Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit. Ah, the Holy Spirit. The one person of the Godhead that scares us the most. For us Lutherans, who have grown up in a theology that is so rational...that can seem more of a “head” theology than a “heart” theology...a tradition that for centuries disavowed glossolalia - speaking in tongues that is, in the Pentecostal tradition, a true mark of the presence of the Spirit in one’s life...
For us Lutherans, I think the idea of the Spirit - this uncontrollable person of the Trinity that flits and floats freely and that can push us into seemingly irrational thought and action... For many of us Lutherans, I think the Holy Spirit scares the living daylights out of us!
So, today, let’s dig into the Holy Spirit on this Pentecost Sunday. And, more specifically, let's look at work of the Holy Spirit, using Paul’s text from Romans as a guide. A text I might add is an important and weighty text for our understanding and a text from which we often hear snippets - phrases that will seem very familiar to you, but that allow for us to look at it as an entire section. So, today, we'll study Romans 8 to help us more fully understand the work of the Spirit, that manifests itself in three ways. First, that the gift of the spirit marks the beginning of Christian life. Secondly, that the Holy Spirit is the power of new life. And, finally, that the Spirit works through us, not only as individuals, but particularly as a community.
Romans 8:18-25. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit that marks the beginning of the Christian life.
For the early church, those 120 plus men and women gathered on that first Pentecost who witnessed the first outpouring of the Spirit - Christ’s own Spirit that had been promised to them. When they witnessed this first outpouring, they knew that this was a moment in time when their Christian faith had fully begun. Although they may not have initially understood it, they eventually recognized that this free dispensing of the Holy Spirit on them and those baptized that first day marked a new age. The beginning of the end. The beginning of the last days. This time in between Christ’s first coming to earth and Christ’s second coming. The time in which we also live.
In Paul’s writing, the gift of the Spirit is likewise the beginning of the Christian experience. It is another way to describe our new justified relationship with God. It gives us a new sense of our own identity as adopted daughters and sons of God. In the Greek, the word used is one that marks a profound existential change in relationship. It means that, as God’s adopted children, we are heirs. Just as Daniel, who is celebrating his first communion today, has been adopted through the power of the Spirit in his baptism, so, too, you and I have been adopted.
This notion of adoption and inheritance was a profound message in Paul’s day. Much more profound, perhaps, than for us today. Because very few people had means to pass on. Very few people came from families with means to pass on. To be heir meant you had a future. It might be a future that required your patience and that required waiting. But, it meant you had a future. And, thus, hope.
So, with the early church, we wait. With patience. And with hope. Even in the midst of our suffering and weakness.
Romans 8:28-30. Second point. The Spirit is the power of our new life in Christ.
The gift of the Spirit is a beginning of our final fulfillment as Christians - the first installment of a life-long process of transformation into the image of Christ. A process, called sanctification, that achieves its end in the resurrection of our bodies. It’s like that first downpayment on a new car. Or a new house. It’s the first step in a months-long or years-long process of purchasing that new vehicle or home. Reaching the point where it is finally ours. And we are fully free.
It is in this first downpayment of the Spirit where God begins to work and to build God’s claim on our whole being. Step by step, even in times of sorrow and struggle, when we no longer have even the words to pray. In contrast with the believers on that first Pentecost who were given the gift of communication, even when we have reached the point where we no longer have words to describe our sorrow and suffering, it is the Spirit who steps in. Who intercedes for us. Who prays for us. Who sighs for us. And whom God hears. For us.
Because God has called us through the Spirit. And, so, life then for us becomes a daily walking in our baptism. Responding to that claim of the Spirit on us. Lives that are given new power in the Spirit to more fully live into God’s claim on us.
But, lives that are also lived in tension and conflict. Between the old and the new. Between the flesh and the spirit. Between saint and sinner. It is in this tension where God’s grace comes to its fullest expression. In our weakness. Because it was in Jesus’ weakness, in Jesus’ death, where God’s grace became real. Where death did not define the future. But, resurrection did. Life did. And so, for us, too, in our weakness, God’s grace is expressed most fully. It is the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus who has freed us and who empowers us to live fully into our identity as adopted children of God and heirs of God’s kingdom.
Romans 8:31-39. Finally, it is the Spirit that is experienced by all and works through all, in the love of God in Christ Jesus.
For Paul, this idea of the Spirit being experienced by and working through the community was paramount. This community, which Paul called koinonia, was one of common participation where the Spirit worked to form a group of unique and diverse individuals into one body. Where, each of us allows the Holy Spirit to work on our hearts and to come to its fullest expression in what we say and do. Where we are formed into one body. Not that we should be alike. But that we, in all of our diversity, find our unity in Christ. And where we grow in the knowledge and understanding of Christ. Living together in honesty and authenticity. With no weak links in our community because through the power of the Spirit, we work to lift everyone up. Testing every word and deed that claims to be authorized by the Spirit with the standard that is Jesus Christ. The standard of love.
Because, isn’t that why we come here every week? To experience Christ’s love for us? This love that has the power to transform us, not only as individuals, but, particularly as a community. A community that is bound together in the love of Christ. A community that, through Christ love, is bound to God. And a community that will never be separated from the love of God in Christ.
This is the work of the Spirit. It is God’s love poured out for us in the Spirit that marks the beginning of our new life in Christ, that gives us the power to live more fully into this new life, and that forms and shapes us into a community of love. To live into a different vision for the future. Into God’s vision for the future. A vision characterized by God’s love in Christ Jesus. And a love from which nothing can ever separate us.
Neither death. Nor life. Nor angels. Nor rulers. Nor things present. Nor things to come. Nor powers. Nor height. Nor depth. Nor anything else in all creation. Will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:38-39)
We give thanks for the gift of the Holy Spirit. May we continue to live into God's love and be the loving people God is making us to be. Amen.
Preached Sunday, June 9th, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Day of Pentecost
Readings: Acts 2:1-4, Romans 8:18-39; Matthew 28:16-20.