Breathe in the Holy Spirit

“Breathe in the Holy Spirit”           Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:24-34, 35b              May 28, 2023
--Pastor Teddie McConnell

I’d like to start today’s sermon by inviting all of you to close your eyes and become aware of your breathing. Please inhale slowly and deeply with me for a count of 3, then exhale for the same count. Ready? In, 2, 3, out, 2, 3. In, 2, 3, out, 2, 3.

Experience anew how the air travels in through the nose and down into the lungs, then travels back out again. We tend to take it for granted. It’s something we each do an average of 16 times a minute, or 23,000 breaths per day and nearly 8.4 million per year. This happens so automatically that the only time we become aware of it is when we exert ourselves to the point where we’re breathing harder than usual, or when we can’t breathe normally due to illness. Taking a deep breath can be calming. Focusing on breathing slowly and deeply for several minutes can even help you fall asleep, so let’s stop before I lose you altogether.

Psalm 104 praises the awesome God who created and renews the entire universe, and reminds us that every breath is a gift from God, given not only to us but to all breathing animals on the earth. God also gave us the plants that make oxygen for us to breathe and food for us to eat. It’s amazing to think that God cares about that kind of detail, but it’s true. One of the scholars I studied this week said God has better things to do than to give every living thing its every breath. He was probably joking, but I think that idea underestimates the God we are so blessed to serve. God’s provision for our breathing is an ongoing miracle, one of many that keep life going on this beautiful planet that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit created.

In Genesis, the Holy Spirit is described as moving over the waters of creation using a Hebrew word that identifies her as female. She was a witness and a co-worker in the formation of the world and someone who joins God in delighting in both the world and in the human race. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have worked together from the beginning.

Before Pentecost, there were many momentous events in the Bible that went almost unnoticed at the time. At the first Christmas, angels sang, but only to a few shepherds. The wise men understood the enormity of Jesus’ birth, but they kept it a secret and went home by another way after hearing from God in a dream that Herod was not to be trusted.

At Easter, the sky grew mysteriously dark when Jesus died, but only a few  people witnessed it, and I’m guessing the non-believers probably thought it was a trick of the weather. There was a localized earthquake when Jesus rose, but we have no record of people in the surrounding area being affected or astonished by it.

Before He ascended to heaven, Jesus promised the coming of the Spirit and asked the disciples to wait in Jerusalem to be baptized with it, saying it would give them power to be his witnesses in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

God’s act of breathing the Holy Spirit into people is part of what Jesus made possible. In our passage from Acts 2, Luke wrote of the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was breathed into the disciples as part of a rushing wind. It was like a sudden rip in the fabric of the universe had freed her to enter our world again. She came blowing through the place where the apostles were and gave those formerly timid men not only the courage to stand up and speak, but the ability to work together and preach the Gospel in all the languages represented by the crowd. Peter, who had denied Christ three times to save his own life, stood up and told the crowd the amazing truth that Joel’s prophecy had come true and the Spirit had been poured out on all flesh.

Unlike Christmas and Easter, the Holy Spirit entered the world with such astonishing power that it made a huge commotion. That time, people noticed! All of Jerusalem heard it, and many devout Jews gathered to witness what was happening as the disciples spoke in the languages of everyone present, telling of the power of Christ and His role as the Messiah.

We need the empowering and unifying nature of the Spirit. She has been teaching and directing the members and leaders of the church ever since, at least those who are willing to listen.
The Holy Spirit is a humble servant of the cause of love and mercy. She looks for ways to shine a spotlight on Christ and his example, conveying only what she hears from God and Jesus. She’s a bit like a proud mom bringing attention to her perfect child, but she takes none of the credit. She tells us to glory and delight in God’s love and mercy as well as Christ’s, inspiring our praise and thanks.

The Holy Spirit is God still with us, sometimes subtle, but not shy. She is our dependable guide, giving new insights even as society has changed from Jesus’ time to this, even as our understanding of the universe advances, even as we learn how little we really know about everything. Scientists have more data about our solar system than about the deepest parts of the ocean, because they can’t figure out how to avoid having their instruments crushed by the pressure.

The thing I love most about the Holy Spirit is that she enables us to be friends with God. Before Jesus told us about God and then sent us the Spirit, God only spoke to people through the prophets. Now when we pray, we can receive direct answers.
Asking Jesus to be your savior makes you a Christian. Asking the Holy Spirit to lead, teach and guide you in your Christian walk makes you a better Christian, a blessed Christian. She is the source of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. We can try to have these qualities in our own strength, but we do them far better and more consistently when we stay connected to the Triune God.

Romans 8:14-17 reads, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”

In order to interact with the Holy Spirit, you must ask her to come into your heart. She won’t enter your personal space without an invitation. Breathe her in, consciously pulling her in with your breath and breathing out your self-centered thoughts. Form a relationship with God through her, pray and then listen to hear from the Helper. She offers guidance, comfort, direction, and wisdom, but does not impose God’s will on us. Feeling tempted to do something selfish? Talk to the Spirit. She won’t steer you wrong. But we still make our own choices.

If you think you’re hearing from the Spirit but the words sound suspiciously like your own selfish will talking, compare what’s in your mind to what Jesus said in Scripture. The Holy Spirit will never contradict what Jesus preached. Even with the Spirit to guide us, studying the Word helps us be sure we are in God’s will.

Speaking to a large audience, D.L. Moody held up a glass and asked, "How can I get the air out of this glass?" One man shouted, "Suck it out with a pump!" Moody replied, "That would create a vacuum and shatter the glass." After numerous other suggestions Moody smiled, picked up a pitcher of water, and filled the glass. "There," he said, "all the air is now removed." He then went on to explain that victory in the Christian life is not accomplished by "sucking out a sin here and there," but by being filled with the Holy Spirit.*

We benefit when we listen for the Spirit as she calls to us, drowning out the voices of temptation and selfishness, greed and pride. She is the Advocate and the Helper. She not only explains who God is and what Christ meant when he spoke about God, but she also reminds us of who we should strive to be, not harshly but gently and with love. She prays for us, teaches us and helps us study God’s Word, gives us the right words to say to others, prompts others to help us, even works miracles.

Here’s an example. When my late husband, Tom, wanted to get married, I was hesitant. He’d been married three times before. I asked the Spirit to give me a sign that this was God’s will by having Tom stroke my hair, something he’d never done. A few minutes later, he did just that, and we were happily married until he passed 20 years later.

Praising God like the psalmist and praying to be filled with God’s Spirit like the disciples are both vital to our faith journey. When we praise God and acknowledge the power and love God shares with us, we can keep going with joy and the humility that comes from knowing it is God who gives us everything we need, not our own efforts. When our hearts are filled with the Holy Spirit, there is no room for selfishness or resentment, unforgiveness or other sins. We can access the fruits of the Spirit. God’s love replaces sinful thoughts and gives us reasons to lift up our praise and to cavort with joy like dolphins in the sea. Keep on breathing in the Spirit. She brings us the friendship of God.

* Today in the Word, September, 1991, p. 30.

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