Summary: A exploration of the gifts and fruits of the spirit in an Anglocatholic context: why we should not be shy of what the Holy Spirit has to offer us.
Sermon: 19th Sunday After Trinity, 21st October 2001
Text: John 16:1-11
Why Anglican Catholics should not be afraid of the Holy Spirit
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I am a great fan of the cinema; it is a media which reflects the society for which it is made. The pulse of a modern society can be felt through its cinema screen.
The actor Robert Duvall wanted to make a movie called The Apostle back in 1983. He wanted to make The Apostle because he felt that the motion picture industry had mostly ignored the work of the Holy Spirit. According to Duvall, I quote:
"Filmmakers hardly ever depict spirituality with such a strong emphasis on the Holy Spirit, and when they do, it tends to be patronizing--full of charlatans and snake handlers."
Duvall wanted to do something different with The Apostle; he wanted to realistically portray a preacher who was fully human yet also captivated by the Holy Spirit. Robert Duvall faced indifference and outright opposition from the film industry for this sensitive portrayal, until he finally financed the movie with his own money, and that of course led to an enormously popular movie that earned him an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of preacher Sonny Dewey in 1998.
We tend, in our tradition, to be a little shy of the Holy Spirit; we leave that for our friends down the road at St. Simon’s; perhaps we have the sneaking suspicion like the movie bosses, that the Holy Spirit encourages charlatans and snake charmers. So, this evening, I want to explore briefly that which this church is dedicated to, and why we should not be closed to its great work, through which our entire Christian lives live and breathe.
A tremendous amount of confusion and controversy exists about the Holy Spirit today. You can visit churches today were people experience hysterical laughter said to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, or you can go places where people fall down on the ground, where they even growl like animals...all in the name of the Holy Spirit. A generation ago A. W. Tozer wrote that when the average Christian thinks about the Holy Spirit:
"he is likely to imagine a nebulous substance like a wisp of invisible smoke which is said to be present in churches and to over hover good people when they die"
(A Treasury of A. W. Tozer, p. 41).
Part of our problem is that the Holy Spirit seems so mystical. We can picture God the Father, because we’ve all seen fathers. We can picture God the Son because through the incarnation, he became human and we can read about what he did and what he’s like. But when we try to picture the Holy Spirit our minds go blank, and we end up with symbols like a dove, or wind, or fire.
I frequently hear people call the Holy Spirit an "it" as if the Spirit is like God’s laser beam, but the Christian belief of the Trinity is that Our God is not three separate beings, but a unity made up of three persons: the Holy Spirit is a "he" not an "it.". In fact, the Holy Spirit may even possibly even a “she”, for the Hebrew word often used for the Holy Spirit is rauch a word with a female gender. My point is not really however one of Gender, because God transcends mere human considerations like that, but that the Holy Spirit is a person, a real and living part of the Godhead and not a shadowy Will-O’-the-Wisp.
The real confusion comes not in who the Holy Spirit is but in what he does. This is because it is Holy Spirit who makes God real to us. The Holy Spirit brings us into an experience with God through Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit, then, is the wellspring of all genuine Christian experience, so it’s not surprising that Christians would differ about what the Holy Spirit does since Christians have such different personal experiences with God.
Jesus himself likened the work of the Holy Spirit as being like wind. We can’t see wind, but we know wind by its effects. The human eye can’t perceive air molecules as they move at high speed, but we can certainly see a tree that’s been uprooted by a high wind. In a similar way, we can’t see the Holy Spirit since he is a non-physical person, but we can know him by his effects, what he does, and it’s on this matter of what the Holy Spirit does that Christians often differ.
The apostle Paul lists several different kinds of spiritual gifts which are the effects of the Holy Spirit in his first letter to the Corinthians: There’s a gift of wisdom, a gift of knowledge, faith, healings, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues. Likewise in his letter to the Galatians he described the fruits of the Spirit, the outpouring of the spirit in our lives and in our behaviour: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Some Christians believe that many of these gifts are no longer active today, while other Christians believe that they’re all active today, but Paul’s point is that there are gifts and fruits and that it’s the Holy Spirit who gives them.