He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
(Acts 19:2 NRSV)
From the early 1970s through to the late 1980s a fascinating phenomenon swept through churches in our land. It affected many Christians and its impact was probably felt, to a greater or lesser extent, by most Churches.
The phenomenon became known as the Charismatic Renewal Movement and, though it really began in the free churches, it spread to all the churches, and we still feel its effects today, in our worship, our liturgy and our music.
The Charismatic Renewal Movement had some things in common with the revivals of earlier generations but it was different in the sense that it seemed to relate to a whole range of understandings of worship.
Of course, as with all great movements, not everyone who got involved helped it to be seen in the best light, but the Renewal Movement enabled many people come to a faith in Jesus which has lasted throughout their lives since.
Churches were re-invigorated and some have gone from strength to strength. Others, more interested in their internal workings than in what God might be doing, have fared less well.
One of the most important legacies of the Renewal Movement is that it has restored the importance and significance of the Holy Spirit in the minds of many Christians. It has helped us all to think again about the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church and in our lives.
For the Charismatic Renewal Movement celebrated the work of the Holy Spirit and the gifts which he has showered upon the Church. The very word, “Charismatic” means “Spiritual Gifts” or “Gifts of Grace” – gifts given by the Holy Spirit to each Christian for the work of God’s Church.
St Paul talks at length about Spiritual gifts in his First Letter to The Corinthians, chapters 12 to 14, including what he considers to be the greatest gift of all, the gift of sacrificial love.
But the Holy Spirit is referred to throughout the New Testament, and spiritual gifts are seen to be the mark of faith in many of the New Testament accounts.
Our Baptism into Christ’s family, the Church, unites us with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and those who are Confirmed in Episcopal Churches find that calling upon the Holy Spirit is the major theme of the service.
And yet, though many have been Confirmed, and countless more have been baptised, we often behave like those believers who St Paul encountered, as if “we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
But the work of the Holy Spirit is essential to our Christian faith.
The Holy Spirit gently nudges us in the direction of God. The Spirit opens the scriptures to us, leading us into truth.
The Spirit enables our prayer, especially when we don’t know what to pray, or how to pray it.
Every Christian is endowed with Spiritual gifts, to help us to grow in faith, to nurture the faith of others, and to build up the church of God.
The Spirit is the very presence of God with us, wherever we are, empowering us to serve the kingdom, to develop our abilities, to do things we never imagined we could do, to grow in courage and confidence for our Lord.
The Spirit can be the gentle breath of God, quietly pointing us in the direction which God would have us go; or the Spirit can be wind and flame rushing through the Church, blowing out the cobwebs and disturbing our comfortable routines and expectations.
And Jesus called the Holy Spirit the “friend,” the “helper,” the “advocate” – the one who accompanies us on our journey; who speaks for us.
In fact, the simple truth is that the church would never have got off the ground but for Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit, who turned a rag bag of confused disciples into what became the mighty global movement it is today.
But there are two things we ought to know about the Spirit, two things which will help us to discern the Spirit at work.
First of all, the Spirit’s movement and the teachings of Jesus are in complete harmony. If someone is claiming that they are being led by the Spirit, but their behaviour is contrary to the teachings of Jesus, they are wrong. The only thing leading them is their own ego.
Secondly, We worship a genuinely awesome God; but we also worship a courteous God. God’s Holy Spirit will prompt and nudge, and guide – but he will wait for us to co-operate. He may whisper gently, or blow through the house, but the decision to act or follow is ours.
And, contrary to the impression that is often given, its not all about feelings, either. The Spirit makes his home deep within our souls and works from that depth of being. The same Spirit is at work whether we feel it or not.
Of course, it does make sense for us to set quiet time aside so that we might have a better chance of connecting with what God is trying to say to us through his Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the life-blood of the Christian Church, pointing us to the teaching of Jesus and drawing us into the worship of God. He is the sustainer of our life and faith, the gracious giver of spiritual gifts and the builder of the Kingdom of God.
Some Christians talk about the Holy Spirit too much, even to the exclusion of conversation about Jesus. Most of us, though, don’t acknowledge the Holy Spirit enough as the amazing outpouring of God’s grace into his world.