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"We Believe in the Holy Spirit," or, "I've come here today to tell you about my walk with Jesus."

 is the sermon I preached on Pentecost Sunday, here:

This Sunday is the Sunday we celebrate Pentecost, the fiftieth day after Easter, and the day set aside in the church year to focus on the Holy Spirit.

And so today is a good day to take a look at the Holy Spirit, and the role of the Holy Spirit in our life.

Each Sunday we stand and say what we believe about the Holy Spirit when we say the Nicene Creed: we say “we believe in the Holy Spirit.”

Notice that we do not say, “we believe THAT THERE IS a Holy Spirit,” but “we believe IN the Holy Spirit.”

“We believe in the Holy Spirit.” Those are important words for us to say…as individuals and as a faith community.

I remember when I was young, maybe a sophomore or junior in high school, and I having a lot of questions about my faith, but still going to church most every Sunday, there was a time I just stopped saying the Nicene Creed because I wasn’t really sure I believed it.

One Sunday my mom noticed I was not saying the words and after church she asked why. I said I wasn’t sure I did believe all those things we say in the creed…it felt insincere, I told her, it almost felt like I was lying.

She said something to the effect of,

“well, maybe that’s why it says “we believe” instead of “I believe…” because whether or not on any particular Sunday YOU can say “I believe” these things, enough people around you you can always say “we believe,” and mean it, because we believe, whether or not you happen to.”  

Hm! Kinda changes the way you say the creed, doesn’t it?

We, the faith community gathered, stand up and say that of all the things and people and causes…of all the spirits in the spirit world, we believe in the HOLY spirit.

Sunday by Sunday, we stand up and say that of all the things we can believe in…all the little-g-gods and little-l-lords competing for our attention, our allegiance, our loyalty, we believe in the holy spirit is Lord.

Of all the things that promise to give meaning, of all the causes and purposes out there, we stand and say “we believe in the Holy Spirit as the giver of life…it is the Holy Spirit that animates us, it is the Holy Spirit that drives us, enlivens us.

Let’s be specific: in a church, in this church, hospitality and outreach and good worship, and preaching are important, but without the Holy Spirit, those are just ways of being polite and helpful and pretty and thoughtful. 

But look at what happens when the Holy Spirit gets a hold of each of those areas.

Hospitality: the Holy Spirit turns coffee hours or funeral receptions from occasions of idle chitchat into occasions where people feel they have encountered the love and tenderness of God himself.

Outreach: the Holy Spirit turns the outreach we do fromnoblesse oblige” – a [patronizing, superior, we/they] spirit of “let’s help those poor people because we have so much and they have so little” – to encounters where our lives are transformed and our spirits lifted because we gone to find Jesus where he told us he could be found: in the eyes of the hungry, thirsty, lonely, ill-clothed, sick, and the imprisoned.

Worship: without the Holy Spirit, this is “a beautiful church” where you, as a kind of audience, watch liturgy, listen to music and prayers. 

With the Holy Spirit, YOU are a beautiful church. You don’t “go to church,” you are the church, gathered in this building, doing liturgy. It is the Holy Spirit, who – in the words of Eucharistic prayer C – delivers us from the presumption of coming to this table for “solace only, and not for strength, for pardon only, and not for renewal.”

The reason your presence is important here Sunday by Sunday is 1) you bring some of the Holy Spirit with you each Sunday and so “the church” is less church without you, and 2) if worship is going to have an impact on the rest of our week…if we’re going to be filled with the Holy Spirit all week long, then we need to think of worship not as a glaze, but a marinade…and we need to keep soaking ourselves in the love and tenderness of God.


The reading we’ve heard from the Book of Acts recalls the story of the first disciples gathered in Jerusalem, and all of a sudden a sound, like the rush of wind, enters the room, and tongues of fire dart around the room as well. The disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak.

Because this was a time of pilgrimage to Jerusalem many people – from all over that part of the world, an international crowd – is gathered.

And they all hear what the disciples are saying in their own language. There’s only one message – God’s deeds of power – but everyone understands in their own language, as if they were all wearing those earpieces you see at meetings of the United Nations, allowing everyone to hear one speech in their own language.

That’s what the Holy Spirit does during preaching and teaching.

I want to tell you again one of my favorite stories, which – I believe – has to do with the Holy Spirit…

It’s the story told about a missionary and his professor friend. There’s a missionary who’d been assigned to some far remote country. He’s in this village, hundreds of miles away from electricity or running water, serving this community. He has a friend back home who is a college professor. The college professor keeps inviting himself to come out and preach at the missionary’s church but the missionary keeps putting him off because – while he knows his friend to be a nice man and intelligent man – he also happens to be a very dull, boring speaker.

But the professor insists, and finally the missionary surrenders and agrees to let him come out. He schedules him for a Sunday he hopes would be a very low attendance Sunday. But word gets out in the village that the beloved missionary’s friend is coming all the way from the United States, so this must be special, so unfortunately, the day of the professor’s visit, the church is packed…much more than any other Sunday before.

So it comes time for the sermon. And sure enough: the professor steps into the pulpit and the very first words out of his mouth are,

“In the history of human reasoning, there have been two types of logic: inductive logic, and deductive logic…”

The translator looks up at the professor…looks out at the congregation (and there chickens and children, rolling around in the dirt)…looks back up at the professor…and the translator says,

“I’ve come here today to tell you about my walk with Jesus!”

And the professor preaches one sermon -- with the translator preaching a whole different sermon.   

Well, something like that – something very much like that! – goes on each and every Sunday with the Holy Spirit:

Kate or I are up here “bla, bla, waa, waa, waa,” and the Holy Spirit is going, “oh no, I love these people too much!…and starts translating: into as many ears and hearts and souls as there are people in the congregation.  

(And it’s not just us: ask almost any preacher, they’ll tell you…this is why, at the end of church, I’ll be standing back there shaking hands after having preached some sermon about, say, the architecture of the Jerusalem temple, and someone will come up with tears in his or her eyes and say, “thank you, John, for that sermon, I will call my sister!”)

“How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?, in our own languages we hear about God’s deeds of power.”

And a similar dynamic takes place with Bible Study. This is a good time for me to point out the “meet the Bible Challenge” invitation in your announcement sheet.

It’s an invitation to read the Bible cover to cover in one year’s time, along with others who are doing the same. And to do so in such a way that the readings are broken up, so you’re reading different books and psalms so no one day has too much to read and the readings stay interesting. It starts tomorrow, you can join Bishop Johnston and hundreds of others who are taking this challenge as a way to become more familiar with the Bible…

…and more importantly to have the Bible become more a part of our everyday life.

Because I promise you that something like that Holy-Spirit-translating-story happens when we open the pages of Scripture.

There are words there that become more than words…with regular reading, you’ll be amazed at how something you needed to hear that day is what the day’s reading happens to be. It’s the Holy Spirit, who inspired the pages and wants to inspire – in –spire, in-spirit, en-liven, give life, to you.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.

We, the church gathered, say that of all the things and people and causes…of all the spirits in the spirit world, we believe in the HOLY spirit.

Of all the things we can believe in…all the little-g-gods and little-l-lords competing for our attention, our allegiance, our loyalty, we believe in the holy spirit is Lord.

Of all the things that promise to give meaning, of all the causes and purposes out there, we stand and say “we believe in the Holy Spirit as the one who animates us, drives us, enlivens us…gives us life.


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