Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:25-35, 37, Romans 8:22-27, John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
Today we contemplate mysteries. Ten days ago, on Ascension Day, a man ascended into heaven. Of course this was not just any man, but the Son of God, and fully God, yet also the Son of Man, fully human, an earthling. Earthlings don’t belong in heaven, not with our bodies, so it’s a mystery that the man dwells there in his body until he comes again.
Meanwhile, today, on Pentecost, that man in heaven sends God to earth to enter his friends. That a man should send God is also a mystery.
Another mystery is that the God that this man sent to earth is the same God as himself yet not the same person as himself, nor the Father, but a third person of God: the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Comforter, who comes from the Father, who proceeds from the Father, even though the Son does the sending.
That the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father means that the Holy Spirit is the soul of God, the inner life of God, the personality of God, who comes from inside God to inside us. The man in heaven sends God to us to dwell within us earthlings till he comes again.
We call these “mysteries” because they are great truths that we can know but not fully know. The mystery of Pentecost is a big deal—it celebrates a very great movement in God’s self-revelation and investment. If Jesus was “God-with-us,” the Spirit is “God-in-us,” God dwelling on earth within us earthlings. It’s like with Jesus God visited and with the Spirit God has moved in.
As of Pentecost, we are called temples of the Holy Spirit because the Lord God comes to dwell in us as individual embodied persons. And as a community of Jesus the Lord God comes to dwell within us, and the church is called the Household of God. And the Lord God comes to dwell within the whole of creation, the world of nature and the world of culture, and the world is the Mansion of God.
If we think of the world as “worldly,” or of persons as “worldly” in a negative sense, that’s only because of the world being insensitive to the Holy Spirit or even resisting God’s claim. Notice that of the three great Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter and Pentecost, the secular world does not observe Pentecost. You know from Walgreens when it’s Christmas and Easter, but there is no aisle for Pentecost.
It’s more than denial, it’s resistance. “God, what are you doing here? Get back in heaven where you belong. Get out from inside me—I want to keep myself for myself. Our world of culture and political economy is none of your business, God, you just leave nature to us for our own exploitation.” Which of course is why creation groans.
The Holy Spirit loves the world and rests upon it. The Holy Spirit loves creation and inhabits it. The Holy Spirit loves human culture and blesses it. The world is the Mansion of God. The mansion is dirty and in disrepair, and whole rooms are blocked off, and many of the staff are in rebellion, but even in the dark and broken places the Holy Spirit dwells, in pain and sorrow and solidarity. You cannot keep God’s Holy Spirit out.
The earth is the Lord’s, and all that dwell therein. The Mansion of God is a Holy Ghost building, and you get to work on this building by your daily life in nature and culture and political economy, cleaning and repairing and decorating and developing and extending.
My first take-home is to confirm our church in our vision and our mission. You are renovating that sanctuary as a Mansion of God, as a Holy Ghost building. Yes, you’re doing it to benefit our congregation, and you’re doing it for the public good, but ultimately you are doing it to witness to the mission of God and movement of the Holy Spirit into this here world. If the groups we host are secular, the mystery is the truth that to the Holy Spirit nothing is secular; the world belongs to God.
Look, if all Jesus cared about was to get us into heaven when we die, then we might as well worship in an ugly windowless arena with video screens and sound equipment. If all God wanted was to get us to be good, we might as well worship in a public auditorium. But the Holy Spirit loves creation, and is working the sanctification of this here world as the Mansion of God, and we are working on this building for our Lord. We are witnessing to God’s great claim upon this here world.
We offer the first-fruits of human culture, the craft of human hands, the integration of natural materials and human ingenuity to the glory of God. It’s a Holy Ghost building, and a Pentecostal mission. It speaks in the tongues of its plaster and stenciling and multi-colored arabesques and stained-glass windows, to shelter all the souls that enter it. It speaks in the tongues of metal pipes that fill with wind and sing to God while they have breath. We turn dull, solid, heavy, leaden lumps of metal into voices of praise. O Lord, how manifold are your works. May the Lord rejoice in all his works!
We are right to do this as the testimony and witness of our congregation, but we remember that it’s not the building that is the house of God but the congregation. Until the Lord Jesus returns for the final harvest, the first-fruit is the church, the church as the people, the community of Jesus, the congregation. The congregation is the dwelling of the Advocate who makes the church the house of truth and the home of comfort. As we share our lives together, as we talk together and listen to each other, the Holy Spirit guides us into truth, and our community of Jesus is a Holy Ghost building.
The Spirit does not draw attention to herself. Jesus says in the Gospel that the Advocate does not speak on his own. You don’t hear the Holy Spirit directly or see her directly, but always mediated in the words and actions of God’s people, always behind the scenes and underneath our efforts.
When I hear people say they feel the Holy Spirit, my Calvinist critique is that what they feel are emotions they conventionally attribute to the Spirit, but the Holy Spirit can also be moving in other emotions like grief, or remorse, or even a guilty conscience. So my second take-home is not to judge yourself if you don’t feel the Spirit like other people say they do. The Spirit is not the servant of our desirable feelings. The Holy Spirit is the Lord, who challenges us as much as comforts us. As Jenn Cribbs said last week, the gift may well be in what we fear. But in all of this the Holy Spirit is never not loving.
The Spirit does not speak on his own, and you won’t feel the Spirit directly, but I invite you to believe that the Holy Spirit dwells within each one of you individually. The Spirit empowers you and empowers your natural gifts to be spiritual gifts. But the Spirit is not just for power, but also for weakness. The Advocate is the Comforter, and the Spirit helps you in your weakness.
I need this, because I’ve been feeling weakened lately; I feel weakened by the power of sin and evil in this world that belongs to God, by the brutal massacre of Palestinians, and by the sacrifice of our school-children to the Second Amendment, and by the cynical deconstruction of our government, and by the obvious disruption of seasonal weather, and by the accelerating aging of my body. We groan, while we wait for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. We live in hope and not possession, but because we hope we need not fear our weakness. Inside you the Spirit intercedes for you with sighs too deep for words.
St. Paul interprets our groaning and our weakness as labor pains. He says the whole creation is groaning as in labor for the new life that the Holy Spirit has conceived in us. The world is pregnant, and expecting, and is in pain and discomfort until the birth. This is the discomfort of cleansing and sanctification and transformation, sufficient for the world to become the Mansion of God.
I want you to understand your own pain and discomfort as the birth-pangs of your transformation and sanctification, the Holy Spirit converting and preparing you, cleansing and enriching you, even through your death, that at your resurrection your soul and body will be capable of carrying in your flesh the life of the world to come. That mystery is not explained to us, but we have so many first-fruits in our lives to quicken our hope, and we are right to interpret them as fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Don’t underestimate the Holy Spirit within you. Don’t underestimate the claim of God upon this world. Don’t underestimate the comprehension of salvation, don’t underestimate how far God goes for love’s sake, how close God comes in love. The love of God is the greatest mystery of all, beyond understanding, but you can know as well as our children do the love of God for you.
Copyright © 2018 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.