Sermon: Come, Holy Spirit, to Aid Us

May 20, 2018: Pentecost Sunday
Acts 2:1-21
Romans 8:22-27

It is Pentecost. We’ve heard the story. We’re wearing red – well, at least some of us are wearing red. We’ve sung the songs, despite various warnings on the Internet that some people think singing “Happy Birthday” to the Church is silly. We’ll sing some more Spirit songs before the morning is through.

When the sun sets, the Church of Jesus Christ will have had another birthday.

And… not much will have changed.

It doesn’t seem right, does it?

There they were, that day in Jerusalem. Jesus had told them, “Stay together until the Holy Spirit comes,” and for once they did what he asked them to do. It’s possible that people take direction better from a resurrected Messiah. It was a good day for prayer, because it was the religious festival of Pentecost, or Shavuot in Hebrew. It was a day to give thanks for the early harvest of wheat, and a day to give thanks that God had spoken to Moses and delivered the Law.

Passover, fifty days before, commemorates the freedom of the Hebrew people. Shavuot, fifty days later – that’s where the Greek name, Pentecost, comes from: Pente means “fifty” in Greek – Shavuot celebrates the way that God determined to give a shape of blessing to the life of the newly free community.

It was a good day to pray. Because, even with the resurrection of Christ, nothing much had changed for Jesus’ disciples there in Jerusalem. They continued to meet discreetly, cautiously. They did not go out into the streets to find people and tell them about their resurrected leader. The forces and powers that had arrested Jesus, tried Jesus, condemned Jesus, and executed Jesus still had the power, the authority, and the desire to end the Jesus movement once and for all.

They might be willing to ignore Jesus’ followers if they were scattered and quiet. Noisy and unified: they would strike without mercy.

So they stayed quiet. Together – Jesus told them to stay together – but quiet.

Until God blew off the roof. Metaphorically speaking.

With a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and something flickering over their heads that seemed like fire, and a mad cacophony of languages pouring from their mouths, languages they didn’t understand but which a gathering crowd did, a sudden eruption of comprehensible chaos that looked for all the world like drunkenness but sounded like prayers of thanksgiving!

Now they were together. Now they were noisy. Now they were out in the street. Now they would see if the world had changed.

That’s Peter’s sermon, isn’t it? We’re not drunk, he said, because it’s only nine o’clock in the morning (which is the least convincing explanation I’ve ever heard). Well, leave that aside. What you’re seeing, he said, is that the Holy Spirit has come and the world has changed. The prophet Joel saw it centuries before, he said. Now we will all be like Joel, he said: we will all be filled with the prophecies, and the dreams, and the visions. The Holy Spirit has come. Everybody shall be saved.

The world had changed.

Except that… it hadn’t. It took longer than you’d expect for those forces and powers who had executed Jesus to realize that his movement had emerged with more strength and courage than they’d expected. Once they did realize, they did what they did best: arrests, beatings, executions. It didn’t work. The Spirit even began visiting and inspiring some of the persecutors themselves, including one Saul of Tarsus, who we know better by his Greek name, Paul.

Paul, who wrote these other words about the first fruits of the Spirit. “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, for the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

Paul died for following Jesus, too.

The world had changed, but it hadn’t.

What the Holy Spirit had changed was Jesus’ followers themselves. The scared men became the brave men. The tired women became the strong women. The persecutors became the apostles. The wordless became the eloquent. When even eloquence failed, the Spirit interceded with sighs too deep for words.

Ah, we are sighing this week.

On Friday, violence struck again at a school, after a high school graduation in Jonesboro, Georgia. One woman was injured, another died. Yes, there were two school shootings on Friday. Ten more died – and I don’t know how many were wounded – in Santa Fe, Texas.

Here on our island, the first injury from this eruption happened yesterday. More homes have been destroyed. Highway 137 has been severed.

Our President saw fit to refer to some people as “animals,” and even if he was speaking only of the gang members of MS-13, our justice system *has* to treat all accused persons as *people.* When we dehumanize, we invite tyranny.

Holy Spirit, intercede for us with sighs too deep for human words.

And that is why we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. Yes, the world has been changed, but it has been changed in us, in those human beings who have been willing to let the Holy Spirit enter, inspire, enliven, guide, and strengthen. This is what Karoline Lewis means when she writes that “a true Pentecost lets the Spirit be the Spirit… A true Pentecost sits in the disorder that is often the life of faith… and believes that the Spirit will show herself, not always on our time, not always to our liking, but, nevertheless, always.”

This is what Bishop Michael Curry had in the back of his mind as he preached so powerfully about the power of love at yesterday’s wedding in England. “…Imagine a world where love is the way. Imagine our homes and families when love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when love is the way. Imagine this tired old world when love is the way.”

Holy Spirit, intercede for us with an imagination too deep for human words.

In a conversation yesterday with the brilliant Rachel Hackenberg, we were musing on the relative virtues of the Muppets (that’s what great theologians do, right?). I said something about how I seem to have the caution of Gonzo the Great – who, as you might recall, undertakes foolhardy stunts at the drop of a helmet, and frequently without wearing a helmet.

She replied: “I think Gonzo has persistent hope, though, more than caution. Hope is a good thing.” And later, “Foolish hope sounds like a gift of the Spirit to me!”

“For if we hope for what we do not see…” Ah, yes. Paul would have recognized that.

Holy Spirit, intercede for us with a persistent, foolish hope.

The world is going to go on being the world. We, in our persistent, foolish hope, and our love-founded imagination, and our sighs of suffering and of empathy, we are changed and so we may make change. We may help others past the nightmares of their rages. We may insist on justice for all people. We may not redirect the lava streams, but we may help those adrift because of them.

Come, Holy Spirit to aid us! With sighs. With imagination. With persistent, foolish hope.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon


Someday Pastor Eric may stick to his prepared text. Today was not that day.

The photo is cropped from the original by Pete Unseth – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, The mosaic depicted is found at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis in Saint Louis, Missouri. 

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on May 20, 2018

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