It was the last night of a tent revival set up just a block or two from my house on a large vacant lot near a local brewery where I often smelled the hops of beer brewing. I was about twelve years old when I watched what happened at that revival with amazement.
I stood in the very back of the tent that night. All the people who came for the revival sat quietly in their folding chairs. The lights were not turned on. There was complete darkness in that tent except for one spotlight which shone on a casket in the very front of that tent.
Suddenly the lights flashed brightly. The musician played a rousing tune on the electric organ. The top of the casket flew open and out came the evangelist. He danced in a state of frenzy. He spoke in a language I could not understand. The people stood, clapped, and were caught up in the emotion. I could not believe what was happening. It was a far cry from what I experienced in worship growing up in the Lutheran church.
Could all of the emotion, dancing, clapping, speaking in tongues, and rousing music be signs of the Holy Spirit descending upon the evangelist and his followers under the big revival tent on the vacant lot of the brewery near my home?
The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jesus. In today’s gospel reading, it was the sabbath day and Jesus and others in Nazareth went to the synagogue. The scroll of the prophet, Isaiah, was given to Jesus and he read from it: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” (4:18)
When he finished reading this prophecy from the prophet, Isaiah, Jesus rolled up the scroll, but then said something which truly amazed everyone in the synagogue. Jesus proclaimed, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (4:21)
As Jesus began his ministry in Galilee, he announced that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him. It was the same Spirit that descended upon him like a dove at his baptism. (3:22) It was the same Spirit which came to Mary so that she would give birth to Jesus, the Son of God. (1:35) It was the same Spirit which led Jesus to be tempted in the wilderness to be victorious over the temptations of the devil for our sake. (4:1-13)
In Saint Luke’s two volume work of Luke – Acts, the Holy Spirit plays a major role. The Holy Spirit proclaims the will of God, provides guidance to Jesus and his followers, and empowers Jesus and his followers for mission.
The power of the Spirit of the Lord was with Jesus when he healed the paralytic. (5:17)
Jesus’ power of the Spirit came out of him when the woman with the hemorrhage touched the fringe of his garment and she was healed as she believed in him. (8:43-48)
On the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit appeared as tongues of fire on the heads of the disciples. They spoke in various languages to proclaim God’s deeds of power through Jesus. (Acts 2:1-13)
The Holy Spirit directed Philip to go to the chariot of the Ethiopian eunuch and explain scripture to him. ( Acts 8:26-40)
While Peter preached the Holy Spirit fell upon Gentiles and they praised God. (Acts 10:34-43)
It is the work of the Holy Spirit to guide, strengthen, and send forth Jesus and his followers in mission.
There are moments in the church when we call upon the Holy Spirit. When one is baptized in the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the pastor then lays hands on the baptized person and prays for the Spirit to provide wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge of the Lord, fear of the Lord, and joy in God’s presence. We pray for the Holy Spirit to shower the baptized with these gifts for life.
And when one is confirmed in the church, the pastor again lays hands on the head of each confirmand and prays once again for the stirring up of the Holy Spirit in the confirmand’s life. The pastor prays for those same gifts in Holy Baptism to once again to be given to the confirmand.
In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther summarized the work of the Holy Spirit when he wrote that the Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps united us in faith.” And in addition, it is the Holy Spirit who daily forgives our sin and gives to all believers in Christ eternal life.
In contrast to the Holy Spirit, there are spirits in this life which leads us to death, despair, and destruction. Terrorists place bombs in buildings to explode and kill. They have a spirit of hate. Child abductors tear children from their family homes. They have a spirit of immorality. Drug dealers sell drugs which hook people into chemical dependency and lives of despair and even death. They have a spirit of corruption.
In our life of faith, there are moments when the spirit of idolatry wants to take hold of us. We are tempted to think that we can make it in this life without the Holy Spirit giving us aid to place the highest value upon God.
We are tempted with a spirit to get revenge and get even when someone offends us. We think we know what is best for ourselves and others without the guidance of the Holy Spirit giving us a spirit of forgiveness.
But it is the promised gift of the Holy Spirit to transform our lives so that we love. It is the promised gift of the Holy Spirit to forgive us and free us to live as faithful people following our Lord Jesus Christ.
As we look at the challenges we face in our country, don’t we need to pray for the Holy Spirit to provide wisdom and guidance? We pray for the members of Congress to come to good and wise decisions about opening the government, reforming immigration policy, and how to protect our nation from anyone who wants to hurt or destroy our citizens and others who live here.
So we pray: Holy Spirit, come quickly, and give our government officials the aid they need to govern with fairness and righteousness.
One of my favorite hymns about the Holy Spirit is “Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord.” The text of this hymn (public domain) calls upon the Holy Spirit to enter our lives to bless us with grace. (This hymn can be found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship #395.) I learned and sang this hymn as a child growing up in the Lutheran church.
Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord, with all your graces now outpoured
on each believer’s mind and heart; your fervent love to them impart.
Lord, by the brightness of your light in holy faith your church unite;
from ev’ry land and ev’ry tongue, this to your praise
O Lord, our God, be sung.
So it is the Holy Spirit who gives us love and faith so that we praise the Lord Jesus Christ who promised these gifts to us.
As I think about that revival years ago on that vacant lot near my home, I trust that the Holy Spirit stirred up that evangelist and the congregation under the big tent in a display of emotion I had never seen before.
So, too, we pray for the Holy Spirit to stir our hearts and minds that we may ever be faithful to our Lord and sing his praises now and forevermore.
Thanks be to God.
(Bible quotations from the New Revised Standard Version)