God's Empowering Presence--Touched by the Spirit

Sermon Series: Caught By the Spirit

God's Empowering Presence--Touched by the Spirit

April 19, 2012 - April 22, 2012

Isaiah 11:1-5; Luke 1:26-28

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Harry Heintz

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Most people have had such moments.  They might be described as moments of heightened awareness of God.  Or moments in which the Holy Spirit seemed to invade the space.  Moments of hushed awe.  Have you had such moments?  I don’t expect many, but once or twice when you were simply awed by a sense of presence?  Another question:  Were the circumstances surrounding that moment happy or not happy?


I am not talking about a feel good moment, like your team just won a game, or the weather turned out better than forecast, or you got a larger than expected return on your taxes.  I am talking about something far more profound, not in the realm of luck or sheer coincidence.  I am talking about those moments, rare though they be, when we are both lifted and humbled.  Awed.  Sometimes silenced.  


In his poetry T. S. Eliot called it “a still point in a turning world.”  An old Celtic saying says that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even shorter.  These moments put us in thin places, where the distance between heaven and earth shrinks and we sense the presence of the Spirit of God surrounding us, invading our space, humbling us even as we are lifted.


The Bible is rich in reporting such moments.  Isaiah had some.  God gave him glimpses of things to come, things wondrous and thrilling.  It was when things were bad in Judah and getting worse; not a happy time.  Then God opened the skies and gave Isaiah a glimpse of better days coming, of Messiah coming.  The description pivots on how the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, will manifest God’s presence in Messiah:

“The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD— and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.”  (Isaiah 11:2-3a.)  Last week we saw how the Spirit hovered over the chaos of creation; now we see the Spirit hovering over the coming one.  The prophet is given three couplets which describe further the Spirit’s ministry:

the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

the Spirit of counsel and of might,

the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD


We are reminded of the great teaching in Paul’s writings about the fruit of the Spirit, where nine are listed:  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”  (Galatians 5:22-23.)  From Isaiah 11 and Galatians 5 we see that the ministry of the Holy Spirit brings qualities, characteristics, and attributes of God into our lives. In Galatians 5 the noun is singular:  the fruit (not fruits) or harvest of the Spirit is . . . .  This is a mark of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives:  good fruit grows, not bad fruit; sweet fruit, not bitter fruit.  How are we doing in that?

The circumstances under which God’s messenger appeared to Mary could hardly be called pleasant.  She was a young teenager.  She wasn’t yet married, though she was pledged to be married.  To have become pregnant in such circumstances would have put her in a most vulnerable place, subjecting her to public shame and almost certainly canceling the wedding and making it likely that she would never be respected.  What did she do?  She modeled integrity and grit, with fierce honesty and genuine humility.  In her fascinating and, to her, fearful conversation she finds out that the Holy Spirit would oversee everything.  She asks the obvious, but who would ever ask it, question:  “How will this be since I am a virgin?”   She had heard the Talk.  She knew something of how the female body works.  God’s messenger answered in kind:  “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”  Can you see her taking a deep breath, smiling, and saying, “Okay.  Now I get it.  The Holy Spirit will take care of everything.  That’s a relief!”


Hardly.  I expect that she was terrified.  Awed.  Mystified.  But she knew her scriptures.  She had memorized enough of God’s word to have the just the right response:

“I am the Lord’s servant.  May it be to me according to your word.”  We Protestant Christians sometimes get a little uptight about talking too much about Mary because we think Roman Catholic Christians have made too much of her.  We can all agree on this:  Mary is a model of faithful response to God in the most unsettling circumstances.  All Christians are in her debt for her response to God’s call.


The one who would be born of her is called by many names and titles.  One of them is this:  Immanuel, which means God with us.  When God’s Spirit visits us, he whispers in our ears, God is with you.  And sometimes he shouts it, but in my experience far more often he whispers it:  God is with you.  The Holy Spirit manifests the presence of the Almighty God in our lives.  We are not alone.  From a song written by Julie Gold and made popular by Bette Midler come these haunting words:

   “It's the hope of hopes, it's the love of loves/ This is the song of every man

    And God is watching us, God is watching us/ God is watching us from a distance

    Oh, God is watching us, God is watching/ God is watching us from a distance.”

The ministry of the Holy Spirits shrinks that distance and draws us close, puts us in a thin place, a still point in a turning world.


Moments come in our lives when the Spirit of God overwhelms us and points to greater realities.  After listening to a concert by the virtuoso violinist Yehudi Menuhin, Albert Einstein went backstage and said to the artist:  “Thank you; you have again proved to me that there is a God in heaven.”  We need moments like that.  Sometimes our faith is shaken.  Our prayers may feel like they’re hitting a steel ceiling.  Circumstances are more than we can handle.  The Spirit of God whispers, God is with you.  Isaiah, God is with us.  Mary, God is with you.  Harry, God is with you.  Brunswick Church, God is with you.


We live in a time in which spirituality is far more important than religion for many.  In one way, I welcome that.  You know that I am no fan of institutional religion.  Too many times religion is hardened and harsh and religious people see their religion as their little club.  I despise that.  There is an openness to spirituality in our day that is noteable.  But I am also concerned about that.  I am concerned about a nebulous sort of spirituality that is not anchored to anything but the subjectivity of the holder.


Before God gave Isaiah that word about the Spirit hovering over Messiah, God gave Isaiah one of those moments, those thin places where heaven and earth get so close, a still point in a turning world.  Here is how Isaiah tells it”

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.  And they were calling to one another: 

   ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ 

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 

‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.’ 

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.  With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’ 

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’

And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’”  (Isaiah 6:1-8.) 


When moments of heightened awareness of the Holy come to us, no matter how unsettling they may be, here are two responses we may always use, even silently:

“I am the Lord’s servant.  May it be to me according to your word.”  

“Here am I. Send me!”


To contact Harry Heintz about this sermon, please email or write to: Brunswick Presbyterian Church, 42 White Church Lane, Troy, NY 12180