Sermon: “Where Is the Holy Ghost?”
“And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.” [Acts 2:2-3]
On Memorial Day weekend, if you recall, I was away. I was up in Sacramento performing a wedding. Once again, many people expressed their pleasure in such a traditional and beautiful service. The stepmother of the groom was almost in tears as she told me how much this service meant to her. And once again, this confirms to me how hungry people are for the sacred, the liturgical, and the Spirit of God. But, besides this, I had one very funny incident happen.
The ring bearer was a boy named Adam. And he was about four years old. He was very smart and took his role very seriously, but also seemed to be having a great time. Well, after the wedding ceremony, Adam and his mother came up to me. The mother spoke first, “Adam has something to ask you.” She then turned to Adam who was in her arms and said, “Go ahead; ask him.” Adam turned to me and said, “Where is the Holy Ghost?”
Well, that threw me for a loop, so the first thing that came out was, “Well, He is up in Heaven.” As I said this, I thought to myself that this was NOT a very good answer to this excellent question. And the boy confirmed my fear by saying, “But where is He now?” As I was about to give Adam a deep theological explanation, something struck me. I turned to Adam and said, “Have you ever heard of the Holy Spirit?” “Yes,” was his reply. “Well, ‘Holy Ghost’ is just another way to say ‘Holy Spirit.’” “Oh,” said Adam, and totally satisfied, he ran off to play. But I was left unfulfilled because all my deep theological explanations that were going through my mind went unexpressed.
As I stood there, it suddenly made sense, all that Adam was saying. He thought that there was some sort of ghost in the room, and it kind of scared him. Once he knew it was the Holy Spirit, all was well for him.
Children often get things we do in church wrong. Dick van Dyke told the story of how, as a child, he thought people were praying, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, Harold be thy Name.”
A little boy was in a relative’s wedding. As he was coming down the aisle, he would take two steps, stop, and turn to the crowd. While facing the crowd, he would put his hands up like claws and roar. So it went, step, step, roar; step, step, roar, all the way down the aisle. As you can imagine, the crowd was laughing hard by the time he made it down the aisle. When asked what he was doing, the boy said, “I was being the Ring Bear.”
But children aren’t the only ones who get things we do in church wrong. Sometimes we adults don’t quite have it right either:
And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, “Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.”
Because of this amazing miracle and because of what the Apostles said that day, about three THOUSAND people came to believe in Christ that Pentecost so long ago. However, there were others that still doubted. There were those who refused to believe, and there were those who became outwardly hostile to this “new” religion.
And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, “What meaneth this?” Others mocking said, “These men are full of new wine.” [Acts 2:12-13]
It is my experience that when people do not understand something, they usually react in one of three ways. The first thing they may do is dismiss it. They may dismiss it by making a joke or by not even considering it. Although it is dismissed, these people may still be persuaded by the truth of the matter.
The second way people may react to something they do not understand is to become hostile to it. This is what happened when the Holy Spirit manifested its power almost two thousand years ago. Some people reacted in a hostile way. They assumed that the Apostles were drunk – but being drunk would not explain why every person heard what was being said in their native tongue. Rather, they needed some way to dismiss what was happening. If they could not, the gravity of the situation would rock their notion of the world to its foundation. These are the lost souls that we may never reach.
When I first came back to the faith, I hoped that God would do something that would show to the world that He does exist. But then I realized that anything He would do, like changing night into day, would be dismissed. Those who did not believe would go out of their way to explain the miracle away. They would come up with some kind of scientific explanation.
Then it struck me. God DID do something to show the world that He does exist. He chose to become human, to be born of a virgin, and to speak to us on a human level. What is more, He performed miracles that astounded. And yet, this God-made-man, this Emmanuel, this Christ so frightened the unbelievers that they conspired and succeeded in having Him executed. Pentecost was the ultimate miracle to convince an unbelieving world, and yet we still had people saying, “They must be drunk!”
The third and final reaction people may have to something they do not understand IS to try to understand it. These people, for some reason, have no issue as to believing something when it is new and when it first happens. This is what happened to the first three thousand people. And this still happens every day.
So, let us look at something we as Christians really do not understand. Let us look at the Holy Ghost:
NOW there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.
The Holy Ghost is the most misunderstood and abused Person of the Blessed Trinity. And part of this misunderstanding comes from His operation in the world. The Holy Ghost works in ways that mystifies us all:
For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom, to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit: to another faith by the same Spirit: to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit: to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another divers kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.
Historians have come to agreement on certain aspects of Christianity, and one of them deals with Pentecost. Even the most ardent atheistic historian agrees that “something” happened on this day to change the first Apostles from a group of scared followers to fearless people proclaiming the Christian faith. And on this day, the Christian Church was born.
The Holy Ghost is a real Spirit working through men and women individually, and through the Church collectively. He is causing things to happen that works for the Kingdom of God. And it is about time we recognize this fact, even though we worship in a traditional, liturgical church.
So, the question I have for each of us is the same question Adam asked of me, “Where is the Holy Ghost?” Where is the Holy Ghost in our lives? Where is He in our church? Where is He in our faith?
Adam’s question is much more profound than many of us may have first thought. His fear that somehow this Spirit is a ghost exhibits that same fear that many of us feel when we see the Spirit working in the world.
Now, let us also be mature Christians; many people claiming inspiration from the Holy Ghost are scammers, seeking to play and to con us. But often we dismiss the operation of the Holy Spirit in our church or in our lives out of fear – fear of the unknown, and fear of what others will think. But fear limits us. It cripples and disables. And it is time to dismiss fear from our lives.
Unless and until we embrace the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our faith, we, like these first Apostles, will remain scared and timid creatures. But once we allow Him to work in us and through us, we will start to feel the transforming power of God. And, as Saint Paul put it, we WILL become new creatures.