holy cross sermon for pentecost day, year c, may 19, 2013

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him…”

Happy Pentecost.  Today we celebrate the Lord’s gift of the Holy Spirit, whom the Lord promises will be with us forever.  And note that the promise of the Holy Spirit comes with an admonition:  if you love me, you will keep my commandments.

[The word for God’s spirit in Hebrew – ruach – means God’s breath, and so it signifies God’s own power and vitality.  We see this also in English, for example, in the word respiration, which is what we do when we breathe.  Likewise our word inspiration is what is breathed into a work.  When we say the Bible is “inspired” by God, we mean that God has breathed into this narrative his own power and vitality.]

For the past several weeks we have seen the unfolding of the Lord’s plan of salvation:  that the promises of the Old Testament are fulfilled in Jesus, and how he promises to those who love him, and who believe in him, that they will share his own divine life, and do what he gives them to do, preeminently bearing witness to the truth.

Today we turn to the substance of our empowerment in Christ: the gift of the Holy Spirit.  I want to take you on a tour of the Bible, looking at places in the OT and NT about God’s Spirit, and people inspired by the Spirit.  From there I will look at the REASON God bestows his Spirit.

Who is the Holy Spirit?  The Holy Spirit is there in the very beginning, in the very first part of the Bible:  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.  And God said Let there be light.

Also, in the Old Testament, the Psalmist cries out to God in repentance, begging to be made new, to be made holy, and that God not take away his Spirit.  Psalm 51 says: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.  Give me the joy of your saving help again, and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.  So the Holy Spirit is given to make us holy.

Isaiah the Prophet cries out in anguish when it seems that God has removed his Holy Spirit from his people, in the wake of Israel’s faithlessness and sin.  The prophet asks: “Where is he who brought up out of the sea the shepherds of his flock?  Where is he who put in the midst of them his Holy Spirit?….  Thy holy people possessed thy sanctuary a little while” and yet “our adversaries have trodden it down.  We have become like those over whom thou hast never ruled, like those who are not called by thy name.”

And Joel the Prophet looks forward to the coming of God’s redemption when he says: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men see visions.”  And we see this prophecy fulfilled in today’s reading from Acts.

Now I would like to tell you about two people at the opening of the New Testament, both of whom the Gospels say were filled with the Holy Spirit.  The first is the Blessed Virgin Mary, the second is Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.

First there is the Blessed Virgin, to whom the Angel Gabriel appears and says: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  And Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?”  And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”  And so one of Mary’s traditional titles is Spouse of the Holy Spirit, because the fruit of her womb was conceived by the Holy Spirit, though Mary was a Virgin.

Likewise a Jewish priest named Zachariah, who was the husband of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, and the father of John the Baptist.  And the angel Gabriel also appeared to Zechariah as he was offering sacrifice in the temple, and Gabriel tells Zechariah of the birth of his son John, and Zechariah is stuck dumb, and could not speak until after John was born.  And when John is born, Luke says “Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied,” and Zechariah spoke what has come down to us as the Gospel Canticle at Morning Prayer, the Benedictus, or the Song of Zechariah.  At the end of it, Zechariah speaks to his Son John saying:  you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people for the forgiveness of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, when the day shall dawn upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

And each of the Gospels opens by telling how John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, preaching repentance in the wilderness and baptizing the people.  It is as though John’s ministry occurred, in the cosmic order of things, in the darkness just before the dawning of the Messiah:  “when the day shall dawn upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

The Holy Spirit was given to Zechariah to  bear witness to the truth of what was about to take place in the coming of the Messiah, of Jesus Christ, who is Truth itself, God’s own Word made flesh in a profound mystery.

And indeed Mary not only bore witness to the truth, but was so yoked to the power of God and the Holy Spirit that she actually bore the truth… physically, in her body.  Truth took flesh from her flesh, and she literally gave birth to the Truth.

This is what the Holy Spirit does for those who are in Christ.  Just as the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters of chaos at the creation of the world, so the Spirit of God moves upon us in the waters of Baptism, making us a new creation, bringing order and light to the darkness and chaos of our former selves.

And just as the Holy Spirit was given to the Prophets of the Old Testament, to bear witness to the truth of God’s salvation in the coming of the Messiah, so God gives us his Holy Spirit to bear witness to the truth of salvation in Jesus Christ.

We see the Apostles doing just that at the first Pentecost which we read about in today’s reading from Acts: the Holy Spirit comes to them like the breath of God, like a rushing wind and tongues of flame, and they are empowered to go into the streets and bear witness to the truth of Jesus the Messiah, the salvation of God, for which creation groaned.

And just as Zechariah looked forward to the dawning of Salvation in the coming of Messiah, so are we now keeping vigil in the hours before a new dawn.  For as surely as the Lord came in the flesh some two thousand years ago, so he has promised that he is coming again with power and great glory to judge the living and the dead.  And, as Zechariah said, many around us today live in darkness and the shadow of death… and so we are called to bear witness to the truth of Christ, to the light of salvation, to be like John the Baptist:  preparing in the wilderness a highway for the second coming of our God…. to be like Mary, bearing the fruit of God’s redemption in our souls and bodies, loving Christ and keeping his commandments… so that the world may come to believe that the Father sent the Son, so that all may have life in his Name.  In your prayer, ask that God will fill you with his Holy Spirit, as he filled Zechariah and Mary and all his Holy Prophets, to bear witness to the truth of Salvation in Christ Jesus.

I close with the ancient prayer / hymn, Veni Creator Spiritus. This is a more literal translation than the one we are accustomed to:

Come, Creator, Spirit,
visit the souls of your own;
fill with heavenly grace
the hearts that you have created
You who are called Paraclete,
gift of the most high God,
living water, flame, charity,
and spiritual annointing;
You who are sevenfold in your gift,
finger of God’s right hand,
you who were rightly promised by the Father,
enrich our throats with speech.
Inflame the light of our senses,
pour love into our hearts,
the weakness of our bodies
strengthen with lasting power.
Drive the enemy far back,
and at once grant us peace;
with you going ahead of us,
may we avoid all harm.
Through you may we know the Father
and recognize the Son;
and may we always believe in you,
Spirit of both.  Amen.

Who is said to be given the HS in a special way?

1)  Mary.  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…”

2)  Elizabeth, who was “filled” with the HS, and says to Mary “blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”

3)  Zecchariah, father of J-Bap, who “prophesies” after becoming mute, as though the lord as saving his voice for bearing witness.  Zechariah speaks, saying “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he shall visit and redeem his people,” etc.  I.e. that God will send his salvation, and that his son, J-Bap, will bear witness to the dawn of God’s salvation.

4)  Simeon – a righteous man at Jerusalem, otherwise unknown, but known to God as yearning for the Messiah.  He bears witness to the truth: that Jesus is the salvation of God, a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Israel.

John 15:26  But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me;

John 14:26  But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

Mark 13:11  And when they bring you to trial and deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say; but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.

Luke 1:35  And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.

John 14:26  the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

Acts 1:8  But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses…

Acts 2:11  “…we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”

Romans 5:5  God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

Romans 14:17  righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit;

Romans 15:13  by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

1 Corinthians 6:18-20  Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body.  19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own;  20 you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

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About Fr Will

Fr Will Brown is rector of Holy Cross Dallas
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