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Gifts of the Spirit – Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church

The Rev. Dr. William Rich
May 12, 2016


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PDF of Forum Handout


Acts 2:1-13 – The Coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost
I Corinthians 12:4-31 (In addition, one could read all of I Corinthians 13) – Spiritual Gifts
Galatians 5:22 – Fruits of the Holy Spirit



Images for the Holy Spirit in Scripture:

mighty wind                      
fire – tongues of fire
prophecy instigator
giver of new languages
advocate (as in: defense lawyer)

Notice above the wide variety of images for Holy Spirit in Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament. Do you find yourself drawn to one particular image more than others? If so, by praying with that image, can you begin to discern what that image for the Spirit of God is saying to you, and why you are drawn to it? One might also ask: do I find myself feeling uncomfortable about or disturbed by a particular image for God’s Spirit? By praying with that image, can you discern what it says to you about God and why that makes you uncomfortable?

Words in Scripture for Spirit

In both Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament, the word we translate as “spirit” – ruach in Hebrew; pnemua in Greek – has three different but interrelated meanings: breath, wind, and spirit. Therefore, one could equally accurately name the third person of the Trinity as Holy Wind, Holy Breath, or Holy Spirit. The wind/breath/spirit of God is that which flows out from God into the entire world, giving life to us, and enlivening every aspect of Creation. In Genesis 2:7, God directly breathes God’s own breath and life into the lifeless clay creature to bring it to life and make it become the first human, Adam. By the breathing of God’s Spirit in us, every human being is made to body forth God’s likeness and image, and to breathe the Spirit of God into the world through his/her life.

The Holy Spirit and the Creation of the Church – Acts 2:1-13

This Sunday, May 15, we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, the day on which Christians remember the coming of the Holy Spirit onto and into the first apostles, the act that transformed them from fearful Galilean peasants, energizing them and sending them out with courage to spread the Good News of Jesus. The story of Pentecost in Acts 2 emphasizes two images: wind and fire. The wind of the Spirit comes into the house of fear where the apostles were gathered, and sets them afire to be a light to the world.

Those gathered – the apostles and Jesus’ mother – are also given the gift of speaking in other languages, so that they can carry the word of Jesus beyond their native Aramaic speakers to people across the entire ancient world. In this sense, they are able to break free from the boundaries of their origins, meeting people of different cultures, religions and races, spreading the Good News of Jesus to people of every background. Although the breath of God is not directly mentioned in this gift of languages, God’s breath is certainly there in the background, for who can make any sound or speak any word without breath flowing across the vocal cords?

That God should give the gift of new languages to these early disciples of Jesus so that they can communicate with people throughout the known world of their day also reverses the curse of Babel (see Genesis 11:1-9). At Babel, God – as a punishment for the hubris of human beings trying to reach the divine realm through building a temple that reached towards the heavens – had “confused” the one original language that had unified humankind. Now the Holy Spirit is redeeming the confused divisions of human beings, allowing Good News to spread among all peoples. Through this gift,  the Holy Spirit is seeking to build bridges among us, so that we might understand one another, be united once again into our common humanity, and work with God – not to build proud towers towards heaven – but to serve one another under the benevolent and humble rule of Jesus Christ.

Gifts and Fruits of the Spirit – I Corinthians 12 (and 13) and Galatians 5:22

In his letters, Paul speaks about the many gifts that the Holy Spirit pours out on the Church and on individual Christians. These gifts are of great variety: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, various tongues, interpretation of tongues. But Paul also points out that every gift is given, not for individual good or self aggrandizement, but for the common good of the whole church community. In that sense, then, every gift of the Spirit is given to build up the community, rather than primarily for the good of the individual believer.

Paul makes it abundantly clear that the Spirit gives every Christian gifts, and intends every Christian to respect and honor the gifts of every other Christian. He uses the analogy of members of the body (e.g., foot, hand, ear, eye) to assert that every Christian needs every other Christian within the Body of Christ, and that each gift – whether the gift(s) of that Christian are weak or strong, honorable or not-so-much – is of value and to be honored.  In fact, Paul argues, the weaker and less honored gifts should be treated with greater respect and honor.

In I Corinthians 13, Paul reveals that though every gift is valuable, there is particular value to three gifts: faith, hope, and love – and that love is the greatest gift of all. The word he uses for love is the Greek word agape – no strings attached, unconditional, unselfish love. This love – the sort of love God has for all Creation – brings forth many fruits in those human beings who are able to receive it and nurture it: patience, kindness, lack of jealousy and boastfulness, lack of arrogance and rudeness, lack of demanding its own way, lack of irritability and resentfulness, lack of rejoicing at wrong.  Love also is able to bear, believe, hope and endure all things. In Galatians 5:22, Paul also sets forth another list of the Spirit’s fruits, repeating but also adding to the fruits he had mentioned in I Corinthians 13: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Implications for the Church of the Present and Trinity Church

For the Church of the present to thrive – and for Trinity to thrive as a parish – Paul’s admonitions about the respecting and honoring of all gifts is essential. This means that within the Body there is to be no hierarchy of more important and less important gifts. No ranking of parishioners who are of more value or less value. Every gift, and the stewarding of that gift, is of equal importance. Keeping this in mind will be of particular importance as we continue launching our How Firm a Foundation: Trinity for the Twenty-First Century Campaign. Every gift – of whatever size – will be of equal value. I love it that the Undercroft glass board that lists the contributors to Trinity’s last capital campaign is in alphabetical order, with no ranking of size of gift. Every gift is of equal value to God, and to the church!

 – The Rev. Bill Rich



Excerpt from “Little Gidding” in Four Quartets – T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)

The dove descending breaks the air

With flame of incandescent terror

Of which the tongues declare

The one discharge from sin and error.

The only hope, or else despair

Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre – 
To be redeemed from fire by fire.
Who then devised the torment? Love.

Love is the unfamiliar Name

Behind the hands that wove

The intolerable shirt of flame

Which human power cannot remove.

We only live, only suspire

Consumed by either fire or fire.



“O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe” – BWV 34 – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)




“Pentecost” – El Greco (1541-1614)

 COM 2016 5 12 Bill Blog


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