Sunday, May 23, 2021
Day of Pentecost, Year B
Prayer of the Day
Mighty God, you breathe life into our bones, and your Spirit brings truth to the world. Send us this Spirit, transform us by your truth, and give us language to proclaim your gospel, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Ezekiel 37:1-14 Life to dry bones
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Acts 2:1-21 Filled with the Spirit to tell God’s deeds
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 Christ sends the Spirit of truth
Title: Equipped for the God-With-Us Journey
The Lord is here. God’s spirit is with us.
Well, that’s frustrating. Don’t you think? Here I went on and on last week about our journey, that began at the tomb, and took us through the rich and celebratory season of Easter. We took time to meditate on the culminating image of our unity in our crucified and risen savior Jesus the Christ. And where are we today? Right back in the bone yard. Yup, here we are, standing in another place of death. This time we are with the prophet Ezekiel. And, while I know dead is dead, this place of death in which we find ourselves today seems like it is not just putting us back where we started, but it’s even a step further back. Going to Jesus’ tomb, the women were still engaging in the funeral rites. Jesus, they thought, was still a corpse they could work with. But Ezekiel is looking out over bones, dry bones, very dry bones the text emphasizes. We’re talking one step away from petrified. Are we going nowhere here? And for valleys of death and dry bones you really don’t have to go back to Ezekiel. The bones of today continue to mount as the conflict between Israel and Palestine continues to kill the innocent, citizens of our own country are shown no justice by our legal system, a child is dead because of road rage, to name just a few sources. And the bones are dry, very dry as there seems to be no movement.
And the disciples are no help. (What else is new?) Seven weeks ago, at the beginning of our Easter journey, they were fearfully locked away in a room. Six weeks ago, they were still in that room. Where are they today? Still locked in a room. Maybe not so frightened. But there has been little to no movement. Some journey, right? Could we rethink the itinerary? Maybe even have an itinerary?
It also isn’t helping any that we ourselves might be feeling a bit frozen in place, or at least not moving fast enough, not taking big enough steps to getting things back to normal, back to the way it was before the last 14 months ruined everything. Whether it is our own fears, concerns, and hesitations, or those of our neighbors or our leaders, our journey back to normalcy may be feeling like a bit of a let down right now, not feeling very satisfying, not feeling like a journey at all. Feel free to cry out with the psalmist – How long, O Lord!! (But do it outside and six feet away from anyone.)
Well, thankfully Jesus is providing us with some movement, some next steps, some new life. To combat our impressions of a lack of movement and the frustrations that result, it is wise for us to dig deep into what he is saying to his disciples of every time and place.
Like the gospel readings assigned for the last few weeks, today we again hear from the long discourse of Jesus that is included in John’s telling of the last supper story. Appropriately, today we hear the part in which Jesus promises his friends the coming of the Holy Spirit and offers a brief, and perhaps somewhat confusing orientation to life in and with the Spirit.
Confusing right off the bat because we are not even sure what to call this God-with-us. Jesus uses a word here that is quite unique. Originally it was the word from which we get paraclete. It literally means one called alongside, and suggests a helper. Our version for today uses the word Advocate, and while it too indicates a helper, our current context can add a note of confusion because of the connection that the title Advocate has to our legal system. Sometimes you’ll see the Spirit called the Counselor. Which also has legal applications but also can start to lean towards advice giver. In the King James translation, the title Comforter is used. And while the idea of Jesus sending us a comforter is all warm and snuggly, it does take the image off into an entirely different direction.
But it’s that original word, in my humble opinion, that seems to best work with what Jesus goes on to say and promise. The one who walks alongside, the helper. Jesus does not promise a new set of rules for his followers. There is no new concrete code of ethics, of dos and don’ts. He does not promise organizational charts and plans for this movement that will continue his work, his mission, his message. While some would find that easier, clearer, safer, and so have tried to turn this Jesus movement into just that, what Jesus does promise is filled with God, God is with us. It is filled with life, new life in the Spirit that is constantly growing, blooming, feeding. It is what we need for whatever journey we find ourselves on – whether faced with war or peace, justice or oppression, love or fear, mercy or abuse, health or pandemic, joy or sorrow. The Lord is here. God’s Spirit is with us. Say that to yourself in the moments when life causes you to forget it. Whether sitting at the feasting table or standing in the place of death.
And while it may be hard to precisely name this God-with-us Holy Spirit, and it might be challenging to be assured of her presence on every step of our journeys, Jesus does lay out the key elements of their work as our helper who is alongside us.
Jesus says the Spirit will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment. Thankfully he does leave it there but does go on to sort of explain what he means. He continues: 9about sin, because they do not believe in me. Keep in mind, Jesus is saying this just hours before he is arrested, tried, convicted, and killed. He was judged by religious leaders who saw what they were doing as faithfulness and what Jesus was doing as sinfulness. Obviously, we humans are not so good at evaluating sin. We must seek the Spirit who is alongside us before rushing to conviction. The first presiding bishop of the ELCA, Bishop Chilstrom was hesitant to move forward on the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church and ordained ministry. However, in his own testimony of his movement toward fully embracing these siblings in Christ, he speaks of seeing the Spirit at work in the very people the church had been excluding, calling their identity sin, and treating them as less then.
Jesus says the Spirit will prove the world wrong 10about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer. For the world that would condemn Jesus, righteousness was found in obedience to the law. But Jesus had taught a new righteousness, based in God’s grace that is ours through faith, not through works. Now, Jesus intercedes for us. The one who forgave those who crucified him, promises us forgiveness in his name. In that is our righteousness. And the presence of God-with-us is our constant reminder of this gift that daily brings new life through constant grace.
Thirdly, Jesus says that the Spirit will prove the world wrong 11about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. Well, I don’t even need to add anything to this, except maybe an s to ruler. Rulers of this world. As for judgment, rulers and citizens alike, we show our selves foolish most every day. As free and as independent as we fancy ourselves to be, we need God-with-us to be alongside us and to be our helper.
Finally, Jesus says to those who follow him:12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. No one person holds the market on the Spirit’s truth. And so we are called to live in community. To discern the Spirit in community. To listen to one another. To learn from one another. No one can take in all that truth alone. And so, we journey together, with God who is alongside us, God who is with us, God who is our helper. The person of God we sometimes call Spirit.
So, if we are wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment, perhaps we are wrong about our lack of journey as well. Because the truth of it is, the Spirit blows where it will. Her fires burn – sometimes illuminating, sometimes purifying, sometimes clearing away so that something new might begin. Their waters cleanse and refresh. Feeling stalled, feeling motionless, feeling dead – look to the font and trust God’s covenant, trust Jesus’ promise, trust that God-with-us is indeed with us in this gift of Holy Spirit, helper alongside us.
If it helps to get you any more worked up about this great feast of Pentecost and the fulfillment of Jesus promise in the coming of the Spirit, take a minute and maybe give some new thought to this festival that gets so much less attention than the big two: Christmas and Easter. Think about it, Pentecost is sort of both Christmas and Easter rolled into one. Like Christmas, on this day God is giving us the gift of God’s self. Okay, this time there is no cute baby to coo over. There is loud wind and tongues of fire to represent the God-with-us we cannot see. Mysterious yes, but no less present. And like Easter, this gift of God-with-us brings us new life, a new way to live, a new reason to live, a new focus for our lives, a fulfillment far beyond anything the world offers us.
So with all the glorias of Christmas and all the alleluias of Easter, lift up your eyes and see the breath of God reanimate that which we thought was dead, see the fire of God ignite that which we thought lacked purpose, see the wisdom of God guide that which we thought was lost – or in other words, see the spirit of God fill us, you, me, those here, those at home, those feeling dead, those lacking purpose, those feeling lost, those burdened by all three and more, and let us rejoice and see that the Lord is here. God’s Spirit is with us. Alleluia!
The Rev. Mark Erson,