It’s not uncommon for people to be very afraid or apprehensive to speak about the Holy Spirit. There’s an understanding among Christians (among mainline denominations, especially) that the Holy Spirit is the part of the Trinity that is hard to define and even harder to explain.
Actually, the Holy Spirit can be explained in one phrase: at its most basic, the Holy Spirit is the on-going presence of the crucified and risen Jesus.
The Holy Spirit is actively working on us to conform our lives to resemble Jesus.
Here’s one example of how I saw this in action. A few years ago my wife, my oldest son (who was 2.5 at the time), and I were at a park in Ohio. As we were walking back to the car, we crossed paths with another little boy. He was a tiny kid with big eyes, dark skin and curly black hair. The boys cautiously approached each other; each waved and took turns saying, “Hi.” And before we knew it, our son reached out his arms and gave the little boy a big bear hug. I’m sure the boy was startled, but before he could respond, our son let go, reached up, removed his own red baseball hat, and placed it on the little boy’s head.
You should have seen our son’s smile; and you should have seen the other little boy’s smile; and you should have seen the other little boy’s mom smile; and you should have seen my wife’s smile; and you should have seen the smiles of the people in the parking lot after they witnessed this encounter.
Thirty seconds earlier every person in that area was leading an independent life. We would have all been content to pass by one another and not speak one word between us. But, thanks to an innocent gesture by an ornery and big-hearted two-year old, we were suddenly connected in a profound way. Even if it was only for a second, we all realized we were a part of something greater – something that connects us all. These are what I like to call “thin moments,” where we catch a glimpse of Jesus’ ongoing work in our world. Moments when the division between the sacred and the mundane seem to vanish. I once worked with a high school student who called these moments “spiritual high fives.”
The next day, as we were driving home, we stopped to eat at a restaurant. When I went to pay the bill I noticed that there was a 20% deduction on our total bill. Turns out that the family next to us had a coupon and they had instructed the waiter to apply it to our bill. I was astonished. Again, there was no reason for our paths to intersect like that. I’ve eaten at hundreds of restaurants but cannot recall anyone going out of their way to make a connection with me. I felt Jesus’ presence in that moment. That was another “spiritual high five.”
These two stories are unremarkable–little gestures, so innocent and simple–but they are incredibly vivid examples of the Holy Spirit that have inspired and nurtured my faith.
My purpose today is not just to tell these stories, but it is also to ask that the Holy Spirit would cause us to act in such a way as to invite others to catch a glimpse of Jesus. Or, to put it another way, I want God to give spiritual high fives through us–his church.
But that’s where things get sticky.
God is ready and willing to let the Holy Spirit work in and through us to give spiritual high fives to the world. The problem is that God needs us to be willing to take risks and be open to failure and rejection.
Remember, the Holy Spirit is on-going presence of the crucified and risen Jesus, crucified and risen. In order for resurrection to take place, something must die. Before God can create a new spirit in us, our old spirit must die. After all, Jesus took incredible risks, and he endured epic failure and rejection. Why should our lives look any different?
Is the risk of failure and rejection too high a price for us to pay?
What are we willing to give up in order to make the world a better place? Would we give up our red baseball hats? Would we give up our 20% coupons? Would we smile at a complete stranger and possibly strike up a conversation? Would we invite someone to worship with us? Would we be willing to accept changes in the church that would make it more welcoming and mission-oriented for people who would otherwise never darken the doorstep of a church?
There is a whole lot of discussion about the church, both universal and local, centering on the idea of being open to new ideas and ways of being the church in the world. There is a lot of talk about the Holy Spirit being the catalyst for change in the church – change that sounds scary to a lot of people, but could very well open the door for a whole new generation of people who are not darkening the doorstep of churches today. Perhaps more so now than ever before (at least, since the Reformation began) Lutherans are getting excited about the prospect of change! Imagine that!
We, as the congregation of Cross of Grace Lutheran Church, come together today to celebrate the ongoing radical presence of Jesus in our world today. We come together today understanding that in order for our individual and corporate lives to resemble the resurrected Jesus, we will be called upon to leave any apprehension, close-mindedness, or fear of failure at the foot of the cross. God is poised and ready to use us to give spiritual high-fives throughout this community, nation and world.
On this day and every other day I am grateful for your openness and willingness to let God work through you. It isn’t always easy, and we all require reminders to choose God’s path instead of our own, but the peace and love of a life in Christ Jesus is a beautiful gift.
And with that, we’ve concluded our twelve-week journey through the Bible; although, we did end up skipping over quite a bit of material! That being said, we have touched on some of the most important themes and learned more about the structure of the Biblical narrative–the story of our faith. In a phrase, it can be summed up like this:
“There is one God. This God created the universe; and with it: the earth and every human being, plant, animal, mountain, and valley. This world was created good and will be completely redeemed and restored one day. However, we live in the in-between years, caught up in the swirling winds of strife, misunderstanding, distrust, selfishness, as well as beauty, grace, peace, and hope. God’s people regularly fail to live up to the expectations and possibilities God has provided. There are many forces vying for our attention and allegiance; however God has constantly advocated from the beginning of time our complete surrender to the mysterious ways of love. The life, death, and resurrection of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, demonstrates once and for all that love conquers all and that we are heirs of the promise of grace.”
And for that we say, "Amen."