Have you ever noticed that Lutherans don’t talk about the Holy Spirit very much? We talk about God, the Creator of all that is and all will be. We talk about Jesus ALL THE TIME, and what it means to follow his example. But the Holy Spirit is, as Barbara Brown Taylor put it, the shy member of the Trinity. We put her on display on Pentecost Sunday with vivid imagery of whirlwinds blowing and tongues of flame resting on the disciples. But then we lock her up in the church office until next year! Even the Apostles’ Creed, which we recite every Sunday, simply says “We believe in the Holy Spirit,” and that’s it! We confess she exists, and quickly move on to the prayers of the people. Why don’t Lutherans talk about the Holy Spirit very much? We are a Spirit-led people. But, somehow, this is not a part of our weekly conversation with one another.
This is quite a contrast to another denomination I spent some time in…the Assembly of God. They talk about the Holy Spirit ALL THE TIME. In fact, the church I attended believed in what they called the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” which is an event that is separate from the water baptism we are all familiar with. For them, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a second baptism. It’s a special gift from God that’s given to a believer. The primary sign that believer receives it is the ability to speak in tongues.
The church I attended understood speaking in tongues not so much as a prophetic utterance but, rather, as a prayer language where the Spirit prays through the person in a language they don’t understand. This primarily happened in worship. It was a way for believers to let go and allow the Spirit to speak for them and through them. Now, there aren’t many Lutherans who understand the Spirit in this way. In fact, most of us would find this expression of the Spirit to be very strange and a little unsettling. Yet, as someone who was a part of that faith tradition, I can say that this manifestation of the Spirit is heart-felt and genuine to those who practice it. They find it very meaningful and powerful.
So, this brings us back to the question I asked at the beginning of my sermon: Why don’t Lutherans talk about the Holy Spirit very much? Well, this morning we’re going to talk about the Spirit. I’d like to share with you some of my experiences with the Holy Spirit as well as the significance of its mention in our gospel lesson for today. Hopefully, along the way, you will identify with something I’ve shared and come to the realization that the Holy Spirit is very much a part of the Lutheran experience. You must might be more Spirit-led than you realize.
So let’s get started! Growing up Lutheran, I was raised using the Red Book as opposed to the Cranberry Book we are now using. It was called the SBH or Service Book and Hymnal. In this hymnal, the Trinity was always referred to as Father, Son and Holy Ghost. As a kid, I thought this was strange. It makes it sound like Holy Spirit is some kind of specter that haunts houses and floats through the air. When your childhood reference points for Holy Ghost are Casper the Friendly Ghost and Scooby-Doo cartoons, it leaves you with a creepy understanding of the Holy Spirit, indeed. Therefore, I didn’t really connect with the Holy Ghost. I saw it as an old-fashioned notion that had very little to do with me.
It wasn’t until my late teen years that I began to encounter the Holy Spirit in a meaningful and powerful way. I was 17 at the time and attended a Friday night gathering for high school and college age students that was a ministry of a local Assembly of God church. Not surprisingly, my connection to the Holy Spirit grew stronger in that weekly gathering through music. I was learning to play guitar at the time and was asked to assist the worship leader of the group. He was a wonderful musician and singer who had the ability to sense where we needed to go next. His worship style was most definitely Spirit-led. I learned a great deal from him that has served me well to this very day.
The best way I can describe it to you is that I sometimes get “lost” in the song. I don’t need to think about chord progressions, finger placements or lyrics. The music simply flows through me as if it’s coming from another source. This source, naturally, is the Holy Spirit. In fact, there are some occasions during the Gathering Songs at Abiding Savior when I loose myself in the music so much that I forget what’s coming next. Some of you may have witnessed this happening. But it’s actually a good thing! It’s the Holy Spirit kicking into high gear. This also happens sometimes when I’m songwriting or working on a recording in the studio. I lose all sense of space and time. I get swept up by the Holy Spirit and allow here to flow through me wherever and however she so desires.
Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience of the Spirit. It may have occurred while you were hiking in the woods or walking along the beach at sunrise. It may have occurred while you were working in your garden or singing a powerful hymn in church. It may have occurred while creating art or even cooking in the kitchen. The Holy Spirit pops up in some unexpected places if we allow it to happen. During these holy moments we lose all sense of space and time. We feel completely in sync with God and creation. Everything seems good and peaceful and wonderful. Another name for this is a “mountaintop experience.” We don’t have these all the time. But they sure are wonderful when they happen.
A third way I have come to understand the way the Holy Spirit works in our lives happens when I have a difficult decision to make in life. Often times I go through a period I refer to as “wilderness wandering” By this I mean that I’m praying for direction but no direction comes. There are several paths before me and I’m not really sure which one to take. This happens in both my personal life and in my role as the shepherd of this flock. During these wilderness wandering times I’ve learned it’s best to be still and be patient. It’s best to remain steadfast in prayer and trust that the Spirit will move first. The way will be clear sooner or later.
My favorite quote on this comes from 4th century theologian, St. John Chrysostom who said “I go the the scriptures as a hunter goes to the woods. I go out alone, I sit quietly, I listen, and I wait for something to move.” Perhaps you’ve had this experience of the Spirit as well. Some people refer to this as a door that opened, a path that became clear, a still, small voice that led the way, or even a giant neon sign that said “This way, dummy!” These signs are the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the wisdom of God that comes to us when we need it the most. It is most definitely a part of the Lutheran experience of the Holy Spirit.
Another way I’ve come to understand the way the Holy Spirit works in the life of a believer is my role as chaplain at Mission Hospital. Most of the time I walk into a room and know absolutely nothing about the patient, their family, or their spiritual beliefs. I call it “going in blind” and it is truly a Spirit-led process for me. I pray that God will use me and I allow myself to be a vessel of the Holy Spirit. I trust that the Spirit will help me to convey the love of God to that hurting and scared family. I know I don’t have to have any magic words to say. I pray that the Holy Spirit will help me to speak the words a particular person or family needs to hear. There is usually a moment in most visits where I know a God connection has been made the Holy Spirit has entered the room. The situation was still be painful and difficult but the peace of the Holy Spirit has made everything just a little bit better.
I don’t think I did this as well when I was fresh out of seminary. It has taken years of ministry and listening to the Holy Spirit for this to happen. But I am humbled each time it does happen and am honored to be a part of this holy work. This kind of crisis work is not done solely by pastors. Some lay people have the same ability to do this kind of work as well. You just might be one of them. The Holy Spirit is a powerful force in the life of a believer. If we open ourselves up to being used by the Sprit she can accomplish amazing and powerful things through us.
Our final stop on the journey this morning is our gospel lesson. It’s Jesus’ final night with his disciples. It’s his last chance to tell them everything they need to know. The evening consisted of the breaking of bread and the sharing of wine. “This is my body, given your you. This is my blood, shed for you.” There was a moment when he took a towel and basin and washed the feet of his disciples, saying, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” [Jn 13:14-15]
Then, he offered his final words of wisdom including the one from our gospel lesson: “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 I have said to you.” [Jn 14:25-26]
Jesus uses two Greek words to describe the Holy Spirit in this passage. The later is PNEUMA AGION which is translated as “Holy Spirit.” It is the primary term used in the New Testament to describe the shy member of the Trinity. It can be understood as the Spirit/wind/breath of God. Its Old Testament counterpart is RUAH which first appears in the creation story and is also understood as the Spirit/wind/breath of God.
The former word is PARAKLAYTOS. It is only used by Jesus and only appears in the Gospel of John. The NRSV translates PARAKLAYTOS as “Advocate,” but there are other English words that are equally as valid. All of these English words combined together give us a pretty powerful picture of how the Holy Spirit works in our lives. In addition to Advocate, PARAKLAYTOS can be translated as Counselor, Comforter, Helper, Friend and Intercessor. All of these are marvelous ways to talk about the way the Holy Spirit works in our lives.
The Holy Spirit is our Advocate and Intercessor who intercedes to God on our behalf who words fail us. The Holy Spirit is our Counselor who gives us wisdom and guidance. The Holy Spirit is our Helper who lifts us up when we need it the most. The Holy Spirit is our Friend, our constant companion in life. These are some of the ways we Lutherans understand the Holy Spirit. But there are so many more.
As I bring my thoughts to a close, I hope something that I shared resonates with you this morning. My hope is that you will leave this place and think about the ways the Holy Spirit is at work in you. It’s time for Lutherans to begin talking a LOT more about the way the Holy Spirit is moving in our lives, in our church and in our world. Amen!
Copyright ©2017 by David Eck