I Believe | In the Holy Spirit
So, over the last few weeks at Melbourne Heights, we have been talking about what we, as Christians, believe. And, to help us think about what we believe, we have been taking a closer look at a confession of our faith that has been around for more than 1600 years. The confession of faith that we’ve been looking at is called The Apostles’ Creed, and this is what it says:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy universal church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.
Now, I’ve said this every week during this sermon series, but it’s worth repeating again today. There is no creed that could ever fully capture exactly what we believe - because the essence of our faith is belief in a person, Jesus Christ, and not simply a system of ideas. But creeds can be helpful as we try to understand what we, as Christians, believe. And the Apostles’ Creed has helped us think about what we believe about God the Father and Jesus Christ over the last couple of weeks.
And this week, the Apostles’ Creed is going to lead us to talk about the Holy Spirit. But you probably noticed that the Apostles’ Creed doesn’t say much about the Holy Spirit...as a matter of fact it only uses six words: I believe in the Holy Spirit. But regardless of how much or how little is said about the Holy Spirit in the Apostles’ Creed, as a Christian, I believe in the Holy Spirit.
I believe in the Holy Spirit.
Why don’t you say that with me? Ready? I believe in the Holy Spirit.
But what exactly do we believe about the Holy Spirit? Well, over the last couple of weeks, as we’ve talked about God the Father and Jesus Christ, we’ve spent most of our time together digging into deep theological and doctrinal issues. But as I’ve worked on this sermon, I’ve found that trying to describe the Holy Spirit with theological and doctrinal statements is a little like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. No matter how hard I try to nail down who the Holy Spirit is, it just keeps slipping away.
So if we want to understand what we believe about the Holy Spirit, we need to try a different approach. So here’s what I want you to do, I want you to imagine yourself in first-century Israel. The day has just begun and you're arriving at the outer gates of the city of Jerusalem. You have heard stories of this legendary place for years. You've dreamt of seeing the splendor of the Temple. You've imagined the opulence of Pilate's palace. You've envisioned the priests standing in all their regalia in the Temple's courts. You've fantasized about walking the same streets that King David once danced through. And now you have finally arrived.
As you cross through the outer gates of the city, Roman guards seem to watch your every move. You quickly tug on the rope harnessed around your donkey, urging him to hurry past the prying eyes of the empire. You don't want to be forced to stop. You don't want these low-level soldiers searching through everything you brought for your trip. You know it would take hours for them to finish because you had a lot to pack. You packed your outer coat for chilly nights, and an extra tunic to wear underneath. You brought bedding for those long nights under the stars, and sandals to wear as you crossed over hot desert sands. You brought enough food to last for the trip – for you and your donkey. And you carried extra vessels for water, and maybe a wineskin or two...carrying everything you could think of for your once-in-a-lifetime trip.
And what a trip it had been. You set out weeks earlier from your home on the shores of the Persian Gulf. You traveled for days on end along the banks of the Euphrates River before turning south toward Jerusalem. But your trip had taken a toll. Your donkey was exhausted after walking hundreds of miles, and you were run ragged. Your feet ache, your back hurts, your skin burns from hours under the sun. And now that you've finally made it to Jerusalem all you want to do is find a bathhouse and clean up.
When you find a bathhouse not far from the Temple mount, you begin the process of ceremonial cleansing. You made this trip for a reason after all. You came for a religious festival. You came to celebrate alongside your people. You came to remember the anniversary of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, the day that the nation of Israel was born. You came for the Festival of Weeks.
After enjoying a longer bath than usual, you're ready to see the city and make your way to the Temple. You set out in bare feet, letting the smooth stones on the city streets soothe your calloused soles. As you walk the streets, you allow your fingers to run across the outer walls of people's homes, pausing occasionally to listen to the sounds within. You can hear children playing in the courtyards behind their homes as their mothers work to grind the grain for their daily bread. You can smell the savory fragrance of lamb boiling in their kitchen pots, a feast worthy of the festival. As you prepare to round the final corner before arriving at the Temple's outer courts, you almost feel at home.
And with one final step, you’re there. You have arrived. Your senses are overloaded by the sights, the sounds, and the smells of your faith's most holy and sacred place. It must be better than standing on the National Mall looking from the Lincoln Memorial to the U.S. Capitol building. It has to be better than standing at the base of the Empire State Building in New York. It's got to be better than seeing Mount Rushmore or even arriving at Cinderella's Castle for the very first time. Why? Because you're not just visiting a political sight, you're not just stopping by a tourist attraction, you're not simply going to the happiest place on earth. You're going to a place where you're life is about to intersect with the divine, a place where you will truly encounter God.
After spending a few moments taking it all in, you once again begin moving forward. But now you're no longer walking at a casual pace. You've picked up your speed, moving as quickly as you can through the crowd. You're excited to meet the priests. You're excited to sit at their feet. You're excited to learn from them as they teach about God. You're excited to hear what they have to say. By the time you finally reach the first priest you see, your excitement is about to bubble over. You hold out your hand in greeting and begin to introduce yourself.
The priest opens his mouth and begins speaking to you...but you can't understand a word that he's saying. You're excitement almost instantly turns to confusion. You try to tune out all the other noise and focus on this religious leader's voice, even cupping your ear to amplify the sound. But what you hear seems like utter nonsense. You begin to wonder if this priest is from out of town, or maybe he has a thick accent from some far-off region. So you excuse yourself and go running to meet another priest.
Again you stick out your hand in greeting and begin to introduce yourself. The new priest begins speaking to you. And again, you can't understand a word that he's saying. One by one you make your way to each priest you see, carefully navigating your way around the growing crowd. And one by one you leave each priest unable to understand them. As you turn away from the final priest you're on the verge of tears, as you begin walking away you lose all control of your emotions.
With tears rolling down your cheeks, you leave the Temple behind. Your trip to the holy city feels like it was a complete waste. You spent weeks traveling to this place to encounter God...but none of the priests o religious leaders spoke your language. So you head back to the post where you left your donkey, you untie him and prepare to return home; utterly dejected by your whole experience. All you want to do now is leave this city you once dreamt of visiting.
As the hot morning sun continues to beat down on your skin, you start to head back to those outer gates. But now your pace has slowed to a virtual crawl. Your disappointment has overwhelmed you, and all you can do is replay the whole scene in your mind. With each baby step forward you remember your encounters with the priests, and with each passing memory, you feel more upset. After all, this trip was supposed to be special. This trip was supposed to bring you to the doorstep of the divine. This trip was supposed to help you meet God face to face, and change your life forever. But now God felt further away than ever before...and you feel all alone in the world.
Can you imagine it? Can you picture yourself in this long, drawn-out tale? Can you feel the disappointment, the uncertainty, and the isolation? Can you put yourself in that place?
Now I know that it might feel like you're just falling prey to the overactive imagination of your preacher. But the truth is this scene may very well have played out every day in the city of Jerusalem. Jews from all over the world would travel to this holy city to visit God's temple in hopes of encountering the divine. But when they arrived there was no guarantee anyone else would speak their language. And the entire situation is almost impossible for any of us to imagine. Everywhere we go just about everyone we meet speaks English, which makes it hard to fathom the isolation, and uncertainty that religious pilgrims may have felt.
This is also what makes our scripture reading this morning so powerful. It's such a powerful story that I've decided to share it with you from a translation that I don’t use very often, called The Voice, which attempts to transport you right into the Bible's narrative. So instead of trying to follow along in your own Bible this morning, just listen to these words from Acts 2:1-21 from The Voice New Testament.
2:1 When the holy day of Pentecost came 50 days after Passover, they were gathered together in one place. 2 Picture yourself among the disciples: A sound roars from the sky without warning, the roar of a violent wind, and the whole house where you are gathered reverberates with the sound. 3 Then a flame appears, dividing into smaller flames and spreading from one person to the next. 4 All the people present are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin speaking in languages they’ve never spoken, as the Spirit empowers them.
5 Because of the holy festival, there are devout Jews staying as pilgrims in Jerusalem from every nation under the sun. 6 They hear the sound, and a crowd gathers. They are amazed because each of them can hear the group speaking in their native languages. 7 They are shocked and amazed by this.
Pilgrims: Just a minute. Aren’t all of these people Galileans? 8 How in the world do we all hear our native languages being spoken? 9 Look—there are Parthians here, and Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, and Judeans, residents of Cappadocia, Pontus, and Asia, 10 Phrygians and Pamphylians, Egyptians and Libyans from Cyrene, Romans including both Jews by birth and converts, 11 Cretans, and Arabs. We’re each, in our own languages, hearing these people talk about God’s powerful deeds.
12 Their amazement becomes confusion as they wonder,
Pilgrims: What does this mean?
Skeptics: 13 It doesn’t mean anything. They’re all drunk on some fresh wine!
14 As the twelve stood together, Peter shouted to the crowd,
Peter: Men of Judea and all who are staying here in Jerusalem, listen. I want you to understand: 15 these people aren’t drunk as you may think. Look, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! 16 No, this isn’t drunkenness; this is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel. 17 Hear what God says!
In the last days, I will offer My Spirit to humanity as a libation. Your children will boldly speak the word of the Lord. Young warriors will see visions, and your elders will dream dreams. 18 Yes, in those days I shall offer My Spirit to all servants, both male and female, and they will boldly speak My word. 19 And in the heaven above and on the earth below, I shall give signs of impending judgment: blood, fire, and clouds of smoke. 20 The sun will become a void of darkness, and the moon will become blood. Then the great and dreadful day of the Lord will arrive, 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be liberated into God’s freedom and peace.
Acts 2:1-21 (The Voice New Testament)
Now picture yourself back in first-century Israel, still slowly making your way back toward the outer gates of the city after leaving the Temple. You're still feeling disappointed. You're still feeling uncertain. You're still feeling all alone. You still don't understand why no one else spoke your language, and you still wonder how you'll ever encounter the divine in this holy city.
But then, all of the sudden, you hear something that sounds familiar. Your ears perk up and you strain to hear a little better. The words continue to flow, and you are almost positive someone somewhere in this city is speaking your language...and not just speaking it, they're also talking about God. In your excitement, you drop the rope harnessed around your donkey and go running through the streets as fast as you possibly can to try to find this voice. As the voice grows louder and louder, you rush around one final corner and practically plow over the man who is speaking your language.
You're astonished that someone is finally able to speak to you. So all you can do is stop and listen. And you hear him speak of God made human, a living breathing person that was both fully God and fully man. This was a God you could have actually met face to face and spoken to in person. A God who truly knew what it meant and means to be human. A God who understands what it's like to feel disappointed, uncertain, and alone. And then you hear that this God willingly laid down his life for you. He endured the worst evil that humanity could offer; being rejected, betrayed, denied, isolated, tortured, and killed. But this God came back to life and forgave all of humanity – including you – of every wrong you've ever done.
There are no words that are better to hear than these. There is no better news that could be told.
And it was all possible because of the Holy Spirit. And that’s because the Holy Spirit is God’s presence at work upon you and within you.
The Holy Spirit is God’s presence at work upon you and within you.
And that’s exactly what we see in this story. The Holy Spirit was at work upon the crowd that gathered around the disciples at Pentecost, letting them hear the good news of Jesus. And, the Holy Spirit was at work within the disciples, somehow allowing them to share the good news of Jesus with everyone in the crowds in a language that they could each understand.
And this is why the Holy Spirit matters to our faith and to our lives. The Holy Spirit lets us know God for ourselves and lets us share God with others.
The Holy Spirit lets us know God for ourselves and lets us share God with others.
So without the Holy Spirit, our faith and our mission aren’t possible.