The Gospel According to John the 15th Chapter
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. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.
“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment because the ruler of this world has been condemned. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason, I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
Good Morning and welcome to Pentecost. I titled my word this morning: HAPPY BIRTHDAY GIFTS
Prayer: Lord, we thank you for the gift of your Word and as we think on these things, open our hearts and our minds to hear you. Amen.
In my house birthdays are always special. The sheer excitement and anticipation of celebrating with friends, food, and the day is not complete without your favorite dessert. Birthdays were not just a day of celebration but a weeklong observance of the special day.
I have two daughters and I replay the day they were born in my head wishing I could relive that excitement one more time. The gift of children creates a love so fierce, so unbreakable, and so unconditional. To be honest, children have taught me more about life than I have taught them. I learned that listening is much more effective than yelling. I learned patience which was hard for me. I still lecture even though my kids are in their thirties, but the tone is much softer and teachable.
I submit to you Pentecost is a celebration like no other in the Bible. It is utterly bizarre like many Christian celebrations. At the end of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus had instructed his disciples to remain in Jerusalem until “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). In the first chapter of Acts, we are told the disciples were gathered together. He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Pentecost is a foundational moment for the church.
Can you imagine the sense of wonderment the disciples experienced? I imagine they were perplexed. They were together in one place celebrating a well-known Jewish festival with which they were very familiar. This year is a bit different. They had just experienced a whirlwind of events during the last 50 days. Jesus enters Jerusalem hailed as a hero riding a donkey, crowds shouting Hosanna, palm branches waving, Jesus is arrested, tried, and crucified. The crowd who the day before were shouting Hosanna are now howling for his blood. Jesus was tortured and dies an agonizing death. His follower’s runaway only to hear about Jesus’ resurrection from Mary Magdalene as she comes face to face with Jesus. As suddenly as he appears he disappears. Fifty days later as they are gathered a wind like a tornado fills the house, tongues of fire rest on each believer, and they begin speaking uncontrollably in tongues. The scene was so peculiar that there could only be one, rational conclusion: the crowds of people around them thought that they were drunk. Peter assures them all that what they are experiencing is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit: the gift of God to the early church – and to us.
Now, I’m sure we have all received some strange gifts in our time – at Christmas or on birthdays – and we have to smile graciously and pretend we are happy with them…But here was one gift from God that no one knew what to do with. What on earth was the Holy Spirit given to them for? Why does God give us the Holy Spirit in our church community here?
The Holy Spirit is the Gift of excitement
Some people believe that God gave the gift of the Holy Spirit to energize the church and make it more exciting. Honestly, “church” is not the most exciting activity in the world, is it? Few of us would come here for the thrills of worship each Sunday. If we are looking for excitement, there are better places to go and better hobbies to undertake. Yet it seems to me that some Christians and Churches treat the Holy Spirit as if this is the gift to make the church an exciting, energized place to be.
Now, of course, there is some truth in this: it is indeed the Holy Spirit who energizes us, it is indeed the Holy Spirit who inspires us and stirs us up for the mission. But the Holy Spirit is not a gift from God to make church a place of excitement in the sense that we should come here for entertainment. Instead, the energy and excitement that the Holy Spirit brings are for a different purpose altogether. And to see that, we need to look at both sides of the Pentecost story to grasp its context.
Immediately before the story of Pentecost, in Acts 1, comes the story of the choosing of Matthias as an apostle to replace Judas who had fallen away from the faith. And, given the fact that the disciples had committed that decision to prayer, we are confident that the Holy Spirit was in that decision-making process. Immediately after the story of Pentecost, in Acts 2:43-47, we have the story of how the early church conducted itself in terms of community living, developing communal ideas, joining together in worship and prayer daily. And, given the fact that this comes immediately after Pentecost, we are confident that the Holy Spirit was in this new way of forming a godly community. So it seems to me that the gift of the Holy Spirit to energize and excite is directly related to how we organize the church and our life together.
There is nothing boring or lifeless about the institution of the church – but there is something intensely boring and lifeless about institutionalism in the church. What do I mean by that? The Holy Spirit of God is energizing and exciting the institution of the church, it is, by definition, a lively place to be. But when the Holy Spirit of God is excluded and people just cling on to structures for the sake of structures, then the institution is sold out for the sake of institutionalism which, by definition, is lifeless and bland. We must always be mindful of allowing the Holy Spirit to breathe through the institution and structures of Peace. When we do that, our church will be energized, our worship will be lively, our mission activity will be meaningful, and will transform our community.
The Holy Spirit excites and energizes: not so that we can be entertained but so that we can be a mission-oriented church to proclaim the love of Jesus Christ beyond these walls. The work is out in the community not in this building.
Holy Spirit gift of power
For others, the Holy Spirit is a gift of power. Jesus had promised that: we read his words in the Gospels: “When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you shall receive power.” But there is appropriate and inappropriate power about the church.
There was a time when the Church was one of the most powerful institutions in society: the Church lay behind political decisions, the Church influenced economic policy, and has a history in the legal system. The Church determined community values. Today the Church no longer has the swagger it had in the past. But I submit to you we should be more optimistic about the Church because we are at the dawn of a new day and a glorious return. The pandemic has forced the church to expand its reach beyond anything we visualized in the past. Honestly, it is inappropriate for the church to demand power just because it is the Church. The church is to be involved in every facet of the life of the believer. Notice that I said believer and not member. Changing our thoughts that reaching out to believers may be people who will never darken the door of a church. Holding true to this mission, Christ looked at the needs of the people, provided it, and then begun to preach out the good deeds. The church today must live up to its true billing — meeting the needs of the people.
Christ did promise that the Holy Spirit would confer power on the church: not the power you immediately think of. The power of the church is born out of brokenness, not strength. The power that the church has is a prophetic influence, not a dictatorial role. Throughout history, the church has been counter-cultural in its beliefs and behavior. It does not immolate mainstream society.
And so, it is appropriate, in the Holy Spirit, for us to seek power: not the power of domination or overt influence but a power of prophetic weakness. The type of power that shows the love of Jesus Christ. How he gave himself to the cross as the way to life. The Holy Spirit is the gift of energy and excitement. The Holy Spirit is the gift of power. But crucially, and I think this is the most important of all…
The Holy Spirit gives us the gift of the word.
The Holy Spirit is a gift to proclaim to the world. One of the central images of the Pentecost from the gospel readings is the fact that the silence was broken, and the believers began speaking in tongues. Those who were there heard the Gospel message being proclaimed in their own tongue. As Peter explained the Pentecost phenomenon to people, he drew their attention to the prophecy of Joel in the Old Testament: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy…”
The gift of the Holy Spirit is ultimately a gift, not to the Church, but to the world. We are energized and excited by the Holy Spirit: we are not in church to be entertained but to be the fruit of the vine as described in the gospel of John. We are empowered to rise to the challenge of being a missionary for the Church in this community, we are empowered: not so that we can rule over society, but so we can draw people into a community of love. Ultimately though the Holy Spirit, we are given a voice and a message to proclaim so that the whole world will hear and receive the good news of Jesus Christ.
I envision a church that is empowered by missions, a church that responds to a broken community, a church that has a prophetic word to bring to the world. That is the Spirit of Pentecost we celebrate today – and that is the Spirit we are called to embrace in all our activities: the Spirit of energy, the Spirit of power, the Spirit of prophecy. The Holy Spirit of God.
All God’s people said: AMEN