May 26, 2019

2019 May26


Easter 6 - Year C

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

At the beach the other day, there was a kid with a kite. He was no taller than 3ft, probably 6 years old max. He was very, very little and young. His kite wasn’t big. It was a colorful dragonfly. What was remarkable was that he had about 100yds on that kite. All by himself, without an adult guiding him, he was adeptly handling his spool of string, making sure the kite stayed in the air as he let out the dragonfly higher and higher. The wind had brought the dragonfly to life! And the small boy had a role in that.

 

In our understanding of our
faith, it is the Holy Spirit who
brings inanimate objects to life.

 

Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit will be sent to us:

 

“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.”

 

The life-giving Holy Spirit comes in several guises in the Bible, appearing as early as Genesis ch1 v2:

 

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 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.”

 

The Holy Spirit appears in Jesus’ earthly ministry as early as Mark ch1 v10:

 

“And just as He was coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on Him.”

 

The Holy Spirit appears in the ministry of The Apostles in Acts 2:2-4:

 

“And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”

 

What exactly, then, or who is the
Holy Spirit?

 

The 3 most common symbols of the Holy Spirit are Wind, a Dove and Fire. Wind is mostly used in the Old Testament, except in the story of the Day of Pentecost, which I just read. The Dove is often associated with Baptism and symbolism in Christian art. The Dove is also in the Old Testament when, 7 days after the 40 days and 40 nights, the Dove brings back an olive branch, indicating that there is dry land after the Flood. Fire is almost exclusively associated with that Feast of Pentecost. Though, fire engulfed the Burning Bush, without consuming it, as a manifestation of God to Moses; and a pillar of fire led the Israelites in the wilderness during The Exodus.

 

Exploring these symbols may help us understand how the Holy Spirit works in the world and in our lives.

 

  • A Dove is a modern secular symbol of peace.
  • Fire both then and now is associated with purification; or refining.
  • Wind is often association with creation and creative powers.

The Dove as a symbol of peace seems to date back to the Early Christians – but peace of the soul rather than peace within society. The use of a Dove and olive branch was used in Early Christian Art for the Baptism of Jesus, and also used the image on sepulchers. More recently, the post-WW2 World Peace Council in 1949 chose Picasso’s La Colombe (The Dove) as their emblem.

 

Purification by Fire is as old as Fire itself. Fire is used to purify metals, separating out the impurities and turning ore into the pure elemental metal so it can be used for manufactured products. Fire also heals. Applying Fire to wounds cauterizes them, which stops bleeding and prevents infection.

 

But Wind might be the most interesting. In both Biblical Greek and Hebrew, the words pneuma and rûah, respectively, refer to wind, moving air, breeze or breath. Not only at Creation did this wind come from God, but recall the re-animation and coming to life of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37. Like that kite at the beach, the bones were given life. But distinct from the meteorological wind and the Holy Spirit, the kite was simply animated, and the bones were brought back to a renewed life. In Ancient Hebrew, the word for Spirit – rûah – became a term for life itself.

 

So, the Holy Spirit manifests
Himself/Herself/Itself to us as a
Dove, flames of Fire and Wind.
The Spirit also assists us in
manifesting our faith.

 

Biblically, and very much in Paul’s writings, the Spirit is associated with believing, loving, or hoping, or in gifts, such as prophecy, teaching, and healing. We also read in the Bible about the ‘work of the Spirit’ in all of Creation. To this day, the work of the Spirit is within our own community in the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Baptism, and in our Sacramental Rites such as Confirmation, Ordination and Marriage. The Holy Spirit is at work within each of us, quietly and privately, in our prayer and worship, fasting and generous giving of time, talent, treasure and love.

 

In John, though, the Spirit’s work is not confined to the human individual. John insists that the Gift of the Spirit – the Spirit as a Gift, rather than Paul's Gifts of the Spirit or Spiritual Gifts – is only given or imparted upon the Church after the glorification of Jesus – His Resurrection. The Spirit, along with Baptism and the Eucharist, guide the Church and remain with it, as evidenced only a few sentences before today’s Gospel. In John 14:17, Jesus declares that the Spirit abides within the Disciples – and by extension, the Church – because they Spirit will be sent to them by God the Father.

 

But let’s go back to Wind. The Spirit as Wind is important. Meteorological wind, as humans experience it, is mostly destructive. Just this last week, a series of tornadoes ripped through Missouri, destroying whole towns. Also this week, NOAA predicted that the 2019 hurricane season will bring destruction to the Eastern Seaboard 9 to 15 times in the form of named hurricanes and tropical storms.

 

The Holy Spirit as a Wind or a Breath that is breathed into us, like the storms, is not neutral or uninvolved. She/He/It is always at work in the world and in our lives. This means that we must allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives and in this parish church for the good of ourselves, for the good of the community and the world, and for the Good of the Gospel.

 

The Spirit breathes into us the proclamation of the Word, the understanding of doctrine, and the ability to imitate or channel Jesus and the lives of the Saints. The Spirit empowers our knowledge of Jesus Christ. The Spirit is distinct from what we experience in the created realm: kosmos or “world,” scotia or “darkness,” sarx or “flesh”. The Wind that is the Spirit is lifting us beyond these concrete experiences, and gives us insight into Heaven, Light and Soul.

 

The kite at the beach was a glimpse into understanding more than World, Darkness or Flesh, and encountering Heaven, Light and Soul. This flimsy collection of polyester pieces is of this world, and are limp (or dark), and represent simple flesh, not life. But the Wind animates the kite, lifting it to the heavens, toward the light of the Sun and giving it a fleeting soul.

 

The Spirit pointing us toward Heaven, Light and Soul, rather than World, Darkness and Flesh should give us hope for our less-than-heavenly activities on Earth. In Genesis 1, it is the Spirit who creates. However, in Genesis 2, it is man who co-creates with God. That ability to create is part of our own creation. But so is the ability to destroy. As humanity continues to spoil and destroy Creation, it will be through the agency of the Holy Spirit that the Earth is recreated and transformed.

 

We are not passive bystanders in the Church’s receiving of the Holy Spirit. We have been given the gifts to create, bring peace and purify or heal. So, we must always be discerning the ways we are called to express those activities in our community.

 

  • How does your relationship with God enable you to create?
  • How does it help you be at peace?
  • In what was does your relationship purify you?
  • How are you actively participating in the work of the Holy Spirit to create, promote peace and purify and heal in this place?


At the end of John’s Gospel, in John 20:21-22, Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to the Disciples in a very Old Testament way:

 

Jesus said to them again,
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.”

 

Jesus imparts the Spirit to the Disciples and to us as breath or Wind, recalling the creative forces of the Spirit in Genesis. And it is through the Spirit that we come alive and through which we do our own creating.

 

It is all of this stuff that the Holy Spirit does for us, and Jesus has sent us the Holy Spirit. What are we now to do? Doing nothing is not an option. In the Collect, we make a plea to God to:

 

“Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire.”

 

We cannot do this though only human means.

 

We need the power of the Holy
Spirit to guide and enable us.

 

Like the kid with the kite at the beach, we have a role to play in the Holy Spirit bringing to life the will of God in this place. We are to receive and utilize the Wind, the Dove and the Flames to create, to promote peace and to purify and heal the hearts of many that they be open to the Gospel and to the Love of God.

© 2019 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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