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IN THE spirit

A Sermon preached by the Reverend Michael Anderson Bullock on 21 May 2023; Pentecost Day; Year A Acts 2:1-12; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23 As I enter my seventh year with you, I trust that you recognize that I am passionately committed to having St. Philip’s be a community of faith that knows what we are talking about – knows what we’re talking about when it comes to being God’s people and members of Christ’s Body. And so, I trust that it will not shock you that if today, the Day of Pentecost and the commemoration of the gift of the Holy Spirit, I begin by asking this question: What is the Holy Spirit? Moreover, what resources would help you answer that question in a way that would touch our lives and strengthen our faith? In other words, what are we talking about when we refer to the Holy Spirit? The Prayer Book’s Catechism [p. 852] answers our question with these terse, outline words. It says, “The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Trinity, God at work in the world and in the Church even now.” Of course, this “answer” is correct; but I find this type of response to be dissatisfying in that we still have to work on discovering what these words mean and what they have to do with the way we live. (Now in defense of the Catechism’s response, its purpose is not to be a reflection but as the Prayer Book title reveals merely to be “An Outline of the Faith” [p. 845]. And we all know that an outline is simply an organizing structure, to which you and I must supply the details that flesh out the basic framework. So, again, the questions is: What is the Holy Spirit? The Catechism’s “answer” does serve to remind us that the Spirit has something intrinsically to do with the reality and nature of God and how God is present – “even now”. But let me take a different approach to this inquiry, one that I hope will connect you with the life experience I dare say we all have. Here it is: I want you to think about a person you love distinctly and specifically. Rest with the thought of that personal experience for a moment. What is the experience like? More to the point, what about this connection that matters so much to you? Without going into much detail, I would venture to say that the significance of this memory, this experience of another in our lives is that it is powerful and has transformed us. As a result of this connection, we are not the same. This experience of relationship (and that is what this is, the reality and impact of relationship). Its power changed us and continues to do so. I would also say that the transformational aspect of this shared relationship with another, this personal connection was also an experience of creativity: That the fruit of this personal connection with another was an experience of making life, of sharing life. This is to say that the experience was generative, and what it generated was life – new life, a great gift. And the point is that everything from sharing a dance with one another; tending a garden; collaborating on a project; starting a business; having a baby: such creativity, such generativity is not a “do-it-yourself” project. It takes another’s presence – a person, a “muse”, something more than what we provide on our own. Creativity and what it generates [call it “love” – thank you Tina Turner for raising the basic question: “What’s love got to do with it?”] -- love requires much more than will power and self-discipline. Something else or someone else is needed to complete the life-giving connection. So this is my Pentecost Day point: If we have all experienced the results of sharing in and contributing to a relationship with one another, and if in these shared relationships with one another we experience the power that changes us, how much more would we be changed if and when we connected with God? What is the Holy Spirit? My own response to this question and my understanding of its meaning has been greatly influenced by St. Augustine’s teaching, in which he says that the Holy Spirit is the love the Father has for the Son and the love the Son has for the Father. So it is that the gift of the Holy Spirit (which is the essence of this Day of Pentecost’s celebration) is about be invited by God to enter into this “holy”, life-giving, and unbreakable relationship, remembering that Jesus would rather die than break this bond. The gift of the Spirit is not about a feeling, although clearly, we have all kinds of feelings about being included in such a transforming love. I am sure that Jesus, after his baptism in the River Jordan and when the voice from heaven confirmed that he was the Holy One’s beloved Son, had some less-than-happy feelings about being driven by that same Spirit into the wilderness to be tested. And yet, that hard testing was the prelude and preparation for new and deeper life – God’s life, with and in God’s Spirit. Last thought: What is it like to know that you are loved? How does that knowledge shape what you think and what you do? To what extent does that knowing, that experience strengthen you to trust and even endure? When, for instance, we exchange the “Peace” in the context of our Eucharistic worship, what are we “passing” one to another? Is it more than a greeting; or are we sharing the transforming love, life, and presence of God and the Christ? The gift of the Holy Spirit is the divine invitation to participate in the creative, generative, steadfast Spirit of God. It is like the very air we breathe, the wind that sails us onward – passed our fears and even death. The Spirit of God is with us, among us. The Spirit of God is calling to us as a church and as individuals, reverberating in our restlessness, our worry, our soul’s hunger and thirst. So again: “Be careful: If you come here, you will grow!” – in the Spirit. Alleluia. Amen.

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