Breathe on us breath of God

DRama

A report and personal reflection on this morning’s service by John Dempster

Report

David Whillis led this morning’s service. It’s Pentecost Sunday, when Christians around the world remember the day God gave the gift of the Holy Spirit to the fledgling church. For the children’s part of the service, David organised a drama symbolising the coming of the Spirit, and the impact of the Spirit’s presence upon the disciples, and on the crowd.

KIDz

The Lectionary passages we read were Acts 2:1-21, which describes the momentous events in Jerusalem, and 1 Corinthians 12:1-13 where St Paul teases out some of the implications of the coming of the Holy Spirit for the lives of Christians at Corinth, who were struggling, David reminded us, with the temptation to bring into the church ways of living and relating which had characterised their lives before they became believers.

The particular theme of 1 Corinthians 12 is of the ‘spiritual gifts’ which St Paul assures the Corinthian Christians they have been given by the Spirit:

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit,to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. (vv 7-11)

David pointed out that this isn’t an exclusive list of spiritual gifts – he listed others mentioned in other New Testament letters. And then he presented us with a list (again not exclusive) of gifts he sees folk in Hilton Church as having been given – preaching, praying, reading the Bible, working with children, keeping the building tidy, preparing the Bulletin each week and many more. We are all given gifts, David reminded us ‘so that we can help each other’ (v7) for it’s as though we are all parts of the one body (v12) – we have a responsibility to work together for the common good.

I loved David’s concluding bottom-line summary of what the presence of the Holy Spirit means: ‘The manifestation of the God who walks with you.’ God is within each one of us, making real in our lives the work of Jesus, prompting and empowering us to live distinctive lives in the community.’

Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Fill me with life anew
That I may love what thou dost love
And do what thou wouldst do

Personal reflection

The question I was puzzling away at last night as I thought about Pentecost was precisely what the difference is when the Holy Spirit is present in our lives compared with God’s other activities in the world. God is active in every molecule of creation – St Paul told the intellections at Athens ‘He gives life and breath to everything and he satisfies every need….he is not far from any one of us, for in him we live and move and exist.’ (Acts 17:25, 27-8); and God whispers in the hearts of all men and women, otherwise who would ever come to God? Jesus’ disciples at the time of his life on earth did not have the Holy Spirit in the Pentecost sense, and yet they heard and responded and grew in faith.

So the world is not god-forsaken – God’s energy powers the sub-atomic particles, God whispers in human hearts. But when we embrace Christ we receive something special: God lives in us in a unique way. In fact as David reminded us this morning, it’s the Spirit who connects us with (or ‘baptises us into’) everything which Jesus has done on our behalf.

Reflecting on the unique gift of the Spirit, when I came back from the service I read Jesus’ words in John 14:15-21

‘If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you for ever –  the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me any more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.  On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.  Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.’

‘He lives with you and will be in you,’ says Jesus. The Holy Spirit in Jesus himself was ‘with’ the disciples. When he’d gone back to the dimension he came from, he would send the Spirit who would be ‘in’ the disciples. David mentioned this morning that Pentecost was originally a Jewish festival celebrating the giving of the Law to the Jewish people – the 10 commandments and all the other detail. The fact that the Holy Spirit was given on Pentecost symbolises the fact that no longer do we try to obey a list of rules – we now have God’s voice within us, prompting the kind of obedience Jesus calls for in the Sermon on the Mount. The Spirit is a gift from God, a token of the love of Jesus for us, a source of inspiration and strength for living for God, for letting Jesus be seen in our community, for blessing one another.

Pentecost was dramatic, as David’s sketch this morning showed. And some people’s experiences of the Holy Spirit have included drama, the obvious display of the supernatural. For years in my life, I sought the dramatic, and felt that I could not have received the Holy Spirit properly, and I prayed and was prayed for and nothing happened. And then I realised (or God whispered) ‘You are so busy struggling for something more that you fail to appreciate all that’s true of you. I am with you. I love you.’ And from then on, I understood (on my better seeing days) that the Holy Spirit is with and in me, that I have been, and am deeply blessed.

But the first Pentecost, and a number of the ‘gifts’ in St Paul’s list, remind us that we are dealing with the supernatural. Which is an encouragement, not something to be afraid of. I’m not at all ‘good’ at prayer – but there are times when, facing a problem at work, I will pray ‘Help!’ and a solution will come, times when I’m stuck for an idea for a sermon, or a helpful word to say to something, and words will come. Did these solutions arise from my deeper self, or were they given? I believe the latter, and I believe the Spirit whispers constantly to us if we will stop to listen. This is supernatural, just as much as gifts of healing and interpreting tongues.

So how do someone know the Spirit of God is within them? Here are some of the reasons:

  • Because Jesus has promised to send the Spirit
  • Because I can say from my heart (or yearn to say from my heart) ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’
  • Because I want to live in a way which pleases God
  • Because I feel at home with people who love God
  • Because it troubles me that today, I have messed up badly, or that God seems far away
  • Because there are times I sense an impulse in my heart, or an idea, or a ‘picture’ which seems to come from beyond me and seems ‘right’ and is in line with what Christians believe
  • Because sometimes my words and actions bless other people
  • Because some people see they see in me the occasional (or more frequent) glimpse of the love of Jesus

We go out into this new week, and God goes with us, and in us. In one sense, the Spirit is given once for all time (though so gently does the Spirit sometime stake up residence in us that we may not discern the precise moment of his arrival). In another sense, the Spirit’s gift is a moment-by-moment gift. Moment by moment God draws near to us, breathes into us everything we need to survive and flourish and bless others in that moment.

Lord Jesus, be with us as a church this coming week by your Holy Spirit. Be with those of us who feel fragile and far from you – draw us to you, and open our eyes to your love for us. May each of know your presence and your grace. May we love you, and know your love for us. May we live the way you call us to live – and quickly draw back to you when we wander. May we embrace the abilities you give us, and use them to bless others at church, at home, at work, at school, in the community. Grant us the courage to fulfil your dream for us. Help us to persevere in dark days. Breathe on us, Breath of God.

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Comments

 
Gavin White

Jun 12, 2014

I found this helpful. From Sacred Dissertations on The Apostles' Creed by Herman Witsius(1636-1708). "Nor is it very difficult for believers, provided they give due attention and diligence, to distinguish the operations of the Spirit from the illusions of the flesh or of a malignant demon, or even from common operations of the Spirit which are unproductive of holiness. This appears from the words of our Lord: 'even the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knower him; but ye know him, for he dwellers with you, and shall be in you.' These operations are discerned, both from their very nature, when separately considered; and from the order in which they are wisely connected, and the relation which they bear to one another. In each of them there is a brightness, majesty and efficacy, so conspicuous and striking, that the light of noon-day doth not more clearly discover the sun, than these operations discover the Spirit as their author. Whilst he sanctifies believers,meh inspires them with the desire of a purer virtue than any probity known amongst the heathen, or than that pretended sanctity which characterised the Pharisees. Pagan probity and Pharasaical sanctity, having self-love for their principle, meanly terminate on man himself. The Spirit so actuated the souls of believers, on the contrary, that they no longer wish to be their own; but denying the lusts of the deceitful flesh, they remember that they belong to God, and desire that every part of their conduct may be regulated according to his will and example, and redound to his glory. Whilst the Spirit comforts believers too, he enters into their minds with a certain sweetness, which, as it is incomparably delightful, so is free from the smallest mixture of earthly dregs, and instead of loading or enervating the mind, renders it more clear and alert, and prepares it for serving God with the utmost alacrity. Even when the soul becomes most languid and remiss, the Spirit still protects and sustains the spiritual life amidst the numberless snares of malignant spirits and the deadly poison of sin; and supplies such vital influence to believers, that even in the greatest weakness they do not yield the victory to the enemy, but though cast down, renew the contest on their knees. Such is the efficacy of the Spirit, in short, in all these operations, that he gives a noble elevation to their mental faculties, and makes them capable of views, desires, efforts, and achievements, which evidently exceed the capacity of those who are destitute of the Spirit. The order in which he operates, too, is such, that he imparts his comforts only to those who are contrite in heart, and seriously grieved for their sins; and he never cheers their minds with his sweet consolations, without inciting them, at the same time, to the love of God, to fervent gratitude, and to the practice of the most conscientious piety. When these things are connected in this manner and order, a man has no cause to doubt of the Spirit's having been imparted to himself."

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