Pentecost – Being the Person God Created us to be – Stephanie Durrant
How to be the person God created us to be
When Dave asked me to do the reflection today, I a little bit daunted. Talking about the Holy Spirit is such a huge subject, but the more I thought about it, the more I looked forward to talking to you about it. I realised, perhaps for the first time, what a massive part the Holy Spirit plays in my life, and how a lot of the world is missing out!
It will surprise you perhaps that I don’t want to talk in detail about the passages we have heard this morning. I want do want to talk about the Holy Spirit, but in today’s world. If you think about our western world, most people know about our God, the vast majority will know something about Jesus. But the Holy Spirit? That’s a different matter and I wonder why is this. We have a holy trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If you believe in one, you have to believe in the others, they are inextricably linked. This morning I want to talk about that third link, the Holy Spirit.
In my research for this morning, I asked a number of people about the Holy Spirit. I got a wide variety of answers – including someone who said it was the essence of God. It is so much more than this.
When I was a teenager, I knew about God and Jesus but not a lot about the Holy Spirit. I think that was because there are lots of passages in the bible about God, and God’s conversations, interactions, and character. There are wonderful passages about Jesus’ life and the continuation of his work by the disciples and these are what churches concentrate on a lot of the time. In the past, the Holy Spirit was often referred to as the Holy Ghost, and I think this didn’t help me either. In my mind as a child, I imagined a cartoon ghost, like those in Scooby Doo, or Caspar.
Miss Chalkley, our wonderful Sunday School teacher, taught us about the Holy Spirit one Pentecost Sunday. It was more than 45 years ago, but I still remember what she said. You may well have heard the HS described like this too. She said that when we were created, God left a small space, which was where the Holy Spirit would live in us. I was absolutely fascinated by this for two reasons, firstly because I was good at human biology and I had never heard of this space, and secondly because I thought the HS was for the disciples – why did I need it? What would I do with it if I had it?
She went on to say that we all felt that space, and people tried to fill it with all sorts of things, but as it was meant for the HS, only that would satisfy us, lead to life in all of its fullness and to be the person that God created us to be. She described having the Holy Spirit in us, as being like having our own Spiritual powerpack. Her explanation was so good, so powerful that I used it years later when teaching Sunday school myself.
I love the idea of having a little piece of God living in me. Jesus himself promised that in John 14 v 20. ‘On that day, you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me and that I am in you.’ For some people, the idea is scary – one person I spoke to said that she didn’t want any of that weird stuff or to feel she was being controlled. I am not quite sure what she meant by that, but occasionally you do hear of strange things happening ‘in the Spirit’. But Romans 8 v 15 makes it clear that this does not happen – ‘the Spirit does not make you slaves so that you live in fear, rather the Spirit you received brought your adoption to sonship’. So having the Holy Spirit in us does not immediately make us excellent robotic Christians and generally nice people – we are perfectly capable of ignoring it, just as we often do with God. But what it does do is guarantee our inheritance in God.
We know what having the Spirit in them did for the disciples. Peter is a brilliant example of that – Look at the changes in him and if you don’t know what I mean, read the book of Acts when you get home. But what does the gift of the Spirit do for us?
Now I have picked out just a few of the words used in the Bible to describe the Holy Spirit, but I am not even going to talk about all of them – I could easily have turned this reflection into a marathon mini-series!
What I will say is that having the Holy Spirit in your life is what gives you life in all its fullness. Not a life without trouble or difficulties, but a life that is nevertheless rich in content and ultimately fulfilling.
One of the most important points here is that the Holy Spirit is for all of us – not just the disciples or those ‘special’ Christians – all of us. In Acts 2, v 38-39 Peter says ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all the Lord our God will call’.
As I have grown in my Christian faith over the years, so has my reliance on the Holy Spirit. I have found great contentment, and not a lot can shake that. This contentment is about being happy with what I have and not striving for things I can’t have or more material or worldly things. It is not, however, a smug complacency. There are many words used to describe the Holy Spirit, like counsellor or advocate, – Jesus says God will give us an advocate to help us and be with us forever in John 14 v16; or guide, teacher, convictor – they all feed into that feeling of contentment. Some people may say that their conscience is telling them something, but for me if something is disturbing my contentment, I know it is the Holy Spirit asking me to look over my actions to see where I may have gone wrong, or what I might not done that I should have.
Perhaps one word that we are more familiar with is as a comforter. How lovely to have someone to be there to soothe us when things so wrong. Actually, its also a little more than that! The word used here in its original form means also to prompt action, to encourage, or even prod into action!
Some of you will know that a couple of months ago I was diagnosed with cancer. No one wants to hear those words, whether you are a Christian or not. For a week or so, I could not get passed those words. Not because I was bothered about the treatment or about dying, but because I simply did not want to be dead. I felt I had too much living left to do. After 10 days or so, I could move on. Why? Well, a bucket load of prayer for many people, and a prompt from the HS. Come on Stephanie, no one has told you you’re going to die yet!
I’ve had some horrible tests, and a big operation last month and I thought I would be scared. Turns out that I wasn’t. Why? Well – there was all that prayer again, plus the Holy Spirit kept reminding me of the things Jesus had said, which brought me comfort, encouragement, and strength. Plus, the fact I knew I was never alone.
At 3am in the morning after my operation, I was in a ward with 3 other women, who’d had variations of the same operation as me, but for different reasons. We were all awake and started telling each other about how we had ended up in a hospital bed. I told my story last, and they were shocked when I told them I had cancer. But you are always so happy! They said. That’s the Holy Spirit for you, I thought, but instead chose to say, that is because of my Christian faith – thinking that was more understandable. The next question was – you mean you know you’ll be cured? To which I had to answer that it didn’t matter whether I was or wasn’t. I knew that whatever I faced, I would be doing with acceptance and, of course, I was not doing it alone. As I said it, I knew it was true but boy! Was that a conversation stopper!
I promise I will stop in a moment, but I do want to touch on something else. The fruits of the Spirit – set out in Galatians 5 v 22-23 – Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self Control – are all promised to us through the Spirit – not one or two of them, all of them. We are also given gifts, some practical and some Spiritual, with which we are to serve our communities. A thriving Christian community should have a whole range of gifts within their congregation to contribute to the fellowship. The world says people cannot change. But we know different, don’t we? The good news is with the Holy Spirit we can change, as these fruits and gifts grow in our lives.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Catherine of Siena, a 14th century Italian saint, who said this ‘Be who God called you to be and you will set the world on fire’