A Sermon for Pentecost Sunday
May 28, 2023 at Holy Communion
Genesis 1:1–2, Wisdom 7:22–27
“While remaining in herself, the Spirit of God renews all things” (Wisdom 7:27). In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. ☩ Amen.
"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1–2). When we read the story of creation, we make a mistake if we think that it tells us only about the world, the world in its infancy in the deep past. The story of creation is about God, and it is about us.
And again we are tempted to make a mistake: the creation story is not only about what God did and what we human beings were in the past—creation is about our life in God now.
“The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” That same Spirit spends six days giving shape to the watery chaos, until what was “formless and void” has been filled with living beings, and the whole is “very good” (Genesis 1:31). After creation, the Spirit remains. Our introit chant says that “the Spirit of the Lord hath filled the whole world” and it “containeth all things.” In our Lesson she “pervades and penetrates all things” (Wisdom 7:24).
Creation reveals what God’s Spirit does: the Spirit of God turns chaos into order, desolation into life, and emptiness into goodness. This is what God’s Spirit does in all times. This is what God’s Spirit is: the power abiding at the centre of all things and making them “images of the goodness of God” (Wisdom 7:26). Creation is good because the Spirit of God reflects God’s goodness, and the Spirit is the secret force of all creation.
Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit on the church, when the breath of God became our breath, when the life-force of God enlivened us. In creation we see what this means: God’s Spirit comes to bring us into life and goodness, to give us order and purpose, to make us “spotless mirrors of the working of God” (Wisdom 7:26).
In the Book of Wisdom, we heard that the Spirit of Wisdom is “intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, mobile, clear, unpolluted, distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen, irresistible, beneficent, humane, steadfast, sure, free from anxiety, all-powerful, overseeing all, and penetrating through all spirits” (Wisdom 7:22–23). From all these attributes, I draw out one: the Holy Spirit “loves the good.”
The Spirit’s love for goodness is what we have already seen in creation. The Spirit of God brings life out of emptiness because she loves what is good. Her aspiration is upward.
If we have received the Spirit of God, we love the good as well. Christian life is too often mistaken for the obligation to do what is good, grudgingly if need be. But in fact our call is to love what is good, to love life, to love everything that gives life. The heart is remade by the Spirit of God, with the goal that we would become capable, as the Psalms say, to “love life and see good days” (Psalm 34:12).
Our trouble is that we do not love love goodness with the total purity. We love some good things, certainly, but we also love things that bring us death, things which plunge us back into the watery chaos before anything was made. This week in my prayers, I was confronted by the Psalm verse, “O ye that love the Lord, see that ye hate the thing which is evil” (Psalm 98:10). If we love the Lord, that is a good start; but oh how we struggle to hate things that are evil!
So, as our Lesson says several times, the Spirit of God is also “pure”: in God’s Spirit there is only love for good things, and no love whatsoever for empty things. Only a pure love for what is good can bring life out of chaos.
Whenever we speak about the Holy Spirit, the take-home lesson is always to pray for the gift of the Spirit. The Spirit is “the Gift,” the only and essential gift which God brings us to bind our inmost hearts to him. When we pray for the Holy Spirit, we should pray that our loves would be remade. We should pray that desire for empty things be taken away, and longing for what is good and life-giving planted in.
We all know a prayer which says precisely this. “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your Holy Name; through Christ our Lord.”
Our prayer for the purifying Spirit of God must continue. So I have only one, but a very specific, request. We have said before that it is a good practice to say that Lord’s prayer three times a day: morning, noon, and night. This week, as we pray for the Holy Spirit, I ask that you also say the Collect for Purity each time. God does not despise a small offering, and I believe that we can experience renewal in our love for God if we will open-heartedly ask him.