The Gift of the Spirit, A Mixed Blessing
1 Samuel 3: 7-11; John 20: 19-23
The Resurrected Jesus breathes on his disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Three days before, Jesus had promised to send the Spirit to the disciples and had explained that this Spirit would--
abide in them (John 14:17)
remind them of Jesus’ teachings (John 14: 26)
bear witness to and thereby confirm everything about Jesus (John 15: 26)
guide them into all truth (John 16:13)
convict the world of sins, righteousness, and judgement (John 16:8)
When we baptize a baby, I pray that the baby will be filled with the Holy Spirit. I don’t breathe on the baby when I say this prayer. I don’t think parents would appreciate me breathing on their baby.
The Resurrected Jesus breathes on his disciples. He had been dead for three days. What do you suppose his breath smelled like? Death warmed over? Resurrection fresh breath?
In Luke’s version of the Resurrection, Jesus eats a fish to prove to the disciples that he isn’t a ghost. Having someone breath in your face after finishing a fish would definitely drive home the point that this is not a ghost. Receiving the indwelling of Christ’s Spirit sounds like it would be a special moment, but fish-breath? Ick.
So receiving the Holy Spirit, being filled with that much truth, maybe something of a mixed blessing. Just look at what happened to Samuel.
He received the Word of God. He heard God’s voice and it said something that he did not want to hear, did not want to repeat. His boss, Eli, had to force the truth out of him. And eventually Samuel tells Eli what he heard God say to him. The bad news that God is disgusted by Eli and his sons’ behavior and they will be punished, and Samuel will replace them.
Did Eli regret teaching Samuel how to respond to God’s call? If Samuel had never said “Speak, your servant listens,” he might never have heard the ear-tingling news that Eli was about to breathe his last.
Because of the corruption in the house of Eli, Samuel does not know God’s story and how Samuel’s story fits into that bigger story. The story of how God created the world and blessed us, gave us this world as a gift and offered to be in relationship with us, and we rejected God and decided to try living life on our own without reference or deference or reverence to God.
Samuel grew up with the ark of the covenant and watched Eli and his sons say prayers and lift up incense offerings and animals sacrifices, but no one in that house taught Samuel that it was possible or even desirable to hear God’s word, to feel the breath of God.
When we baptize a baby we vow that this child will grow up differently, won’t be like Samuel. This baby will know God, will hear the Word, will listen for that voice and will know how to respond to that call. We vow to make this happen by how we live out our faith. This baby will grow up surrounded by living, breathing examples of what a spirit-filled life looks like, which will make the word of God knowable and real and understandable.
Holy Spirit-inspired lives like the one that touched me this week.
Jean and Steve had a rough-around-the-edges neighbor. Vern drank and smoke and cursed. He threatened and hustled. Jean and Steve’s boys could look across the street and see a modern day house of Eli, they could observe the behavior of a man they did not want to be when they grew up, his life revealed how messed up a person can become.
So the boys are puzzled and wondering what happened? Why was their Mom fighting to move Vern closer to home after the State intervened and moved him out West? Why was their Mom driving Blanche and Vern’s brother to Nebraska City so that they could pay Vern a visit? Why did she arrange Vern’s funeral?
Because of Jesus. And because of the Spirit he has put in Jean, which teaches Jean how to live out Christ’s lessons. The same Spirit who will help us understand and live up to the baptism vows we will make to Hudson today.
Will the children of this church grow up surrounded by the things of God, a church building, holy texts, Christian music, sacred art and yet never learn to recognize God’s voice because they do not grow up surrounded by things that breathe and live by faith out in the open where they can see it?
No, there’s no fear of that happening as long as there are people like Jean in the church, who put skin on and breath into God’s Word.
There is a potential unpleasant side to sharing the Word with our children. They might throw those words back in our face. Then we’ll be like Eli, hearing from our children that our lifestyles contradict the Gospel we’ve told them we believe. That would be bad. Worse than fish-breath. That would knock the wind right out of us.
Wouldn’t you rather have the Spirit tell you that you have bad breath, that you have messed up and are a disappointment, then get that news from the children of the church?
It’s embarrassing to be told our breath stinks, but at least once we know the smelly truth we can do something about it. Get a breath mint. Schedule an oral cleaning.
When the Spirit reveals our shortcomings to us it also reassures us of forgiveness and offers to help us overcome them. A resurrection oral cleaning. That’s what we need.
It’s a major commitment we are making today to Hudson. Breathe easy. God wants us to succeed and will help us to fulfill the vows we take this morning (Hymnal, page 40).