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  • Writer's pictureFather Benjamin von Bredow

The Maker and Perfecter.

A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Easter

April 28, 2024 at Holy Communion

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. ☩ Amen.

Sometimes the simplest questions are the best. This week at the Bible study someone asked, “What is the Holy Spirit?” As we move from Easter to Pentecost, the Holy Spirit becomes more and more our concern in the Sunday readings—and that is all for the good, since learning to live in step with the Spirit is the story of Christian life.

Notice that the question was “*What* is the Holy Spirit?”—not “Who is the Holy Spirit?” Now, the Holy Spirit certainly is a “who” as well as a “what.” But before God is ever a “who” for us (our redeemer, our friend, our comforter, the invisible king in the history of God’s people), he—or perhaps even better, “it”—is something very unlike us.

God is not a thing; he is that from which all things come. You cannot point at God and say, “There is God, and here am I.” God is not something that you can know; he is the light of all knowledge. God is the beating heart of existence, the underground spring from which flow the waters of life, itself unseen. God is the Mystery in which we are submerged but which we can never understand—only worship.

And yet that cannot be the whole story. If God were beyond us in every way, not only would it make little sense to talk about him, but we could not say what scripture says, that in him we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), or that “in him all things consist” (Colossians 1:17). God is beyond all things, but all things also flow out from him. Creation shows us what rests secretly in the divine darkness. Everything that has life is a sign of his great Life. Every thought is a shadow of God’s great Understanding. Everything that exists is born from the womb of Existence itself.

God may be the great Mystery, but he is a Mystery which has revealed and is revealing itself daily in every place. God comes out from his secret chamber and show his face; he makes heaven his throne and earth his footstool (Isaiah 66:1). The robe of his glory fills this created world (Isaiah 6:1). Creation is a mirror held up to God.

So what about the Holy Spirit? We confess that the Holy Spirit is God, but that’s hardly the end of the story. Scripture uses this last metaphor, the metaphor of a mirror, to describe the Spirit of God. The Spirit is “a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness” (Wisdom 7:26). We’ll hear that again on Pentecost.

If the Spirit is a mirror, and creation is also a mirror, then it should be no surprise to us that the first place we encounter the Holy Spirit in scripture is in Genesis 1, at the creation, “hovering” over the formless waters (v 2). The Spirit lifts the dry land up out of the water, kindles lights in the darkness, moulds the rocks and plants every seed, and breathes life into every animal, including man.

What is the Holy Spirit? It is God present to his creation, drawing it towards its fulfillment—the fulfillment in which it will best reveal the Father. The Spirit of God is the water of life flowing out from under the door of God’s hiddenness and making everything what it is meant to be. It is the Life-Force by which every acorn grows into a tree and every child into a man. As scripture says, “the Spirit of God fills the world” (Wisdom 1:7).

The Spirit doesn’t stop bringing us to our God-intended fulfillment at the moment we are created. In fact, calling our first moment “the moment of our creation” might be wrong: we are fully and finally created only once the Spirit has finished his work in us. We are clay that God is still moulding.

So in our Gospel Jesus says that the Spirit, “the Helper,” is “the Spirit of truth” who guides us into truth (John 16:13). He is the spirit of repentance from sin as we turn from our darkness toward the divine light we are meant to reflect (v 9). He is the Spirit of righteousness, strengthening us in virtue (v 10). He is the spirit of judgement, casting away all evil influences that the work of God might be finished (v 11). The Spirit is our Maker and our Perfecter, inspiring our love for everything that is good and true.

In our Epistle the Spirit is the good Gift which comes down from above, from the unchanging Father (James 1:17). He is the one who gives birth to us as the first harvest of a world full of creatures which live in God (v 18); living, as we see in our Lesson from Acts, in entire dependance on the community of sharers in the Spirit.

The practical point I want to draw out of this lesson about the Spirit is that we may need to challenge the way that we talk about God working in our lives. Our imagination of the Spirit’s work may be too small.

When asked about our relationship to God, we are likely to talk about one of two things. Neither is wrong, but neither is the whole story. We talk either about particular occasions when God intervened to adjust the circumstances of our lives toward a good outcome—answers to prayer, danger avoided, recovery from illness—or we talk about moments when we felt very close to God, when we “felt spiritual.”

God does intervene in our lives, answering prayer. And moments of conscious intimacy with the Father are precious. But God the Spirit, the Maker and Perfecter, is present above all when we are changed, when we are polished like a dirty mirror is polished to better reflect the light. The highest work of the Spirit is to turn us from error toward truth, from selfishness to self-forgetful generosity, and from anxiety to patience.

There need not be particular interventions. There need not be moments of ecstasy: in fact, I can testify for myself that the Spirit has done most of his work with me when I have felt low and disconnected from God’s goodness, when I am most aware of my own waywardness. The fire of God’s love, the fire of the Spirit, is a burning fire to melt away everything in us that is unworthy of our calling.

If you do not have a story to tell of the Spirit’s work in you—not around you, but in you—a story of the Spirit re-creating you in the image of Jesus, then you do not know the Spirit. If that is the case, don’t worry: you are well-placed. The Spirit will descend here. Approach this altar saying, “Here I am. Feed me. Make me new, thou loving Spirit.”


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