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Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Come Holy Spirit (my sermon for today's Chapel)

COME HOLY SPIRIT. June 6, 2007. Summer Chapel Session I. Asbury Theological Seminary. Wilmore, Kentucky. John David Walt, Jr. copyright

In the Church calendar—which I prefer to call the Passion Year, we are living in the days following Pentecost. The great irony for me is the way the calendar speaks of these days. On the one hand, there is this extravagant celebration of the day of Pentecost—the mighty wind blows, the fire falls down, the Gospel is miraculously proclaimed in other languages followed by extraordinary signs and wonders all over the place. Now on the other hand—the calendar almost immediately seems to shut down the party and declare a season called. . . . . . anyone know???? Yes, ordinary time. If there is one thing the season after Pentecost is not, it is ordinary. And perhaps this is the great problem of the Church. We think of Pentecost primarily as a historical event rather than a present reality. When it comes to the Holy Spirit we have sound doctrine, but weak practice.

There are four primary realities in the Christian life—four fundamentals if you will. They are the Word, the Spirit, the person and the community. The place where we see these realities come into perfection of focus is in—you guessed it—the life of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

God the Father sent the Spirit to the young virgin Mary who himself conceived in her the Son. The Holy Spirit was with Jesus profoundly throughout every day of his childhood and youth and yet one day he comes to the Jordan River and everything seems to change. He goes under the water and we see this apparition, this manifestation that looks like a dove, descending and landing on him. It’s the Holy Spirit. But wasn’t he already full of the Holy Spirit. How does that work? Was all that just for show? Or did the one who was full of the Holy Spirit just become even more full. Super-charged! Stoked! Enflamed! A more biblical option: anointed.

I love how his early witnesses spoke of him: This from Acts 10.

37You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

I love how Luke, the writer of the Acts of the Holy Spirit, also known as the book of Acts, recounts the work of the Holy Spirit in his Gospel account. After his baptism, we read, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. 40 days later, we read, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.” Next he goes to the hometown Synagogue in Nazareth and he reads this text: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

So far so good. But now this: “Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the [acolyte] and sat down.” Luke tells us “The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

The Word become flesh—in the Person of the Son by the power of the Spirit dwelling in the midst of the community.

You see, if we want to learn about the Holy Spirit, we must turn to Jesus. I love how Father Raniero Cantalamessa calls Jesus “the great Poet of the Spirit). And yet if we really want to learn and understand Jesus we must turn to the Holy Spirit.

After the Scripture reading, Jesus then proceeds to preach a six sentence sermon after which the the people promptly escort him to the cliff to throw him off. Watch what happens next. Isaiah 61 happens—He casts out a demon (in the synagogue), rebukes the fever in Peter’s Mother-in-Law, Healed everyone who was sick in the fishing village of Capernaum, begins to build his own community of disciples, cleanses a leper with a touch of his hand, forgives the sins of a paralytic and empowers him to walk, recruits a tax collector, rebukes the religious establishment, preaches the most famous sermon in the history of the world, heals a Roman Soldier’s servant from a distance of 10 miles, raises a widow’s son from the dead, eats with sinners, calms a raging thunderstorm with a three words, casts hundreds of demons out of one man into a large herd of pigs, heals a woman bleeding sick for twelve years through the touch of his clothing, raises a twelve year old girl from the dead, Feeds ten or twelve thousand people with five loaves and two fishes, and has a small group meeting with Moses and Elijah.

All this and we aren’t even half way through the Gospel. We come to Chapter 11— where finally his disciples begin to ask him how this works.

5Then he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.' 7"Then the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' 8I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness[e] he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
9"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
11"Which of you fathers, if your son asks for[f] a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

I’m not a Holy Spirit scholar, but I am an avid student and while I have much yet to learn, I have learned a few things already. (As an aside, here’s some free advice and encouragement. Give yourself to serious, immersive study of the Holy Spirit while you are here. My own practice is to focus in an immersive way on the Holy Spirit in the summer months in what for me is a season of Pentecost. This time I’m reading Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa’s Come Creator Spirit, a fantastic commentary on the ancient hymn to the Holy Spirit.) There is a mysterious sense in which the Holy Spirit can be with you completely and yet there is still room for more. Let me test this learning on you: The Holy Spirit has limitless capacity and at the same time you have limitless capacity for the Holy Spirit. As I wrote that sentence, I wondered if I had just committed heresy. I called my mentor and resident theologian on the Holy Spirit, Maxie Dunnam. I read him the claim—“the Holy Spirit has limitless capacity and at the same time you have limitless capacity for the Holy Spirit.” There was a long pause. I cringed. Maxie spoke in his authoritative voice, “That’s absolutely true!”

The big mistake we make with respect to the Holy Spirit is in the way we think of him like an it and consequently speak in the terms of transaction and commodity. The Spirit is not a substance or a force-field. He is a person who moves like the power of the wind and with the intimacy of breath. And though he is with us, he can always be more with us. Though we are filled with him we can always be fuller.

“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Let me close with the admonition that we must grow in our practice of Pentecost. It starts with a very simple prayer. It’s perhaps the most powerful prayer of the Church. You know it.


Write it on your doorpost, bind it to your wrist, write it on your forehead, doodle it in all your textbooks and notebooks, on bathroom walls, . . . . . . you get the point.


At my graduation from the seminary, I asked then President, Maxie Dunnam, to write a charge in my bible. At the top of the charge he wrote these words,

John David, I charge you, to keep the gift of the Holy Spirit stirred up within you.

I am learning to pray this prayer at all times in all places, COME HOLY SPIRIT! It’s like setting the sail on a ship. It’s like taking a deep breath. You will find yourself this summer in hospitals full of sick people desperate for healing, with grieving families desperate for comfort, among lost people desperate for salvation, with demonized people desperate for deliverance, with hungry people desperate for food, with religious people desperate for control, with rich people seemingly desparate for no apparent reason. Learn to whisper the prayer, sing the prayer, shout the prayer, to signal the ascended Lord in the heavens with the prayer—COME HOLY SPIRIT.

Nowhere is this prayer more necessary and needful than in the home with the family. As we crossed over the celebration of Pentecost this year, our family learned the fruit of the Spirit. At each meal we begin by chanting, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.” And then with exuberance we pray, “COME HOLY SPIRIT!”

This is the prayer at the heart of the prayer at the heart of the Church—the Great Thanksgiving. We call it the Epiclesis: “Come Holy Spirit and be poured out on us gathered here and on these gifts of bread and wine and make them be for us the Body of Christ that we may be for the World the Body of Christ redeemed by his blood. Come Holy Spirit and make us one with Christ and one with each other in ministry to all the World until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet.

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posted by John David Walt | at 6/06/2007 01:12:00 PM



Blogger R.S. said...

wish i could've been there today!

Come Holy Spirit...


3:10 PM EDT  
Blogger eli said...

"He is a person who moves like the power of the wind and with the intimacy of breath. And though he is with us, he can always be more with us. Though we are filled with him we can always be fuller."

The wind can always blow more and the next breath is always the most intimate because it contains the life of that moment. This is the change in my life, JD, the power of the Spirit broke out in my life and my heart was healed, I was freed and brought into the light, and the Gospel became GOOD news that preaches as I live in the breeze awaiting the next breath.

Add some Tuttle here and you get the idea of "taking off the pressure (typically of religion and institution) and WHOOSH! wind always goes toward low pressure.

12:15 AM EDT  

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