Pentecost, Year B, May 20, 2018
Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:24-34, 35b, Romans 8:22-27, John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
One of the interesting things about the story of Pentecost is what came before it. Jesus, after his resurrection, appeared to the disciples and the rest of his followers several times. He reassured them, he comforted them, he ate with them … and he told them to go out into the world to share their faith. He told them that he wouldn’t be with them personally, but he would send the Holy Spirit to them, to help them and guide them and inspire them along the way. And then he ascended into heaven, after telling them again to go into the world and spread their faith.
What are the disciples doing, a week later, on the day of Pentecost? Why, sitting together in a room, just like they had been on Easter. What weren’t they doing? Going out into the world and sharing their faith as they had been commanded. Now, they hadn’t been idle. They’d done some necessary things, like sorting out leadership and sharing the stories of Jesus in the group to build the faith of the people who were already Jesus’ followers. This sort of preparation and planning and sharing is very necessary to success. But the problem was, that’s where they were leaving things. They had the Word of God. They had the preparations and infrastructure. And what were they doing with it? Sitting on their butts where it was comfortable and safe. Not following Jesus’ commands to go out into the world and share the good news.
And then the Holy Spirit came. It burst into their room, lit them up, and sent them out. In fact, if you notice, there is no transition between being in the room and being out among the crowd. The Spirit comes in, and suddenly they’re somewhere else. It makes me wonder if the transition was so fast, so confusing, that they simply didn’t remember it well enough to tell the story, afterwards. Sometimes life is like that when things happen quickly, especially if the Spirit is involved. When I entered the process of becoming a minister, it was like that. I remember knowing God was calling me to ministry and stubbornly not wanting to do it. I remember filling out paperwork and meeting with the Synod committee. But even at the time, I didn’t remember actually making the decision. I don’t remember when things changed from “I’m not doing this” to “I’m doing this.” I didn’t see any fire or wind, and I didn’t suddenly start speaking in other languages (which might have been helpful when it came to learning Greek and Hebrew). But the Holy Spirit came, and set my feet on a new path, one I’d been resisting even as I did things that prepared for it.
Have any of you had an experience like that? A time in your life when God set you on a path you hadn’t expected? Or maybe one that you hadn’t wanted, but that turned out to be the right one for you? God’s call isn’t just a matter of ministry. God sends the Spirit into us to guide us in many ways, both within church and outside of it. Some of you who are being Confirmed today, or who will be graduating in a week, you might not have experienced this yet. But I’m pretty sure that some time in your life, you will. Your lives are just beginning, and so far there’s been a lot of preparation, a lot of study, a lot of getting ready. Some of you have plans for your future, some of you don’t, but you will each and every one of you find there are times in your life when God has a different plan for you than you expected. It may be something big, it may be something small, but you will find yourself someplace you never expected to be. But you won’t be alone, no matter what else happens, because the Holy Spirit will be with you.
In our Acts reading, the Pentecost story itself, the Holy Spirit is very impressive. It is fire and wind and inspiration and it literally sets the disciples on fire for the Lord and sends them out on the wind to minister to people from every nation in the world. And there will be times in your life, we pray, when you will get fired up like that. When your faith will be strengthened and you can’t not follow God’s call, whatever that may be in your life, and it leads you to be and do things you never dreamed, to places you might not have chosen on your own but which will nevertheless be good for you. It may be as obvious as Pentecost, or it may be a bit subtler, but it will be amazing and probably a little scary. But the Holy Spirit will be with you.
In our Gospel reading, the Spirit isn’t as showy, or as wild, but it is just as strong. Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit as an Advocate, who will speak in our favor and defend us and support us, who will help us know the truth even when the world tries to confuse us or just doesn’t understand. And there will be times in your life when the Spirit will be your Advocate. There will be times when you will be confused. There will be times when the world’s ideas of right and wrong are just not true. There will be times when the right thing to do may not be obvious, and times when you will be tempted to do things you know are wrong. There will be times when you need your faith encouraged and supported in the midst of a world that doesn’t understand. And we pray that the Holy Spirit will be with you in those times of trial, advocating for you and strengthening you and showing you the right thing to do and say, and giving you the courage to face the world with faithfulness and goodness. And again, it may not be obvious when you’re going through it that the Holy Spirit is there; sometimes, when you are going through hard times it’s difficult to see God’s presence in you and around you. But the Holy Spirit will be with you.
In our second reading, from Romans, the Spirit is a comforter in times of trouble. Saint Paul describes the whole world as groaning in labor pains, with the future Kingdom of God on its way but not here yet. Like a woman in labor, we know that something good is coming … but there is pain and hardship before it can get here. In this life, there is pain and sorrow and grief. There are hard times. There are people who hurt others, or allow others to be hurt through inaction. There are all kinds of evils. And sometimes it seems so hopeless we don’t even know what to pray for. But even in the midst of that we have hope, because the Spirit is in us, and we know that God’s kingdom of peace and love and joy is coming even when we can’t see it, even when we can’t imagine that anything good could possibly come out of a world as messed up as this one. There will be times when your life will suck. Times when you will suffer. Times when hope seems foolish. But we pray that the Holy Spirit will be with you then. That it will wrap its arms around you and hold you tight, and know the longings of your heart, even when you feel too bad to express them. Even when you are at your very lowest ebb, when you are weak and beaten up by the storms of life, the Spirit will be with you, supporting you, working on your behalf. The Spirit will know all the darkest places in your heart, all the times when you feel like just giving up, and it will be with you.
You are going out into the world in new ways. Some of you are graduating and leaving town for further schooling or work. Some of you are staying here and continuing to grow in our midst, but you will be making promises and taking responsibility for more of your own faith development. But no matter what stage of life you are in, or where you are going, always remember this: the Holy Spirit will be with you. Thanks be to God.