Weekend of Pentecost 6-5-2022

Weekend of Pentecost 6-5-2022

June 05, 2022 | Chris Cowan

Passage: John 14:8-17

    Click here for worship video.

    Happy Pentecost Sunday!   This is one of my favorite church celebrations and I’m excited to share it with you today.  A mighty wind and the house shook!  When that happens here, we know we need to pay attention, right? Then tongues of flame hovering over people’s heads.  Wow!

    But what does it have to do with us today?

    Well, the first century was a scary time to live.  In the Roman - occupied district of Palestine, foreign soldiers regularly threatened civilians. Leaders of government and the Temple were puppets of the empire and were tainted with corruption. There was no reliable health care. There were no social services.  Most people were poor and hungry. Women and children were property, and slavery was normal.  

    This is the world Jesus was born into.   In some ways, it is not much different from the world we know. It was filled with the beauty of God’s creation.  But, like ours, it was dangerous, violent, and marked with inequality.  Today, in the aftermath of all the gun violence in our country in the past month and the past years, it helps us to remember that Jesus lived, preached, taught, healed, died, and was buried in such a violent world as we have today.

    And it helps us to remember also, that Jesus rose from the tomb as a witness that violence and death do not have the final say.  

    You have to know, brothers and sisters, that what we experience here is not what God intended it to be.  From the very beginning of creation, when the Holy Spirit of God moved upon the waters, when the breath of God was making waves in the primordial sea, God had a vision.  God dreamed a dream.  God dreamed of a world living at peace with itself, in which human beings would live in harmony with one another.  

    We find ourselves living a life that is very different from that dream of God, don’t we? We have a rolling list of troubles defining our reality.  You know the list.  Pandemic. Hunger. Racism. Climate change. Ukraine. Gaza. Uvalde, Buffalo.  And in our own hometown, at Cornerstone Church.  If you are aggrieved, if you are angry, even if you are discouraged and weary of it all, maybe even numb to some of these things, you are part of a great company.  We are told that the Spirit prays in us with sighs too deep for words, and thanks be to God for that! And on Pentecost God sent the Spirit into a world in deep need, to help us.  

    I’d like us to back up a bit, and recall the day Jesus ascended into heaven.  Imagine for a moment you were with the disciples on that day.   Wouldn’t you have been speechless with wonder as Jesus ascended, up and away, out of reach, then out of sight?   And yet, there would have been other feelings also.  Wonder, but also dismay.   The disciples must have been lonely for Jesus’ presence among them, longing for him to be with them again as he had been before. And anxious.  I imagine them thinking, “Where are you, Lord?  How were they ever going to carry on your great work, now that You are not with us?”

    But Jesus had promised them that his physical departure was not the end of God’s Good News for the world. Jesus told them to expect the gift the Father would send them, the Holy Spirit, who would be their advocate and guide.  This One would teach them everything they would need to know.  This one would empower them to speak the Good News and to live it out.  As they waited in Jerusalem, they had to take that on faith.

    On that Pentecost, the disciples hardly knew what to expect.  They knew that the wind of God’s Spirit, God’s sacred breath,  had moved over the waters at creation.  They had heard that the Spirit had descended on Jesus in his baptism.  They knew that the flame of a burning bush showed up on Mt Sinai when God spoke to Moses there.  They knew that in ancient times, God led the people through the wilderness, by means of a pillar of fire shining in the night. 

    They did not know what to expect, but they waited with expectation.

     Now, at Pentecost, wind and flame showed up again.  What looked like tongues of fire rested on each of them as the Holy Spirit entered into them. The Holy Spirit now dwelt within each of them. Where before, they had been afraid, suddenly they were swept up in Divine energy!  They were filled with enthusiasm to share their faith story in word and deed.  And the miracles of Jesus now began to show up in the lives of the disciples, the first of which was that people gathered in Jerusalem from all over the known world suddenly began to understand them.  Differences in culture and language were no barrier, as people began to understand one another.

    Many who heard the faith story Peter told were brought into the fellowship of believers, and then this fellowship began to live with one another in new ways, in gratitude to God.

    That is what God was up to on that first Pentecost.

    And what about now?  We sure could use some help understanding each other, these days. That beautiful vision of God seems far from our reality.  

    But, we remember that Jesus promised that the Father would most certainly send the Holy Spirit to those who ask.  And we take that on faith.  We can expect the Spirit to be with us to to accompany us,  even when we must pray with sighs too deep for words.   Spirit is with us!  In our baptism, the Holy Spirit came to us in water and God’s Word, just as surely as the Spirit descended upon Jesus in his baptism. This Spirit is with you, to sustain your faith, the Spirit of grace, forgiveness, peace, and power.

    It is when our grief and anger are on the front burner in our lives that we need to call upon the Spirit of Jesus, a spirit of Divine love and mercy and compassion, a Spirit of power. The Spirit is the comforter who sustains us in grief, so that we, through the Spirit, can sustain others.   And the Spirit empowers us when we are angry at the brokenness of the world, to use that anger for good in this broken world.  You see, our anger is energy.  Divine Energy can transform what is broken in this world.  In the Spirit, we can continue Jesus’ mission of bringing God’s vision to reality.

    The Spirit calls us and makes us holy, so we can continue the work of Jesus.   Spirit gives us light and power. You have Jesus’ power within you!  Jesus’ power to call upon when you feel at the end of your own powers. Jesus’ power to believe that violence does not have to be the way we live.  Jesus’ power to speak up for change. Jesus’ power to forgive, and to receive forgiveness.  The power of God’s love that motivates us to work for peace, for equality, for justice, for an end to suffering, even when success seems unlikely.  Jesus’ power is the power that transforms our discouragement into hope to continue in good works of all sorts. 

    The waters of baptism are a part of a great river, the river of the water of life flowing from the throne of God. Through this great river of life and love, God has been working for the healing of human community and the nations over all the aeons of human history.  And the Word of God promises that God does not grow weary.   God will continue to labor in love through all of history until God’s good will is accomplished. 

    Sisters and brothers in Christ, we get to be part of that river.  Through the Spirit of Jesus, we get to participate in this great creative and restorative work of God, to co-create with God. What does that look like?  Listening.  Mentoring. Bounce houses in the park. Food pantries, clothing closets, worship and advocacy, and every other way we live out the Way of Jesus.  All that we do matters, every smile of welcome, every word of encouragement, whether we see results or not.   For the Holy Spirit is writing the Gospel of this time and place with our very lives as the pens, as we embody Jesus here and now on earth.  And each of you has a small but noble part in bringing about God’s great dream.  It is because of this invitation God extends for us to co-create God’s dream that we can sing, “In the Lord I’ll be ever thankful.  In the Lord, I will rejoice.  Look to God. Do not be afraid.  Lift up your voices, the Lord is near.  Lift up your voices, the Lord is near.”

    How has the Spirit worked in your life? I do. Over and over the Spirit has sustained me in hope and faith.    If I have learned one thing about the Holy Spirit it’s this: Pray expectantly!  Expect the Spirit to show up, for Jesus has promised the Spirit to us!  As we walk in Jesus’ way, we are always accompanied by One who leads us, who shows us opportunities, who opens doors,  who creates possibilities for good.  The Spirit brings people together, sometimes the people you least expect, and continues to bring Divine love into this world.

    Let’s pray:  We give you thanks, O God, that you hear the prayers of our hearts, even when we have no words. Come, Holy Spirit, to comfort those who grieve in every place of heartbreak.  We thank you that you have chosen to place the Spirit of Christ within us,  and invited us to be sharers in bringing about your new creation.   Come, stir up your gifts in us.   Strengthen us in our struggle against evil.  Open doors of opportunity for us to co-create your beautiful vision with you.   Come,  to empower the helpers and to bring together those who are divided.    Come, stir up your power in us!  Help us to transform our anger into holy energy to do good.   Fill the hearts of your faithful people, and kindle in us, anew every day, the fire of your love.  Amen.