Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Church, faith, God, Grace, Holy Spirit, love, Religion, Revival, Sermon, Shekinah Glory, Wholeness
John 3:1-17What is the Spirit that Christ is talking about so confidently to the religious leader Nicodemus? This new birth, the birth from above, a birth that is as unpredictable as the blowing wind. This is the promised Spirit of Christ to his followers.I was well acquainted with the idea of the Spirit in my childhood. For the first years of my life I attended an Assembly of God church and then after kindergarten Rosemont Alliance Church. This church was a missionary denomination that had its roots in the holiness church. It was a church that often fit well with the Assembly of God upbringing of my mother. One thing was clear, we believed in the Spirit. This passage from John was seen as a central text in understanding how one is saved from sin and gains an entrance into heaven. There was a particular path that one must take to gain the keys to paradise.First, we ask Jesus into our hearts as an act of faith. We thought that this is what Jesus means when he spoke about being born again. Second, we must experience the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This is exhibited through ecstatic utterances or supernatural healing in an individual touched by the Spirit. If this supernatural experience does not occur shortly after being born again there was a question about whether a valid salvation experience had actually occurred in a person’s soul. Of course this euphoric Spirit that came into a person’s life was not necessarily permanent. It could be quenched and squelched by our rebellious nature and tendency toward backsliding into sin. Yet, repentance was the sure cure and safety valve that will again bring you on the good side of grace.The services that I attended which displayed the highest emotional fervor for the Spirit occurred when my family would occasionally visit the local Assembly of God church. Those around me may have been filled with the Spirit, but I remember being filled with a little bit of fear. It was the kind of fear that you feel when you visit a foreign country and upon entering a boisterous restaurant realize that you do not know the language on the menu in front of you.There was a microphone placed to the right of the pulpit and those who had “the gift” at that moment were encouraged to come forward. One time the women in front of us shook so violently that I thought that she sick. Another a woman’s incoherent gasps became quite disturbing. Occasionally someone would make their way to the microphone to pronounce utterances in what we were told were either other languages or a spiritual language not of this world. Immediately someone would follow them with an interpretation of what the person had said in our own English language. These groups definitely questioned the validity of anyone’s Christianity who did not have these similar ecstatic experiences of which they were blaming on the Holy Spirit.So, as I sat unable to conjure up even the remotest noise that sounded alien I knew that this Spirit was not for me. Too afraid to question what I had seen and sure that I would never be included I relegated the Spirit to a Trinitarian prison cell. Yet, I could not sing, “Every time I feel the Spirit stirring in my heart I will pray,” without feeling that I was missing something essential to a vibrant relationship with my creator.I am not going to tell you that the Spirit is anything any more coherent for me to define this morning. Yet, I have realized that this sensational force of my youth doesn’t have to be my definition of possessing the Spirit in my life. I have heard the voice of Jesus telling me that I must be born from above. Maybe the indefinable nature of the Spirit is the point. Maybe it is the freedom that we say that we crave.When we are told to look up and what will be left in the wake of the great teacher Christ is his Spirit amongst us we are stunned by the fact that what is left is something without form or physical characteristics. It is described as swirling chaotically like the wind. What a frustrating Spirit for those of us who pride ourselves for being so analytical and calculating on our life’s course. We are told that which will reveal salvation will be amorphous, ill defined and will save us. Is it any wonder that Paul tells the church at Corinth that our faith is foolishness to the wise?So, what is the Spirit that Christ left behind? It is life. Yet, it is much more than the breath that fills our lungs to capacity, more than the synapses firing through our brain, more than the colors bouncing off our cornea, more than the bite of apple digesting in your intestine and more than the brush of feeling on your hand as you run it through your hair. Life is when the breath of God is puffed into our nostrils and we spring out from the dust of the earth to take our vital place amongst all creation. It is the whisper of the divine that compels us to see our strangers, family and friends in ways that are interconnected and life giving. It is the inspiration of something outside of ourselves that peels back the edges of our existence so that we can see our being in fleeting moments for what it really is. It is the force that causes us to attempt to understand each other though we may seem to be speaking languages as foreign as Mandarin and Dutch. The Spirit is what brings us together and like the wind pushes us to seek shelter in the presence of each other just long enough so that we have the courage to re-immerge in the world ready for action. The Spirit is life and as Jesus exhorts us later in the book of John, “Live on in my love.” So keep looking for opportunities to live in the Spirit, but don’t worry about every understanding its presence. It will confound, confuse and bewilder us. Thank God!
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