May 20, 2018: Pentecost A
Pentecost Sunday A: Ezekiel 37: 1-14; Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-26; 16:4b-15
Pastor Anke Deibler
Zion Lutheran Church, May 20th, 2018
Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today is the day of the Holy Spirit. We are going to ponder what the Holy Spirit is and what it does.
Of the three persons of the Holy Trinity, the Spirit is the most nebulous. We can all wrap our heads around God the Father, the creator, who gave life to us and everything else on earth. It is even easier to understand God the Son, Jesus Christ, who was a person and walked the earth, who died and rose again, and continues to be present with us as our friend and shepherd and savior.
But the spirit? That’s harder.
A friend and colleague of mine came to faith later in life. As she grew in her understanding of God, she struggled with the Spirit. One day, she went to see her pastor and said to him: “Okay, I get God the Father and creator; and I get Jesus Christ. But what is the Holy Spirit?”
To which the pastor answered: “That’s who brought you here.”
It has always been easier to describe what the Holy Spirit does than what it is. We see that in the reading of the Pentecost story from Acts: Tongues as of fire, sound like a mighty wind. Luke is struggling to find words to describe the experience of the Holy Spirit.
The word Jesus uses to illustrate the Holy Spirit is ‘paraklet’. This word is translated as advocate or comforter. The word ‘comforter’ evokes wonderful associations, doesn’t it? Comforters make us think of warmth and safety, of evenings in front of a fire place or a TV, of sleep-overs with friends or at grandma’s house, of snuggling in deep when we feel sick, of hiding under when a movie gets too scary, of being wrapped up in cozy warmth while reading a good book.
For some of us, the comforter itself holds meaning. I brought this old comforter today. It is the second quilt I ever made, and I made it as a wedding gift for my husband. This was before I knew a lot about quilting, and I used a number of fabrics that aren’t really supposed to be used in quilts.
And yet, each of these fabrics holds a memory. They are the scarps from clothing items of family members. This is from an apron my mother wore; this was from a dress I wore when I got engaged. This is from my sister’s dress at my parent’s 25th anniversary. This was a shirt of my dad’s.
We moved to the United States a week after our wedding; a week after I gave Eric this comforter. It travelled with us and became a comforter, indeed. It did all the cozy, snuggly things I mentioned before. And it reminded me of the love of my family members. Through this quilt, they surrounded me with their blessings and support.
And thus, this comforter was to me a source of strength. It spoke of the people who stood behind me and believed in me as I ventured into this totally new and unfamiliar world of marriage and of my first real job as a hospital chaplain and of living in a foreign language in a foreign country.
After a long day, it reminded me of their love. When I felt homesick, I could wrap myself into the story I shared with them. When I felt overwhelmed or discouraged, I could remember the challenges they had overcome and gain courage. The comforter helped me to regroup and recharge and go out into the world again.
In that, this old comforter can serve as an illustration for the work of the Holy Spirit. In Lutheran teaching, we learn that the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, and sends for the sake of the world.
The old comforter called my name when I needed support. It gathered me into its warmth and into the company of loved ones, as represented by the fabrics in the quilt and the stories we shared. And it sent me back out to continue to serve God and God’s people.
The Holy Spirit called all of you. The Spirit called you to faith in baptism, called you to faithful living in confirmation, called you to worship this morning. Remember what that pastor told my friend: “The Holy Spirit is who brought you here.” You are here now because the Holy Spirit is active in your life and urged you to come to this place where God speaks to you and where Jesus Christ meets you in his holy supper.
The Holy Spirit gathers us. As the people of God, we meet here to worship together. Here we are nurtured and comforted, encouraged and strengthened. Here we grow into the one body of Christ. Here the spirit helps us discern what it means to be the people of God. Here, the spirit reveals to us what we are called to do, in our church, in our personal lives, and as a congregation in this city and in this neighborhood.
Then the Holy Spirit sends us out for the sake of the world. We cannot remain in the coziness of this sanctuary, this faith family, these safe walls forever. After renewing us in faith and soul, we are sent back out to let the world know about God and God’s love for them.
We see this exact trajectory in the story of the first Pentecost we read this morning. In the beginning of the story, the disciples are rather lost and confused. Jesus had ascended into heaven ten days prior and would no longer stop by for resurrection encounters. The followers of Jesus didn’t quite know what to do. They were called by Jesus to faith, and they do have faith, but they don’t quite know what to do with it now, after Christ’s resurrection and ascension.
Having been called to faith, this faith now gathers them together. They are all in one place, we read. In this time of transition, the believers are gathered together so they can comfort, inspire, strengthen, and encourage one another.
Into this gathering, the Holy Spirit breaks forth with power. Like the rush of a violent wind, the power of God’s spirit descends on everyone there. The gathering as a whole is empowered and enlightened. They are set on fire.
And they know immediately what to do. The gift of the Holy Spirit urges them to step out of their gathering place, out of their comfort zone, and into the world to share the gospel news. They use the gifts of the spirit - faith, courage, passion for the gospel, the ability to speak in other languages – and they use these gifts to preach to the crowds. At the end of the day, 3000 people had come to faith and were baptized. Pretty amazing.
These disciples had been called, gathered, and sent for the sake of the world.
This is a cycle they will continue again and again. After their preaching and after baptizing 3,000 people, they go back to Bible study and fellowship, worship, communion, and prayer. After this awesome experience of reaching thousands with the gospel, the spirit calls them back into the space where God can re-charge them through word and sacrament. The spirit gathers them again with other believers who can comfort, guide, correct, and encourage them.
And then the spirit sends them out again for the sake of the world. The rest of the book of Acts tells the story of the apostles, of Peter and Philip and Paul and so many others, spreading the good news of Jesus Christ wherever the spirit sends them.
This same cycle of being called, gathered, and sent for the sake of the world is still continuing 2,000 years later. We as the people of God in this day and age are called, gathered and sent for the sake of the world, just like those first disciples.
We were called to faith in our baptism, and ever since God’s spirit has been with us. Today, that Spirit has called us here. From our busy lives, from our worries about political tensions, medical news, finances, violence in our city and our schools, global warming, and an endless to-do-list, we are called here where we can rest for an hour. We can take a deep breath and step into this holy space and connect with God through prayer and song, word and sacrament.
Here the Holy Spirit gathers us with other believers, with brothers and sisters in faith. From them, we receive love and comfort. These are people who care. These are people who ask, ‘How are you?” and really want to know how you are. These are people who give you a hug when you need it and pray for you when you are in times of trial and rejoice with you when good things are happening in your life.
These people are like the comforter, surrounding us with warmth and with a patchwork of stories, stories that enlighten or encourage us when we feel weary.
In a way, this time of worship in this holy place with these fellow believers is like a gas station where we fill our spiritual tank. Once we are filled up again, the spirit sends us out to let the rest of the world know about the blessing it is to know God. We cannot stay here forever. We must leave and share the good news.
But we can always come back here. In fact, the spirit continually calls us back here, to be gathered again in the presence of God, to be reconnected by the comfort of the congregation, to be recharged for yet another week of living as Jesus’ disciple in the world.
As you deal with the ups and downs of life, remember the Holy Spirit that is with you. Imagine the spirit as that old comforter, that envelops you with cozy warmth, reminds you of the love of God and people, and gives you the energy and courage to get up and serve in the name of Jesus Christ.
Live as the spirit-filled people of God, who are called, gathered, and sent for the sake of the world. Amen.
And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.