Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
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Pentecost, May 24, 2015

Every morning during my prayers, I give thanks to God for the grace and comfort of the Holy Spirit and pray to listen to that voice instead of the critical voices that take up space in my head, only too happy to cause fear and insecurity about all kinds of things. The Holy Spirit speaks of God’s love, of God’s desires for me, and encourages me in what I am doing that day. But the Holy Spirit is not just a comforter, sent to calm us and help us feel better about ourselves. The Holy Spirit is a troublemaker. The Holy Spirit is the naked truth, and the Holy Spirit is a teacher. The Holy Spirit, which brings new life, new hope and new opportunities, is a Spirit that prompts action and not complacency, boldness and not meekness, risky business instead of the safety we would rather have.

In Acts we are confronted with a Holy Spirit who makes a big splashy entrance. A rush of wind, tongues of fire. No sliding into the disciples in the quiet, but jumping into them, taking both them and their listeners aback. How would you feel if you suddenly felt moved to speak in another language and knew you could do it? Would it be a gift or a terrifying sign? The disciples don’t get to choose. They have the gift of speaking to Jews from all over, who are bewildered, amazed and perplexed. And what do the disciples talk about? The same thing Jesus talked about – God’s deeds of power. I don’t know how anyone who was familiar with all the times God had presented Godself in images of fire and wind could have said they were drunk, but some people are determined to stay in their old ways and not move into new things. Deep in their hearts they knew God was acting; they just didn’t want to admit it.

Peter takes the testimony they are called to give a step further. He associates it with a prophecy in Joel about the last days, when God says God will pour out God’s Spirit on all flesh. It is not just prophets – or even apostles – who speak in Jesus’ name. It is old and young, slaves and free. All people shall talk about the wondrous things God has done. And if that isn’t trouble, I don’t know what is. The Holy Spirit is propelling people into the world to say what Jesus had said. And look where it got Jesus. Anyone who spreads his teaching will be rejected by a world which rejects God. Anyone who loves God above all else is open to persecution and even death. That is not comfort; that is a challenge. That is an invitation to get in trouble for God. That is the promise that instead of being betrayers and cowards, the apostles will be helped by the Holy Spirit to be testifiers to God’s marvelous action in Jesus.

John also picks up this theme of testifying. The Holy Spirit is the one who will testify first, and then the disciples, receiving the word, will testify on Jesus’ behalf too. They can’t do that without the Advocate, the one who “comes alongside” of them to encourage them and free their tongues from fear to witness to God’s love in Christ. The Holy Spirit helps the disciples become apostles. Now that their master is leaving, Jesus explains, they will be on the front lines. They will be the ones that will enable the good news to spread to all the world. If Jesus remained, they would still be gathered around him and the word would go out in the areas they had been before, but would not be carried to the ends of the earth.

The Holy Spirit is the naked truth, the speaker for Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life. And the truth can be scary. I have been confronted by the Holy Spirit’s truth for me and it is decidedly uncomfortable, even if the truth of God will result in something I will like. It is new and therefore a real challenge. The Holy Spirit has come to present a challenge to the world, a challenge about sin and righteousness and judgment. In John, the greatest sin is not a moral failure, but the refusal to believe in Jesus as Lord. Of course, moral failures cannot be condoned, but most people already knew that. What they did not know and did not want to know was that Jesus was the Messiah sent by God to redeem the world. They thought the world was going just fine or at least the ones in power did. They had security, they had wealth, they had social acceptance. It was the outcasts, the poor and the oppressed that were drawn to Jesus’ message. So much of the world did not even know it needed redeeming and therefore was committing the great sin of not believing.

The Holy Spirit also came to straighten the world out on righteous behavior. Loving God and neighbor, even your enemies, was what you were called to do at all times. This lesson is ironic as on the day of Pentecost, the Jewish people celebrated the giving of the covenant at Mount Sinai, which, when summarized were the very commandments to love God and neighbor, yet many did not believe. Because Jesus is going to the Father and all his behavior was an example of the righteousness everyone should possess, it was the Holy Spirit – and also the disciples’ – job to continue to confront the world not only about their lack of belief, but about their lack of righteous behavior, including taking care of the poor and being inclusive.

The Holy Spirit came to tell the truth about judgment. God had not been stopped in God’s work with the crucifixion; instead the resurrection brought victory over death for all who believed. Jesus came not to condemn the world, but so that the world through him might be saved. The judgment of God was a judgment for the world, not against the world. It was a judgment in favor of all the goodness still present in the world in individual and community decisions and actions, in the beauty of creation, in the grace of salvation for all who called upon the Lord.

The Holy Spirit is a teacher. The Holy Spirit comes to remind the disciples of what the Son had to say and because of Jesus’ close relationship to his Father, these are the Father’s words too. The Spirit comes from the Father and the Son and will continue to teach their wisdom and word so that the disciples may spread it far and wide. Jesus also tells the disciples that there are things the disciples can’t bear to hear now, so the Spirit will teach them about those things after he is gone. It will also bring the truth about future situations in history that may require new interpretation.

The story of Pentecost is not just a story of long ago and far away. It is our story. It is the story of the Holy Spirit moving in our lives. The Holy Spirit is still here to challenge us, to suggest us new ideas and new actions, to push us toward the people and the community God is calling us to be. We are called to be a community of proclaimers, of truth tellers in a world that values our testimony less and less, not unlike Jesus’ world. We are called to spread the message in a world where increasing numbers of people find religion irrelevant or even a negative influence on life. Oftentimes we just don’t share the good news, mumbling that we’re afraid we might offend someone. We do not go out of church on Sunday in the name of Christ, but instead with our own private worship needs satisfied and a good cup of coffee and goodies filling our stomachs. There is of course nothing wrong with that, but we don’t think much about sharing the message the rest of the week. Yet it is to this work we are called – all of us, just like in Joel’s prophecy.

Sometimes it may seem that the Holy Spirit is not even active in the world, but wherever there is goodness, the Spirit is present. When we bag food for AFAC, the Spirit is there. The Spirit is present at any peace talks, no matter how fragile. The Spirit is there when more affordable housing is created or people’s lives are touched by the grace and generosity of others.

The Spirit is everywhere even when it doesn’t seem to be, and the Spirit is in our hearts, pushing us to be part of its movement, even when we wonder how exactly it is that we feel the Spirit. God’s Holy Spirit, sent by Jesus to be his continuing presence with us is just like Jesus – a troublemaker, a truth teller and a wise teacher. So catch the Spirit. Listen for its call and go forth in boldness to share God’s message of new life in Jesus.


     - Rev. Ann Barker