Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tuesday - Prologue

In the Prologue to her book, Sara Miles writes, "It turned out that the prerequisite for conversion wasn't knowing how to behave in church, or having a religious vocabulary or an a priori "belief" in an abstract set of propositions: It was hunger, the same hunger I'd always carried."

I have found in my own experience that people seem to think they have to be good enough to be a Christian or smart enough or have something they think they are lacking. Jesus asks for nothing, except that we believe in Him. 

Today is a two question day:
What do you think is a requirement for conversion to Christianity?
What are you hungry for?

Monday, May 29, 2017

Monday - the Author's Note

The book starts out with a sense of humor, and a very realistic sense at that!

Before the first chapter, before the prologue, the author, Sara Miles shares a note with all her readers.

"To use a religious analogy: This book is not the Bible imagined as inerrant and historically definitive. It's more the Bible I believe in - that is, a human compilation of stories told in different voices, edited and rearranged over many drafts to suggest truths not always fully understood."

She starts the book already begging a question from her readers... great engagement! 

How do you understand the Bible?

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Seventh Sunday of Easter

I've been here ten months. Not a huge amount of time, but enough to start learning some basics about each other. If you haven't caught on yet, I'll tell you a secret. I like questions. Good deep questions. Questions that can be looked at and analyzed and pondered. Questions without answers or questions without easy answers. I like questions, and we get two goodies in the passage from Acts today. The feast of the Ascension is always celebrated on the fortieth day of Easter, typically a Thursday, and so we celebrated Ascension Day this past Thursday. The feast of the Ascension celebrates the day on which Jesus ascended into heaven after his resurrection and appearances in Israel. The story is best told in Acts as we heard it this morning. 
The first of the two good questions is from the disciples who are walking along talking to Jesus. The disciples ask Jesus, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" Its such a simple question. Yes or no? Easy, is it the time? However the question belies a very simple assumption. The disciples still think that Jesus is going to overthrow the Roman rule of the nation of Israel. You and I both know, he wasn't going to do that at all. The disciples, however, still don't get it. The whole mission hasn't been about restoring the nation of Israel. In a very major way, Jesus had already done restored Israel, just not in the way that the disciples were expecting. He did restore the people of God to the kingdom of God, bringing them back into relationship with God. Unfortunately, he didn't also overthrow the Roman Empire. Though of the choices, overthrowing death or the Roman Empire, I'm glad Jesus chose death. Probably just because the Roman Empire eventually died of its own accord and I am very grateful that Jesus saved us all from the clutches of sin and death. 

Jesus does answer the disciples question. However, Jesus doesn't give them a Yes or No answer. He tells them it is not for them to know when the Roman Empire will fall. It is not for them to know the times or periods of the future. Those are set by the Father. He does tell them that they will receive power with the Holy Spirit and that they have a job to do as witnesses throughout the earth proclaiming about Jesus. It wasn't the job that they wanted, but it is the job that they got. Right before Jesus ascends to heaven, he tells the disciples what they are to do. Then he gets lifted up and disappears from their sight.

Which leads us to the second good question. The disciples are standing there, dumbfounded I am sure, having just watched their leader disappear into the sky above them, when some men in white robes, probably angels, ask them a question. There was probably some momentary confusion among the disciples when they realized they were being addressed and some questioning as to who these men were. I bet some of those disciples could have stood there all day wondering what had just happened and what was going to happen next. "Men of Galilee, the Angels say, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?"

While the men in white robes, the angels, then tell the disciples some information about Jesus and his coming and goings, there is an implication to this question. I don't know about you, however any time I was asked why I was standing around looking at something as a child, the implication was always, "Don't you have something you should be doing?" Maybe that's just me and some hold over guilt from my parents. The disciples weren't going to find anything by standing and staring into heaven. Jesus had given them a job to do immediately before he left them and there is a sense that they need to get moving on the task ahead of them. The disciples never answer the question the angels ask them in the story. It is more of a rhetorical question after all. 

Thinking about these two questions leads me to wonder what it would look like if we asked them in our context here at St. John's. We probably don't wonder about Jesus overthrowing the Roman Empire and restoring the nation of Israel, however, we do ask similar questions to Jesus. When Lord, are you going to take care of the hungry? When Lord, are you going to end war in the world? When Lord, are you going to come back and restore justice in this world? When Lord, are you going to cure cancer? When Lord, are you going to come and fix my stressful situation? We as human beings are susceptible to wanting someone else to take care of our own problems for us. What assumptions about Jesus are we making at St. John's? How have we missed the point of Jesus' mission in the world and how have we missed our own part of it because we want someone else to take care of it?

The second question is as rhetorical and as poignant in our context at St. John's as it is for the disciples. Why do you stand looking up toward heaven? Jesus has given us a job to do and yet, sometimes we are better at staring into heaven than what we are called to do. You may ask, What work do we have to do? Like the disciples we are called to be witnesses to Jesus to the ends of the earth. Granted that does sound a little big and vague. I mean, that could mean a whole lot of things. 

When I think of all the things we could do, my brain gets overwhelmed... like a overused circuit... it tends toward breaking. When the disciples receive the Holy Spirit, in the story we will hear next week, as Jesus told them they would, they start speaking in different languages! What could we do with the Holy Spirit? What could we do if we didn't keep ourselves hemmed in? What could we do if we were willing to dream big?

Once we are given the Holy Spirit in baptism, there is really no call for us to be living normal ordinary boring lives. We have each been made extraordinary. With the Holy Spirit, the kingdom of God breaks through and transforms moments into extraordinary times. What would St. John's be if we had confidence and faith and hope? Confidence in God to lead the way, faith in God to transform our actions and hope in ourselves to create goals and to achieve them? It may seem crazy, and I'm perfectly okay with y'all thinking I'm a little bit crazy, just not too much, I have passed multiple psychological exams... however, It may seem crazy that I have started day dreaming and planning and thinking ahead nine years to when St. John's hits its bicentennial. In nine years, this parish, this congregation will be two hundred years old. Two hundred years. Years of abundance, years of scarcity, years of sorrow, years of joy, always connecting to God through worship and prayer and fellowship. What will St. John's look like in nine years? What will we have dreamed and done together? How will we have witnessed to Jesus to the ends of the earth?

What would you do if you had no boundaries? no consequences? no fear or lack of money? I have a day dream book where I have written down things I have thought I would like to do some day. It spans a wide range of things. Many of them will never happen, though they are fun to think about and figure out what they would be like. Some of them are possible and for those few that I have sensed the greatest desire to do, I have what I call planning pages in further along in the notebook. On those pages, I write down what it would take to do those things. What would I have to do now, what would I have to save for? I outline things. Granted, I'm a planner, I'm a strategist. I plan ahead. Work out back up plans, pack emergency equipment. Not everyone does this. Some of us have vision, some of us get stuff done. Some of us plan ahead and work out the details. We are given different gifts so that we can work together as a community and support each other, so that we are not all silos, working by ourselves, getting burned out. We can hand things off when our gifts have been exhausted so that we can move on to the next project. 

I do not have the answers. I do have the questions. And I have the willingness to lean into the questions, to go on the Adventure, to see where the Holy Spirit is leading us. Please don't just stand there staring into heaven, follow Jesus' call to be a witness to the marvelous work that he has done!


take this bread - a summer virtual book study

Welcome to the summer virtual book study!

The purpose of a summer virtual book study is to take off some of the pressure of a regular book study. You can take this book at your own pace. Another good thing about a virtual book study is that wherever you and your book and your favorite device go, you can participate!

I will be posting quotes, questions, stories, pictures, and histories on this blog and on other St. John's social media outlets (check our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram sites). The posts will go Sunday through Friday, with a break on Saturday, throughout the months of June, July, and August. The chapters are short, the reading is interesting, and the stories are real.

In August we will have a review, in person, at St. John's during the Formation Hour, 9:00 am. The review is to gather together and think back over the discussions, ideas, thoughts that come out of the book study. I'm sure there will be some really good discussions ahead!

If you need to order the book, you can find it on Amazon.

If you want to participate and need help purchasing a book, please let me know!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Community Wholeness

Almighty and everliving God, ruler of all things in heaven and earth, hear our prayers for this parish family. Strengthen the faithful, arouse the careless, and restore the penitent. Grant us all things necessary for our common life, and bring us all to be of one heart and mind within your holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 817)

For a community to be well, good, and in working order, the members of the community need to be healthy as well.  We tend to talk a lot in the church about wholeness, however we don't always define what we mean by it. Wholeness is a step beyond health or physical well being. Wholeness  means being in harmonious unity, being unbroken and undamaged, means being well in many aspects of one's life. Though we are all at least a little bit broken and damaged, the idea of having wholeness or wellness in many areas of our lives is not as unimaginable as it might seem.

As defined by the National Wellness Institute, wellness is an active process through which people become aware of, and making choice toward, a more successful existence. There are many different aspects of wellness in life: environmental, physical, occupational, financial, intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual. Unfortunately these days not many communities are concerned enough about the health and wellness of their members.  However this does not mean that we are not called to work healing and reconciliation in our lives. For ourselves and for others. We are.  Taking care of others requires taking care of ourselves. We cannot help other in a community when we are too tied up in our own problems to be able to see the needs of others. Jesus calls us to be agents of change for wholeness, wellness, healing, health, hope, and reconciliation within the communities we live in. God created us as marvelous multifaceted human beings.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Share a Story


Human beings are hardwired for community. We typically live in family groups and we function best with people we know. We feel most comfortable when we know and trust those who are around us. A huge part of what creates that kind of atmosphere is the stories which are shared. One of the reasons religious groups hold together so well through conflict is the shared stories of the Bible and tradition.

I would like to offer you a challenge. Now that everyone has their new directory (and if you haven't gotten one yet, there are still some in the church office), I challenge you to reach out to someone new in the next week. (Not someone you haven't talked to in a while, someone you really don't know at all.) Look through the directory, maybe there is a picture or a name that stands out to you as someone you couldn't list three things about.  Through a phone call, an email, reaching out to them before or after the church service, introduce yourself. Talk for a couple of minutes and share a story. An easy starting point would be, why do you come to church at St. John's?

Our community consists of amazing people. People who have been here a very very long time and people who are fairly new. We all bring wonderful gifts and stories to our community. Those stories bind us together through common sorrows, through empathy, through common joys. The Holy Spirit helps us share our stories and Jesus helps us enter into communion through the stories we share together.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

Who, what, why, where, when, and how. These are the questions to answer when fully explaining a concept. We have talked about the answers to Who, Why, and Where in regards to the Holy Spirit. Who? The Holy Spirit is a part of God. Why? Because we need help, the Holy Spirit is the one who inspires us on the journey. Where? The Holy Spirit can be found in community. 

Today we are going to tackle the what and the when. What does the Holy Spirit do to help us on the journey? We are filled with the Holy Spirit and inspired to follow Jesus. When? All the time. Anytime. Every time. The Holy Spirit is always with us as a guide, inspiration, and help. 

So that was easy. I've already answered the questions. But wait, I can see you about to ask me, what does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit?

What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit?  In order to answer this question, I'll give you a few examples. The saints show us plenty of examples of what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Stephen is one of the first for which this is said explicitly. In Acts we hear the story of the stoning of Stephen, one of the first deacons. The Holy Spirit fills Stephen and he has a vision of heaven and he tries to share that vision with those around him. Stephen forgives those who are stoning him while he dies and he gives up his Spirit to Jesus. Stephen does what God is calling him to do regardless of the consequences. 
In the Episcopal tradition, we follow the steps of the faithful who go before us. We have a book called Holy Women, Holy Men which sets out the feast days of the saints and gives a short description of each of them. This past week contained the feast days of Gregory of Nazianzus, Julian of Norwich, and Nicolaus von Zinzendorf. Each of these saints were filled with the Holy Spirit and saints have a tendency to have three things in common. They do what they feel is right, what God is calling them to do regardless of the consequences at the hands of other human beings. They recognize the way, the truth, and the life, and that God is at work in their lives. They are filled with joy that motivates them and drives them forward. 

Gregory of Nazianzus was Archbishop of Constantinople during the 4th century. He was known as the Trinitarian theologian, a great speaker and writer. Gregory had an experience with a great storm while on a ship that compelled him to give his life in service to God. His father was a bishop and he wanted him to be a priest in one of the local churches. However Gregory wanted to be a monk, far away from the political and social problems of the day. God had other ideas. Throughout his life, Gregory found himself in the middle of many different political and theological debates about the natures of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Gregory was filled with the Holy Spirit and able to stand up for his beliefs in the Trinity, in the three persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Gregory was a great champion of what we think of orthodox theology today. The Holy Spirit filled him with courage to follow his calling even though he didn't want to, gave him the ability to recognize that he God was at work in his life, and filled him with joy.

Julian of Norwich lived in England during the 1300-1400's. She is remembered because she had a number of visions of Jesus which she wrote about in a book called Revelations of Divine Love. This is the first book in the English language known to have been written by a woman! Most notably, Julian wrote during a major time of upheaval in the church and community, the early 1400's were characterized by time periods of plague passing through the land. She most famously wrote, "All shall be well, and all shall be well. And all manner of thing shall be well." Despite the restrictions against women at the time, Julian followed God's call for her, recognized God at work in her life, and was filled with a joy that allowed her to see beyond the problems of her time. 

Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf is actually one saint of which I am very fond. Zinzendorf, Ludwig to his friends, was a religious reformer and community builder in the 1700's. He was an eclectic theologian and he called his group, The Church of God in the Spirit. He worked for ecumenical causes throughout Europe, especially inviting people to live in his Christian community on his land in what is now lower Austria. Eventually, through conflicts and reconciliation work, he created the Moravian Church and personally helped set up two communities in the new English colonies, one in Bethlehem and the other in Salem. This is how I met him. Every third grader when I was in elementary school in Bethlehem had to do a history unit on the Moravians and Count Zinzendorf.  Zinzendorf was led by the Holy Spirit to many different places, he even met with Benjamin Franklin when he visited Pennsylvania in the 1740's. Though he had started out as a Lutheran, and ended up a Moravian (both groups Episcopalians are in full communion with today), he was guided by the Holy Spirit in standing up for his beliefs in religious tolerance, unity, and community, recognizing that God was at work in his life, and being filled with joy at the opportunities for others which he created. 

Throughout the centuries, thousands of men and women can be recognized as having their lives filled with the Holy Spirit. Today we celebrate Mother's Day, a holiday which exists only because men and women were filled with the Holy Spirit and stood up for their beliefs in caring for mothers and their roles in peace, temperance, and reconciliation. We follow their examples of following God's call, recognizing that God is at work in our lives, and being filled with the joy that comes from following where the Spirit leads us. 

What does the Holy Spirit do to help us on the journey? We are filled with the Holy Spirit and inspired to follow Jesus. When? All the time. Anytime. Every time. The Holy Spirit is always with us as a guide, inspiration, and help. What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Being filled with the Holy Spirit means doing what is right, what God is calling us to do, regardless of the consequences from other people. Being filled with the Holy Spirit means recognizing the way, the truth, and the life, and that God is at work in our lives. Being filled with the Holy Spirit means being filled with joy that motivates us and drives us forward. Like being filled with good music, when the Holy Spirit washes over you, it takes you on a journey you hadn't expected. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Bishops, Priests, Deacons

In the Episcopal Church we have a structure which consists of a three fold order of ordained ministers: Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. St. John's has great familiarity with bishops and priests. In fact, most of you know our current bishop, +Sean, quite well. I am the fifteenth in St. John's line of full time priests. However, we have just recently gotten our first vocational deacon! This past Sunday, Dave Betz was ordained to the diaconate and appointed to serve St. John's.

Deacons are called to serve the church in five specific ways. They are to study the Holy Scriptures, to make Christ known through their work. They are to "interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world." They are to assist during worship services, and to particularly serve the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely. (BCP 543)

Given these instructions, Deacon Dave will be taking on some new parts in our regular worship services. Specifically, at the 8 am service, Deacon Dave will be reading the Gospel, leading the Prayers of the People and the Confession, and saying the Dismissal. At the 10 am service, Deacon Dave will be reading the Gospel, leading the Prayers of the People and the Confession, setting the table and bearing Chalice, and saying the Dismissal. Deacon Dave will continue with his work with Emmaus Haven Shelter and visiting St. John's members in the hospital.

Please stay after the 10am service this Sunday as we celebrate the work that God is doing through Deacon Dave and congratulate him at the reception.

See you in church!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Good Shepherd Sunday

Today is colloquially known as Good Shepherd Sunday. Every year we celebrate Easter with at least one Sunday discussing the metaphor of sheep. Another metaphor the gospel of John loves is the metaphor of light. Here's a little glimpse into the nature of the relationship between sheep and light from a sheep farmer in Virginia:

"One evening just after dark, I was driving my Buick up our gravel driveway. As I rounded the first turn, my headlights illuminated a flock of sheep standing about 20 feet in front of me. One of the evangelical ones must have whispered to her buddies, “Run to the light!” because they all turned and headed straight for the car. Bonk! Bonk! Bonk! One after the other, they plunged headfirst into my front grill and then staggered off to the side to let the others have a turn. I honked the horn, but that just seemed to confuse them more. The sheep sped up, and my car rocked as every ewe threw herself at it. Finally, when they were all sprawled on the edges of the driveway, I edged past them and drove on to the house. They staggered to their feet and followed me in."

This story is from Ginny Neil who writes a blog about the sheep farm she owns with her husband in the mountains of Virginia. Ginny received quite the welcome home party that night. For most of us, even if we have no personal experiences with sheep, we have spent our lives hearing about the wily nature of sheep. They run away, they go where you don't want them to, they are always somehow in your way. Yet, sheep get a bad rap from many people. Not everything about sheep is bad. Sheep follow their leader, as notably shown in the story from Ginny, sheep are communal, they live in flocks, and sheep are each unique. 

One of the most iconic images Jesus gives us to teach us about who he is is the Good Shepherd. Jesus compares a good shepherd to a bad shepherd. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who calls each of his sheep by name. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who protects the sheep from harm. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who carries the sheep home when they get lost. Interestingly enough, the gospel passage for today stops one verse short of where Jesus says he is the Good Shepherd. In this passage Jesus says, I am the gate. Its a slightly more confusing image, Jesus being a gate. However, we understand the metaphor. Jesus is saying that all the sheep must go through him, or we must go through him to get to the kingdom of heaven. Sheep tend to be great at following each other. When we choose to follow Jesus, he will show us the way through the gate. By going through Jesus, we can find and have abundant life, more than we have ever dreamed of. By following our Savior, we become part of God's people. 

Naturally, since this image of the Good Shepherd is such an important one to how we understand ourselves in the church, we have Good Shepherd stained glass windows - both in the church and in the chapel. The Good Shepherd is a comforting metaphor, allowing us to know that Jesus is always caring for us. As Jesus goes on to say in the gospel of John, "The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." Jesus would do anything for his people. 

In the passage from Acts, well, we don't see any sheep. At least, not literally. The passage does talk about Jesus' followers and what they are doing, so in a way, it is metaphorically about Jesus' sheep. His disciples are the ones who have heard his voice and responded. And its clear that these sheep, the group of Jesus' followers in Acts have some of the characteristics of sheep. Let's face it, they probably smelled. More seriously, they are communal, they share space and food and possessions. In everything I have ever read or experienced of sheep, they are herd animals, they live in flocks. They stick together, communally, for safety and survival. 

In some sense, that is what we do all the time as well. In family groups, friend groups, and community groups, we rely on our communities in times of joy and sorrow. We stick together with other people for safety and survival. We share our food and our possessions in different ways with those around us. Yet, in our increasingly individualistic society, we are losing some of the values of what it means to be communal creatures. In the passage from Acts, you can see what value the community brings to each of the members - teaching, fellowship, mentors, dinner and meal partners, the ability to share possessions needed. We tend to look at this passage as an example of agreeable community - everything was perfect in the early church. However, we know this wasn't the case. The early church still had plenty of disagreements and discussions about what they were supposed to be doing. They each had to listen for Jesus' voice calling out to them. They worked out their disagreements, as far as they were able, staying in community together. 

You may be thinking, last week I told you that we would be talking about the Holy Spirit and yet I haven't mentioned the Holy Spirit once! Do not be afraid! Here comes the Holy Spirit. Dun dun dun! What does the Holy Spirit have to do with sheep or Jesus being the Good Shepherd? Well, we already agreed with St. Augustine that the Trinity never works alone. So the Holy Spirit must be part of the act of Jesus tending the sheep of his pasture. Whether the Holy Spirit is acting in the sheep in order for them to respond or helping Jesus wrangle the sheep, the Holy Spirit is present. Now, it may be simply because of the nature of the Holy Spirit's home life, but I tend to see the Holy Spirits' presence as a requirement in any act of communal nature. Flocks of sheep cannot be flocks of sheep without the instinct for survival that tells them that being in a group is safer, and communities of Jesus followers cannot be communities without the Holy Spirit. What connects and binds us together in community is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is that which makes us the sheep of Jesus' flock. 

Lastly, the metaphor extends to each of us. Even though sheep live their lives as part of a flock, live their entire lives in a community, they are each unique. Just as the flock of sheep now around me, we are each unique in our community. Bringing together gifts and abilities from different people allows us to work together to accomplish more than we could ever do by ourselves. Knowing one's place as a sheep of God's fold means following Jesus, living together in community, and being true to God's calling for you. Follow Jesus the Good Shepherd. Share in the community of Jesus' sheep. Listen for His voice calling out to you. The Good Shepherd cares for you.


PS. I was joined in the pulpit by a small flock of sheep for this morning's sermon.
Image may contain: 1 person, indoor

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Jesus is fully alive!

"When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead." John 21:9-14

Jesus' disciples had a hard time believing that Jesus really was alive again. Partly this seems to be because Jesus looks different than he had before. We never find out how, except that Jesus is not always recognized at first. In this story from John, there seems to be some question as to who Jesus was, and this was not the only time. The disciples on the road to Emmaus don't recognize him, Mary Magdalene doesn't recognize him at first, the disciples in the boat don't recognize him at first either. It is only when Jesus does something specifically related to his ministry and relationship to the people in the story do they recognize him. In this passage, when he feeds them.

What are we like after death? What does the resurrection mean? These are good questions that we don't have any concrete answers to. Jesus does eat and drink, so he is resurrected with his body, not as a ghost or a spirit. He shows them his hands and his feet, his wounds. Jesus tries to make it clear to his followers that indeed he is alive and that this means great things for the world. However, it is a hard concept to grasp. We don't have a tendency to live in this way. How would we live, what would we do if we had nothing stopping us? Death is no longer something to be feared. Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Easter 3

The Trinity were planning a holiday. The Spirit, manifesting the creative part of the divine nature, was coming up with the ideas. "Let's go to New York," he suggested. "No, no, no," said the Father, "They're all so liberated, they'll spend the whole time calling me 'Mother' and it will just do my head in." So the Spirit sat back and thought. "I know, what about Jerusalem?" he said. "It's beautiful and then there's the history and everything." "No way!" the Son declared. "After what happened the last time, I'm never going there again!" At this point, the Spirit got annoyed and went off in a huff. Sometime later he returned and found that the Father and Son had had a idea they both thought was excellent: "Why don't we go to Rome?" said the Son. "Perfect!" cried the Holy Spirit. "I've never been there before!"

Who is the Holy Spirit and why hasn't it ever been in Rome? Joking! The Holy Spirit has been all over the whole world.

Since we spent all of Lent talking about who Jesus is and what Jesus was doing in the world, building up to Holy Week and Easter, we are going to spend the Easter season building up to Pentecost talking about the Holy Spirit. Who is the Holy Spirit? What does the Holy Spirit do in the world?

We know the Holy Spirit from scripture as the Spirit, as the breath of God, as the advocate, the Paraclesis, the Sustainer, the Comforter, the one who inspired the authors of the scriptures, the one who moves us to repentance and baptism, the part of God working in us before we know it and can name it. But who really is this Holy Spirit?

Early on in the Christian tradition, St. Augustine of Hippo said in his book, On the Trinity, "the Trinity works indivisibly in everything that God works," in other words,  never does one part of the Trinity work alone. The Trinity always works together. So whenever we see the presence of Jesus or God the Father or the Holy Spirit, the other two are at work as well. In the passage from Acts, we see the workings of the Holy Spirit in all those who repent and are baptized by Peter and the other apostles. The people who are baptized "receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." We talk about this gift being given to us in baptism. In the passage from Luke, we definitely see Jesus in this passage, so the Father and the Holy Spirit must be present. We see the Holy Spirit in Cleopas and the other disciple walking along being opened to the scriptures. We cannot believe anything about God without the working of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is which gives us the ability to make the leap to faith.

Who is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. In Christian history, discussions about The Holy Spirit happened fairly late. In the original edition of the Nicene creed, the Holy Spirit had one phrase, "And in the Holy Ghost." That was it. The Holy Spirit was the afterthought addendum to the Nicene Creed.  The theologians at the time were too busy trying to figure out Jesus. However, once they figured out Jesus, they did start discussing the Holy Spirit and so we end up with the end of the Nicene Creed as we now know it.

"We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen."

Much more meaty! But still kind of vague. The fuller ending of the Nicene Creed shows how the church has settled on the question of who the Holy Spirit is and what the work of the Spirit is. The Spirit is part of the Trinity of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is what inspired the prophets. The Spirit is what has created the church. The Spirit is that which moves in us to prompt us to baptism and shares with us the grace of the forgiveness of sins. The Spirit is that which gives us hope for the resurrection. All good things. But as you can see, still no determination on what the Spirit is, even though we can point to areas where the Spirit is at work.

In this way, the Spirit goes with the oldest metaphors of its name. In the books of the Hebrew scriptures, the Holy Spirit is known as the breath of God, in Hebrew, the feminine word, ruach, meaning breath or wind. Even though the wind blows and we can feel it, we cannot see it. We cannot see where it is coming from or where it is going. The Holy Spirit works in this mysterious way. In the New Testament, the Greek word for the Spirit is pneuma, also meaning breath or wind.  And of course, we get our name for the Holy Spirit from the Latin word meaning breath or wind, spiritus. God breaths out the Spirit and shares himself with us. I want you all to do something silly for a moment. Look over at the person closest to you and intentionally breathe towards them.  Go on... We all share God's breath, God's Spirit in us.

Who is the Holy Spirit? The Catechism from the Book of Common Prayer asks this very same question. It has this to say about the Spirit, "The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Trinity, God at work in the world and in the Church even now." "The Holy Spirit is revealed as the Lord who leads us into all truth and enables us to grow in the likeness of Christ."
"We recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit when we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and are brought into love and harmony with God, with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation." Who is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is that which inspires us. Which is God breathing on us and leading us back to God. Through worship and prayer, we recognize the presence of the Spirit as everywhere in the world.