(Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:24-34, 35b, 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/xs4VieFGTeg)
37On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
This morning we shift into a new season of the church year. We celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to the early disciples as was promised by Jesus both before his death and after his resurrection. Back in Lent, we heard Jesus gathering with his disciples one last time on the night of his betrayal to forewarn them that he was going to leave them. The disciples were anxious and scared, uncertain about their futures without their fearless leader. Jesus could sense their fear and assured them that they would not be left alone, for he was going to send the Spirit to guide and nurture them. The disciples took comfort in knowing that, though their Lord was leaving them, God would remain with them through the Spirit. Of course, this was of little comfort when Jesus actually did leave them. They could see our Lord on the cross…they could see the physical manifestation of God hanging there on the cross without any life in him. They were abandoned by our Lord! And they couldn’t help but feel like the Spirit was a poor substitute. After all, the Spirit is unseen and unheard. The Spirit is intangible and without form. The Spirit is a mystery. Jesus was a mystery but at least those early disciples could see him and hear his voice!
Three days after his crucifixion, Jesus came back to the grieving disciples and reassured them that he would not leave them orphaned. He would send upon them the Holy Spirit to lead and guide them in fulfilling his great commission to go out to all the nations, baptizing and sharing the good news of his’ life, death, and resurrection. Jesus came back to the disciples a week later to prove his resurrection to the doubtful Thomas and lingered around Jerusalem for another week before ascending to our heavenly Father as we heard in last week’s readings. So the disciples were left, yet again, but somewhat encouraged and hopeful. Our first reading from Acts picks up with disciples finally receiving the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, 50 days after the resurrection. You see, like us the disciples needed 50 days to reflect on and appreciate the full mystery of the resurrection before receiving the Spirit and entering into new relationship with God. They, and we, needed time to grieve the loss of God’s human form before being able to fully appreciate the gifts of the Spirit. The Spirit is not the Son but it by no means is less of a blessing than the Son. The Spirit gifts us in ways the Son cannot. The Spirit empowers us in ways that the Son cannot. The Spirit strengthens us in ways the Son cannot. Paul assures us of these gifts of the Spirit in his letter to the Corinthians as we heard in our second reading. We heard that the Spirit gifts some of us with wisdom, others with knowledge, others with faith, others with healing, others with miracles, others prophecy, others the discernment of spirits, yet others with various kinds of tongues and others with the ability to interpret that variety of tongues. The Spirit has a multitude of gifts that neither the Father nor the Son have. The Spirit enables us to do great things…to do unimaginable things…to live how God wants us to live. We need the Spirit and all its gifts if we are to bring true witness to God’s glory. We need the gifts of the Spirit to be the body of Christ in this world!
In short, we need to celebrate the coming of the Spirit to both the disciples and to us! Today is a glorious day of celebration as seen by our wonderful red clothing. The Holy Spirit is a fiery burst of life and light. The Holy Spirit is a warm and nurturing source of inspiration and motivation. The Holy Spirit is a breath of new hope and new possibility. We celebrate all these qualities of the Spirit and more on this day. For our time together this morning, I want to focus in on some qualities of the Spirit that were lifted by our gospel reading from John. But before we get to those qualities, I want to share a joke that will serve as somewhat of a primer. It’s been awhile since I shared something funny and I thought we might be overdue for some light humor. Now keep in mind that this is a joke and not a critique of our Catholic brothers and sisters. This is meant to be funny, not mean-spirited, so please don’t infer judgment on our brothers and sisters in Christ!
One day the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit decide to go on a vacation. The Son proposes to go to San Fransisco, but the Father finds that place too liberal-minded. So the Father proposes to go to Jerusalem. “I can’t go on vacation there!” says the Son, “That’s where I got killed! I can’t believe you just said that!” A fight breaks out, and the Holy Spirit walks out. “If y’all can’t come up with something when I come back, we’re not going anywhere!” An hour later the Holy Spirit walks back into the room, and the Father and the Son excitedly say they want to go to the Vatican. “The Vatican?” says the Holy Spirit, “Great idea! I’ve never been there before!”
Funny, right?! Well, in all fairness, we could substitute the Vatican with any religious mecca. And I like it because it introduces a quality of the Spirit that is reflected in our gospel reading from John: The Spirit moves wherever it wants to move. The Spirit goes into unexpected people and places at unexpected times. Indeed, the great mystery of God and God’s ways are a result of the Spirit’s work. There isn’t a whole lot of mystery to the work of the Father and of the Son. Their work is rooted in love and goodness. The Father and Son are tirelessly working to show us the love and goodness of God. Not that the Spirit isn’t rooted in love and goodness but its work is a little more difficult to perceive as rooted in love and goodness. The Spirit’s work is less understandable, less definable, less biased. The work of the Spirit is just that—the work of the Spirit. Work is just work. Some would argue that it should serve a purpose. But sometimes work is just work. The purpose of work is simply work. Work gives purpose. The work of the Spirit brings about love and goodness. At the same time, the work of the Spirit is a complete and utter mystery. We take comfort in knowing that it serves to bring about love and goodness even though we don’t understand how it gets to doing that.
In our bible study earlier this week, I reminded everyone the context within our passage from John was written. Jesus spoke those words to an anxious group of his disciples in the middle of his 3-year earthly ministry. The religious leaders had begun plotting to get Jesus arrested and he continually evaded their efforts. Jesus addressed all those who were thirsting for something in life—good family, good friends, good career, good marriage, good wealth, good health…anything that might add satisfaction to life. He said, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ Now he said this about the Spirit…” Pairing this statement with Jesus’ gift of the Spirit to abide within us, we liken the work of the Spirit to that of “rivers of living water.” What a beautiful image for the Spirit’s work! Rivers are continuously in motion, the water behaving however is wants to behave. Throw in the “living” quality of the waters and we have an even more erratic force of nature! Flowing water is unpredictable…flowing living water is just downright chaotic! The work of the Spirit is both unpredictable and chaotic. It demands faith from us. We must have faith that the Spirit is rooted in love and goodness because it’s work doesn’t necessarily assure us.
What a blessing is the Spirit! What a blessing is faith stirred up by the Spirit! What a blessing is the mystery of the Spirit! Let us celebrate the coming of the Spirit into our lives. Let us celebrate all the gifts of the Spirit. Let us celebrate all that the Spirit enables and empowers us to do. Our God is a good and gracious God, mysterious in ways that are rooted in love and goodness. Let us be give thanks for the gift of the Spirit and trust in its life-giving, life-sustaining, and life-enriching ways.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.