John 15.26-27, 16.4-15
Somebody asked me recently, how can you tell when a person has been filled with the Spirit? I believe the correct answer is that God knows, and sometimes it becomes obvious to us.
As we heard in our first reading, on the first Pentecost, people were filled with the Holy Spirit in a very visible way: what looked like tongues of fire came to rest on each of the gathered believers in Jerusalem.
St Paul believed the filling of the Spirit would continue for all time, and that it is something worth having. So he wrote in his letter to the Ephesians,
Be filled with the Spirit.
St Paul tells us it is not like going to the service station once a week and filling up with petrol. The original Greek word means ‘be filled with the Spirit and go on being filled with the Spirit.’ So it’s more like parking our car in the service station, connecting it to the pump, and leaving it there, permanently.
Who is this Holy Spirit? In our gospel for today, Jesus says he is the Friend. In other English translations, the Spirit is called ‘another Comforter,’ and sometimes the ‘Advocate.’ An advocate is like a lawyer, someone who speaks on our behalf. The Spirit speaks on our behalf to the Father.
Christians down through the ages have listened to these descriptive words about the Spirit and recognised that the Spirit is God and is also the presence of Jesus in the world since his Ascension.
Someone might wonder why be filled with the Holy Spirit. The bible describes our relationship with God as like a marriage. In a good marriage you naturally want to be as close to each other as you can. That is what our relationship with God can be like: when someone loves God, we want to be close to God. We want as much of God as we can have in this life. So we want to be filled with his Spirit.
Back to the question: how can we tell when someone has been filled with the Spirit? It was obvious on that first Pentecost: all of the believers present began speaking in the many languages of the people who were in Jerusalem. They had come from all over the Roman empire for the festival, and each one amazingly could hear the gospel about Jesus in their own language.
The festival they had come for was Pentecost. Pentecost was the Jewish harvest festival, celebrated 50 days after Passover. With the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost, God was saying there was about to be a new and great harvest, through the spreading of the good news about Jesus to all the world.
Can we tell if someone has received the Spirit? You may remember a couple of weeks ago we had the story from the book of Acts about Peter going to see the Roman soldier named Cornelius. Cornelius and his household were considered by the early church to be unlikely candidates for Christian baptism because they were not Jewish. The first Christians were thinking that Jesus was just for the Jews. When Peter preached the good news about Jesus to Cornelius and his family, the Holy Spirit came on them. Peter and his friends knew this had happened because they heard these Romans speaking in a strange language and praising God.
When the Spirit comes, there is an increase in the intensity of love for God. The Holy Spirit draws us into worship, as well as drawing us together into Christian community and outward in mission.
A painting I like which could be about the Holy Spirit is by an American named Andrew Wyeth. He painted an open window, and we as observers are looking outside through the window. The wind is blowing, and we know that because it is blowing the curtains hanging on the window. We cannot see the wind, but we can see the effect it has on the curtains. That is the way with the Spirit.
In John’s gospel, when Nicodemus visited Jesus at night, Jesus said to him,
"The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
In other words, the Spirit of God is at work in the world, and we can see maybe sometimes what the Spirit is doing, even though the Spirit cannot be seen. We cannot control the Spirit, any more than we can control the wind. However, we can be people who listen for direction from the Spirit, and get caught up in the wind. We can rest assured that the Spirit will always lead us into new life.
St Paul teaches that the Spirit gives gifts or ways of serving that are for building up the church. Everyone has a share in the Spirit's gifts. All of us can receive the Spirit and be builders in God’s kingdom. We can’t be the church of God without the presence of the Spirit.
Conversion in the true biblical sense means conversion of life, the whole of life. God’s appointed agent in this rebirth is the Holy Spirit. And the sign we are to use for this re-birth is baptism.
For some, God is high up above the sky, and lives in a place far away which we hope to go to one day. When a person is in Christ, we can meet God in the interior of silence deep within us. God is at the centre of our being, instead of on the edge.
And God will come to us, filling us with his Holy Spirit, transforming our lives, and showing us our part in the building of God’s kingdom.