The Holy Spirit is the most elusive member of the Trinity.
God, we kind of get—God the maker of All That Is: or as our ancestors said, “Oh Lord God, Ruler of the Universe.”
We know about the person: Jesus of Nazareth. We read about him, know his story, know how his story connects to ours through our common humanity.
But the Holy Spirit? It’s easy to attribute everything—and nothing– to the Spirit. But the Spirit is very active.
Take the Book of Acts. It only comes up in our lectionary once a year—during the 7 Sundays of Easter. But pay attention when it does. The Holy Spirit is prominent in Acts. The Holy Spirit inspires people. But not always the people that we think.
Let’s look at the 3 most recent stories in Acts.
Last week we had the story of the African Eunuch slave.
Now, when most of us think of a “eunuch” we think of a man castrated so he can sing soprano– but it had a much broader definition during Jesus’ lifetime. “Eunuch” literally means “the keepers of the bed.” Eunuchs served and guarded women of wealth or royalty.
Naturally, the households wanted men who would not get “involved” with the women they guarded, so eunuchs were castrated heterosexual men, homosexual men, and intersex people. Some, though by no means all, were both castrated and homosexual. Often, eunuchs became trusted senior officials in that society.
According to the Old Testament, according to Leviticus, however, they were unfit to even be allowed into the sanctuary. They were deemed unclean.
Yet the holy spirit “moved Philip” to accept and baptize this eunuch.
The sexual outcast, black African from another culture was not asked to change by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit changed Philip.
Then we have this week’s reading.
The chosen people are upset because the Holy Spirit has decided to let the Gentiles join the party. Now, the “gentiles” are not a religious sect, the gentiles are anyone who is not a Jew.
Let’s put ourselves in the story to understand it better: if we were telling this story today, the gentiles would be anyone who isn’t Christian.
What if people outside our church, the unchurched —or of another faith–were suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit and started talking about God and saying how much Jesus loved them and how much God forgives everyone and is building a reign of love here on earth—which is pretty much what these people were doing. How would we feel? Like we “owned” this message more—as we looked suspiciously at them?
But in fact, the Holy Spirit of God in the passage from Acts this morning has entered and blessed people who are outside the faith. Without even CHANGING them! And I’m willing to bet the Holy Spirit does that even today.
The next passage in Acts – which we didn’t read today—but it’s actually part of this story– has Peter explaining to the people who didn’t like the Spirit entering people outside the faith, insight into why the Spirit is doing this. He tells them about a vision God gave him.
In this vision, Peter sees a large sheet coming down from heaven, and in it are four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. Peter hears God say, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” All the things in that sheet were named “unclean” in Levitical law. The people of God were forbidden to eat or even touch them. And yet—God is saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.”
So Peter said to God, “By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” But God responds, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” But—the scripture says they’re unclean. What can this mean?
Is the scripture wrong in Leviticus? God is clearly contradicting it. Things that were once seen as unclean are now declared by God to be clean.
It’s uncomfortable for us when the Holy Spirit contradicts things written in scripture: slavery is now no longer acceptable—though it clearly was in the bible. Women are now seen as of equal worth to God—though they clearly weren’t in the scripture—even in the New Testament.
The Holy Spirit whisks up Philip to meet with a person who is sexual and racial outcast —and impresses upon Philip that this is a person worthy to be taught, baptized, and sent to share the love of Christ.
Then the Spirit pours it’s love and power on people who are not Christians, not members of the church, including them, too in the story of the Kingdom.
Then the Holy Spirit gives Peter a vision—3 times—about how God calls things once thought profane, clean.
And suddenly we get a clearer picture of the Holy Spirit—teaching us to love more and more expansively—showing us there is no one outside of God’s love. The Spirit leads us to new understandings—even though they may contradict the written scriptures. Just like in Peter’s vision.
And the Spirit jars us and jabs us when we need it, encourages us when we’re getting there, and asks us to swim in new depths of love.
The Spirit of God is very much alive and active. Today. In this world. Right here. Right now.
And the Spirit is still enlarging the boundaries we make—to include everything God has made. Because God’s love is for all, and nothing God has made is outside his realm of Love. Amen.