Sermon for Pentecost Sunday – June 9, 2019
Acts 2:1-21, John 14:8-17
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
The word “spirit” is used in several different ways in the English language. It can be used to describe a supernatural being, like the three “spirits” that visit Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.” It can be used to describe the demeanor of a community or a person, like when a crowd of fans has “team spirit,” or when someone is feisty or determined, we might say, “Boy, she has spirit, doesn’t she?” The word “spirit” is also sometimes used to refer to alcoholic beverages –which I think is very interesting.
On Pentecost Sunday we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, and so it behooves us to think about what the church means when we talk about the Spirit. We make reference to the Spirit in the invocation and in our prayers and in the benediction. We say in the creed that we believe in the Holy Spirit. We certainly sing about the Spirit a lot in our hymns for today. So what do we mean? What kind of a “spirit” are we talking about?
In our gospel reading for today Jesus promises to send his disciples the Spirit. He has told them he will be leaving them soon. The disciples are struggling with this news, and so Jesus makes them a promise. He promises that after he is gone, he will ask the Father, and he will give them “another Advocate to be with them forever.”
The word translated here as “Advocate” is paraklete in Greek – a word that is hard to translate into English. Some Bibles use the word “comforter.” Others use the word “helper.” Some use the word “counselor.” The version we hear today uses the word “Advocate,” which is someone who comes alongside another to seek their best interests. All of these words help us understand what kind of Spirit Jesus is promising here. He is promising that God the Father will send a Spirit which will comfort and help and guide. God will send a Spirit which will come alongside them to seek their best interests. This Spirit is a presence, a presence that will be with them forever.
Jesus goes on to call this Spirit the Spirit of truth. This Spirit has a message! The Spirit has a Word to bring! This Spirit comes bearing the truth. This Spirit will come to deliver the truth of God’s will, given to them in the commandments. This Spirit will come to deliver the truth of God’s salvation, given to them in Christ. The world will not receive this truth. The world will not know this truth. But God’s people will, because this Spirit of truth will abide with them and be in them, Jesus says.
This Spirit promised by Jesus made a grand entrance as the disciples were celebrating Pentecost. Before Pentecost was a Christian festival celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit, Pentecost was a Jewish harvest festival. The name “Pentecost” means “fiftieth” and refers to the timing of the festival, which comes fifty days after Passover. So the disciples were celebrating what is essentially “Jewish thanksgiving.” There were all kinds of people in Jerusalem for the harvest festival, both Jewish people who had come home for the holiday and converts to Judaism who were making a pilgrimage to bring offerings to the temple. These people were from all over the world. Even though they were all Jewish, either by ethnicity or by faith, they had adopted the languages of the places in which they now lived, and so they spoke a wide variety of languages.
This was the setting in which the Spirit made its grand entrance. Suddenly there was a sound like a rush of violent wind. The disciples began to speak with tongues of fire! This was not some mysterious spiritual language, but actual worldly languages – the very languages these holiday visitors from around the world spoke! These visitors heard this sound and gathered around the disciples, and the disciples put those tongues of fire to work by preaching to them! As they spoke of God’s deeds of power, each person heard the disciples’ words in their own native language! It was like one of those meetings at the U. N., where everyone is speaking in their own native language and having it translated for them in those headphones they’re all wearing – only there were no headphones! This was like Google translate on your smartphone, only without Google! Without smartphones!
The Spirit of truth showed up in a big way as the disciples spoke of God’s deeds of power to the multilingual crowd. In order for the truth to reach their ears and their hearts, God did a miracle. It was a miracle of speaking, as the Word came out in everyone’s native tongue. It was a miracle of hearing, as people from all over the world could hear the truth of what God had done for them in Christ. All were amazed and perplexed at what was happening!
Well, not all. Some sneered. Some mocked and taunted them. Some thought they were filled with that other kind of spirit. They thought they had already gotten into the wine for the thanksgiving dinner. Remember how Jesus said that the world wouldn’t receive the Spirit he would send? That the world wouldn’t know it? Peter responded to this taunting by insisting that they weren’t drunk. It was only nine in the morning, for crying out loud! Peter told them, “This is what God said would happen through the prophet Joel, that the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh, that all would speak and hear God’s Word – young and old, male and female, slave and free, so that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord would be saved.”
This amazing account from Acts tells us even more about what the Spirit is and does. For all the pyrotechnics of the Spirit’s grand entrance on Pentecost, the work of the Spirit is really quite simple. The Spirit gathers people around the Word. The Spirit is at work through speaking and hearing. The Spirit is at work so that the entire world would come to hear of God’s great deeds of power. This Spirit is at work to stir hearts to the faith that saves.
With these Biblical insights into what the Spirit is and does, can you begin to see how the Spirit is at work in the church today? In our congregation? In your life? Because I sure can!
I see the Spirit at work as God’s Word gives comfort to those who are hurting. There are so many people in this congregation who are hurting in so many different ways, and I see week after week how the Spirit is at work to give you comfort. I see people who I know are carrying heavy burdens of guilt over past sins receive the words of forgiveness at the beginning of the service. I see you hanging on to those words for dear life. I see people who I know are battling illnesses or the fallout from broken relationships or are dealing with sick children or aging parents or all of the above, and it is here in the Word that you find strength and hope. I see people come to the altar for communion who I know are still grieving for loved ones who used to come up with them, and it is here that the veil is thin and the Spirit comforts you with a taste of the heavenly feast to come. I see the Spirit at work as our Stephen Ministers and others in our congregation come alongside those who are hurting to accompany you, to be there for you. The Spirit is indeed a comforter and a counselor and a helper!
I see the Spirit of truth at work as people are called away from the lies our culture and our world tell us and instead seek to conform their lives to God’s commandments. “If you love me,” Jesus said, “you will keep my commandments.” I see the Spirit of truth at work as the good news of Christ’s love and mercy begins to push out the lies we tell ourselves about how supposedly unlovable we are. I see the Spirit of truth at work as people begin to claim their true identity as forgiven and beloved children of God.
I see the Spirit at work as we support Nick and Shannon, our missionaries in Peru, who preach not only in Spanish but are also now hiring interpreters so that they might speak of God’s deeds of power in remote villages among people who speak rare tribal dialects. I see the Spirit at work right here on our congregation as we welcome and love some of our families whose primary language is something other than English.
I see the Spirit at work as we are gathered week after week around the Word, as God works through speaking and hearing, as God is at work to stir our hears to the faith that saves.
I have seen the Spirit at work in the lives of Natalie and Joe, our confirmands, whom I have had the privilege of watching grow up in this congregation, and whom I have very much enjoyed teaching in confirmation class these last two years. I’ve seen the Spirit of truth begin to teach them God’s truth given in the commandments and in the gospel. I think each of them has won the Catequizm game we do at least twice each! I’ve seen the Spirit stir their hearts to service, whether as acolytes or computer techs or Joe getting sweaty doing hard labor on church clean up days or Natalie perched up there on the organ bench playing something beautiful during the offering. I’ve seen the Spirit begin to teach them to pray, to call on the name of the Lord when they need a helper, when they need a comforter, when they need an advocate. Their lives haven’t always been easy. They aren’t always easy now. But they know this Spirit. They know this Spirit more than they even realize, because, just as Jesus promised, his Spirit abides with them and is in them.
This is what we mean when we talk about the Spirit here at church. We are talking about the comforter Jesus promised. We are talking about the Spirit of truth – Gods’s truth. We are talking about the presence of God, with us now and forever. We are talking about a Spirit that works through the Word, through speaking and hearing, so that we might know of God’s deeds of power in our lives.
You know this Spirit, because he abides with you too. The Spirit of Christ has come in through your ears this very morning as you have heard his Word. And so this Spirit is in you, just as Jesus has promised.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church