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
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.