I believe in the Holy Spirit
Ezekiel 3:12-21 / Psalm 104 / I Corinthians 2:6-16 / John 16:4b-15
“I believe in God the Father” … (recite creed rapidly with congregation up to the pause before the clause on the Holy Spirit … then take a deep breath). If the creed were to stop there – with he ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will come again to judge the living and the dead … Christians would be in a sad state of affairs. Up unto this point, we are left with Jesus’ absence. Jesus died and rose again, but then he ascended. Wherever heaven is – whatever heaven is – whatever we want to make of the divine space at the right hand of the Father, it feels like it is elsewhere, remote, far away, distant. It isn’t, of course, but the reason we know this is because of what comes next, because our confession is incomplete, because the truth about God is horribly flawed without what comes next. So we take a deep breath here and move on in our confession: I believe in the Holy Spirit.
Take a breath. Let’s do it again – together. The miracle of breathing. It is something we do every day, so much and so often that we give it absolutely no thought until we are having trouble breathing. Every breath – every simple breath – is an intricately complex process. It begins with the diaphragm – that parachute shaped muscle beneath your rib cage – contracting and bringing air into your lungs. Air then travels in through your nose and mouth, down your throat, through your voice box, into the trachea (or windpipe), into the Y-shaped bronchi that lead to the left and right lungs. The bronchi break off into bronchioles, like small tree branches, getting smaller and smaller until the air reaches the end of these “branches” where little pockets of air, called the alveoli receive the fresh oxygen and exchange it for carbon dioxide. The fresh, oxygenated blood then get pumps to the left side of the heart which sends this life giving stuff to the rest of the body.
That whole process occurs an average of 44 times a minute in newborns; 20-40 times a minute in infants; 12-20 times a minute in healthy adults; 35-45 times a minute during strenuous exercise. And how often do we think about it? How often do we pay it attention? Around 6-10 liters of air are brought into your lungs each minute. During exercise it is possible to breathe in over 100 liters of per minute. Air – the stuff of life – the stuff that animates the rest of your body, keeps you thinking clearly, allows you to do everything else. Breathing – a miracle happening in your life to the tune of around 12-20 times a minute, and we think nothing of it until something goes wrong.
The miracle of breathing; it is a lot like the miracle of the Spirit – which is why breath is the favorite biblical metaphor for God’s Spirit. And the Spirit of God animates us and the church in much the same way as the process of breathing I described above. Believing in the Holy Spirit – breathing in the Holy Spirit – is very much like breathing, exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen, for when we breathe in the Holy Spirit we exchange the lies of the world for the truth of God.
Jesus says in today’s Gospel: I will send the Holy Spirit to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment … When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. The world has been living on the toxic lies of satan for too long. We need a deep, sustained breath of God’s fresh truth.
The problem with human beings is not that we desire too much but that we desire to little – we settle for too little – we are happy with too little. We get a little money, a little pleasure, a little moment of exhilaration, a little love – and then we wander around in the dark until we can find some more. The world teaches us that we are free to do what we want when we want – and yet somehow when we do so, happiness still eludes us. It is like drinking sea water to quench our thirst – it may feel good for a quick moment, but in the end it causes diarrhea, dehydrates the body, causes severe cramping, and ultimately leads to death. Why drink sea water when we can have living water? Why breathe toxic gases when you can exchange them for the breath of God?
Do you think the world revolves around you, your family, your concerns, your troubles, your fear, worries, and anxieties? Stop. Take a breath. Do you think you are alone in your battle against sickness or disease, suffering without hope of healing and companionship? Stop. Take a breath. Are you convinced you have no worth? That you are stupid? That you are somehow small, unimportant and insignificant in the larger scope of things? That you are unforgiveable? Un-loveable? Hopelessly lost? Unable to change? Without God and without a future in this world? Stop. Take a breath. Let the Holy Spirit do its work in you right now – exchanging the Truth of God for the lies that have been coursing through you mind and body for too long.
Believing in the Holy Spirit – breathing in the Holy Spirit – is very much like breathing, take life-giving, oxygenated blood to every extremity of the body, equipping, strengthening, enlivening tissue, muscles, brain function, and internal organs – for when we breathe in the Holy Spirit we breathe the life of God into the Body of Christ, the Church.
The breath of God courses through the Body – enhancing brain function – or in the world’s of the Apostle Paul again – instructing us, aiding us to interpret spiritual things …allowing us to discern the mind of Christ. I like the way many Christian accountability groups often ask the question on a weekly basis: “I will seek to discern God’s Spirit within me on a daily basis, striving to obey spiritual promptings and heed spiritual warnings.” Have you had any spiritual promptings lately? Stop take a breath. They are there if you start paying attention. Have you heeded or ignored any spiritual warnings lately? Stop. Take a breath. Pay attention.
Let me give you just one personal example I have experienced. It is how I got involved in jail and prison ministry near the beginning of my ministry. It is the reason I am still involved in such ministry 15 years later. In my first appointment out in rural, Washington County NC, I found myself traveling down a long stretch of highway 64 on a regular basis. There was not much out there except for crops, farm houses and fields – that and a little, medium security state prison on a long stretch of otherwise empty road.
For days I drove past the little prison, often wondering what the men on the other side of the barbed wire fence were doing. I would see them out in the yard on occasion – working out, playing basketball, headed to the mess hall, or simply sitting out on some outdoor tables. Every day I would pass this prison and feel like I should do something, but I didn’t know what. It didn’t help that I had been busy reading Matthew 28 in my daily devotions: “I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” It didn’t help that I was reading John Wesley’s journal; about how he visited in Castle (the city jail) one day a week, the prison on another, the widows and orphans on another, and the poor and sick on another.
Then one day, it just happened – something – call it a spiritual warning, a spiritual prompting, or something I ate night before – I like to call it the Holy Spirit – but one day I just could not pass that prison again. One day, my car just took a turn into the parking lot to see what I might find. It didn’t help that it was not visiting hours at that moment in the day, and the guard with the rifle in the main tower was quick to point this out. We had a rather awkward shouting match as I walked to the main gate, trying to explain that I was the new Methodist pastor in town and would like to talk to someone in charge (as I had turned in, I had quickly determined that I would start by trying to meet the chaplain and see if there was a way I could assist him or her in any way).
I was ushered through the gate to the administrative building where I met Superintendent Hathaway for the first time. A man of God, and a committed Christian himself, we had a wonderfully surprising and completely unexpected conversation that lasted over two hours. He quickly informed me that there was no chaplain for any of the inmates in his facility. Two hours later – I left as the new, volunteer chaplain with regular visits set up for my day off on Fridays. Looking back on that day, I see providence where I once say only coincidence. Looking back on that day, I see the Holy Spirit all over what was happening.
Paul tells us this morning that we cannot see the Spirit … what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him – these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. Do you discern the things of the Spirit? The Holy Spirit is all around us this morning. In the rustling of the bulletins … in the child that is crying or fidgeting in worship … in the announcement about a new group meeting to pray and study … in the praises over that member that just found a job or the prayer over another who just got sick … in the words of a hymn … in the testimony of believers … the Spirit is all around us if we allow God to gift us with eyes of faith to comprehend what is truly God’s. The breath of God courses through the Body, equipping us for mission, sending us forth as witnesses, giving strength to tired muscles and life to dying extremities. The miracle of breathing – the miracle of the Holy Spirit.
Not sure what the future holds for you and your family? Take a breath. Worried about the future of your job? Of the church? Of the world? Of the government? Of the health care system? Of life as we know it? Stop. Take a breath. Feel like you are approaching burn-out? Becoming spiritually flabby in your discipleship? Stop. Take a breath. Hear the words of today’s Psalmist:
24O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. 25Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great. 26There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it. 27These all look to you to give them their food in due season; 28when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. 29When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. 30When you send forth your spirit,* they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.
Stop. Believe in the Holy Spirit. Breathe in the Holy Spirit. It is more than air – more than oxygen – more than life – it is God – God’s breath – God’s life – in us, sustaining us, renewing us, and recreating us – renewing the face of the earth. Stop. Take a moment – breathe – let it renew you, today, right now. Amen.