A few Sundays ago at church, I was asked to welcome folks and introduce the topic for the day, which was the Holy Spirit. As with many things that we discuss, this particular subject is full of mystery, which also means it can be ripe for misunderstanding, divisiveness, and general grumping around. These types of differences are only amplified when you have a church that is both interdenominational and racially diverse. So I wanted to do my best to get us all started off together, and I find what’s usually best is to tell a story. This post is partly the story I told that day, plus a little bit more.
What comes to your mind when I say Holy Spirit? What words or images? What were you taught, growing up?
I was raised Lutheran, which is a liturgical denomination, so mostly what I remember about the Holy Spirit is that mentioned it in a creed every week. We said a little bit about what we believed about the Father, and a little about the Son, and then we said;
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Christian church
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins…
You’ll notice there is no real explanation there; it’s a list of things we believe in. I also remember that at certain times of the year, we would hang beautiful banners sewn with images of flames and doves that represented the Holy Spirit.
I’m sure I was taught more, but that’s what I came away with, I think. Beautiful banners, and a creed with his name.
And then I went to school in Texas, where I found a church that was quite a bit farther out on the charismatic end of things. It was the first time I ever saw anyone raise their hands in worship. It was the first time I ever saw people dance during the singing – and I don’t mean just dancers on the stage, I mean whoever wanted to, out in the pews. We had a sign that said “No Dancing in the Balcony” because they were afraid it was going to fall down.
It was the first time I ever saw people come down front to get prayed for, get “slain in the Spirit.” Every once in a while, someone would speak in tongues. Maybe someone else would interpret.
Much of this was slightly terrifying for a girl who grew up in a church where you only stand and sit and speak when the pastor tells you to. But it was also this gift, of seeing a whole different side of what people mean when they talk about the Holy Spirit.
I think what is true for me is true for you – we all have been taught (or not taught) things about the Holy Spirit. It’s this mysterious thing that most of us don’t know quite what to do with. Which brings me to a couple of verses from Acts, chapter 2. The first is verse 17:
In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
It’s this beautiful picture, and the whole first part of the chapter is full of those kinds of images: dreams and visions, prophecies, wind, flame. And then you get to the last paragraph in the chapter – a description of what the early church was like at this same time:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
I love that in this one chapter that is all about the Holy Spirit, you get these descriptions of things that we would call supernatural – but also the picture of these very mundane, everyday activities of the early church – and both of them, the supernatural and the everyday, are filled with things we can’t explain. People having everything in common, and selling their possessions to give to those who need it? That’s as astounding as any vision or prophecy, if you ask me.
I think it says something.
I think it means that the Holy Spirit is equally as present in the stitching and casseroles and potlucks that the little church I grew up in was so good at – and in the exuberant singing and prayer and worship of the church I went to later. I think it means that if I am looking, I will see wonders, I will be filled with awe. If I am listening, noticing, ready to act – who knows what might happen?
And while there is much I still don’t understand about the Spirit, I do know this: that I want my life to bear witness, that it would be clear what I was devoted to. That I would be known as a dreamer, a speaker of truth, someone who ate and drank with a glad and sincere heart.
Someone who praised God, who was outrageously generous, who was willing to have everything in common with other believers.
That last sentence might have been the hardest one to type, mostly because I frantically want to make disclaimers about who actually qualifies as another believer (yes, I know. I’m the definition of missing the point). Certainly all of the sentences are easier to type than to actually live. Which I suppose brings me right back around to the Spirit, and my daily prayer for this season, which is that I would see him work.
Because I really want to.
What about you?