Discerning the Holy Spirit.

Homily 599 – Holy Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration, Ames, Iowa
June 23, 2024
Epistle:  (3) Acts 2:1-11
Gospel:  (27) John 7:37-52; 8:12

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, one God.

The descent of the Holy Spirit is the fulfillment of the promise that Christ gave to us before the crucifixion.  He told us that He had to go away, because if He didn’t, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, would not come.

Pentecost fulfills that requirement.  A lot of the attention of Pentecost, at least in the past 150 years or so, has been in the protestant world on how the Holy Spirit manifests in us.  Lots of focus on language and verbalizations.  That focus has led us to a place where we need to question and discern the presence of the Holy Spirit.

How do we know that the Holy Spirit is operating?  How do we know that we aren’t deceived?

In our modern individualistic world, many would tell us that it is up to the individual to discern the presence, or absence, of the Holy Spirit.  Just like everything else about God, it is an individual encounter.

On some level it is of course highly individual.  We cannot deny that.  The Holy Spirit deals in some form or fashion with each of us.

There is one critical aspect of the Holy Spirit that transcends individuality, even while it acts in us individually.  We see that in the icon of Pentecost, for example.  The fiery tongues were distributed to the Apostles.  It wasn’t that each of them received an identical gift.  Rather, they were each given “a” gift, and when those gifts were assembled, they complimented one another.

And when did the Spirit come?  The Epistle reading says they were all with one accord, gathered in the same place.  Then, the mighty wind came, and the tongues of fire.

This is a critically important part.  They were together.  They were unified.  They were of one mind.

That is the way the Holy Spirit operates.  The Holy Spirit unifies us, draws us together.  There is no “Look at me” when the Holy Spirit operates in our midst.  Nothing will draw particular attention to ourselves.

We will be one, like Christ prayed, like He and the Father are One.  We will also be one.

That’s the secret – that’s the test.  If something divides us, it isn’t the Holy Spirit.  If something unifies us, it is likely the Spirit acting.  That was the central idea of the Ecumenical Councils, all the way back to the Council of Jerusalem in the Book of Acts.

Those of you who have perhaps read the letters of St. Paul in some detail may ask if that means that we aren’t to separate ourselves from those who sin.  And would that separation be an indication that the Holy Spirit wasn’t acting.

The response is pretty straightforward.  The only reason to separate is if someone refuses to repent.  Not, by the way, if they successfully give up whatever sin they are enslaved to – because we are all enslaved to some sin or another.

But if they quit trying to struggle with their sin, their passion, and instead become prideful and ego-driven, and accept it as not sinful, then we are to separate ourselves from them.  We do that by not sharing communion with them.

We don’t just abandon them, we don’t shun them or ostracize them.  They are, as long as they desire to be, present with us.  If they leave, for whatever reason, we must be prepared to welcome them back.

Even in this separation, though, there is unity.  I know – that sounds crazy.  What is meant by that is that on an interpersonal level, in the way we deal with each other, we are unified by our repentance.  It is different for each one of us.  Yet it is the same, because we all must repent, and live a life of repentance.

It isn’t us who excludes someone from our midst.  By their failure to repent, they exclude themselves.

Similarly, the Church won’t ban us from heaven or God won’t somehow banish us from heaven.  No, we will exclude ourselves, by our failure to repent.  Particularly in the consensus of everyone.

God desires our communion – individually and collectively.  The Holy Spirit acts for that unity among us.  That is the calling card, so to speak.  That is what we have to look for.

Devil, the common term for the evil one, the word “devil” comes from the word which means to slander and accuse.  The wish of the evil one is to divide us – which means that some will be moving away from Christ in the process.

If we are all in different places, but moving to the same target, which is Jesus Christ our Lord, we will be moving closer and closer and closer together.  If you move with the Church, toward the target which is Christ, you will become closer to one another.  If you move apart from the Church – you will miss the target, and move away from one another, and from God.

Here is our challenge, though.  We also have to listen to everyone, particularly the ones who exhibit the traits of holiness.  We have to be open to correction for ourselves.  This isn’t just an exercise in how quickly we can come to a consensus around a particular idea or thought.

We, collectively, need to listen and not dismiss anyone.  When the First Ecumenical Council was called, there may have been more support for the priest Arius than for the deacon Athanasius.  It would have been easy to go with the polling on the issue, and do the thing that made the most people feel good and right.

But this isn’t about our feelings – it is about truth.  And the Holy Fathers listened, humbly, and questioned, and prayed.  In the end, Athanasius’s arguments carried the day, and the Truth was established.

For us, in everyday life, trying to discern the will of God, the Holy Spirit, isn’t quite that dramatic.  We can still initially look for the things that draw us together.  And be confident that God will bless it.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.  Glory to Jesus Christ.