Are You “Pentecostal”?
(Sermon for Sunday of Pentecost)
Rev. Kit Billings
June 4, 2006
Acts 2:1-8, 12-18
The Holy Spirit means properly the Divine Truth, so also the Word; and in this sense the Lord is Himself also the Holy Spirit. But the present-day church uses the term “Holy Spirit” to describe the way God works, that is, the actual process of making a person righteous, so this is the meaning given here to the Holy Spirit…. Another reason is that the activity of God takes place by means of the Divine Truth which proceeds from the Lord; and that which proceeds is of one and the same essence as He from whom it proceeds. This is like the trio of soul, body and what proceeds making up a single essence, which in the case of a human being is purely human, but in the case of the Lord is Divine and human at the same time—these essences after His glorification are united as what is prior is with what follows from it, or like essence and the appropriate form that surrounds it. [So the three essentials called “the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” are one in the Lord; these names simply speak of God’s three major attributes, which constantly exist in distinguishable oneness].
True Christian Religion #139
The well known author and preacher Fred Craddock tells a rather funny, yet oh so poignant, story about a lecture he was giving: A few years ago, when he was on the west coast speaking at a seminary, just before the first lecture one of the students stood up and said, “Before you speak, I need to know if you are Pentecostal.” The room grew silent. Craddock explains that at that moment he looked around for the Dean of the seminary! He was nowhere to be found. The student continued with his quiz right in front of everybody. Craddock was taken aback, and so he said, “Do you mean do I belong to the Pentecostal Church?” He said, “No, I mean are you Pentecostal?” Craddock said, “Are you asking me if I am charismatic?” The student said, “I am asking you if you are Pentecostal.” Craddock said, “Do you want to know if I speak in tongues?” He said, “I want to know if you are Pentecostal.” Craddock said, “I don't know what your question is.” The student said, “Obviously, you are not Pentecostal.” And he left.
What are we talking about this morning? Is the church supposed to use the word Pentecost or Pentecostal only as a noun or can it be used as an adjective or a verb? And so I ask you: Are you Pentecostal?
Given that the story of the actual Day of Pentecost deals with the experience of many Jews suddenly encountering the moving Presence and force of the Lord among them, we are remiss if we use the word Pentecostal as only a noun. If the church is alive in the world it is Pentecostal. If the movement and inflowing power of God is filling your person and your life with God’s goodness and truth, then you, my friend, are Pentecostal. And you thought we were just Swedenborgian! I guess there is yet another term that describes who and what we are.
This morning, on Pentecost Sunday, I’d like to invite you to think about the third awesome quality or attribute of our glorious Lord: His Divine Love moving and acting in our world and also inside of your heart and mind, what Swedenborg describes as the “the Divine Proceeding”, which is represented by the great name of God, “Holy Spirit.” It is vital that we each personally become mystically and emotionally open to one of the deepest and most important realities of life—that the Lord God is active and moving! The Lord is beautifully and lovingly touching and influencing life everywhere, and most especially, within your own heart and mind. Is this something that you are open to believing in? Perhaps you already do. Let’s look further into this profound blessing of life, into the grand spiritual wonders of Pentecost.
One of the most amazing and effective “tricks” God plays on us is the profound masking or veiling of Himself in life. There are times when I feel thoroughly dumbfounded at how well the Lord covers His Divine presence, activity and movement, which is actually constantly on the go…every moment of every day! By means of correspondences in nature, God communicates His constant presence and movement with us by means of the constant presence of that glorious sun up in our sky, as well as by the oft presence of wind blowing through our lands, making trees rustle and sway. The Holy Scriptures speak mightily of this reality that God is always moving and acting in life. In Genesis 1 we encounter this in the first three verses of the opening pages of the Bible. We read: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”
In the story of Adam and Eve we find the Spirit or presence of God moving or walking in the cool evening time, as we read: “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze….” (Gen. 3:8) Many other action-centered experiences of the Divine are found in the Bible story. For example, Moses’ first personal encounter of God was of God’s presence burning like flame upon a bush, which did not consume it. The Israelites experienced the living power and movement of the Lord on a daily basis by seeing Him represented before them as either a pillar of smoke by day or a pillar of fire by night, which was ever so capable of moving before them…not standing still.
In short, then, we can understand that to be sure, GOD IS AFOOT!
In visions that Hebrew spiritual leaders, such as Ezekiel, had long ago the Lord’s power and movement was seen to be breathing new life and new spirit into a vast valley of very dry, dead bones. I love the words of God that read: “I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.” Another passage that moves me deeply we found in Job chapter 26 verses 9-14, which again emphasizes the ready motion and activity of the Lord, as we read: “He covers the face of the full moon and spreads over it His cloud. He has inscribed a circle on the face of the waters at the boundary between light and darkness. The pillars of heaven tremble and are astounded at His rebuke. By His power He stilled the sea; by His understanding He shattered Rahab. By His wind the heavens were made fair; His hand pierced the fleeing serpent. Behold, these are but the outskirts of His ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of Him! But the thunder of His power, who can understand?”
In The Gospel According to John the Lord continues to makes use of deeply stirring and active imagery when He said, “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (7:37-38) RIVERS OF LIVING WATER!! My oh my, how great indeed are these words. And how active is God’s effect upon my life. And now in our New Testament reading for today we encounter the awesome experience of those blessed Jews who were chosen by God to encounter Him in a vibrant and ever so alive way. They felt the onrush of the Holy Spirit dimension of the Lord as a violent wind rushing passed and over them, and then also as dancing flames of love appearing above them, which have inspired much usage in Christian art in the form of brilliant orange and red flames.
The Holy Spirit, which Jesus made clear was coming through Him, was described by Jesus in active and tender terms, as in John where He refers to the gift of the Holy Spirit as the coming of a Divine “Helper” or “Comforter.” Such terms for God are used in a number of passages in both the Old and New Testaments.
It would seem to me that the Lord, through His Word, wants to permanently impress upon us the living, comforting and healing truth that He (being Love itself) is active and present, massaging life deeply in the goodness of His Love. Or as our New Church teachings bring forth, that to more accurately understand the nature of God, first we need to appreciate that indeed, the Lord is ONE…not three Persons, but One Divine Person. And the core nature or essence of this One Divine Creator or Being is that He is infinite Love beaming forth in Wisdom, which proceed or shine into life constantly. And it is good and healing to believe in this truth. The Lord’s life-force moves out, pouring into the spiritual and natural universes as Light beaming. And that Divine-Light is living, transforming, rejuvenating, Truth, which Christ described so simply and well. Jesus taught His disciples deeply of the Living Truth that flows forth from His Being. In John we read:
“But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning. But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them. But now I go away to Him who sent Me…. But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: …of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of Truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.” (15:26-27; 16:4-15)
This passage speaks to me of intimacy at work in God’s Love, Truth and outpouring power, which were and are living in the visible dimension of the Divine, who is Jesus Christ risen and glorified. Also, that we can count of the Lord being our Helper and Comforter, as He guides us daily into His saving and helping truth.
An example to me of the helping forms of truth the Lord loves sharing with us, is what Swedenborg wanted the world to grasp well given how fully he experienced it. It is the amazing reality and gift that the Lord is constantly doing something wonderful for those who believe in Him, who believe in One Divine Author and Power of life. That is, He is warmly and tenderly flowing into us where we need Him most—into our stubborn and willful hearts—where the major issues and struggles and weaknesses exist inside of us. For it is there, interiorly within you, that the Divine Helper and Comforter as active, moving, and regenerating you…slowly…gradually…deeply, and peacefully. It is the Lord, the Truth-from-Divine-Love, doing this. And therefore, to put this in my own terms regarding myself, I find that when I am open to grasping this deep truth of life, I am brought to my knees in humility, in gratitude, and often with tears of deep joy. How precious it is to know that God (who is Love itself) is always surrounding and blessing my consciousness, my spirit, my heart, which often struggles with wanting to be selfish, pig-headed, and open to attitudes unbecoming to a child of God.
Can you…will you…are you open to this powerful, mystical and living truth? That the Living God of the universe delights in actively surrounding your life with His action and influence, and that His Divine Love with its Wisdom is RIGHT NOW, this very moment, working silently and beautifully inside of your natural will and understanding—working to slowly mold you and transform you into the being of goodness and truth you were destined to become from the beginning. For everyone who is open to this most marvelous gift and movement throughout life, this, my friends is our joyous lot! Yet to be sure, this requires your choice, a free choice to live cooperatively with God, opening the doorway of your heart and mind to Him every day (for as we know, the Lord is the one knocking upon the doorway of our hearts and minds). It is up to you to choose to allow the Lord to enter freely there within you, where the “Holy Spirit” dimension of God can live and move and have His loving way with you.
For me, personally, this is the hardest truth from the Lord for me to freely accept on a daily basis. I know it is because of the many deeply painful and disappointing things that have happened at times in my life, and also in the lives of others. And this stubborn, willful natural part of my mind passionately struggles at times to yield to the higher truth from God, that in the final analysis, all is being drawn toward the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and earth. Even those who wind up choosing Hell forever, will in various ways serve the great purposes of God, for it is through their evil influences that part of our internal freedom of choice is maintained. I know in my heart of hearts that this is the living truth of God. It is the miracle of gradual spiritual regeneration with the Lord, Who understands that our salvation needs to be GRADUAL-----not hurried and all at once, but slowly and carefully over many years time.
And so, in conclusion, it is a mistake for the word Pentecostal to only be used as a noun—for indeed, it is a term that is describing vibrant forms of spiritual and behavioral action for anyone open to believing in the Lord, who is open to walking daily within God’s wonderful Spirit. For it was on the actual Day of Pentecost when the Lord Jesus Christ let loose the greatest dispensation of His Divine-Operation, of His Divine-Proceeding, you might say. Thus, it is righteous for me to say that I am a Pentecostal, because I am open to the great and healing power and movement of the living Lord Jesus, impacting life everywhere. I am a Pentecostal because I am open to the truth that only God actually saves us……but I believe His work is essentially gradual. I am Pentecostal because, also, I believe that in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord, God was able to birth into creation the greatest and fullest outpouring of His Divine…of the active power of the Lord, who is Love. And, I am Pentecostal, because I believe that the Lord (who is indeed a mighty, rushing Spirit of wind…as well as a dancing beautiful presence of Flame) is flowing into and around your life too!
Yes, while it may be true that the presence and movement of hellish beings and forces is real, that life does indeed have its great hurts and external tragedies, I hope that with me you can struggle to believe that the Holy Spirit, that the Lord, is the Almighty Giver and Bringer of life----whose Divine plan shall be accomplished, whose Will is ultimately governing and running the universe. And so, on this great Day of Pentecost, let us join in the powerful words of King David who said: “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Ps. 27:13) Amen.