Come, Holy Spirit, come!
To make the Apostles’ Creed a Trinitarian creed, the Holy Spirit had to be there! In the traditional version of the creed, we say "Holy Ghost," but that is an archaic use of the word. The Latin word in the creed was "spiritus," the Greek word "pnuema" (as in pneumatic tools or pneumonia), meaning "spirit." Ghost came, in the King James Version of the Bible and era of worship, from an Old English word gast, or the German word geist, which referred to a personal immaterial being, a soul, an angel. Today the word "ghost" brings up images from horror movies or Casper the Ghost or Halloween costumes. But it does not bring up a godly image. Though we are more used to saying "Holy Ghost, the ecumenical version of the Apostles’ Creed, "I believe in the Holy Spirit," takes us back to the original language and meaning with "Holy Spirit."
And if we add in the Old Testament Hebrew word (which we do need to do, because the Spirit has been present since the beginning of time), ruah can be translated as wind or breath, as well as spirit. Genesis 1:2 tells us, "the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters." Then God began to create the world. The Holy Spirit was present at creation. The "spirit of the Lord" came upon many people in the biblical narrative, including Moses, David, Elijah, Elisha, and the suffering servant in Isaiah, as well as upon Mary, the child Jesus and the grown Jesus. At the end of the Gospel of John, the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples three times before ascending to heaven. At one of those appearances, he "breathed" on the disciples and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22). In Acts, Jesus told the disciples they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them, and the Holy Spirit came "like a rush of a violent wind," with divided tongues of fire appearing above each person, and all speaking in different languages but understanding one another.
The Holy Spirit is present throughout the Bible. There are right many names for the Holy Spirit in the Bible- Spirit, Spirit of the Lord, Holy Spirit, Spirit of Jesus, Spirit of God, Spirit of Truth, Advocate, Comforter, Counselor, and, from the Greek, Paraclete.
Though the Spirit is present throughout the Bible, Jesus is the first to use the Trinitarian formula, telling us, at the end of Matthew, to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…" (Matthew 28:19).
The Holy Spirit is harder to pin down than God and Jesus. She is more of a mystery, and many people say we Presbyterians don’t like to talk about her as much, because the Holy Spirit can do odd things, like make people talk in tongues. Other, more lively denominations refer to us as "the frozen chosen," because of our belief in predestination but our lack of spontaneity in worship. Many think it is the Holy Spirit that causes spontaneity in worship, so they think we must not rely on the Holy Spirit. But we do indeed. We just see the Holy Spirit in more subtle ways, like how all of the worship service fits together so well when all the preacher shares are the scriptures and the sermon title. We see the Holy Spirit in the members who sing in the choir and lead as lectors, who usher, and who make sure we have wonderful fellowship meals, Sunday School classes, and mission trips and so much more. We feel the Holy Spirit present in rousing or gentle anthems, in the children who come up for the children’s message, in baptisms and in communion. Presbyterians do indeed believe in the Holy Spirit. Maybe we just receive her in a calmer way. Come, Holy Spirit, come!
So, who is this Holy Spirit? We can perhaps imagine God the Creator, with a Father/Mother image, and certainly we can envision Jesus as a middle Eastern man who lived and breathed and walked the earth, and who still loves and guides us. But the Holy Spirit is a bit more amorphous, a bit more mysterious.
In a novel popular a few years ago called The Shack, the Trinity appeared to a man whose daughter has been murdered. God appeared as a large, beaming African American woman who liked to cook, Jesus as a middle Eastern man, dressed like a laborer with a tool belt. And the Holy Spirit was a small, Asian woman, whose voice was like music, who flittered in and out of view, hard to bring into one’s focus. In a newer book, Cross Roads, by the same author, William Paul Young, the Holy Spirit describes herself in this way:
"’I am she who is more than you can begin to imagine and yet anchors your deepest longings. I am she whose love for you, you are not powerful enough to change, and I am she whom you can trust. I am the voice in the wind, the smile in the moon, the refreshing of life that is water. I am the common wind that catches you by surprise and your very breath. I am a fire and fury opposed to everything that you believe is not the Truth, that is hurting you and keeping you from being free. I am the Weaver, you are a favorite color, and he’ – she tilted her head toward Jesus – ‘he is the tapestry.’" (Cross Roads, p.92). This description comes, yes, from a novel, but perhaps that is in the true spirit of the Spirit! For it is the Spirit that creates. The Spirit creates life from the beginning, and fills us with gifts to create God’s kingdom in the midst of our world. The Holy Spirit renews old bones (as in Ezekiel 37).
We believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the Word of God, its very words and its writers, and we pray for the Holy Spirit to illumine us anew each time we read and interpret Scripture, the Living Word. The Bible also tells us that the Holy Spirit helps us to pray, especially when we do not have the words to pray. It is then that the Holy Spirit is praying for us in "sighs too deep for words" (Romans 8:26).
We believe we can be baptized with water and with the Holy Spirit. Some folks see these as separate events, with a conversion that signals the incoming of the Holy Spirit. We "frozen chosen" tend to believe that even as we acknowledge God’s claim upon us in baptism, whether as infants or as adults, we are also filled then with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and we continue to uncover those gifts throughout our lives. Come, Holy Spirit, come!
The Bible tells us that the Spirit gives a variety of gifts – prophesying, teaching and leading the people, healing and assisting, tongues and interpreting tongues, according to I Corinthians 12. These amazing gifts are given for but one purpose – to build up the one Body of Christ, the church. These gifts are given for the common good of all peoples.
And the Bible tells us that there are fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). "If we live by the Spirit, let us be guided by the Spirit" (Gal. 5:25), and conceit, competition, envy and other self-centered desires will drop by the wayside, as we continue to work for the common good. Come, Holy Spirit, come!
We can come up with more academic descriptions of the Spirit. The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology says the Holy Spirit is "the divine agent who brings about the redemption of sinners and the universe, by perfecting God the Father’s creative and the Son’s recreative mission in the world." "The Holy Spirit is the Transcreator," and is identical in being with the Father and the Son. Ronald McKim, in a helpful little book that all Presbyterians probably should have, called Presbyterian Questions, Presbyterian Answers, tells us: "We vigorously believe in the Holy Spirit as a coequal of the Trinity, sharing the diving presence with God the Father and God the Son. We believe the Holy Spirit is a person, one who can be known and who relates to us and affects us in our everyday lives…the Spirit is portrayed in Scripture not as drawing self-attention, but supremely as a ‘witness’ to Jesus Christ" (McKim, p. 45). The poet Maya Angelou says "Spirit is an invisible force made visible in all life."
We spend a lot of time and energy seeking this mysterious Spirit, even if we do not realize we are doing so. There are so many books and seminars and retreats to help us be more spiritual, to find peace, to seek our center, to identify our spiritual gifts. Many people these days claim to be, and seek to be, "spiritual but not religious," meaning they seek their spirituality somewhere other than the organized church. It is probably the same Spirit, the same God, we all seek, even if we do not call what we seek God or the Spirit. Personally, for example, I used to seek what I called "peace" in my life. I found that peace when I began going to a Spiritual Advisor, who directs my thinking, my being, my living towards God rather than towards myself or anything I might want. In turning towards God and serving God by helping others, as a side benefit I find peace in my life and in my heart, as well as joy and love, and other fruits of the Spirit. Come, Holy Spirit, come!
We seek the Spirit, and that is good. Yet the Spirit is already here, already within us, helping us to live our lives as faithful people. The Spirit is elusive, hard to pin down, mysterious. She is, again according to the Bible, like the dove that came upon Jesus at his baptism, like the wind that rushed through the room at Pentecost, like the fire that led the Israelites through the wilderness, like "rivers of living water" (John 7:39), refreshing and renewing us for the journey of life. When people are filled with the Holy Spirit, others can think they are drunk, like they did of the Apostles at Pentecost. But the Spirit can also act in much more subtle ways to transform us into God’s people. It is the Spirit that brings us together, in this place, and the Spirit that goes out with us, like the flames from the candles that go out of the sanctuary with the acolytes as we leave this place. Jesus told his disciples in the Gospel of John, "I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, 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 14:25). We have a tendency to separate our church life from our everyday life, but the Spirit goes with us every day.
Says Joyce Rupp, whose prayer we will read together in a few moments: "God constantly visits my valley of dry bones and invites me to dance. God faithfully asks me if I want to live with greater quality of life and deeper enthusiasm. When I am faithful to my inner journey, my life comes together in a sense of wholeness and aliveness." (Rupp, p. 12-13) In one of her many beautiful poems, Rupp says: "But just when the old heap of bones seems most dry and deserted, a strong Breath of Life stirs among my dead. Someone named God comes to my fragments and asks with a twinkling eye: ‘May I have this dance?’ The voice stretches into me, a stirring leaps in my heart, lifting up the bones of death. Then I offer waiting self to the One who’s never stopped believing in me, and the dance begins." (Rupp, pp.11-12).
We seek the Holy Spirit within us, among us, and she is here, in our midst, and she goes with us wherever we go. But she is not here just for you, or for me. She is here for us all, for all of God’s creation, for the common good.
Come, Holy Spirit, come, and dwell among us. Amen.