Sometimes, in traditional, mainline, Protestant churches, too much talk about the Holy Spirit makes people nervous! And in my travels, I've come to believe that the Spirit is often the most-ignored person of the Trinity.
After all, if we just give the Spirit full and complete freedom to do whatever he wants to do, who knows what'll happen? We're liable to lose control, and then, where would we be? In fact, Presbyterians even have it written somewhere that all things should be done "decently and in order." Which is not at all a bad idea … unless we choke the Spirit and try to keep God in the box we've created for him.
In John 20, Jesus has been resurrected and meets with his disciples, where it says Jesus breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit." That passage is NOT there accident! We have to remember that Jesus only walked with us on earth for a short time.
When he was put to death and resurrected, he then ascended to heaven in full sight of all his disciples. And what did he give us? He gave us the Holy Spirit, and, amazingly enough, told us that it was BETTER that he go, because then the Spirit would come and be our teacher, comforter, guide, and advocate. In fact, the Spirit would be all we'd need to live, serve God, and share the gospel all over the world.
Have you ever been in a difficulty of some sort –– illness, confusion, maybe even danger –– and suddenly, before you even had time to ask God for help, you have the right words, the right course of action, whatever's needed? Have you ever been in conversation with someone and suddenly –– without them even realizing it –– they're saying the very words you need to hear?
Have you ever been reading scripture and have a verse just jump out and grab you? Or has God ever used YOU to encourage and help someone who really needed God's touch? Of course you have! So who is that, helping us out? It's the Holy Spirit. He brings us comfort and help, and direction, and joy, when we need it the most.
The Holy Spirit infuses our worship with that same joy –– at least as much as we allow him! If worship sometimes seems long, or we're distracted, or maybe even half asleep –– it's not because the Spirit is elsewhere that Sunday morning! The Spirit is always in our midst and ready to do wonderful things. It's just a question of how open we are, how much we're willing to pay attention.
There's even a scripture that talks about Christians who hold the "form" of religion, but deny its power. But if we give the Spirit an inch, he's liable to take a mile –– and that means renewed joy and excitement in our worship.
Psalm 150 may be the ultimate song of praise to God, but it's far from the only one. Just look at the ways Psalm 150 gives us to praise God: trumpet, lute, harp, tambourine, dance, strings, pipes, and cymbals that clang and clash. Can we even imagine how noisy a worship service like that would be? And can all that happen decently and in order?
Well, YES! Not only does scripture recommend such wonderful behavior, praising God makes us feel joyful when we do praise him as we're encouraged to do. The Holy Spirit gives us as much joy as we're able to receive.
When Jesus met his disciples that day, the first words he said were, "Peace be with you." And at that moment, they needed peace, just as we do today. When life is tangled and seems dark, only the Spirit can give us peace.
When Jesus breathes on his disciples and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit," I believe this moment is meant to make us remember the scene in Genesis, when God breathed life into his human creations. It reminds us, also, of the passage in Ezekiel, where the wind of the Spirit blew over the dry bones and revived them to life and energy and purpose.
The same thing was happening to the disciples: Jesus was strengthening and empowering them to do the work he'd given them to do … to BE disciples, and to make disciples. That's our mission, too. And without the Holy Spirit, we're not going to be able to do it.
Nothing's changed: The instructions, the Great Commission, the promise of a real and constant relationship with Jesus, through his Spirit. Our job? We need to show up, open up, and stand up!
Don't let the Holy Spirit make you nervous. Like Jesus, he's completely trustworthy. What we have to remember is to be open, and to know fully that the end result will be JOY. The Spirit is in our midst, in our hearts, this very moment. Open yourself to his love, and receive his joy.
Rev. Susan Bennett is pastor of Stockbridge Presbyterian Church. She and her husband live in Stockbridge with two giant Rottweilers and a 15-pound rescue dog who is the boss of everybody.