Sunday, May 23, 2021
Like perhaps some of you, I’ve been working on a new post-pandemic health plan to exercise more often and eat more healthily. A healthy habit of diet and exercise is something I’ll probably struggle with doing my entire life. There are ups and downs, and the other night I caved and got really junky fried fast food. The next day, as you can imagine, I did not feel well. It’s pretty amazing how quickly your body can tell you what’s not so good for you, and conversely, how my energy and mood improves when I am eating more healthily!
Unfortunately, when it comes to a healthy spiritual life, we are not as attuned to noticing whether we are feeding our soul a steady diet of junk food or food that nourishes our soul. I believe when we look at the state of the world and our country in particular, we can see how as a whole we are suffering from spiritual and moral malnourishment. We need help – we need the Holy Spirit to fill us up with good things to bring our souls and our lives back to health!
The Christian Pentecost story begins with a full house of believers gathered together in one place, and a sound like the rush of a violent wind fills the entire house, Acts tells us. When passerby see what is taking place, some are confused and ask, “What does this mean?” But others sneer and say, “They are filled with new wine…” they must be drunk! Isn’t it interesting that onlookers recognize these Holy Spirit-filled believers are filled up with something, but the only thing they can make sense of is drunkenness. Our Psalm praises the God of creation who fills the earth with his creatures and provides for all living things. “You open your hand, and they are filled with good things,” the psalmist writes. God’s Holy Spirit fills us with good things. But often, when we think of what we are full of, the first phrases that come to mind are not too pleasant to mention: “He’s full of ‘fill in the blank,’” maybe the most polite way to end this phrase would be to say “He’s full of hot air.”
As American hyper-consumers, we are good at filling our lives with stuff. We can fill our bodies with fast food or the latest trends for the foodies and the health nuts – most of us are far from worried about being hungry. We fill our closets with clothes and shoes, our garages with cars and gadgets, our calendars with activities and important appointments. We have even learned to be sure to fill our empty time and space with the radio or TV on in the background, pulling out our smartphones to scroll through the latest news or follow the latest influencer on TikTok or Instagram so that God forbid we aren’t just sitting there waiting for even a second. With our lives full to the brim with all kinds of things, I wonder, where and when and how do we create space for the Holy Spirit to fill our lives with good things? And what are those good things that God fills us with?
Awhile ago, a friend gave me a picture frame that has this psalm verse from today on it, Psalm 104:28, “You open your hand, and they are filled with good things.” There are spaces for 8 or 10 small pictures that go in a circle around this verse. Perhaps each of you can imagine, if you were to fill this frame, what good things from God would you put in this frame? Because despite our love for stuff and busy-ness, I bet you would not put a picture of your favorite anchor from Fox News or CNN or MSNBC. Or a picture of your car or clothes closet or Peloton. Instead, I would guess, like me, you would put a picture of your family – parents and siblings, children and grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins. Friends who are as close as family. Pictures of friends from church. Perhaps a picture of you doing a favorite hobby with your sports team or at a music concert (I have a picture with my friends at a White Sox game in Chicago), beloved pets (my dog), a meaningful memory from an important time in your life, like a picture of refugee friends I met while working as a missionary in Slovakia, a picture of coworkers if you really enjoy your workplace. A picture of flowers or plants or a picturesque travel scene if you think of somewhere you particularly love that you’ve been privileged to visit or something in God’s creation you particularly admire.
God the Holy Spirit fills our life with good things, but when we think about it, most of our time and attention is spent on things that aren’t the best for us, spiritually. Regular worship and being a part of a faith community helps us pause to breathe, in and out, and remember that the Holy Spirit is as close as our own breath, that even our very breath is a gift from God to help put everything else in life in perspective. God fills us with good things, and this does not mean that God gives us the biggest, newest, and best stuff.
Another daily reminder of the Holy Spirit filling us with good things hangs in our kitchen. It was a Sunday School project and a gift from the first congregation I served in Nebraska. It is simply a list of the fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. It is my daily prayer as I wake up with a cup of coffee and look at this wall hanging to allow God to fill me with these good things. Of course, like you, I am human and I too often respond first out of fear and anger. I assume the worst in people. I am impatient and anxious and self-control is too often fleeting when I think, “Oh it’s just one bowl of ice cream…”. But we are filled with the Holy Spirit, who fills us with good things, this amazing day of Pentecost reminds us. We have these fruits, God’s healthy spiritual food, inside of us. Our faith and trust in the Holy Spirit is a daily walk of breathing these good things in and out to practice feasting on love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and so on to share this nourishing food with others.
Pentecost is a celebration of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, but it is not the first or the only day the Holy Spirit came upon believers in a powerful way. God’s Spirit has been with us from the beginning, when God’s Spirit moved over the waters of creation, Genesis 1:2. Sometimes the Holy Spirit overcomes us with emotion, with tears, with the impulse to sing or shout praises, with a powerful experience of God’s presence that can’t be ignored like that first Pentecost when tongues of fire were upon the believers in Jerusalem. Those of us from European Lutheran backgrounds can learn from our African and Latino sisters and brothers in the faith I think in being more expressive and open to the Spirit working in these ways. You may have heard that the latest surveys of religion in America indicate that for the first time since surveys like this have been conducted, fewer than fifty percent of Americans affiliate with any religion. People are choosing to fill their lives with other things than God. And sadly, sometimes Christians react in ways that are contrary to the Holy Spirit so that people say Christians are hypocritical, judgmental, and bigoted. People are filling their lives with spiritual junk food, and our Spirit-filled response ought to be driven by the fruits of the Spirit, not by religious superiority or legalism. The fruits of the spirit are our greatest witness, so that others might want to awaken to what the Spirit can fill them with, too – with good things.
It is powerful to know that the Bible consistently describes the Holy Spirit as wind and breath, a daily presence in our lives that we can easily notice if we take just a few seconds, even if it’s not so obviously miraculous. Like the wind, like a deep breath, the Holy Spirit fills us with good things. Like the wind or a breath, the Holy Spirit can get into the smallest of cracks and spaces even when our lives are crammed full of other things. And the Holy Spirit empowers and transforms us so that these good things start to fill up our lives, so that love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are evident in us in how we live and what we value. Live by the Spirit! Amen.