This is the season of Pentecost. In the Christian Year this marks the Church’s birthday. The Church is actually 1980 - that is - 2009 AD less 29 AD - the year Jesus died - a historical fact corroborated by and in Roman history records.
Not many people know or understand who and what the Holy Spirit is. The Holy Spirit is the interactive aspect of the living God. The Holy Spirit is God’s person, nature and power reaching out to accomplish things in the lives of humans. In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit first of all is the agent of creation and life as we know it. The Holy Spirit comes upon Samson and gives him extraordinary strength. The Holy Spirit gives the prophet Samuel while still a boy - spiritual wisdom beyond his years. The Holy Spirit transforms Saul from an introverted self-conscious man into a warrior king but when he loses his way spiritually, he is left powerless and is defeated in battle. Elijah is filled with the Holy Spirit and defeats God’s enemies by demonstrating God’s real presence in power. David is filled with the Holy Spirit to act wisely and generously though he is capable of serious wrong-doing simultaneously. Solomon is given supernatural wisdom to judge and rule. The great prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel write down their thoughts on our relationship with God through the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus was baptised by John, the Holy Spirit came upon Him. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and the Christian community and the Church was born. Paul was baptised in the Holy Spirit and began his life of devotion to the Risen Jesus. Thereafter, in every generation, the Holy Spirit has come upon ordinary men and women and children and enabled them to complete extraordinary work for the risen Jesus making Christianity into what it is today throughout our world.
The Holy Spirit works in different ways in the lives of different people. You might say that Billy Graham the evangelist was given the gifts and powers of evangelism attracting huge crowds to his meetings. The poet George Herbert (1593 -1633) however, lived a very quiet life of piety as an Anglican priest but he left behind beautiful Christian poetry, for example:
Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.
'A guest,' I answer'd, 'worthy to be here:'
Love said, 'You shall be he.'
'I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.'
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
'Who made the eyes but I?'
'Truth, Lord; but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not,' says Love, 'Who bore the blame?'
'My dear, then I will serve.'
'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat.'
So I did sit and eat.
For St Paul confessing that ‘Jesus is Lord’ was sufficient evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life. Can you make that confession of faith? Can you actually say so? To someone? We have many inarticulate members of our churches. That release - that testimony - those words - are important though. ‘Jesus is Lord’. Paul also recognised different evidences of the presence of the Holy Spirit in someone’s life. In 1 Corinthians he lists wisdom, knowledge, healing, miraculous powers, preaching, spiritual discernment, speaking in tongues. He goes on from that to talk about faith, hope and love.
In John’s 1st Letter 4:7f we find something similar. 'If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in Him and he in God'. In these verses, the presence of the Holy Spirit comes down to love. 'Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love God does not know God, because God is love...No-one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us'.
John goes on to say 'there is no fear in love'. He was talking about fear of death and of judgement and of eternity - fear of meeting God - facing Jesus Christ. I often meet people who, when struggling with illness and the possibility of death show real fear and uncertainty - of what is to happen and of what is to come - sooner or later - inevitably. There are humble people who do not think of themselves as very Christian and who therefore may lack confidence in salvation. There are others who have not found a certainty of personal faith even though they have believed in God all their lives. There are many who have not had a specific moment of conversion or a definite encounter with Jesus Christ.
There are assuredly convinced Christians who give the impression that they are definitely going to heaven but say so in a way that comes over as arrogant and exclusive. Some have a way of making others feel like 2nd class Christians. Some denominations and Christian groups have a tendency to act like that sometimes. It always comes over badly if we give the impression that we are excluding others from God’s love and mercy.
The problem then is whether there is any need to be or distinction in being a Christian at all. Why bother? Is there no difference in the end? Many people inside and outside the Church speak in terms of folk religion when someone close to them has died. She’s looking down on us for sure - he’ll be up there - the life and soul of the party. It is part of the human psyche to think of loved ones continuing in some form of existence which is better than the one they have just had on earth. She is at peace - his suffering is over. There is no great evidence to support these wishful things though they may be true indeed. People find their own consolation in such thoughts without thinking critically about what they are saying.
John is saying something very different. 'God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him….There is no fear in love…perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love'. The Christian writer Jeff Lucas says, 'If our daily impression of God is that he is trembling with anticipation, just waiting to smite us, then we won’t be motivated to much obedience. After all, if he is consistently angry with us anyway, then what’s the point? God loves you. Ask him to help you believe it and know it'.
So - this too is evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life - the love of God and the love of others. You can be filled with the love of God in being filled with the Holy Spirit. This is an enabling power of love. It is unnatural because it overcomes inhibitions and human nature’s selfishness. Richard Dawkins wrote a book called 'The Selfish Gene’. He could not write a book called ‘The Unselfish Gene’. The love evidenced in Jesus Christ is divine self-giving love. It is very different from the human species love that the Romans had for their families or the pagans for theirs. Nazi commanders at Auschwitz were family men. Stalin’s apparatchiks had children and grandchildren too.
Christianity exists because it has always offered something extra, something better, something beyond human capacities. Tap into the huge resource of the Holy Spirit. It is there for you. We are warmed in the inner soul and filled with joy. Our heritage has not made us think too much that way but we can live an entire Christian life without the fullness of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives. No need! If you look carefully or if someone looks for you - you will find evidence of the Holy Spirit in your life. Be encouraged and be blessed.