The Gospel St. John 20.19
The same day at evening, being the first day of the week ; When the doors were shut, where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews : Came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them : Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. There were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord. Then Jesus said to them again : Peace be unto you. As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them : receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them ; and whosesoever sins ye retain, the are retained.
The Holy Spirit; the comforter; the Paraclyte, The Third Person of the Holy Trinity. We know that the Holy Spirit is a part of the Eternal Godhead, but when we Anglicans talk about our Christianity (on those rare occasions when do talk about our Christianity), are quite willing to expound upon God the Father and God the Son; but we tend to shy away from or down-play God the Holy Spirit.
There are a couple of reasons for this. For one, we don’t want to look like those charismatic bible-thumping Protestant churches; what we sometimes call “Holy Rollers”. Very unseemly! No sense of decorum!
For another, we are worried about a “false spirit” sneaking in. I have known some priests and bishops who are very suspicious of people who claimed to have spoken in tongues. Their concern is that the devil is very capable of making you think that the Holy Spirit is talking to you, when it may actually be Satan himself.
However, no matter our concerns, it is even more dangerous to ignore the Holy Spirit; because when we do we are, of course, ignoring God. We need to remember that God sends His Holy Spirit to us at different times and for many different reasons. It is through His Holy Spirit that God continues to work in our lives and in the world. It is through the Holy Spirit that we receive the Grace of God.
The Church has traditionally taught that there are seven “gifts” of the Holy Spirit; wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and the fear of God. Likewise, St. Paul tells us that there are nine “fruits” of the Holy Spirit; love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. (Galatians 5:22) These are all gifts given to us by God; if we ignore or down-play the Holy Spirit, then we are ignoring or down-playing these gifts and these fruits.
Who of us couldn’t use more wisdom? I know I could. What about knowledge, understanding, patience, goodness? What about joy? What about love? What about peace?
The gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit; they are there for us, if we want them to be. But once again, we allow two things to stop us; our fear and, here we go again, our pride.
You see, our pride tells us that we need to be in control. We must be in control of our emotions. We must be in control of our actions. We must be in control of our lives. Acknowledging the Holy Spirit, truly accepting his fruits and gifts, means giving up that control! It means giving control to God.
And if we give up control, then we run some risks. The power of the Holy Spirit may cause us to become emotional. It may cause us to act in ways that will call attention to ourselves. It may guide us down paths that we never imagined. It may take us into the unknown. And so we fear that. We fear that loss of control. We fear the power of the Holy Spirit. And as a result we close ourselves off from it!
Why do we do this? Don’t we realize that when we close ourselves off from the Holy Spirit, we are closing ourselves off from God? I’ll tell you right now, if you ever hear someone saying that they love God the Father and believe that Jesus is their Lord and Savior, but they don’t go in for all this “Holy Ghost” stuff, you might want to warn them that they are on the verge of heresy. Worse, they might be on the verge of sinning against the Holy Spirit, and Christ himself said there is no forgiveness for that (Matthew 12:31&32).
Now to this point, I’ve been talking at a high level. What does it really mean to open yourself to the Holy Spirit? Well, of course it means that first you will have to set aside your fear. You will have to give up control. And you will have to overcome your pride. And, as always, you just know I’m going to suggest a few ways.
First, the easy ones; make it a point to be here at Church at every opportunity; no matter how tired you are, or how long you’ve worked that day, or how much you have to do, or how far you have to drive. Make sure that you come here to worship God, to build and maintain His Church. If you do this openly and willingly, then you have opened yourself to the Holy Spirit.
Get your friends and loved-ones here. Remember the turn-out we had last week, which included a few people that we haven’t seen before? Remind them of what Bishop Starks’ once said; Every Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection; Every Sunday is Easter. And don’t stop reminding them. When you tirelessly work to bring these people to Church and to God, you open yourself to the Holy Spirit.
(This is a hard one for some of us) Submit to the authority of the Church. Remember the Gospel today – And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them : receive ye the Holy Ghost. Jesus breathed on his Apostles, the men whom we would come to recognize as the first Bishops of the Church; and he passed this authority on to them. Through these Apostles, the authority of our own Bishops comes in an unbroken line from Christ himself; From the Ordinal in the 1928 BCP: Receive the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Bishop in the Church of God… (BCP pg 558).
Receive ye the Holy Ghost. The same words that Jesus used to grant authority to his first bishops, our bishops also use to pass authority to their priests. These priests are charged to faithfully teach the Word of God and to dispense His Sacraments, His Grace. As long as they do this faithfully, you are required to submit to their authority on matters of faith and doctrine. When you do, you open yourself to the Holy Spirit.
Opening yourself to the Holy Spirit is at once a hard and easy thing to do. It’s also an essential thing to do for any Christian. What are we afraid of? If we love God, trust God, then we know that He will guide us in the right direction; He won’t give us more than we can handle. Is it so hard to give control of our lives to Him? Can you imagine what we might accomplish in His name, if we would?
In April of 2005, the world watched as the life of one man who gave control of his life to the Holy Spirit completely, came to an end; Pope John Paul II. The world watched! I recall listening to the news reports and announcements that came out of the Vatican, and I was struck by certain words that were used to describe the Pope’s reaction to his condition; serene, at peace, “be happy for me”, he said. Patience, peace, joy. Over the years, John Paul had displayed wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety; the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Now, in his final hours, he displayed the fruits. Can anyone doubt that this man was truly guided by God the Holy Spirit throughout his life?
We cannot all be Popes or bishops or priests, and I do not believe that God intends us to be. But we are supposed to build His Kingdom, His Church. We are supposed to spread His Gospel. We are supposed to do those things which Christ commanded us to do. And to think, God doesn’t even expect us to do it on our own!
He has given us a partner, a collaborator, a director, a guide. He has given us the means by which we can fulfill our mission here on Earth. He has given us the assurance that He will be with us alway; in every place, every time, everywhere. He has given us His Holy Spirit. Now all we need to do is open ourselves to Him. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them : receive ye the Holy Ghost.