The last Sunday, the last day, in May is Pentecost, that day when we will celebrate the mighty rush of breath that blew upon the first disciples on the Jubilee of the Resurrection. Perhaps some of you, maybe even many of you, remember those years, back in the seventies, when so many people were excited about the Holy Spirit, Pentecost and the gifts of the Spirit. As with so many revivals in the church, that Holy Spirit Revival ran its course and we moved on to other things. These days, we seldom hear about those things unless we happen to walk into a pentecostal Church or tune into Holy Roller evangelist on Comcast or read about some snake-handler Christians in an article about the Deep South.
So we may wonder if the Holy Spirit is doing anything worth mentioning these days outside of those contexts. Indeed, is the Holy Spirit doing anything with Lutherans at all? It may surprise you to know that there is something of a Holy Spirit Revival going on among Lutherans these days. Most of it is happening over in Europe, among the Finns, and not just any Finns, but Finns who are teaching and educating pastors in their seminaries.
It’s not a Pentecostal flavored revival, but a scholarly revival to ask about our understanding of the work and presence of the Holy spirit and how we understand all that in today’s world. Not surprisingly, there are no snake handlers or tongues speakers in this bunch, but folks who are searching the scriptures and thinking and writing about our doctrine of the Holy Spirit.
What this has engendered is a return to the basic questions we have about the Holy Spirit: Who is the Holy Spirit? What does she do? How does she go about doing it? Some of you may have noticed the feminine pronouns in the above sentences. I’m not just parroting the popular theology of William Young’s recent novel, The Shack, but use those feminine pronouns to remind us that all of the pronouns for the Holy Spirit in the First Testament are feminine pronouns and that the gender of the Hebrew word ruah, or spirit, is also feminine, but I digress.
So who is this Holy Spirit? First she is God’s Spirit, the Spirit of Christ. She was present at creation as God brought the Holy Wind to blow over the chaotic waters of creation. It was that creative wind that blew from the very beginning of time and still blows upon God’s creation today. The Spirit was also present time and again as God’s people were herded and corralled from one trouble to the next. It wasn’t that the Spirit got them into trouble, but rather, it was the work of the Spirit to get them out of the trouble that the people were so quick to get themselves into. When the people cried out for mercy, the first grace in their lives was the Spirit who reminded them of God and God’s loving kindness.
When Christ came in the flesh, it was the Spirit who came at his baptism in the form of a dove and reminded folks of his identity. When the disciples were perplexed, the Spirit was there forming their memories around the nascent teachings of their rabbi, Jesus. When Christ rose from the dead and met them by surprise in the upper room, he calmed their fears and breathed the Spirit into their lives. Then again, fifty days later, there was recorded an outpouring of the Spirit as had never been seen before with wind and tongues of fire.
What is she doing in all this outpouring? She is gathering God’s people, calling them to God, filling them with gifts of enlightenment. She is making a people of God’s very own. She is creating a holy people, a people set apart, a different kind of people, a new people for God. She is re-creating God’s people, back into the very image of God to take all the things they learn and know about God and use them to help others, to be the hands and feet and heart of Jesus in this world today.
How does this get done? Two ways: through both word and sacrament. The Holying Spirit of God uses everyday stuff, words on a page and in our mouth, water in a font or a river, and bits of baked flour and fermented grape juice, to change people’s lives. Simple things go into making God’s people all over again.
How is this done? How do these simple things convert people’s lives into tools for God’s use? Well that too is the work of the Spirit. Always and again the Spirit of God blows into people’s lives every day, in every way, through common stuff, to re-form us through all the stuff of God’s good creation. It happens bit by bit, most often, but sometimes it also takes place in great conversions or turnarounds. But then does the Spirit of God stop blowing into and around us just because that happens to us one day? Nope! That breath of God started blowing at creation and never stopped. That wind still blows today. In fact, if you pause for a moment, you may even feel it blowing on you right now.