(Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:24-35b, Romans 8:22-27)
John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
(watch here: https://youtu.be/Q2T7mytOZx8)
Jesus said, 26”When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning. 4But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them. “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts.
7Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. 12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
Today we are celebrating an important day in the liturgical calendar, Pentecost Sunday. It is a day that comes at the end of the Easter season. For 50 days, we have celebrated Christ’s resurrection from the dead. For 50 days, we have pondered the great mystery of how Christ was able to endure suffering at the hands of the Romans, endure suffering on the cross, suffering to the point of death, and yet rise victorious over the powers of sin and death. Christ died but he rose again! Christ died for our sins, not his own. Christ died so that we might reclaim a right relationship with God, so that our sins no longer hold us back. The powers of sin and death were no match for the loving grace of God which enabled Christ to come back to us. God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to the cross for us and brought him back to us. For 50 days, we have wrestled with understanding this deep love of God…this sacrificial love. Jesus said it himself, “there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” We are considered Jesus’ friends. Not just his disciples or his parents or the people he ministered to but US…we are Jesus’ friends! Jesus laid down his life for us, his beloved friends.
But Jesus also picked up his life. As Jesus says in John 10:18, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.” Jesus laid down his life for our sakes but he also took up his life for our sakes. In taking up his life again, he showed us that sin and death are not as powerful as we like to believe they are. Sin and death have only so much power. If we let sin and death have complete power over us then we end up living lives of fear and doubt. Fear and doubt isolate us from the love of God and each other. When we are afraid of each other and afraid of God, it is hard to experience the love of God and each other. We question the motives behind the love. We question our worthiness of love and pull away from God and each other. But this is only because we allow sin and death to enslave us. We allow them to crush love in our lives. Christ died and rose to show us there is an alternative to loveless sin and death. Christ died and rose to show us that the power of love is stronger than both sin and death. Love is stronger than anything of this world including sin and death and it took Christ’s death and resurrection to teach us this.
Though Christ died and rose again, he stayed with us only a little while longer. He eventually ascended to the Father as we celebrated a week and a half ago on the 40th day of Easter, commonly known as Ascension Day. As described in Luke and Acts, Jesus came again to the Apostles 40 days after his resurrection and led them out to the Mount of Olives where he instructed them to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Holy Spirit. Then, as they were watching, he ascended into clouds. As they continued to watch, two angels appeared and declared to them that, just as he ascended, Jesus would return in glory. For centuries, Christians have argued over whether we should continue awaiting Christ’s return or live as if he is already among us today. I believe Christ is very much alive and living among us today so I struggle with Ascension Day and the notion that he left us only to return some unknown day. Nevertheless, in his leaving Jesus was able to shift our caretaking responsibility to the Holy Spirit. Ten days after Jesus’ ascension we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit.
So how do we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit? Why do we celebrate the Holy Spirit? As least we can sort of visualize who God the Father is and who God the Son is but the Spirit is much more difficult to wrap our minds around. And yet God the Spirit has been with us since the beginning of time. Recall the opening verses of Genesis: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” The Greek word for “wind” is “pneuma,” better translated as “spirit.” The Spirit was with God as He called forth light from darkness. No, the Spirit was from God. This is the same Spirit of the Holy Trinity. And was the Spirit idly watching God set creation into motion? No, the Spirit “swept” over the face of the waters. The Spirit was actively hovering over the waters. The Spirit is an active force overseeing other active forces. Taken a step further, the Spirit activates other forces. God the Spirit activates forces in our lives and the lives of those around us.
Just look at how the Spirit activated forces in Peter’s life and the lives of those around him. We heard in Acts 2:2-4, “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” The Spirit came upon the people and they began speaking in other languages. The Spirit caused life to spring forth in unexplainable ways. The people were behaving in unexpected and unexplainable ways. Some tried to explain the behavior as resulting from being drunk but were quickly discredited. The Spirit behaves in unexpected and unexplainable ways. This is why it is so difficult to understand the Spirit, let alone celebrate it. We don’t know how or why the Spirit does what it does but we celebrate the Spirit nonetheless. Why? Because it breathes life into dead situations. The Spirit activates forces that aren’t easily activated. We don’t know how but we can’t help but be appreciative.
In pondering the mysterious ways of the Spirit, I am reminded of a new preacher at a local church who walked into the auditorium of his new church. He thought it would be best to move the piano from the right side of the stage to the left side of the stage, so he moved it. Soon after he did this he was fired for the disruption caused by the new placement of the piano. Five years later he returned to the same church to visit with the minister who stepped in when he was fired. They walked into the auditorium and there was the piano on the left side of the stage. The once fired preacher asked “How did you get the piano to the left side of the stage? They fired me for moving it.” The reply from the other minister was plain. “I came in every day and moved the piano to the left three inches.” The Spirit’s ways are like the new minister’s. From our perspective, they don’t seem to make any sense. Sometimes we do things in our lives with the best of intentions only to have them fail and perhaps get us into trouble like the first pastor. But when the Spirit goes to work, things somehow manage to always succeed. The Spirit’s ways are not our ways…God’s ways are not our ways!! Make no mistake about it, there is reasoning behind God’s ways. We might not understand the reasoning but we ought to strive to understand it. God wants us to understand His ways. God wouldn’t enable us to understand what we do about ourselves and the world around us if He didn’t want us to understand His ways.
Understanding God’s ways is simpler than we make it out to be. In many ways, David understood God’s ways quite well. As we heard in his psalm, “These all look to you to give them their food in due season; when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.” God’s ways are as easy as that-when He gives, we are filled with good things; when He takes, we die. And when He send forth the Spirit, then life is created anew. The Spirit creates life wherever it blows. The new minister created life when he slowly moved that piano, inch by inch. The Spirit’s ways can seem mysterious but they’re always life-creating.
Sometimes in life we can find ourselves deep in despair. Our ways, the ways of those around us, and even God’s ways can seem so incomprehensible, so impenetrable, and so distant. Yet the Spirit comes to us in those times. As Paul wrote, “Likewise 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. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit.” Even in our despair, when life and hope seem lost, the Spirit comes and speaks on our behalf, giving us words to keep us connected with God. The Spirit breathes life into our dark, fearful, lonely situations.
It is easy to succumb to fear and anxiety in this life. Sin and death are always looming over us, eager to enslave us in fear and anxiety. Through faith and the Spirit, we come to realize God’s deep love for us as seen by the death and resurrection of the Son. The Spirit breaks into our fear and anxiety bringing love and life. The Spirit disrupts our fearful, despairing tendencies. How many times has the Spirit disrupted your life? How many times have you felt overwhelmed by despair because of your sinful nature? We try not to sin and yet, before we know it, we keep on sinning. We can’t help but sin. God loves us in spite of our sin. God doesn’t love sin but God loves us. The Spirit disrupts our sinful lives and helps us to know God’s love. We ARE loved! The Spirit tells us so! The Spirit connects us with the ongoing love of the Triune God. There is a great circle of love shared between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and the Spirit brings us into this circle. The Spirit teaches us about the love of the Father and the Son. The Spirit guides us to the truth about God’s love as we explored in our children’s message. The Spirit IS God’s love, creating life in dead situations and experiences. The Spirit’s ways are disrupting ways but disrupting in the best possible way—by connecting us to God and each other. Let us rejoice in the mysterious, life-giving ways of the Spirit and be glad that through them we are…disrupted into one.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.