“Is The Holy Spirit Really Holy?

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – June 4, 2017

Centenary United Methodist Church

Acts 2:1-21, I Corinthians 12:4-13


    Since this Sunday is Pentecost, we are going to explore the various meanings we give to the Holy Spirit.  Many of us have remarkable imaginations.  We also have a tendency to use labels even though they are capable of causing us to see incorrectly. The Holy Spirit may be one of those labels.  

    God's creativity need not be labeled as sacred or holy.  Such a designation moves God's activity into the realm of religion.  The field of religion could screen God from the thinking of people who simply cannot believe anything that cannot be documented scientifically.

    The naming and worship of a deity goes back some 200,000 plus years. Early people gave labels to their deities based on what each god appeared to do. Early mythologies have God being the Sun, the Moon, Fire, Wind and powerful storms.   Even the oceans were the dwelling places for gods.  For the Greeks, it was Poseidon and for the Romans it was Neptune. 

    An ancient Egyptian Funeral Text was called The Book of the Dead. The text is filled with theology that is very similar to our own. Osiris was the cornerstone for Egyptian theology much like Jesus became the source of Christianity.  Osiris was a divine being who also became a man. In the opening paragraph in the chapter entitled, The Opening of the Mouth, we find these words from Osiris:

  I have the power to be born a second time. I am the source and the creator of all the gods.

    The intriguing aspect of this quote from a 3,000-year old Egyptian text is the idea that understanding God comes from speculation from people like us.  In the Book of Hebrews, we find these words, "Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. Do not allow all kinds of strange teachings to lead you astray."  (Hebrews 13:8f) People have always been the source of defining God. God has never provided humanity with any definitions.

    The Biblical references to God were given many names by various authors, e.g., Yahweh, Elohim, El Shaddai, Jehovah and Adonai to name a few.  Readers of the Bible would never know this unless they were reading the various texts in Hebrew or Greek.   

    Besides the names given to God, God's nature also dramatically changed through the centuries. Our Creator had nothing to do with those changes.  God's mysterious energy changed as writers increased their knowledge.  After his baptismal experience, Jesus' description of God as his loving Father completely set aside the war-god named Yahweh.

    When the College of Cardinals decided that Jesus was an incarnation of our Creator, they did exactly what the early Egyptians had done with Osiris.  Jesus was declared as being fully human and fully divine.  The College of Cardinals then divided God into three distinct manifestations -- the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  God was labeled The Holy Trinity.          

    As we depart from this brief historic sketch of the evolution of God, let us turn our attention to Pentecost. Pentecost has etched itself into our belief system as the birthday of the Christian Church because a group of believers experienced an event that has created confusion among Christians.  The experience that was recorded by the Greek physician in his Books of Luke and Acts goes as follows:

Suddenly there was a noise from the sky which sounded like a strong wind blowing and it filled the whole house where they had gathered.   Then they saw what looked like tongues of fire which spread out and touched each person there.  They were all filled with The Holy Spirit and began to talk in other languages, as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

    Since this experience has never been duplicated historically, its meaning has left a lot of unanswered questions. Divisions have occurred between Christians who feel blessed by receiving the gift of speaking in foreign languages and those that are still waiting for a similar experience to happen to them.

    Long before Luke wrote about this experience, the Apostle Paul provided his readers with a much clearer understanding of Spirit.  He wrote: "There are different kinds of spiritual expressions, but the same Spirit created all of the variations." (I Corinthians 12:4) Erika read for us a list of these variations.  All of us could easily supply our own definitions for how our unique spiritual energy has helped to shape our lives.  

    This energy does not come from a Being that is outside of ourselves.  Spirit arises from within us.  Spirit remains unavailable to countless people until it is recognized and nurtured.

    We can assume that those who supplied Luke with his information were speaking metaphorically. One does not accurately describe a spiritual experience by saying, "It sounded like a strong wind blowing" or "it looked like tongues of fire."  Either people experienced strong winds and fire brands flying through the air or they did not.  These words were metaphors that people used to describe a very different experience.  

    Most of us use metaphors to describe our experiences. For example, "Being in Bermuda is living in Heaven."  "The two doctors that I visited recently were angels."  "Being in Memorial Day traffic in the United States featured insane drivers that provided us with a carnival of one ridiculous experience after another."  All of these were true expressions of what we experienced but I have just described them metaphorically. 

    My doctor is a Jewish internist who told me during my last visit that she is not a religious person.  In spite of her self-definition, my doctor radiates a contagious spirit that reveals how she has mastered her inner world. There is nothing sacred about how she presents herself.  She is authentic, sincere and transparent in her thinking, but I would not describe her responses to me as holy.

    No one defines their heart as holy or their liver and kidneys as being sacred.  These are vital parts of our body.  Each one of them has a distinct function in maintaining our health.  

    The mystical side of our nature can easily go unrecognized for years.  This is another vital part of us.  It is the source of our imagination, our intuition, our curiosity and our eagerness to be successful in how we live. This source is not sacred or holy.  These qualities are what nourish the spirit by which we intend to live. This is what my doctor presents to her clients.

    While in the States the last two weeks, I made an appointment with a hearing specialist. A number of you may have noticed that I frequently have had difficulty hearing correctly during our time of Joys and Concerns. After experiencing numerous tests, I learned that my hearing is severely impaired. This possibility has seldom entered my mind.  My new hearing aids have increased my awareness of so much that I have been missing.  What does my hearing loss have to do with The Holy Spirit?

    Jesus once said, "The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom God will send in my name will make you aware of everything that I have taught you. (John 14:26) Think about this. What form of The Holy Spirit are we looking for? Our recognition of God's presence can come to us in as many points of entry as there are people. 

    Our awakening can come as it came to Jesus at his baptismal experience. It can come from inspired authors, the Internet, the love and encouragement from a dear friend and new discoveries due to our hearing being restored.

    Just as our reality is always an individual's interpretation of what we experience, so is our recognition of the many forms of God's presence that have been present for most of our lives.  All the tools for understanding God's presence come through our unique mystical nature.

    Awakening God's presence within us restores our confidence. Our impulsiveness fades, our self-absorption gives way to generosity and sharing.  Our need to be defensive and our habit of being offended begin to disappear.  Our mastery of life continues to increase.  Why is this?  The answer is that we have learned a different way to live.

    During the last two weeks, we learned that the Chairman of the Trustees of one of my former churches was in Bethesda Naval Hospital.  We visited him and his wife.  She insisted that we stay for lunch which extended our time of departure.

    On our way home from the hospital on Friday, we encountered the stop and go traffic of our Memorial Day's three-day weekend.  It was a nightmare.  There is nothing better to bring out the impatience in people than crowded traffic patterns with drivers doing insane things to get a few cars ahead of everyone. 

    However, for those of us who know a better way to travel, we can get where we want to go peacefully.  Because Lois and I knew the real estate, we encountered very little traffic when we chose to leave the chaos caused by thousands of drivers. We drove through tranquil agricultural land owned by the University of Maryland and then continued through a gigantic nature reserve until we arrived at our Bowie home safely and totally at peace.   

    We can understand how a group of people thousands of years ago could describe an experience using descriptive words like rushing winds, tongues of fire and speaking a new language.  Sometimes a dramatic change in our lives can be described as a burning bush experience (Exodus 3:2) or being struck down by light. (Acts 9:3f).

    Such an experience can also guide us to use language that may initially be strange for us; we find ourselves expressing words filled with patience, compassion, kindness, tolerance, forgiveness and generosity.  

    We learn that when we give verbal form to such qualities within us, we are comforted by knowing where they came from. With the daily recognition of God's presence within us, we can often bypass the chaos and confusion that others have chosen to experience. We understand the meaning of "Those who must be first will be last."  (Matthew 20:16) 

    Those who know or have learned a better way to master their attitudes have discovered the joy of having a remarkable adventure every day of their lives. Every day can be the celebration of Pentecost for us when our awakened spirits allow us to reveal our true identities.

    We can call this experience holy if we wish, but living from our spiritual energy is more of a natural extension of who God created us to be.  The magic and mystery to live this way is a matter of a choice.  We have found a better way and have said "yes" to living a new and exciting adventure motivated by healing attitudes.  Our spirits have come alive. This understanding is worth celebrating.



Ever-faithful God, our lives are often inspired to new heights of awareness because of everyday experiences.  A new baby teaches us the role that we play in creation.  We sense how forgiveness heals relationships.  We learn that love is giving and not getting.  We learn that, with you, we are able to climb every mountain and ford every stream.  When we remember that authentic power comes from a place we cannot see, we remain humble. Teach us, loving God, that we do not need tongues of fire, rushing winds or burning bushes to be reminded that we are vehicles of your presence.  Let us live so that your presence in us will show up in all our relationships.  Amen.



Once again, we are greeted with a new Sabbath morning to renew and refresh our spirits with the bathing of our senses with your presence.  We are so grateful for what your gift to us of spirit has enabled us to become.  This gift allows us to understand life with wholesome attitudes. This gift inspires us to take the high road.  This gift lifts us above the struggles of the physical world and allows us to dream about the qualities of life that have not yet arrived in the minds and hearts of all people.

Continue to lead us, O God, to develop the qualities that would make us more understanding of each other, more patient in our listening skills, more caring with our use of words, more eager to establish new friendships, and more open to those whose values are different from our own.  Help us to learn that each person has their own song to sing and their own story to tell.  Inspire us to be accepting of our differences knowing that you surround each of us as we remain students of this world.

When we have the opportunity to sow seeds of peace, may we not hesitate. When we are faced with people whose lives are troubled, help us to seize that moment to be a friend. Allow your spirit within us to surface in our understanding of our role in this life.  Help us to remain a healing presence rather than someone who tries to remedy what we think is a problem-filled life of another.  Help each of us to remember that we have to master rowing our own boat, a feat that often takes an entire life to accomplish. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .