I used to spend a lot of my spare time out bodyboarding. Surfing lying down basically, surfing for the uncoordinated… but not necessarily unbalanced. That meant you’d spend quite a bit of time sitting in the water a couple of hundred meters off shore waiting for the next wave. One of the most amazing things when we were in the Bay of Plenty and in the Hawkes Bay were the Gannets. They would circle and circle, high in the sky, effortlessly and then suddenly their wings would fold back and they would dive straight down into the water after a fish, just a flash of white and gold then Splash! Other times as a wave rose and began to crest and you were paddling out to catch it, along the wave would come a Gannet, gracefully gliding across the face of the wave, ridding the air flow pushed up in front of it, with just the tip of its wing touching the water. Spectacular and beautiful.
That is some of the images that play in my mind as I read the first few verses of the creation narrative in Genesis and it talks of the Spirit of God, hovering over the waters, over the formless earth waiting for God to speak and for it all to come into being.
Today we are starting a series of sermons looking at the Holy Spirit in the Hebrew scriptures, what we call the Old Testament. It’s going to be a journey from the spirit of God hovering over the water in Genesis to the fulfilment of the prophecy in Joel chapter 2 that God would pour out his Spirit on all people, which was fulfilled at Pentecost and is the reality we live in, in our Christian walk today. We are God’s Spirited people, he has poured out his Spirit on us. We are called to be filled with The Holy Spirit.
I want to start with just a brief introduction to this series… This is the fifth Pentecost series I’ve preached here at St Peter’s, looking at what the scriptures say about the Holy Spirit. It’s important to do this because of two things. The church suffers from insufficient teaching on the Holy Spirit; so we see it is an add on in our creeds and statements of faith, all this stuff about God and Jesus oh and we believe the Holy Spirit, and we can think that instead of being important and central to our faith and life that it’s an add on, an optional extra for the super spiritual, kind of like leather upholstery in a car, rather than God’s very presence and power in our lives. Secondly as a church we also suffer from over teaching on the Holy Spirit. But we’ve kind of left to others to do, so we equate it with the excesses of the more out there fringe elements, the chandelier swingers, show men and charlatans, and because of that we can get put off encountering and knowing and living our faith by the Spirit moving in our lives.
We are looking at the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, because it’s easy to think that the Holy Spirit simply pops up at Pentecost, or maybe just starts hanging round in Jesus life. But the Holy Spirit is how God has been active in the world from the beginning. It is how God has spoken and directed his people, redeemed, enabled and equipped them. We often don’t notice it in the Old Testament because it is hidden in words and metaphors, for example around the time of the exile the hand of God is a popular way of expressing the Presence and working of the Holy Spirit… by looking at the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament it allows us to have a good basic understanding of the Spirit, see how Jesus had made a difference and look at the Spirits work in our own lives. We are going to do some theology, some biblical study and hopefully allow ourselves to be open more to the Spirit’s presence and moving.
I am going to start this series at the beginning, and if you don’t mind me quoting Julie Andrews ‘that’s a very good place to start’. In the creation story in Genesis chapter one we see that after God had created the universe and all that is in it, we are told that the Spirit of god hovered over the formless waters. It’s not a full blown trinitarian statement, but it tells us that God’s Spirit or what we know as the Holy Spirit was present at the beginning and involved in God’s creation process.
That calls us to do some theology… The question is often asked what or who is the Holy Spirit and the short answer is that the Holy Spirit is God, part of the triune God who has revealed God’s self to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We see the Spirit there in the beginning, as the Holy Spirit is God and shares with God the attribute of being eternal, without beginning or end. The Holy Spirit shares with God the attribute of creation as well. The prelude to John’s gospel tells us that the word, which he latter identifies with Jesus was with God in the beginning and bought everything into being. The whole of the Godhead is involved in creation. Now it’s hard to use a metaphor to explain the trinity without falling somehow into one or other error of doctrine. But let me use the idea of speech as a way of explaining that. As genesis tells us that God said and it came into being. When I say something, there is the idea and purpose that comes out of my mouth, then there are the words that conveys that idea constructs it and finally if you were to somehow see the disturbance in the air you could see how those words are carried into reality by sound waves. It’s not perfect, but it gives us a way of being able to think of the triune God speaking forth creation. The point I want to reiterate is that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the God head. When we come to the new testament epistles we will often see Paul speaking about such things as salvation or sanctification, that is our being made mature in Christ, and we see that he will speak of the Father and the Son, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit being involved in those actions.
The other thing we see from this Genesis story is that the Holy Spirit is the means by which God is active in his creation. This is not as I keep on saying a distant disinterested deity but a God who is present and work in his creation in history. God works out God purposes and plans through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Hebrew word that we’ve been translating hovering can also have the connotation of the Spirit of God stirring the waters. Stirring them up. It is a picture like our gannet or more biblically like a mother eagle in Deuteronomy 32:11 God talks of his care for Israel like being an eagle that stirs up its nest, to push its young out to learn to fly and then hovers over them and will not let them fall, but will catch them before they fall to the ground and bear them up. It is very much the picture of God’s Holy Spirit at work in Human history.
I’m about to go splash like those gannets and go off the deep end here. What science observes as natural selection and animals adapting can also be seen as the work of the Holy Spirit, as God’s providence. In psalm 106 it talks of God making environments for each animal to enjoy and flourish in, and I believe part of that is that God shapes animals for the different environments they live in. It does not stop it being a natural process, I’m not anti-science I’m pro God’s providential grace.
As we journey through the whole of the sweep of scripture we see God at work in history by the Holy Spirit, the calling of Abraham, the way in which joseph says that while his brothers had sold him into slavery God was able to use that for good. Moses encounters God at the burning bush and is told to go into Egypt. Leaders are raised up Kings anointed prophets sent to speak God’s word. In Isaiah we see it on an even bigger scale as Darius the Persian king is spoken of as God’s servant, the rise and fall of empires, God’s spirit at work. Around the life of Jesus and then the life of the church. In the book of ACTS there is a pattern of the church settling down and being happy where it is at, in Jerusalem doing very well thank you, 3000 converts one week and 5000 the next, but they are not fulfilling Jesus commission of going and being witnesses to Samaria and to the ends of the earth persecution is stirred up and the people go out, the church does not fall but it learns to fly, you can see it repeated and again. This year marks the 500th year of the reformation, you can see the spirit at work there too, stirring up a reemphasis on the saving work of Jesus Christ. God is still stirring up the church in our own time. In the face of secularism in the west we are being challenged and called back to what is real and important. We are being asked to move from being comfortable in our society to being uncomfortable and concerned again with the least and the lost, not to enjoy the favour of our society but to add some salt and flavour.
Even in our own lives we can look back and see how God has been at work by his Holy Spirit in the way things have happened, maybe you have those aha moments when you recognise God’s hand at work, as we’ll see later God’s hand is another way of talking of the Holy Spirit.
Now it would be easy to think perhaps that the Holy Spirit is like some force. Like the idea of the force that Star Wars popularised, which is just a reimagining of a pagan idea of a impersonal spirit or force at work in the universe. But that is not the case. Our God is a personal God, sentient and knowable. As we move through scripture we can see that we can know the Holy Spirit, we can have a relationship with the Spirit, in our passage we had read from the book of Galatians the Christian life is describes as a process of us walking with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit leading and guiding us, revealing the scriptures to us.
I want to pull that involvement of the Holy Spirit in creation and in God’s providence out of the realms of theory and theology to how it works its self out in our lives today. Yes the Holy Spirit is how God moves on a large world stage but also it is how God works in your life day to day.
You see Jesus has made all the difference and as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians you and I are new creation, because of Christ’s life and death and resurrection. John’s gospel starts with Jesus involvement in creation and his narrative of the resurrection brings out the idea of new creation when it starts on the first day in the garden. The reality is that God is renewing his creation through Jesus Christ. As we have been forgiven of our sins our old life has gone and we are made new. But as we saw in creation the whole of the God head is involved in this new creation.
In the passage we had read from Galatians we see that in the fact that as we allow the Spirit to work in our life, open up the scriptures and apply them to our lives, draw us into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ, convict of wrong doings and help us to live different lives that new creation is taking shape. It bears fruit in our lives fruit that is love, patience, joy, peace, goodness, faithfulness, generosity, gentleness and self-control. The shape of this new creation in us is Jesus shaped fruit, Jesus flavoured fruit. Through that and having that lived out as more and more people come to know Jesus Christ and are filled with God’s Spirit we will see creation transformed as well.
We’ve seen what Genesis has to say about God the Holy Spirit and how the Spirit is involved in creation, history, our story and our new creation. The Key difference as we will see a we continue in our exploration of the Holy Spirit in the Old testament is that the Spirit moves from hovering over to being poured out on all. It easy for us perhaps to think of God’s Spirit out there somewhere hovering over, we may realise that God is not distant disinterested but that is how we like to think of the Spirit. Like with the gannets at the beach we can admire the beauty and splendour and gracefulness of their flight, out there beyond the break, but the wonderful reality is that Jesus Christ has made it possible for The Holy Spirit to dwell in us, to fill us with the presence and power of God, that is the new life in Christ, the new creation we are part of. My hope as we move on in this series is that you may know that presence more and more in your life and walk with the spirit.