May 28, 2023
Most of you probably don’t pay much attention, but next week is a church holiday. The First Sunday after Pentecost every year is celebrated as Trinity Sunday (or, more properly, the Feast of the Holy Trinity). The word Trinity, of course, is never mentioned in the Bible, and the Trinity is only formally named in one verse—it’s in Matthew 28, and we’ll hear that passage next week, even though it won’t really be the subject of my sermon.
But that doesn’t mean that the Triune God is otherwise absent from the scriptures. We find the three Persons of the Trinity throughout the Bible, from start to finish. And the first place they’re mentioned is in the first three verses of the first chapter of Genesis.
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.
There’s God, and there’s the Word of God, and in between there’s a wind from God. That’s how the New Revised Standard puts it, anyway. Other translations say God’s Spirit, and the King James Version actually says Holy Spirit. You might think that’s a huge difference, but it’s not at all. You see, the Hebrew word for wind is also the word for breath and it’s the word for spirit. In Greek, spirit and breath are also the same word. So it’s just a matter of how the translator dealt with a single word. But whether it's a wind of God hovering over the chaos, the breath of God, or the Spirit of God, we see the Spirit’s presence in the beginning, participating in the formation of the universe. And so the Spirit is creation.
This is something for us to think in reference to the time before time began. But it’s also something for us to dwell on today, when we think about the troubles, the wars, the conflicts of the world: The Holy Spirit yet hovers over the chaos, and will certainly—in God’s time—bring order and light and stability.
If the Holy Spirit is significant for the whole universe, then the Spirit is also significant for us human creatures. For it is the Holy Spirit which inspires in us a sense of something beyond the physical. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.
So the Spirit is spirit—it’s what enables us to realize that what’s important isn’t necessarily something we can see with our eyes or feel with our hands—let alone buy with a credit card. When we long for love and relationship or work for peace and justice, when we pray or meditate or expand our horizons—it’s the Holy Spirit setting priorities that the body alone know nothing of.
Though I hope that Christians do these things at least as much as non-Christians, this, I think is the work of the Spirit in all of humanity. It’s what sets us apart from the rest of creation. But disciples of Jesus Christ were promised more. Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus said,
You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.
And ten days later, on the fiftieth day (Πεντηκοστή) after the resurrection, something happened that turned the disciples (followers) into apostles (emissaries). They described it in terms of two of nature’s most powerful forces: wind and fire. It was the moment when they were filled the Spirit, when they knew God not just as the Creator of the universe, and not just as the longing within us for something more, but as power.
The Holy Spirit is the very power of God within us that forces change and gives us the courage to speak and to act on God’s behalf, and the wisdom to know when to speak, what words to use, and what actions are best. The early church didn’t just have certain gifts that set them apart as a body. Paul specifically described these powerful gifts as gifts of the Spirit—healing and speaking and preaching and faith and knowledge, to name but a few.
Two thousand years later, there’s still some debate about whether all those gifts were meant for the first-generation church or should still be expected among Christians today. But one that is beyond debate is one of the first ones we read about on the Day of Pentecost. When Peter starts talking to the crowds, they all understand him, regardless of their mother tongue.
How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?
So the Holy Spirit is understanding. In the early church, the Spirit enabled people to understand foreign languages as though they were hearing their native tongue. In today’s world when we prefer talking past each other to actually listening, we need a lot more of the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit is understanding, then I think we ought to count it as a requirement that, if you call yourself a Christian, you have to hear people out—even people you already know you disagree with. It doesn’t mean you’ll come to believe as they do. But if understanding is mutual, at least there is a lot less hatred in the world.
Love, Life, and Peace
And when there’s no hatred, there’s more room for love. When there’s no killing, there’s a lot more life. And when there’s no war, then there’s a very good chance that there’s peace.
God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us; to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
—Romans 5:5, 8:6
So when the Spirit fills us, and when our minds are set on the Spirit, then there is indeed love and life and peace.
But perhaps the most important thing the presence of the Spirit in our lives brings us is mentioned in Paul’s benediction at the very end of his Second Letter to the Corinthians.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
—2 Corinthians 13:13
If God is love and if Jesus is the love of God personified, then it is the Spirit which binds us in love to God and to one another. The Spirit is what calls us to church and keeps us here. The Spirit is what we feel when we are together—even if we can’t explain it. The Holy Spirit is what completes us: When I am doubtful, we have faith; when you are frightened, we have courage; when he is weak, we are strong; and when she is filled with despair, we have hope.
The Spirit may be what brings us closer to perfection, but the Holy Spirit is also the reason we don’t need to be perfect. It is the Holy Spirit that draws us to the Lord’s table, and when we share the bread and the cup, it is the Holy Spirit who helps us remember the cross, the love that led to it, and the love we have for each other. The Spirit is creation; the Spirit is power and understanding; the Spirit is love, life, and peace; the Spirit is the connection between all those things and those of us who believe.
—©2023 Sam L. Greening, Jr.