Sunday, June 04, 2006

“Spirit of Life”[1]

Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27, 16:4-15

I think it is especially fitting that we are observing both of our sacraments on this day of Pentecost. And yet, sad to say, it is precisely the ongoing dispute over the sacraments that continues to divide the church today. Roman Catholics insist that there are seven sacraments, and that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus. “Free Church” groups like Baptists insists that there are no sacraments, only ordinances that are “mere symbols.”

In one respect, this dispute is understandable. But in another respect, it is regrettable in that it misses the point. It seems to me that the witness of Scripture and the testimony of our revered spiritual guides throughout history has been that all of life is to be viewed as a sacrament! If we understand a sacrament as the experience of the grace of God in the Word, incarnate and proclaimed, through the Spirit,[2] then what part of our lives doesn’t fall under that grace? We may recognize the acts of baptism and communion as special instances of the experience of grace, but in a very real sense the outpouring of the Spirit on that first Pentecost had the effect of making every experience of life at least potentially sacramental.

The Work Of The Spirit. Talking about the Spirit makes some of us uncomfortable. Others embrace the spirituality at the core of life by any and every means. Either way, everything we are and do as Christians is defined by the Spirit of God.

In our Psalm text for today, the Spirit is the one who brings life, the one who renews creation, the one who promotes the glory of God (Ps. 104). I’m not sure how radically we are prepared to take that, but in Scripture there is nothing that falls outside the purview of the Spirit. The Scriptures affirm that the Spirit is constantly present in everyone and everything that lives (“all flesh” in Acts 2:17/Joel 2:28). Indeed, the Spirit is said to sustain the whole of creation (Ps. 104:29-30)![3]

I think it’s all too easy for us to take the marvelous gifts of the Spirit for granted. Life, breath, the created order, new life—all of that and more is due in a very real sense to the continuous life-giving presence of the Spirit (that’s not a scientific statement, but a theological one)! The ability to praise God in song, or to proclaim the promise of the Gospel, or to teach the Bible, or to build up the body of Christ—all of that and more is a demonstration of the work of the Spirit. The church lives by the presence of the Spirit of Life, or it does not live at all!

Everything that Jesus offers us with the gift of salvation—new life, love, hope, joy, freedom from everything that binds us, the restoration of all things—is the work of the Spirit of Life (Rom. 8:11, CEV).[4]

Presence Of The Spirit. One of the most bewildering aspects of the Spirit’s life among us is that the Spirit seems to “hide” more often than not (this seems to be God’s nature in general!). But if we will open our hearts, we will find that the Spirit is the loving and life-giving presence of God in all things.[5] In one sense, it’s a matter of looking at things from a different point of view—from the perspective of Scripture. The outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost opens the relationship of love and joy shared between the Father and the Son for all people to experience![6] It may seem hard for us to imagine or explain, but the Spirit of Life really does open the way for us to have the kind of relationship with God that Jesus envisioned when he prayed, “As you Father, are in me and I am in you, may that also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (Jn. 17:21).

Conclusion. In another sense, however, like everything else in the Christian life the experience of the presence of the life-giving Spirit is something that comes as a result of intentional, habitual practice. As Calvin said, we have to “get outside ourselves” in order to experience the presence of God![7] But we must also go deep within, to the place that some have called the “inner sanctuary of the soul” or the “Divine Center” within. The only way to experience the Spirit of Life within us is “by quiet, persistent practice in turning all of our being, day and night, in prayer and inward worship and surrender, toward him who calls in the deeps of our souls.” [8] When we do that, we will experience the presence, the new life, the healing, and the freedom of the Spirit in everything we do. When we do that, we will find that all of life is a sacrament of God’s grace in Jesus the Christ through the Spirit of Life!

[1] A sermon preached 6/4/06 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX.

[2]Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 199-206.

[3] Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation, 9-10, 96, 98-103.

[4] Moltmann, Church, 204-5; Shirley C. Guthrie, Christian Doctrine, 296

[5] Jürgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life, 34-35.

[6] Moltmann, Spirit, 289; J. Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom, 72, 95-96.

[7] Calvin, Institutes 3.7.1-5; Guthrie, Christian Doctrine, 299;

[8] Thomas Kelly, Testament of Devotion, 38.

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