Sunday, September 25, 2011

I Believe in the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:1-7,11-16)

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and on Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, on faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Today we are finishing up a three-part series on the Apostles’ Creed called “I Believe.” For the last three weeks, we have looked at the three major clauses of the Creed and are really wrestling with what we mean when we say, “I Believe.” We are focusing on this particular creed because it is a statement of belief that, for the last 1300 years, has been affirmed by nearly all Christians as containing the most essential aspects of Christian belief and understanding.

When we say that we believe in something, we are saying more than that we have certain thoughts about it or think certain things about it or hold certain things to be true about it. To believe means that we place our trust in it, we lean into it, we put our weight on it, we stake our claim on it.

Over the last two weeks we have explored our belief in God the Father and in Jesus Christ, the first and second clauses of the creed. This week, we turn our attention to the Holy Spirit, which, when you think about it, is something we should be doing every week! May we pray.

I believe in the Holy Spirit

The third and final clause of the Apostles’ Creed used to be quite confusing to me. It starts “I believe in the Holy Spirit” and then offers a whole list of other things we affirm we believe in. All of these things seemed rather random and disconnected to me – sorta like the Creed’s junk drawer – the place where a bunch of things got stuck because nobody knew where else to put them.

I remember exams in college and grad school – timed exams where you had to spew forth whatever you knew into one of those little blue books. On multiple-part questions I would carefully craft an answer to one part, and then realize that I only had 20 minutes left and hadn’t answered the last two parts of the question. That’s where grammar and word choice go out the window; you just furiously write down everything you can think of, make lists, use bullet points and get as much information as you can on the paper before time expires.

I used to think that’s sorta what happened with the last part of the Apostles’ Creed. It was like the crafters of the Creed had spilled so much ink fleshing out what they believed about Jesus – 65 words just on that middle section – that they realized they were running out of time and still had some other beliefs to get down, and just opened the theological junk drawer, dumped everything out and said, “Make a list, make a list!”

That, of course, is what I thought before I realized that all the things described in the last clause of the Apostles’ Creed – the church, communion of saints, forgiveness, resurrection, and everlasting life – all of those things are actually describing the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the world. Of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is the one with whom Christians since just after the time of Jesus should have the most interaction, and yet the Holy Spirit is the one that we seem to know and understand the least.

Friends, if we don’t have the Holy Spirit, we’re not going anywhere. Without the Holy Spirit, we are like a bunch of friends sitting in a beautiful car with a supped-up engine and no gas. I don’t care how nice the car is, how powerful the engine, how good the friends on the journey are – if we don’t have any gas, we’re not going anywhere. Likewise, a church without the Holy Spirit is like a car without any gas.

Through the Holy Spirit, God remains really present with us on earth. When Jesus ascended into heaven, he promised to leave the Holy Spirit with us as God’s continuing ongoing presence. So anything that we know or experience of God – God the Father or Jesus Christ the Son – is experienced through the Holy Spirit.

Can you remember where in our sanctuary is a constant reminder of the tremendous power and enduring presence of the Holy Spirit? The red banner on the east wall reminds us of the Holy Spirit, who appeared in the Scriptures as a dove, as fire, and as wind. The Holy Spirit is the wind beneath our wings, the passionate fire in our belly, the gas in our tank. My hope is that every time you enter this sanctuary and see that Holy Spirit banner, you say a quick and simple prayer – “Come Holy Spirit: fill my heart.”

Our spiritual health is directly tied to the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. I can stand up here and preach all sorts of things – values, what you should do and shouldn’t do, how you should treat other people, how you should attend church regularly and give ten percent of your income to the church’s ongoing work, and those are all good things and things we should do and things the Bible tells us to do – I could tell you to do all those things, but what matters most is not what someone tells us to, but the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

Granted, if we open ourselves up and invite the Holy Spirit to come and dwell in our hearts, we are signing up for an unpredictable adventure. If you like a life where everything is neat, orderly, under control, respectable, and predictable, you’re gonna be very uncomfortable with a Spirit-filled life. Just remember that saying “No, thanks” to the Holy Spirit is the same thing as saying, “No, thanks” to God, so think carefully about that.

The scary thing about inviting the Holy Spirit into our lives is that we don’t know what will happen. We’re giving up control! God will do things in us we never would have chosen to do on our own. I, for example, never wanted to be a pastor. It’s the last thing I would have done had the decision been up to me. But, I made the mistake of asking for God’s direction in my life, and opening my heart to the movement of the Holy Spirit, and I said, “Lord, I am no longer my own, but yours. So, do what YOU want with my life.”

Just recognize that you’re playing with fire when you really, truly, authentically give your entire life over to God and invite the Holy Spirit in. When the Holy Spirit blows into our lives with wind and fire, he has a tendency of blowing away and burning up things to which we have become overly attached. He blows in other things, and out of the ashes of what was, new things rise to life. We get blown places we might not have gone, do things we might not have done, and think things we might not have thought, for no reason other than that’s where the Holy Spirit led us, and for that reason alone, it’s all good.

When you say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit,” did you realize you were opening yourself up to all that?

The holy catholic church

We also place our belief in the holy catholic church. Does anyone here want to take a guess how many churches there are in the world? If you add up all the congregations, all the denominations and non-denominations, all those Christian communities that currently are and that ever have been and ever will be in the future – if you add all of them up, does anyone want to wager a guess about how many churches there are? One. Just one. There are not churches, there is only One Church – it just happens to have many different locations in a neighborhood near you for your convenience.

For example, I am a Bank of America customer. No matter what branch I walk into, which ATM I use, I can bank at any of these places because they are all simply different locations of one bank. Likewise, all the different Christian congregations – regardless of their size, their denomination, their theology – are all part of ONE Church. The word “catholic” means “universal,” and it refers to all congregations, everywhere, Protestant, Roman Catholic, non-denominational, who are part of the ONE Church.

The way you can tell this ONE Church is its unity, and unity is a gift from the Holy Spirit. In the text from Ephesians we read today, we heard these words: “Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

Therefore, a church that is filled with the Holy Spirit will be one that makes every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. A church that is filled with the Holy Spirit won’t be given to quarrelling, divisions, factions, gossip, or anything else that claws at the unity God desires and intends for the Church.

The communion of saints

We further affirm our belief in the communion of saints. Our lives are woven together in a beautiful, and complex tapestry, the thread of one person’s life cannot be removed without touching the thread of many others. For those whose thread has made the entire piece a closer reflection of the world God intends, we call one such person a saint, and that could refer to anyone. “If anyone is in Christ, new creation!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Certainly, anyone who is in Christ, anyone who is participating in God’s new creation, is a saint.

For Christians, death is not the end of the story, for even death shall not separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). Death shall not separate the saints, who are in Christ, from each other, for no part of the body of Christ is separated from any other part of the body. We have unity, communion with the whole body of Christ, whether saints on earth or saints who have gone on to the Church Triumphant. Within that great cloud of witnesses, we have a lot of friends and allies and brothers and sisters who are cheering us on in the faith, including many who were dear to us, and a whole bunch we have never known.

The forgiveness of sins

The Creed goes on, and it says, I believe in the forgiveness of sins. If you know the creation story in the book of Genesis, you know how things started. God said, "let us make humankind in our own image and likeness (aka: like God)" and then did it and called it good. Satan said, "if you eat this fruit, you will be like God." Satan tempts us by convincing us we have to earn what we have already been given freely by God.

Right there is the start of sin. At the start, God made us a certain way, and God called it good. It was good for a few important reasons: 1.) God created it good, 2.) God created us like God, and 3.) God created us for a lifetime of perpetual fellowship with God and each other. You add all that up, and that’s a good arrangement. Where we went wrong was our desire to improve God’s original design, and that just messed up everything.

We call that mess-up “sin,” although the best theological phrase I’ve heard for it is “the big oops.” The Bible, in its broadest terms, describes sin as a “condition of separation from God.” The early church fathers described our human wills as curvatas, meaning they are curved or bent away from God.

That condition of being bent away from God – a sin condition, leads us to do things that are damaging to our relationship with God, others, and ourselves, and we call those things “sins.” The Greek word that is often translated as “sin” is the word hamartia, a term from archery, meaning “to miss the mark.” Again, thinking of our wills as being bent away from God, you can see how that would cause us to miss the mark.

The good news is that God desires for us to be restored to the way God created us in the first place, and the Holy Spirit makes possible the forgiveness of sins. “Forgive” is a relational term – it means to make things right, to restore, to reconcile. The Holy Spirit first corrects our curvatas, our bent-ness away from God and lines our will back up with God’s will. The result is that we no longer miss the mark because our lives are lined up with God.

The resurrection of the body

The affirmation that we believe in the resurrection of the body has less to do with believing in the resurrection of Christ than in the firm conviction that what God did in the lifeless body of Jesus, God will do in us, as well. We serve a resurrected Lord, and we are called to live resurrected lives. What that means is we expect the Holy Spirit to work a real change within us, to transform something of us from death into life, from despair into hope, from a dead-end into a brand-new beginning.

Christians are not called to accept the status quo in some ho-hum way, we are called to live transformed lives of hope, because even when it seems that all is dark and lost, the central message of our faith is that God does God’s best work in cemeteries. I believe in the resurrection of the body because I’ve seen it all around. When I see hate give way to love, bigotry give way to embrace, violence give way to peace, I see resurrection. When I see the addict begin the road to recovery, the brokenness within families begin the path of healing, I see resurrection. Friends, resurrection is all around us, and it is within us, as well. The Holy Spirit is bringing the dead into new and transformed life, and that’s resurrection.

The life everlasting

We believe in the life everlasting. It is a myth, a popular one but a myth nonetheless, that eternal life begins at death. The truth is you don’t have to wait that long. Full, abundant, rich, glorious, eternal, everlasting life is available to each of us now, and it begins when the Holy Spirit comes in and dwells within us. All that we have already discussed – unity in the church, communion of saints, forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body – all of those are part of the abundant and everlasting life God desires for each of us. That life begins when the Holy Spirit moves in, re-arranges our furniture, and begins the process of transformation at the depth of our being to make us more like Christ, living lives that forever reflect the glory of God.


One last word on the Apostles’ Creed, and it’s actually the last word of the Creed. “Amen.” We say this word all the time, but did you ever think about the word means? It’s a declaration of affirmation, it literally means, “so be it.” When you say, “Amen,” you are signing your name for all to see, offering your will for God to do whatever God wants with you and in you and through you. You should take saying the word “Amen” as seriously as you do before you sign your name to a contract, because God’s gonna assume you meant it.

That being said, anyone here still want to say that you believe in the Holy Spirit? Anyone here want their heart filled with the Holy Spirit? Just open your arms wide and say, “Come Holy Spirit. Fill my heart.”

Amen. Amen.

1 comment:

  1. 'but what matters most is not what someone tells us to, but the Holy Spirit in our hearts.' Amen and Amen