ACTS 2: 1-21

We Presbyterians wrestle with the Holy Spirit. We don’t know quite what to do

with it. Half the time, in our creeds and in the words we sing every Sunday, we

call it the Holy Ghost, and since we don’t believe in ghosts, that puts us in a

contradictory position.

The Westminster Divines, who wrote the confession of faith that was the

foundation stone of American Presbyterianism, neglected to write a chapter

about the Holy Spirit. While the Confession was written in 1647, it wasn’t until

1942 that the present Chapter Nine was added. That doesn’t mean we didn’t

recognize the Holy Spirit for almost three hundred years, or that it wasn’t at work

in the church and in the world. We just couldn’t seem to grasp it.

In that bestselling book, The Shack, the Holy Spirit is depicted as a woman

named Sarayu (which I think rhymes with “where are you?”). But that woman is

hard to visualize, seeming to shimmer, and change shapes, colors, clothing,

before one’s very eyes. It is a fitting metaphor for the Spirit.

When I was in seminary, the debate was over whether to call the Spirit he or it.

Today, the pronoun “she” is also applied to the Holy Spirit. The word used in the

New Testament, pnuema, is indeed a feminine noun. The Old Testament

equivalent, ruach, is masculine. However, both translate as “wind”. The Spirit,

like the wind, is something difficult to visualize, but which has lasting effects upon

what it blows upon. The Spirit, like the wind, is an invisible force that produces

visible results. The Spirit, like the wind, is something that can be felt, but not

seen. We can only see the effects of, or the response to, both the wind and the


The church I served for 26 years had a Pentecost stained glass window that

gave a traditional view of the Spirit: a dove, descending. But if one got close

enough, one could see the tongues of fire upon the heads of all those depicted in

the window.

Tongues of fire.

Would that our tongues would burn with the fire of the Holy Spirit, that we might

speak words that would communicate the gospel and lead the world to Christ.

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