Here are two readings that help us appreciate this thing we in the Christian faith called Pentecost, or the celebration the Holy Spirit that awakens and animates our spirituality. The first comes from one of several teachings Jesus himself offers, according to the gospel of John, the 15th chapter.
The day before he died, Jesus said to his followers: 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. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.
We now add a second Spirit reading from a different Bible tradition in the book of Acts. Chapter 2 begins with this story which will be paraphrased; then will continue with several more verses.
Fifty days after Jesus had died and was raised, his friends were still meeting together regularly in Jerusalem. At that time, thousands of Jewish pilgrims from all around the world were visiting the Holy City.
All of a sudden Jesus’ followers heard something that sounded like wind blowing all around the room where they were; and with the wind they saw something like flames of fire flying above them, and then landing on them. They felt confident that these were signs of the Holy Spirit Jesus had promised, so they went out of that room to tell others what happened; and each of them was able to speak a language they didn’t actually know, as the Spirit enabled them.
Many who listened to Jesus’ friends that day, no matter what language they spoke, heard the message of God’s love in words they could understand, and they were amazed. But others made fun of them and accused them of being drunk. That’s when Peter came forward and defended his fellow believers. “We’re not drunk,” he said, “but rather we’re fulfilling a sacred promise of God. …
… 16 This is what was spoken through the prophet Joel (Peter continued):
17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your youth shall see visions,
and your elderly shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. …
… 22 You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23 this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, (this man, Jesus,) you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24 But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. …
… 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, Jesus has poured out this that you both see and hear.”
There are many places in the Bible that teach us about the Spirit and how this Sacred Force is forever present and influences all of creation.
From the very beginning of the Bible’s story in Genesis, God’s Spirit swept over the darkness while the universe was still only a formless void; yet in Joel’s prophecy, the one Brenda read and that Peter referenced as his scripture reading for this very first sermon recorded by the followers of Jesus, (in Joel’s prophecy) it sounds like the Spirit was poured out for the first time on Jesus’ followers who spoke of God’s love that day, as well as on those who received it and believed.
Similarly, from the very beginning of our Christian story, in Luke’s Gospel, when God’s messenger tells Mary (Jesus’ mother) that “The Holy Spirit will come upon (her), and the power of the Most High will overshadow (her); and therefore the child to be born will be holy and will be called Son of God;” and when, much later, this holy child is fully grown and finally baptised in the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit descends upon him like a dove with a voice from heaven saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved;” until finally, just before he dies Jesus teaches about God’s Spirit, like what Brenda read for us in John’s Gospel, and it sounds strangely like the Spirit of truth, whom Jesus calls the Advocate, hasn’t actually been sent yet … but when the Spirit does come something new and profound and meaningful will happen.
Do you get the feeling sometimes that God’s Spirit comes and goes? And that the only thing believers can do is wait for the Spirit to come again? It’s what theologians call “the already, but not yet.” The Spirit is already with us and has been for all time, but not yet fully realized or always recognized.
I really appreciated what Molly taught us last Sunday about how people of faith learn to live faithfully in times of absence and waiting. When she was talking about how we actually carry on when the Jesus we trust and follow is no longer right there among us in body and form, I was already thinking ahead to this week’s promise that the Spirit will come again, and how it will feel like the very first time, fresh and new and inspiring.
And I was recalling how, near the end of his first sermon, Peter says such a curious yet encouraging thing to his listeners. He assures them that he knew Jesus personally and witnessed Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and promise … and it’s Jesus’ promise of the Spirit that they are now witnessing, that they are now experiencing. God’s Spirit – that Jesus both embodied and promised – is fully present now in the words and actions of his followers. “(Jesus) has poured out this (Spirit) that you (now) both see and hear (in us),” Peter preaches.
It’s a challenge sometimes to keep the language of how God is with us sorted out. We can get caught up in the three person formula of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and it can feel confusing about what role each of them plays in faith, when each of them comes and goes, and which of them we’re actually talking about or experiencing at any point along our spiritual journey. But the idea of the Trinity was never meant to confuse us. The Spirit, which is the life force of the Creator God, often described as wind or breath, is embodied in Jesus and promised by Jesus. The Spirit is God’s expression of goodness to us, and as followers of Jesus the Spirit inspires and animates the goodness we do.
So whenever I find myself fussing about whether it’s God who welcomes us in worship, or Christ, or the Spirit? Are we praying to Jesus, or to God, or to the Spirit? Is it Jesus we meet at the Communion Table, or is it God, or is it the Spirit? … whenever I find myself obsessing a bit too much about which person of God I should be focussing on, that’s a signal for me to pause and try to remember this one simple truth. IT’S ALL SPIRIT … because Spirit is the sacred force of God through which it’s possible to recognize and experience the Holy among us. When Jesus’ first followers were with him they recognized the spiritual presence of God; so that even when Jesus was no longer with them, they still felt his spiritual presence. IT’S ALL SPIRIT. And we trust in Jesus’ presence today for the same reason – because we too can feel that sacred force his life reveals to us. We sense Christ here in each other’s presence because the Spirit awakens us to it. IT’S ALL SPIRIT.
Celebrating the Spirit on a day like today encourages us to recognize again this sacred Force that has been right here with us all along. God’s Spirit does not come and go. It’s always with us. Christ’s Spirit is not more available on Sunday’s than on other days. It’s always been with you everywhere you go. The Holy Spirit will not only help sometimes, but all the time. It’s always among those who will remember to trust it, to receive it, to respond to its life giving breath. Our Spirit-God is with us, we are never alone. Thanks be to God.
Orleans United Church