Good Day, all.
I was asked a few days ago to provide a focus for personal worship during this time of pseudo-isolation. As many of you know, I like to call attention to the individual encounter of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.
Invisible, perhaps, but real. The Holy Spirit is probably the least understood person of the Trinity. Among the myths and the mistaken concepts that are shared, The Holy Spirit has been described as a force, a ghost, and a second-class, or replacement, god. The Holy Spirit has been confused with the Spirits, manifestations themselves, and has even been presented as an incidental figure that appears momentarily. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We call on the Ruah, the Breath of God, specifically at Pentecost and invoke the Holy Spirit in every Trinitarian blessing. So, I thought I would provide for you a sort of directed Bible Study in which you can contemplate the third person of the Trinity. I have gathered a few Bible verses to read and reflect on. You may remember others as you read. Look them up and pray them as well.
First, in a very personal way, the Spirit is a Person We read (and know) that the Holy Spirit has feelings. The Holy Spirit can become sad or angry, and when God’s children turn aside or blaspheme (Is 63:10; Mt 12:31; Ac 7:51; Eph 4:30; Heb 10:29).
Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit. So he turned and became their enemy and he himself fought against them. - Isaiah 63:10
And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. - Matthew 12:31
“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! - Acts 7:51
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. - Ephesians 4:30
How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? - Hebrews 10:29
The Holy Spirit reaches out in love and care for us, despite what is happening in the world (Neh 9:20; Jn 15:26; Ac 13:2; Rm 8:26,27; 15:30; 1Co 12:11).
You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst. - Nehemiah 9:20
When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. - John 15:26
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” - Acts 13:2
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. - Romans 8:26-27
I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. - Romans 15:30
All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. - 1 Corinthians 12:11
In the Book of Acts, we are told that once filled with the Spirit, “You will be My witnesses” (1:8). The Holy Spirit always reflects the person of Jesus in our lives and that is the distinguishing mark of the disciples, being a witness to Jesus Christ. Loving everyone is not the sign of the Holy Spirit; being a loving witness to Jesus Christ is. It is for the reason that the Holy Spirit was given to the Disciples at Pentecost: to “teach you all things, and remind you of all things that I said to you.” John 14:26 This revelatory action of the Holy Spirit fills us with love for the other.
When we turn to Genesis, we see the Ruah, the Holy Spirit of God hovering over the dark, disordered waters of the earth, ready to begin the New Creation. This same Holy Spirit is with you right now reminding you of your salvation through Jesus Christ. A New Creation is within you (2 Corinthians 5:17), hovering, ready. Call on the Holy Spirit, and the Breath of God will breath on you.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:19
We really have been patient; it has been a long time since we have done the things we used to do. To just be normal again, that would be amazing! When we went into the COVID-19 lock down, I, like many I think, associated the deprivation with past experiences I have had. When I was in Africa with no running water, I “endured” it because I knew that soon I would be home with a fully functional kitchen sink. In the Philippines, I dealt with the heat (well over 100 degrees) in part, by reminding myself that I would only be there for a while. No matter what or where I was, the “go to” security was the knowledge that things would change back to the way they were before.
What I didn’t anticipate was the change that was taking place in me. I remember standing at the kitchen sink when I got back home, staring at the faucet, listening to the water, feeling the cool, smooth flow. I remember entering a building and being hit by the cold, perfectly air-conditioned air, it was literally shocking and drew me up short. Running water and cool air were, in a way, a new thing to me, and truly amazing! In both cases, I lived through the experience but never fully recovered—thank God.
God was doing New Things in me. It is amazing how much God loves us, truly loves us, and how God gives us opportunities to encounter the world, life, love, and his grace with new eyes and hearts and minds. It not just living through a bad thing or an inconvenient thing, its living into a new thing.
Some of us went to Shrine Mont this past weekend. Though it was wonderful to be on the mountain and to be (somewhat) a family, it was not the same. We didn’t experience it in the same way, we couldn’t/didn’t do the same things. There were things we missed and things were left out, but there were new things! In a different way—a new way—it was wonderful! More than this though, I know the experience will stay with us and open for us new vision.
When the COVID-19 lock down ends, we will have the options we once had. Life could return to “normal,” or at least a close approximation, but not really. We are not the same; we have had an experience that has changed us. No matter how we experienced it or describe these times, it won’t be that, that description in which we live; it will be a New Thing. In fact, every day is a New Thing through the amazing love of God!
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:19
This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD's Passover. Exodus 12:11
After the Israelites cried out to God for help, God freed them. We know this story well. That is what God did, and in an amazing way; but that is not the part of the story I am writing about. The story I am writing about is the one in which the Israelites live in anticipation. We don’t know as much about this story before the Israelites are freed, nothing really, except what we deduce by comparison with our own experience. Moses did not ask God to answer the question “Why?” as did Charlton Heston in the film The Ten Commandments. The only information we have about this is us.
Our English word ‘anticipate’ comes from a Latin word ‘anticipare’, which meant to ‘take care of ahead of time’—or, literally, ‘taking into possession beforehand.’ Originally, ‘anticipation’ had to do with action and preparation, not the feeling of anxiety and waiting we associate with it today. So, we assume that the Israelites lived in a torturous state of waiting, always feeling and never acting, and for some, that is most likely true.
When God told the Israelites how to eat the lamb, God gave them a recipe of anticipation: how to get ready and what to expect. And what should they have expected? God. God was going to act, God was acting. The children of Israel were being told to take possession of God’s actions beforehand, to own—in a way—what God was about to do before God did it because they knew that God was already doing and would continue.
Scriptures’ instruction to live in a state of anticipation is constant: Abraham and Sarah, Noah building the Ark, Nehemiah and the walls, Ruth following Naomi, all through to John on Patmos. Our lives of spirit and faith are in constant conflict with our lives of flesh and culture, just as it was for the Israelites. Culture tells to “be afraid, be very afraid,” to “feel our way through,” and not to “count our chickens until they are hatched” (an oldie but a goodie). Jesus, on the other hand, tells us to “believe in God, believe also in me,” “I Am the Alpha and the Omega,” and that “all things are possible for God.”
We are worried about the reintegration, we are worried about the fighting, and we feel anxious about many things. God tells us that amidst the ‘varied changes and chances of this life’ he is always with us, even to the end of the age. God tells us to live our lives as if we have already received the gift of eternal life and to know that we are loved and precious—because we have and we are.
We may be living in a time where uncertainty and transition are the cultural norm, but we are also living lives of faith where the Holy Spirit is in action and the hand of God is constant. We must live lives of action, witnessing to the real presence of God in and through everything. Waiting on the Lord was never just waiting, it was anticipating the wondrous and the miraculous that we know in this moment, in the next.
And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. 1 Corinthians 2:12
The second week of Pentecost brings along all the wonderful and amazing opportunities for growth and reflection in the Holy Spirit! Our lives are intimately tied to God through the indwelling Holy Spirit and to each other through the Spirit’s presence. How wonderful this is as we travel the twisting by-ways of life and encounter the unexpected (and unwanted) difficulties that challenge us.
Last week, Bp. +Susan continued the formal process of parish re-integration. As we seem to be cresting the pandemic’s infection wave, we are all preparing to re-gather. ‘Best practices’ have been the base line for the Diocese of Virginia, and we will continue on a more conservative line, considering first the health and safety of our parish families.
Lee Barron and I have been reviewing the Diocesan guidelines and we are now in the process of forming a “Re-integration Committee” which will help to set the transition in motion. We do not have all the details yet, but if you would like to serve on this committee please contact Lee or myself right way. I have sent you, in prior CC’s, the documents Lee and I are using as guidance. Below, I include the latest letter to the clergy sent out by Bp. +Susan.
Through all of what we have endured and experienced and through ALL that is to come, God the Holy Spirit is our guide and Counselor. No matter what this life brings, we have already been given the power to overcome all: Where can I flee from your Spirit? Or where will I run from your presence? If I rise to heaven, there you are! If I lay down with the dead, there you are! If I take wings with the dawn and settle down on the western horizon your hand will guide me there, too, while your right hand keeps a firm grip on me. Psalm 139:7-10
Thanks be to God!
Dear Clergy of the Diocese of Virginia:
Our Diocesan Task Groups on Phased Regathering – men and women, lay and clergy from across the Diocese – have done creative, insightful and helpful work to prepare for the day when we will worship in person at our church buildings and properties. I am grateful to them for the great gift they have given to all of us.
Attached are the guidelines and checklist for Phase II regathering (in Spanish: guidelines / checklist ). Please note that we have not yet set a date for when such regathering may begin. Our Review Group will begin accepting petitions for regathering when the Bishop’s office has confirmed that the locality in which a congregation is located has shown a 14-day decline in the number of new COVID-19 infections and deaths. We celebrate improvement of some of the markers that will help ensure that no in-person worship service will become a super-spreader of this disease, including the increased availability of protective equipment, an increase number of hospital beds, and increased availability of testing.
Although we are not yet accepting petitions for regathering, we send you these materials today so that your congregation may begin planning. Coaches will be trained next week and will be available to you the following week. To seek coaching assistance, please contact your Area Coordinator.
Not all congregations will choose to regather in Phase II. Some have already determined that they will not come together for in-person worship until the entire congregation can gather. Some have recognized that their clergy and other leaders are in high risk categories and regathering publicly would not be safe for them. Some are continuing to keep their focus on online worship and all of the new opportunities for evangelism that it offers. Regardless of your parish’s choice, we strongly encourage you to continue to offer online worship. It has been an exciting tool for support of our existing parishioners and for welcoming of new friends. God bless you as you make the best decisions for the congregation you serve.
I look forward to seeing how the Spirit is moving among us in this time.
The Rt. Rev. Susan E. Goff
Bishop Suffragan and Ecclesiastical Authority
‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Jesus said this about the Holy Spirit, which believers in him were to receive. (John 7:38)
The Day of Pentecost, the 50th day after Easter, is the gift of God’s indwelling Spirit to the whole body of the faithful and the empowerment of the church. It is THE celebration of new life in God through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit! “Indwelling power” is a strange thing to think about in an age where Marvel super-heroes dominate the movie screen and innocent people die by neglect and violence.
What is ‘indwelling power’ and what does it have to do with me, might be the real question lurking below the over-used response, “It’s the Holy Spirit.” “It.” It is not an it at all, God is the Holy Spirit who is, was and is to come. The power we are speaking about is nothing less than the presence of God dwelling in you and enabling you to do/be/live in a way you couldn’t if the Holy Spirit was not there. Now, this may seem like I am talking is circles, and I am if we don’t consider these truths with a new perspective.
It is a sad truth that we often only consider our lives through the negative lens. When we get sick for instance, our world is defined by our sickness and the injustice of it all. The sad thing we don’t consider is that we weren’t sick last week, or yesterday! That we have been healthy for a long time and productive and happy is overshadowed by our current (and possibly) fleeting discomfort.
We don’t often consider the Holy Spirit working in us and through us all the time giving us power (Grace) to encounter, embrace, and overcome the challenges of life beyond our own native ability to do so. The power of God is the presence of God raising us up beyond our own abilities to act and respond in grace and mercy. When we fail to achieve this on our own we rarely, if ever, remember when we did, and to give God the glory for those times as we strive to embrace God all the more.
I love watching the super-hero movies, but when they are over I am all the more secure in the true power which doesn’t rely on a spider bite or a special formula. Pentecost is not an event that happens in a day; Pentecost is a relationship that grows through life! Your life is found in Christ and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit is found in you.
Out of the believer’s heart shall flow the indwelling power. which is the Holy Spirit!
Father Bill Burk†