Sermon for May 31, 2020
There is a cartoon with an older figure standing beside a cake with a lot of candles on it. Another figure is standing behind trying to give encouragement. The line underneath says this is the Holy Spirit trying to cheer up God the Father on a birthday. The caption says, “Don’t feel down, they say that infinity is the new thirty”. I celebrated my birthday last week so I sure hope that the Holy Spirit comes to help me feel like I am really thirty.
Here is one more story that you have probably heard. A priest is walking through the jungle when he comes upon a hungry lion. Just as the lion goes to attack, the priest crosses himself and says, "Lord, if you can hear me, please instill the Holy Spirit in this beast's heart." The lion stops in his tracks as a bright light begins to glow around him. He looks to the sky, folds his paws in prayer, and says, "Thank you, Lord, for this meal.” They say the Spirit works in mysterious ways
Today, we reach the end of the Easter Season and the beginning of ordinary time. It is actually far from ordinary for the scriptures speak directly to us about how we live our lives. It is marked by the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was sent by Jesus to aid the apostles and other disciples as they carried on without him. We seek the Holy Spirit in our lives as well. The Holy Spirit becomes our guide along the path.
There is an interesting little difference about the coming of the Holy Spirit in two of our scriptures for today. We first heard the lector read the story of the coming of the Holy spirit on Pentecost, fifty days after Easter. It was not a calm and quiet event. The disciples were gathered in a room, probably praying together. Suddenly there was a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. It sounds like a tornado to me. Then divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. Fire can also be a violent event. It certainly would have gotten everyone’s attention. There was no mistaking that something big was happening. It might have been this big event that caused the disciples to go outside and declare the work of the Lord to all who were gathered on that day in Jerusalem. Maybe it was the wind and the flame that changed Peter. He went from the gentleman who denied Jesus to the one who proclaimed Jesus to all. Somehow, he became the man who could give a sermon seemingly without preparation. As Jesus once said, don’t worry about what you will say, the Holy Spirit will give you the words when you need them. Yes, it was the Spirit who changed things
Compare that story to the one found in today’s gospel from John. In John’s account, the Holy Spirit was given to the apostles when Jesus appeared to them after his resurrection. Jesus breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” In this case, the coming of the Holy Spirit feels so personal. The Spirit came from the breath of Jesus. It may have been forceful but it seems much quieter.
The result of either introduction of the Holy Spirit had the same impact. Either way, the disciples of Jesus were changed. They were empowered. They were given confidence that they could proclaim the good news of Jesus. And what is it that draws us to the Pentecost experience? I believe it is that wish to better understand what happened or perhaps it is that desire to experience God in a personal, concrete way, something that eliminates any doubt. Something that makes us sure in our faith.
Given our two lessons about the coming of the Holy Spirit, I ask you to consider the ways that the Spirit has helped you. Sometimes it might be the violent wind that shakes us out of our uncertainty. Sometime the power of the Spirit is like the quiet breath of Jesus giving us peace when we are anxious or afraid
I mentioned that the power of the Holy Spirit seemed to change Peter. But that same power changed many people that day. The power of the Holy Spirit healed some of the divisions found in the crowd that day. Many were skeptical at first but once the Holy Spirit had gripped them, they were united. The divisions that we find in their language were healed. And the division that was found in their belief was changed as well for many were baptized. The Holy Spirit was able to overcome the differences found in a crowd that had so many diverse backgrounds, languages and different customs to form a single belief in the teaching of Jesus.
We have so many different names and expressions to help us understand the Spirit. In Hebrew, the name given to the spirit was Ruach, the wind. In Greek the name used was Pneuma, or breath. I think of the spirit as a force and like the wind it cannot be tamed. The spirit will rush into a place with great strength. The Holy Spirit is our guide, our advocate, our Paraclete, our comforter. C. S. Lewis spoke of the Spirit as a force that is more shadowy, more vague than either God that we often call Father or Jesus. Lewis suggested that we are not usually looking for the Spirit. The Spirit is usually working in you and through you. The Spirit is both a force that causes things to happen and a sentiment that gives us comfort. We pray to God the Father, we know Jesus is at our side and we feel the Holy Spirit inside of us.
And we have a third view of the spirit when we listen to the words from 1st Corinthians. The spirit gives us special gifts all of which we are to use for the kingdom of God. Or as Paul writes, these gifts are for the manifestation of the spirit in our world. So whether it is speaking with wisdom or knowledge, increased faith, the gifts of healing, the gift of miracles, prophecy, the discernment of spirits, diverse kinds of tongues, or interpretation of tongues each of us has different gifts. I have learned that sometimes we know our own gifts and sometimes others see those gifts in us. We pray that the Spirit will help us to know and to use the gifts that we have received.
Sadly, people came to believe that some gifts were better than others. Paul originally wrote this letter because some believed that the ability to speak in tongues was more important than the other gifts. Paul asked them to remember that every gift has value. We have similar temptations to those that existed in Paul’s day. We run the risk of thinking that we are smarter or more spiritual or harder workers than others. We find it so often in Scripture and we find it in our community today. We each should care for another and listen for each other’s gifts.
I find it difficult to celebrate Pentecost with just a few people in the congregation. I wish that it was loud and boisterous instead of quiet and calm. I miss the custom we have of asking people to speak the words of Pentecost in many different languages just as the story tells us happened on that first Pentecost.
But I realize that the Holy Spirit came to the disciples when they needed help. I believe that the Spirit comes to us in our time of need. I am reminded once again that the spirit comes to us in many ways. Today, the spirit is being sent to us not in one single place, the church of the Transfiguration, but rather in each home that is participating in this service. We collectively have the spirit enter our souls even though we are distant from one another.
Just as the Spirit united peoples in Jerusalem, I pray that Spirit will unite us despite our differences. May the Spirit bring us together even though we are far apart and may the Spirit gives us the strength to deal with our challenges and to proclaim Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Amen.
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