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So what is the Holy Spirit… and should I care?

This is Pentecost Sunday when we celebrate the birth of the Christian Church.  Today our scriptures tell the story of the Holy Spirit.  For those closest to Jesus, this gift had huge implications.  They needed assurance that Jesus wasn’t abandoning them.  They wondered how they could move forward in life without him.

Too often in our time the Holy Spirit has been used by charismatic and evangelical Christians as a kind of sorting tool to separate the saved from the unsaved.  This, as we shall soon see, is an unfortunate misreading of scripture.  The Holy Spirit is intended to unify us and equip us to do the work of Christ in the world in every generation.  Let us listen carefully to God’s word.

Romans 8:26-27

Have you ever been so happy, so angry, so afraid that you can’t get a word out?  Those are the exact moments when we can count on the Holy Spirit to speak the words of our souls.  The Holy Spirit helps us to understand how God remains present, compassionate and understanding of the real world, and its challenges.

26Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. 27He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God.


John 16:12-15

This passage addresses the question so many people ask:  Does Jesus have anything to say to our world today?  The Holy Spirit is the way that Jesus stays active and relevant in every generation….not locked in the ancient past.  In part, Jesus stays active in our homes, workplaces and communities when we allow the Holy Spirit to guide our actions.

12“I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t handle them now. 13But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is. He won’t draw attention to himself, but will make sense out of what is about to happen and, indeed, out of all that I have done and said. 14He will honor me; he will take from me and deliver it to you. 15Everything the Father has is also mine. That is why I’ve said, ‘He takes from me and delivers to you.’


Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.


Sermon – “So what is the Holy Spirit… and should I care?”

As the United Church of Canada entered the 21st century there was a call to try and express what our faith is in this time not an expression of faith for all time.

It’s a bit like a snapshot of our faith – not a documentary that covers all 90 years of our history but a look at our faith NOW.

The result was the “Song of Faith” – approved by the General Council of the United Church of Canada in 2006.

It reads far more like lyrics or poetry than a statement of doctrinal faith or a creed.

What is the Holy Spirit for us UCC folk?

We are disinclined to be overly exuberant about the Holy Spirit.

We don’t “slay people in the Spirit.”

We don’t require people to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour and Lord – then speak in tongues.

So what do we believe?

Soon after my ordination, I read a book that has always stuck in my mind – it was by a young Presbyterian professor at Fuller Seminary in California, Dale Brurer.

The book was called: The Holy Spirit: Shy Member of the Trinity. He reasoned, it is a terrific relief to know that we can be normal, fallible, faltering, struggling Christians and still be filled with the Holy Spirit. It is not necessary for us to “glow in the dark” in order to be God’s servants. He noted that in recent years some theologians have spoken of the Holy Spirit as the “Cinderella of the Holy Trinity.” What the church needs, he said, is not a Spirit-centeredness. What the church needs is that we might become overwhelmed again, thrilled again, excited again by the wonder and majesty and relevance of Jesus Christ. He said, “The Holy Spirit does not mind being Cinderella outside the ballroom, if the Prince is honoured inside His kingdom!” Not witnesses to the Holy Spirit, but witnesses to Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit does not mind being neglected just so long as Jesus Christ is not. Conversely, wherever Christ is lifted up in the sermon, song, or sacrament, the Holy Spirit is present!

So let’s look at the 4 stanzas in the “Song of Faith” that speak of the Holy Spirit.

And so we sing of God the Spirit,

Who from the beginning has swept over the face of creation,

Animating all energy and matter

And moving in the human heart.

We sing of God the Spirit,

Faithful and untameable,

Who is creatively and redemptively active in the world.

The Spirit challenges us to celebrate the holy

Not only in what is familiar,

But also in that which seems foreign.


We sing of the Spirit,

who speaks our prayers of deepest longing

and enfolds our concerns and confessions,

transforming us and the world.


At the heart our “song” proclaims that the holy Spirit is one with God – the God of creative power – the God of compassionate forgiveness – the God of healing transformation.


The Holy Spirit = how we discern God active and engaged in every aspect of our lives and our world.


The Holy Spirit = the assurance that even when we are so overwhelmed we don’t know what to pray…  the yearnings of our hearts, the concerns of our minds – will find clear, precise expression in our prayers to God.

After weeks of trying to communicate through gestures and the odd word of Spanish and Portugese – I have a greater appreciation for the Holy Spirit as a communicator with God.


Sarah Heinrich, who teaches New Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., has said of the promise of Jesus to send an “advocate:”

The future is open. It requires our discernment, our listening, watching for, and trusting that God will continue to reveal Godself through the Spirit of Truth. We, along with the eleven, can trust that the God Jesus has shown us is the God still at work for our illumination and strength to persist. We dare to humbly acknowledge that there may still be truths that we are not able to bear, and that God accompanies us along the way.

Categories: Sermons