24 May 2010

Winds of Change: In Us

Acts 1:3, 6-9 & Romans 8: 12-18

Pentecost/ 23rd May 2010

Winds of Change. The last two weeks we looked at the winds of change blowing through the world and the church. We identified some of the ways the Holy Spirit might be at work extending the presence of Christ in our time, reforming the church and the world. On this Pentecost Sunday we turn personal. We’ve looked outward the last two weeks, this week we turn inward to reflect upon the winds of change blowing in us because of the Spirit of the Risen Christ. Yes, the Spirit is in the world and in the church, but the Spirit also abides deep within us, closer than our breath. Perhaps when we’re more attentive to the movement of the Holy Spirit in the depths of our spirits, when we care for and cultivate this primary relationship, we might be better equipped to face all the changes and demands facing the church and the world today.

Romans 8: 12-18 is a good guide here. Although the opening verses of the text, where Paul talks about being debtors of the flesh and putting to death the “deeds of the body,” might sound confusing, if not Puritanical. When Paul refers to “flesh” he doesn’t mean our physical body; it’s his term for our natural existence, or human existence apart from God. Human existence divorced from God means to be of the flesh. Flesh is placed in contrast to Spirit, because the Spirit is the one who turns our natural lives, bound by sin and alienation from God, and transforms them into something new, lives that participate in the Spirit of Christ. Then we might come to see ourselves, “led by the Spirit of God” and thus God’s children. That’s the point here: it’s about change, transformation from one way of being to another, it’s about conversion —not once, but over and over and over again as the Spirit pulls us into the life of God.

He continues, “For you did not receive [from Christ] a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.” That is, in Christ we have been, and are, and ever more are being grafted into the life of God, adopted by God and called into God’s life. This is because, as the cross and resurrection made abundantly clear, God desires to be close to us and our heart’s deepest desire is to be close to God. It’s this connection between God and humanity and humanity and God that stands at the heart of the gospel. It’s why Paul wanted the Romans to know, as we find in the culmination of this sublime, majestic chapter eight, that, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, …nor powers, nor height, or depth, nor anything in all of creation, will be able to separate us form the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8: 38-39).” It’s the connection that matters, so that knowing in Christ we are very close to God we are able to cry out, “Abba! Father!” Abba means, “Daddy.” It’s a term of endearment, of intimacy – so intimate in fact that our human spirits can cry out to the Spirit of God. Indeed, as Paul suggests, it’s the Spirit who allows us to become like children again in the presence of God, crying out, trusting, and praising God. That’s what the Holy Spirit does.

While we have been playing around with the winds of change metaphor we have to remember that all metaphors breakdown, that is, they’re all inadequate. One of the weaknesses of the wind metaphor for the Holy Spirit is that it’s far too impersonal. The Holy Spirit is not a force; the Holy Spirit is not an “it.” When Jesus and Paul talk about the Holy Spirit, they describe a person, with characteristics and functions, who comes either alongside us or dwells within us in order to relate to us – face-to-face, the personhood of God to our personhood. You see, the Holy Spirit is God, the Holy Spirit is the personal agent of God’s relationship with us who not only draws us into a deeper relationship with Christ, but who then in and through our ongoing relationship with Christ changes us. That’s what happens when we face Christ; we’re changed and never left the same again. We’re changed, again and again, when the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit, our souls, our hearts, the depths of our being, the core of who we are and tells us who we are; and from the depth of those places we live out a profound relationship with Christ. To be baptized means that the Holy Spirit is at work in us, participating in us as, we participate in Christ. Christ is not some distant historical figure that we believe in; he’s a present historical presence who deals with us personally.(1)

While in God’s grace we’re accepted where we are, God never leaves us there, but takes us to somewhere else. Part of that journey treks out over the landscape of the human spirit. Listening to the voice of the Spirit to get direction includes listening within. Part of that journey includes discovering who God is and who we are – seeing ourselves as God’s children. Part of the journey is done through our relationships, with this community of faith, with our families. But the journey has to also take place within.

In the depths of the relationship we discover that God is ever seeking us as we are ever seeking God, driven by love. The Spirit through the depths of our spirits seeks to draw us deeper and deeper into relationship with God (which is what Jesus came to do). And in the relationship, through this love, we are indeed changed, transformed. For in love and through love Christ wishes to change us – not to make us into something we’re not, but wants us to see ourselves as the people he already knows us to be, that we might see something of what God sees; that we might be more authentic and real and honest about who we are as God’s own, that we might be more loving and just and forgiving and hopeful, that we might have the heart of God.

Life in the Spirit is about transformation – of deepening our capacity to love and to be loved. In love the Spirit is forever trying to nudge us or kick us out of ego-zones, that we might discover God in the other, that we might discover empathy. The Spirit pushes us to do things that we resist because of fear. The Spirit, in love, calls us to listen to the depths of our souls to give up living on the surface and challenges us to go deep. In love, the Spirit prays for us, companions us, walks beside us, like a friend, and takes us where we need to go – not where we necessarily want to go, but need to go to do God’s will. In love the Spirit gives us an experience of God – the reality of God, the mystery and wonder of God – and that’s what matters most in the church and the world. In love the Spirit helps us to remember who we are and whose we are and connects us with the Source of our Being.

Our confirmands this morning began their journey with a quote from Lewis Carroll’s, Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland (1865): “Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is, who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle!” Who in the world am I? Who in the world are you? That’s the great puzzle, whether one is 14, 44, or 84. Yet, we don’t solve the puzzle alone. This is what the Holy Spirit does in our lives. God knows who we are. The Spirit reminds us time and again, who we are and whose we are. Who in the world am I? Who are you? With the confirmands we can say, with the Apostle Paul we can say what Jesus came to show us once and for all: we are children of God. We are children of God!


Image: “Pentecost,” by online digital/fractal artist known as Jacqui “Purple Whirlpool.”

1. Cf. the quotation from the worship bulletin: “The personality of the Spirit is important for faith… because… in the Spirit meets us and deals with us personally. Without the personal work of the Spirit we could have Christ only as an impersonal memory. It is the living person of God, present in his Spirit, that unites us with Christ and through him deals personally with us.” George S. Hendry, The Holy Spirit in Christian Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1956), 42.

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