May 15, 2016
+ This past week, I got it into my head that I would like to have an ikon of the Holy Spirit on display here at St. Stephen’s for this Sunday of Pentecost. It’s an important Sunday, after all. A VERY important Sunday. We commemorate the end of the Easter season today, which is important. But, of course, most importantly, we commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit on those first followers of Jesus.
Well, just because I might think it’s an important Sunday doesn’t mean the rest of the world does, obviously. As I asked around at various religious stores to see if they had an ikon of the Holy Spirit, each one came up empty. They didn’t really even know of one in existence. It’s just not a common theme in ikons, I soon discovered.
Who would’ve thought? It kind of shocked me, actually. There was an abundance of the ikons of Jesus, of Mary and the child Jesus, of saints, even the famous Rubilev ikon of the Trinity. There was even an ikon of the God the Father. But none of the Holy Spirit alone. Even when I Googled it, I couldn’t really find any.
Finally, as I often do in such situation, I just made my own, I made it by finding a detail from another ikon of the Trinity. And it is that one that you will find on the votive stand this morning.
What’s interesting about all this searching for an ikon, is that the Holy Spirit is just one of those things people don’t think about often. As you probably notice, Christians think A LOT about Jesus. And that’s a very good thing. But, let’s face it, the Holy Spirit just doesn’t capture the imagination of most Christians like Jesus does. After all, the Spirit is usually depicted as a dove. Not an exciting symbol for most people.
But, let me tell you, the Holy Spirit is VERY important. Vitally important. In fact, the Spirit is probably that one aspect of God that we experience in our own lives more than any other aspect of God. Every time we feel God’s Presence in our life, every time we feel a sense of the Holy, that is the Spirit. Even here in the Holy Eucharist, when we partake of the Bread and the Wine, we are partaking in the Spirit of God. We call down the Spirit in this service.
So, the Spirit is very active in our lives. And by being active in life, we know that God is active in our lives.
Today we are reminded of how the Holy Spirit continued to move in our lives. We are reminded that the Holy Spirit is in the collective Church. And in us, as individuals. And that moving of the Holy Spirit within us, has changed us and made us a wonderful force of good and love in the world.
I think most of us—I hope most of us—have felt this moving of the Holy Spirit within us as some point. Still, even if we haven’t, when it comes to the Holy Spirit, we all find ourselves grasping and struggling to define who and what the Spirit is in our lives. The Spirit can be elusive and strange and sometimes we might have a hard time wrapping our minds around the Spirit.
But it is clear from the words of Jesus before he ascends back into heaven what the role of the Spirit is: Although Jesus might no longer be with us physically as he was when he walked with the disciples, his spirit will always remain with us. Jesus will leave—we will not be able to touch him and feel him and listen to his human voice again. But God is leaving something amazing in Jesus’ place. And this is just some nice, pleasant gift. It is a gift that makes us live up to our full potential as lovers of God.
In a sense what happens with the Descent of God’s Spirit upon us is the fact that we now have the potential to be prophets, as you’ve heard me say many, many times. The same Spirit which spoke to Ezekiel, which spoke to Isaiah, which spoke to Jeremiah, which spoke to Moses, also can now speak to us and be revealed to us just as it spoke and was revealed to those prophets from the Hebrew Bible.
That is who the Spirit is in our midst. The Spirit we celebrate today—and hopefully every day—is truly the Spirit of the God that came to us and continues to come to us—first to those prophets in our Hebrew past, then in the Word spoken by Jesus and finally in that rushing wind and in that rain of burning flames. It is through this Spirit that we come to know God in ways we might never have before.
The Spirit is God with us NOW. Right here. Right now.
When we sense holiness—when we feel God close to us in our own lives—that’s God’s Spirit with us. God’s Spirit comes to us wherever we may be in our lives—in any situation or frustration. God’s Spirit is with us, as Jesus promised, always. Always.
And it is through this Spirit that God comes to know us as well. For those of us who want to grasp these experiences—who want to have proof of them—the Spirit doesn’t fit well into the plan. We can’t grasp the Spirit. We can’t make the Spirit do what we want it to do. In that way, the Spirit truly is like the Wind that came rushing upon those first disciples.
So, how do we know the Spirit is working in our lives? Well, as Jesus said, we know the tree by its fruit. In our case, we know the Spirit best through the fruits God’s Spirit gives us.
It was on the feast of Pentecost in Jewish culture on which the first fruit were offered to God. In a sense, what happens on our Pentecost, is God returning those fruits to us. On the feast of Pentecost, we celebrate the fruits the Spirit of God gives to us and we can be thankful for them. The Spirit comes to us and manifests itself to us in the fruits given to us by the Spirit.
But, we must not let the Holy Spirit do all the work. It is important that we actually DO the work the Holy Spirit gives us. We must cultivate those fruits of the Spirit. Yes, we can pray for them. Yes, we can pray novenas and ask the Spirit to come and convict and convert us. But we have to be ready for that first. We have to be doing the work already—we have to be out there, getting the ground ready for those fruits first. But unless we work to make fertile ground in which those fruits grow and flourish, we are not doing OUR part.
The Spirit works with us, not for us. We can’t manipulate the Spirit. We can’t force the Spirit to do anything—especially what we want that Spirit to do. We can’t control that Spirit any more than we can control the wind. We have to do part of the work ourselves. This is the way the Spirit works.
For me, the Spirit of God has come to me at various points in my life not in a noisy, raucous way, but rather in a quiet, though just as intense, way. The Sprit of God as I have experienced it has never been a “raining down” so to speak, but rather a “welling up from within.” And that welling up from within came when the ground of my life was ready.
For us at St. Stephen’s, we can feel the Spirit of God dwelling here. I cannot tell you how many times I have people who have visited us for the time tell me: “Wow! I really felt the Holy Spirit present here.” One person told me it was like a charge of electricity. Sometimes that’s how we experience the Spirit. No doubt everyone here this morning has felt a similar experience of God’s Spirit, although you might not have readily recognized that experience as God’s Spirit. Maybe it was a sense of calm coming to you in the midst of a difficult time in your life. Maybe it was a comforting hand on your shoulder when you were sorrowing or a bit of advice you needed for some problem you had been carrying with you for some time. This is how God’s Spirit comes to us.
The Spirit does not tear open the ceiling and force its way into our lives. The Spirit rather comes to us just when we need the Spirit to come to us. Our job is to be open to the Spirit, to allow the Spirit to be present and to do what the Spirit does.
For us collectively here at St. Stephen’s, we’ve been doing that all along. How do we know that? Well, just take a look at our fruits. Take a look at the fruits of the Holy Spirit flourishing here at St. Stephen’s. And when we do, let’s not be critical, let’s not be proud, let’s not say to ourselves, “well, of course.” Rather, let us be thankful to the Spirit of God with us, to the Spirit who dwells with us here. And let us continue to welcome that Spirit into our midst to continue to the work begun here.
So, this week of Pentecost, let us look for the gifts of the Spirit in our lives and in those around us. Let us open ourselves to God’s Spirit and let it flow through us like a caressing wind. And let us remember the true message of the Spirit to all of us—whenever it seems like God is distant or nonexistent, that is when God’s Spirit might possibly be closest of all, dwelling within us, being breathed unto as it was those first disciples. On this feast of Pentecost—this feast of the fruits of God—let us feel the Holy Spirit move within us and let us give thanks to God for all the many fruits of the Spirit in our lives.