Pentecost B, ‘18
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
Trinity Lutheran Congregation
Today is Pentecost. The red in our midst is a reminder to us of the tongues of fire on everyone’s heads in the Pentecost story in Acts we often read on this day. Red is the color representing the Holy Spirit at work . Today we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit
Today’s reading from John is sadly lacking in drama, really. It is part of a three-chapter sermon that Jesus is sharing with his followers. He has been talking about his leaving. Even though this moment has been coming for some time, his disciples have been stunned into silence by this. In their shock and grief they simply don’t know what to think or say.
These heart-felt words from Jesus are partly words of comfort. The tensions were rising and it was becoming clearer every day that Jesus’ time was getting shorter. The authorities weren’t going to tolerate his teaching and challenging of the system much longer. Jesus was explaining that he had to leave, so that the Spirit would come so that they could continue following Jesus and teaching the way of Jesus. . They are also words of hope.
These words of John, though they seem long-winded and not always exactly clear, help to explain the important role the Spirit will play in the Christian community and throughout the world. It is a word that is related to a verb that means “to come alongside.” The Paraclete is the Spirit who will accompany Jesus’ followers and serve as a helper, counselor, advocate and guide.
For the disciples this moment in their lives as Jesus followers is kind of an an in-between moment. An ending they had probably been trying hard to ignore for some time is close. They can feel it. It’s in the air. A huge unknown lies ahead. Jesus is trying to shift their attention from looking back at the past to looking ahead to the future. Losing Jesus was a grief-filled reality soon to come for the disciples. With these words Jesus is shifting their understanding to a time of transition from being a band of followers to being a community with its own responsibility to share all that Jesus had been.
Shifts at moments like these are never easy. Times of in-between-ness are filled with unknowns – what is next; where will I end up; how will this all end? They are also filled with room for the Spirit to work. That’s where the disciples were. By no choice of their own they were soon to be in an in-between time. The church has been in in-between times throughout the years and it is where we finds ourselves again today. We have all heard or read the numbers. The fastest growing religious group in the U.S. is those no longer active or interested in organized religion. We can all see that church attendance across the board is down. It is even happening in other faiths.
This is an in-between time. With lots of room for the Sprit to work. And so, like the disciples we worry where this is all going.We worry about the church. We don’t know where it is headed. It’s becoming clearer all the time that something is changing. Has to change. But what and how?
For a time such as this we have this day, Pentecost, with its promise of the Spirit coming along-side us as we try to find our way through.
There is a potential rub however. And that comes when we look at what the job of the Holy Spirit is at times. We have the word, Paraclete, Advocate, but its meaning is unclear. The rub comes when we get too comfortable with another name that is used. “Comforter.” The problem is that it is often not the Spirit’s main task to make us feel better. It is not the Spirit’s job to merely comfort us when the going gets tough.
In fact, the Spirit’s job is often to shake things up. In John the Spirit is to come along side and to move the disciples to testify. The problem is they are to testify to who Jesus is and what Jesus did. Never mind, that it was exactly Jesus’ teachings and actions that got him into trouble, that got him killed. The Spirit is coming to urge the disciples to make the same disturbing, disruptive and world-changing testimony through word and deed that Jesus made. It didn’t go over very well when Jesus did it and you can be quite sure that it wouldn’t go over to well for the disciples either.
So, here we are today celebrating Pentecost. But it is a lot more than celebrating the past. It’s about more than tongues of fire and wind and bones coming together and coming back to life and groans and sighs. It’s about the present and future. It’s about the Holy Spirit at work here and now. As the reading from Romans says, “we know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only creation but we ourselves.” We know in ways too deep for words that all is not well. That there is more to waiting for God’s kingdom than just waiting.
The Spirit is at work here. I’ve seen it, have you? Barriers of all kinds still coming down in our building. At Homework Help as tutors and students work and study and play together. Where homework even gets done. On Wednesdays people from all walks of life come together and share a meal, a meal just as sacred as this meal here. New friendships grow ever so persistently with our friends at Dar Al-Hijrah. People who arenot from Cedar-Riverside come and see a way of being together that is about inclusiveness, the vastness of God and loving one’s neighbor.
And the Spirit may have a lot more space to work in the months and years ahead. Trinity has been accepted into Track One of the Riverside Innovation Hub. This is a five-year process that has been underway for about a year already. The Riverside Innovation Hub is a new initiative through Lilly. Augsburg is among several other colleges and seminaries that have received funding from Lilly to explore ways of engaging young adults. It is an opportunity to try new things, perhaps radical things, even things that could easily fail fail so that we can learn more about engaging young adults in a life of faith.
The thing is – the designers of this opportunity are looking for new ways, new ideas, most likely not the way things have been done in the past. Not necessarily even with the intent of getting young adults back in the pews on Sunday morning. That may happen, but is not in any way a measure of success. Numbers aren’t even a measure of success. It’s not even about success. Its about meeting young adult where they’re at and perhaps accompanying them as they look for meaning and community in their lives. We will be a part of a process of exploring and experimenting and trusting in the Holy Spirit to work in ways we cannot even imagine yet.
This is Pentecost. One thing is for certain. When the Spirit is at work, things change. The world has changed around us already. The church is no longer what we have thought it to be.
Not too long ago I saw a documentary about Steve Jobs, probably on PBS. He said that the most important moment in his life was when he realized that “reality” wasn’t really a given. What he had thought was reality was simply a construct put together by a previous generation of people who weren’t any smarter than he is. When he realized that, he was able to poke at the “is” to see “what might be.”
In the months and years ahead can we be ready to let the Spirit poke the “is” that we think is what is, in order to allow the “what might be” to come into being? This isn’t about comfort. It’s not about asking the Holy Spirit to come so that we may remain as we are. It’s about becoming what might be through the Spirit’s power.
On this fiftieth and last day of the Easter season, inviting the Spirit into our midst is not about the way things were and have been. Pentecost. For the last 50 days we have been celebrating the resurrection and new life of Easter. This is about new life. It’s about resurrection. Right here and now.
May we continue to invite the Spirit into our midst again and again with an openness and trust that only the Spirit can provide.. We have the promise of Jesus. The Paraclete has come. What more can we need?