(watch here: https://youtu.be/gTCuJudR8VM)
14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
18I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
28We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
31What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
One Sunday out of the year I’m kind of in a pastoral predicament. You know I like to start my messages with something a little funny but this Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, comes with somewhat of a biblical warning. Recall what Jesus said in Matthew’s gospel, “And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” (12:31) So you see I’m in kind of a tricky position—do I joke about the Holy Spirit or don’t I? Well, surely the Spirit chuckles over the one about a boy who was riding on his bike outside the church. The pastor sees him and tells him to come into the church. The boy says, “But they’ll steal my bike.” The pastor explains how the Holy Spirit will take care of it, so they go inside. The pastor shows the boy how to make the sign of the cross, both with his finger and his words, and tells the boy to repeat it. The boy responds, “In the name of the Father, Son…amen.” The pastor asks, “But what about the Holy Spirit?” The boy replies, “It’s outside taking care of my bike!”
Yes, a child’s perspective is hardly what the Spirit would consider blasphemy! Besides the Spirit kind of goes where it wants to, does what it wants to do. If it wants to be represented in the Trinitarian formula, then it will be. And if not, so be it. I think we can all agree that the Spirit can and will move in mysterious ways. It is the part of the Triune God that we have the most trouble understanding. At least with the Father we can connect his words and deeds to some sort of divine justice or righteousness. The Son behaves out of genuine love for us. But the Spirit…what makes the Spirit tick? What motivates the Spirit to behave the way it does? Being co-equal and co-existent in the Triune God, the Spirit is no less motivated by justice and righteousness and love as the Father and the Son. The Spirit acts on behalf of the Father and the Son. It wants the same order as the Father and the Son. So why do we have such a hard time understanding who it is and how it works in our lives?
Every year we dedicate this Sunday as the close of the 50-day Easter season and a celebration of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. As we hear in the book of Acts, the disciples got on with their lives following the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. They were determined to spread the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection with the world around them. Some were afraid they’d receive the same untimely death as Jesus but they were committed to sharing about Jesus nevertheless.
The disciples had transitioned into their roles as apostles, or those being sent to share and teach. And they had gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish holiday of the Feast of Weeks, or 50 days after Passover. Suddenly the Spirit came upon all those gathered and they began speaking in unfamiliar languages with each other. It wasn’t unlike when God sent the Spirit to the people of Babel and created mass chaos and confusion. Except this time the disciples remembered what Jesus had told them at the Last Supper about his sending of the Advocate after he had gone. Peter quickly explained this to the confused crowds and order returned to the chaos.
So it is with the Spirit—it can be the source of great confusion and disruption or a source of great clarity and peace. And one can rarely understand why it chooses to be a great disrupter as opposed to a great clarifier. Of course, the Father and Son understand the Spirit all too well. If only we could understand it better! Lucky for us, we have the wisdom of Paul to help us better understand the Spirit. Our long passage this morning from his letter to the Romans offers great insight into the work of the Spirit. The last 3 weeks we’ve spent in his letter have come to fruition in Paul’s deep reflection on the Spirit. Perhaps the work of the Spirit is not all that different from the work of the Father and Son after all. Perhaps the Spirit is not as mysterious as we often believe it is.
But before we dig into Paul’s wisdom, I learned a couple interesting church traditions this week concerning the Holy Spirit. A long time ago, in the Middle Ages, churches had what were called Holy Spirit holes. Evidently congregations punched holes in the ceilings and roofs of churches to symbolize an openness to God. They hoped God would literally come through the roofs to be with them. On Pentecost Sunday, congregants would release doves through these holes and drop bundles of rose petals on the people gathered below. The choir, consisting of nothing but boys, would then move through the congregation making whooshing sounds to remind everyone of the rush of the Spirit. What an amazing tradition to behold…maybe something we might consider resurrecting?? And Celtic Christians chose a different bird to represent the Spirit—the wild goose. I suppose the wild goose more accurately reflected the unpredictable nature of the Spirit. Again, maybe something we might consider resurrecting??
Holy Spirit holes and wild gooses are pale in comparison to the richness of Paul’s words. Indeed, Paul illustrates that the Spirit wants to offer us the same justice and righteousness and love as the Father and Son. After all, it is the Spirit that leads us to the same glorification as Jesus. It is the Spirit who walks with us through our suffering and intercedes for us when we have no words to express our agony. It is the Spirit who works all things together for good for those who love God. It is the Spirit who keeps us connected to God…nothing can separate us from God…”neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation”…all because of the Spirit. The Spirit plays a pretty important role in helping us better understand God. According to what it does for us, it sounds like the Spirit is motivated by the same source of justice and righteousness and love as the Father and Son. The Spirit loves us just as much. The Spirit wants the same justice. The Spirit wants the same relationship. Are these such great mysteries after all?
Today we celebrate the work of the Spirit in our lives. It is a work no less loving or just or right than the work of the Father and Son. We ought not be mystified by it or afraid of it. It is work of a loving and just and righteous God. Let us heed the warning of Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians, “Do not quench the Spirit.” (5:19) The Spirit may be disruptive at times. It may be uniting at other times. However it is at work, be assured that it is good work. Let us rejoice in the gift of the Spirit. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.