centrifugal spirit.”
You see it happen over and over again in the book of Acts. Luke makes mention of the Holy Spirit, and connects it with the power or courage for the disciples to go out to be a blessing to others. Verse 1:8, 2:4, 4:8, 4:31, 5:32, 6:5, 7:55 and on and on I could go. In comes the Holy Spirit. Out go the disciples to be a blessing to others. It happens over and over again. In comes the Holy Spirit. Out go the disciples.
On that first Pentecost morning, that we heard about, read so wonderfully in a wide variety of human languages, the disciples were alone. Alone, but waiting. Tense. Edgy. Unsure. Maybe even worried. Perhaps like parents feel when waiting up for a teenager to come home at night, maybe a few minutes past curfew. Perhaps like some one feels when sitting on the side of a road at night with a broken down car, waiting for a tow truck to arrive and give help. Alone, but waiting. Unsure.
Then it happened. A frightful wind, a white hot presence that could only be described as flames of fire, an incomprehensible presence among them. Wind, fire, power, and…they realize that they were not alone. A presence, a personality, a spirit was with them…it was among them. God was among them.
And what does that presence compel them to do? To go out to others, to go out for others. In comes the Spirit. Out go the disciples to be a blessing to others. Time after time after time in the book of acts, the spirit pushes the disciples out to witness to God’s love and forgiveness. It keeps pushing them out, beyond themselves. Beyond their own power. Beyond their own courage. It keeps pushing them out. It is a centrifugal Spirit. The Spirit keeps pushing the disciples out into the world to share, in word and deed, the good news that nothing in all creation can separate us form the wonderful love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Spirit may start by working on us from the inside. It may start by creating in us a longing for a deeper connection to God, or by melting away a bitterness we have harbored inside us, or by challenging us to change our comfortable, complacent ways. But the inside deep down work of the Spirit is never an end in itself. Because the Spirit, just as it did for the disciples, always lead us out. In comes the Spirit to our lives, out we go to the world. The centrifugal Spirit, always pushing us out.
How is that centrifugal Spirit going to impact the life of this congregation? Well, it pushes you out. It pushes out to your neighbors in this community. Those you know and wave to when you are out in your yard, or driving to the store. But also to those neighbors with whom you have never established much of a relationship, and even those neighbors with whom your relationship may have broken down. Perhaps they wronged you somehow. Perhaps you only think they wronged you somehow but never bothered to talk to them about it. Perhaps you wronged them, and have been unwilling to ask for forgiveness. The centrifugal Spirit is pushing you out to those people. It is even pushing you out to the folks who don’t live quite the way you think they ought to live. Maybe they don’t go to church. Maybe they don’t keep their place as nice as you wish they did. Maybe their kids don’t dress or wear their hair the way you think they should. The centrifugal Spirit is pushing you out, beyond these walls to those people too. Build relationships with them. You just may be a blessing to them, and they just may be a blessing to you.
And the Spirit is pushing you out in other ways as well. You probably know those ways better than I do. Wherever you feel that tug to show, not just tell, but show, others the love and forgiveness of God, but you are hesitant because you’ve never done it before, or are afraid because you don’t think you have what it takes, or are just plain worried about what other people will think…well, wherever you feel that push outward to others, outward to serving others and demonstrating for them the love and grace and forgiveness and power of God, that is the Spirit at work. Don’t worry that you have never done it before, don’t worry about what others are going to think, don’t worry about having what it takes. Because that is the very Spirit of God pushing you out to others. The centrifugal Spirit, endlessly pushing you out to share God’s love with others. That, my friends, is what the Holy Spirit is all about.
You can see a list of all available UCH sermons online at: http://Hinsdale.Church/podcast