Festival of Pentecost
John 15:26-27, 16:4-15
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who sets loose the spirit. Amen
The spirit is on the loose.
That’s what Pentecost is about,
the unleashing of the spirit in the world
we have three readings today
that help us understand what this means
who the spirit is,
and in each of these readings
we find that the spirit is the gift of God,
it is unleashed by testimony
and brings life where it is heard and received.
In Ezekiel we have the story of the dry bones,
because we hear it in English
we miss some of the nuances of the story,
Hebrew is a language
where a lot of words have double meanings
and authors often play with those double meanings,
in this story that word is ruach
which means both breath and spirit
pointing to the intimate connection between the two
there cannot be life without breath
and when we think about it can there really be life without spirit?
God takes the prophet Ezekiel
and sets him in a valley of dry bones,
then asks the prophet if the bones can live?
all indicators say
that these bones are dead with a capital D
but the prophet defers to the power of God saying
“O Lord God, you know”
and God instructs the prophet to speak to the bones,
to tell them of the promise of God,
that God will bring them back together into bodies
and will cause breath to enter them so that they will live.
Instead of speaking to these bones directly
God gives the words to Ezekiel to tell to the bones,
and Ezekiel using his own breath prophesies to the bones
and they come together and form bodies
but they are not alive
until the prophet speaks to the breath, to the spirit
to come into these bodies
that they come to life.
Then God explains the object lesson to the prophet,
the people of Israel feel like these dry bones,
dead with a capital D,
but through the words and breath of the prophet
God promises to breathe life back into the people
who thought there was no life left.
That is the power of the spirit
Perhaps you’ve experienced something like this,
you were in a dry valley of faith or life
and it seemed like there was no climbing out of it
and then someone spoke a few words to you
and things didn’t seem so hopeless anymore.
That is the work of the spirit set loose in the world,
the spirit that is as close to us as our own breath.
In our Gospel
we hear Jesus promise to send the disciples an advocate,
the spirit of truth
and this advocate will testify,
will speak on behalf of Jesus
so that the disciples may also testify,
tell others of Jesus and his love.
As he is saying good bye to his disciples
Jesus acknowledges that there’s a lot that’s been left unsaid
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 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.”
the spirit is truth,
that comes to advocate when the time is right.
We are abundantly aware of the things left unsaid,
there are a multitude of issues in life
that Jesus in the Bible does not directly address
that we struggle with,
we have trouble bearing them
we disagree about what to do
when we are faced with them,
they divide communities,
and yet in the midst of it all
is the spirit of truth
showing us the way,
speaking through a prophet or two or three the words of Jesus,
“love one another as I have loved you”
the message spreads,
and as it spreads Jesus is glorified
in the love of the community
that is growing and expanding
through those who tell what they have heard from the spirit of truth
The spirit is on the loose spreading the truth.
Finally we have our reading from Acts,
the account of the first Pentecost.
The risen Jesus has appeared to the disciples
and they have witnessed Jesus’ ascension into heaven.
They know they are on their own so to speak
and they are preparing to continue on as a community,
on the morning of Pentecost,
a festival observed fifty days after the Passover
the community is gathered
they hear a sound like the rush of a violent wind,
this sound fills the house where they are
and the holy spirit appears
like tongues of fire above their heads
and fills the disciples who begin to speak in different languages,
all of this causes such a racket
that people are drawn to the house
and as a crowd forms and the disciples spill out of the house
still speaking in their given languages
the crowd is amazed
because they can understand the disciples,
they are hearing the message of Jesus in their own languages,
of course there are some naysayers
who think the disciples are drunk,
but Peter interprets what is happening
through the prophesy of the prophet Joel,
the prophesy that says in the last days
the spirit will be poured out on all people
young, old, slave, free, male, female, everyone
all the distinctions that normally divide will fall
as the spirit is given out equally
and all shall share the words of the spirit with the world
and these words will spread like wild fire.
The spirit is fire,
by nature it spreads often unpredictably,
and even we humans who have harnessed the power of fire
appreciate that it is a wild thing
that we manage and contain but really have no control over
and we get into trouble when we forget that fact.
The spirit set loose in the world,
through the gift of God
and the testimony of the disciples
is out of the disciples’ control
just like that the people who come from all corners of the earth
who hear the spirit filled message of the disciples
will take it home with them,
and they will tell others
and Jesus’ word will have spread to the far corners of the earth
far away from the original disciples.
It’s quite a contrast
to the first part of Acts,
the measured preparation that the disciples take,
casting lots to choose the most worthy follower of Jesus
to join the in crowd
the spirit busts that all open
because it’s not about worthiness
it’s a gift of God to all people
regardless of how they are defined and divided by the world
the spirit, breath, truth, fire
shows up especially when people are defined and divided
and interrupts those divisions,
that attempt at controlling who is in and who is out,
who claims to have the truth
there the spirit interrupts
breathing new life into places we have caused death,
spreading the love of Jesus like a fire that cannot be contained
showing the truth found in love
all while working through us,
the words we speak
the love we share.
Life, truth, fire
the spirit is on the loose.
And I say,
come Holy Spirit. Amen
Seventh Sunday of Easter
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
1 John 5:9-13
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who prays for us. Amen
Today Jesus prays for us.
In our gospel,
Jesus is gathered together
with his disciples in the upper room
on the last night of his life,
they are about to go out to the garden
where he will be betrayed,
handed over to the authorities,
put on trial and executed on the cross
Jesus knows that all this is coming,
and he goes to it willingly
laying his life down for his friends,
but first he prays for them.
In their last moments
Jesus turns from teaching to prayer,
talking with God his intimate parent,
and the disciples there overhear his prayer,
they overhear Jesus praying for them,
just as we overhear Jesus praying for us this day,
because Jesus’ prayer is not restricted to those first disciples in that moment
but it is a prayer for the community
that gathers in his name throughout time and space.
Take a moment and let that sink in,
Jesus prays for us, and we get to hear his prayer.
In the last couple of weeks,
I’ve been reminded in a variety of ways
of the power and importance of being prayed for by someone else,
particularly when you hear what the other person says to God on your behalf.
Even if you have been using the same words
somehow they sound different coming from another person
and going to God,
sometimes they sound more true.
To offer prayer for someone is a sacred thing.
To receive a prayer from someone is a sacred thing,
and I think it’s a gift we give and receive too little,
some Christian traditions
have much more vibrant and vocal traditions of prayer
but generally speaking
and yes there are always exceptions to the rule,
we Lutherans tend to be more quiet with our prayers,
whether that is the result of a largely German and Scandinavian heritage
or something else I’m not sure
but praying a loud for others is something that we don’t practice very often
I think we get intimidated about having the right words
but the Holy Spirit helps God and the other person
hear the intent of our prayer
even if the words are a little clumsy,
and the good news is that prayer like anything else
gets easier with practice.
I encourage you to give it a try,
even if you feel a bit foolish at first it is a special gift to offer.
And Jesus gives us that gift
Jesus prays for our community,
The language of John can get kind of loopy and confusing,
but when it’s all boiled down,
essentially Jesus prays for three things:
The safety of the community,
the future of the community
and for the work of the community.
that the community is based on the love
that Jesus and God share,
and as Jesus has been with the community
he has been able to protect them
now that Jesus is returning to God
he prays that God protect the community
and that the life of the community
continues to rest on loving relationships with God.
Jesus doesn’t want God to take the community out of the world,
but for the community to remain
and for God to protect them from the evil that they will encounter.
In praying for the safety of the community
Jesus places the future of the community in God’s hands.
The future of the community
that gathers in Jesus’ name and love
depends on God.
We tend to forget this.
We feel that the future of the community is up to us,
and the way we envision that future
is often very similar to the present
and we forget that often what we want,
is not what God wants,
is not how God envisions the future of the community.
We have a role to play, yes,
but the future depends on God,
which means that one way or another
the community that gathers in love
even if we try some new things and make some mistakes
and even if we never try anything new and make some mistakes,
somewhere there will always be a community that gathers in Jesus’ name
by placing the future of the community in God’s hands
Jesus frees us to focus on the present task at hand,
the work of the community
which is sharing the love of God with others,
loving our neighbors as ourselves,
with love that Jesus has defined as laying down one’s life for one’s friends,
This is the work of the community,
and Jesus prays that God sanctify the community for this purpose,
to sanctify is to make holy,
which essentially means to set apart for the work of God,
Jesus has set us apart,
has authorized us, commanded us
to live in love under the protection and future of God
just as he set himself apart and lived out his love on the cross.
The way we live out our love
might not be that dramatic,
often our love is shown in the small and regular parts of life,
in the caring for our families
the putting aside of our own desires
so that those we love are fed and clothed,
or it appears in the way we treat those we encounter in life
with dignity and respect,
perhaps it means contributing to the life of the community
or working on behalf of the marginalized and those without a voice.
However we do the work of the community
who gathers in Jesus’ name,
we are able to do it because of the love of God
that Jesus has shared with us
and the future that Jesus placed in God’s hands on behalf of us
all by praying for us,
a prayer we overhead
speaking the truth in love. Amen
Sixth Sunday of Easter
1 John 5:1-6
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one in whose love we abide. Amen
In our gospel today
Jesus is saying good bye.
part of his last teaching
to his disciples before his death,
his parting words,
what he most wants the disciples
to take with them as they move into the new and strange territory
of life without Jesus in the way they’ve come to know him.
As he’s saying good bye
Jesus emphasizes his love,
what he’s taught the disciples
and he acknowledges a change in their relationship
and his hopes for their future.
Today we are recognizing our graduates,
all graduations mark a time of transition,
from a known way of life
to new relationships, expectations from those around us
and often a physical geographical move
and while these are exciting changes
they also mark a season of good-byes to the way life was
and so today we honor the excitement and the good-byes
and as we bless and send our graduates
we emphasize our love,
what we’ve taught them,
and we acknowledge a change in the relationship
and our hopes for their future.
Jesus has already been speaking for a while
before the start of our gospel reading,
this morning as we start to listen in on his farewell speech
we hear Jesus’ instruction for the disciples’
to abide in his love.
This week I was struck by the word ‘abide’.
Abide means to continue, to remain,
both in the physical sense of where one lives or dwells
but also in the sense of an attitude or relationship
that is not bound by a particular place,
it is something we live in wherever we go.
The love that Jesus has shared with his father
has been shared with the disciples by Jesus
and his hope is that this love continues to influence their lives.
Jesus telling the disciples to abide in his love
is reminding them
that though he may be physically absent from them
his love continues
and will even grow
as they share the love with one another
as Jesus has commanded them.
Jesus’ love is the foundation for all that has led up to this point
and will go with them into the future.
love is the foundation for all that has led up to this point.
If you remember nothing else from this day
or even your time in this community
remember this: we love you.
And our love goes with you into the future.
This is why we give our high school graduates blankets,
a physical piece of our love
that continues for you even if we are physically separated.
We’re following the lead of Jesus
who gave the disciples the Lord’s Supper,
a physical piece of Jesus’ love
in a swallow of bread and a sip of wine,
Jesus’ love continuing with us.
Jesus reminds the disciples of his love for them
and his hope that it continues
and then he reminds them of what he has taught them
to love one another as he has loved them.
This is the key to abiding in his love,
the putting into practice Jesus’ teaching,
and Jesus is a teacher who teaches by example as well as words,
even the part about loving so much that one lays down one’s life for one’s friends.
we have taught you what is important to us
now it is up to you to live out what we taught you,
we acknowledge that we have not been perfect examples
but we hope you will forgive us for that
and do your best to live in a way that makes us
and more importantly yourself
having reminded the disciples of his love for them
and what he has taught them,
then acknowledges that in this good-bye,
their relationship is changing,
he moves from calling his disciples servants
to calling them friends.
Jesus has shared everything that he’s heard from his father,
they know all that he knows
and that changes the dynamic of their relationship,
they are friends now.
But lest the disciples let this go to their heads
Jesus reminds them that he chose them,
they did not choose him.
He chose them
and now it’s time for them to go bear fruit,
to live out Jesus’ love in the world,
to share it and expand it,
and they are able to do this because of Jesus’ love for them.
we love you,
we’ve taught you,
and now we recognize that our relationship is changing,
particularly those of you graduating from high school.
You are now young adults,
and it is time for you to go bear fruit.
God has given each of you
particular gifts, talents and skills,
some you know about already
and some you have yet to discover.
God gave you these gifts, talents and skills
so that you in your own particular way
could share the love of God in which you abide,
with all those around you.
This might take the form of a job or occupation,
or the way you treat those you encounter.
Sometimes you will struggle,
and it might seem like an impossible task to bear fruit,
to love all you encounter
and these are the times when you remember
that regardless of how life unfolds,
God loves you,
and so do we. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.