(Modified 2021-05-23: Added audio recording of sermon)
St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Pentecost Sunday, May 23, 2021 Canon Claude Schroeder.
Today we are celebrating the great and wonderful Feast of Pentecost, which brings to an ecstatic climax the final revelation of Jesus Christ, and the fulfillment of His promise to send us the Holy Spirit, in fulfilment of the prophecy of Joel, “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit. (Acts 2. 17-18).
Our celebration of Pentecost today stands as a powerful sign of contradiction to this confused, divided, sin-sick, despairing, death-bound, and socially distanced world in which we live. In place of confusion there was clarity as the tongues of fire rested on the heads of each them, purifying and illuminating the intellects. In place of division there was unity, as the assembled multi-racial and multi-ethnic crowd, all heard them in their own tongues the mighty works of God. In place of sin sickness, and death, the announcement of salvation. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved!” And in place of social distance: fellowship and community, as over 3,000 people were baptized that day.
If ever there was a time we needed the Holy Spirit to manifest Himself to us, that time is now.
So, who or what is the Holy Spirit?
In very simple terms the Holy Spirit is the Presence and Power of God in your life. That presence and power is something real, active, and powerful. When on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended, we are told “there came a sound like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” (Acts 2. 2). That phrase, “like the rush of a mighty wind” takes us back to the Book of Genesis, where in the beginning of creation we are told, “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1. 2). The Spirit that descended upon Jesus’ disciples on the Day of Pentecost, is nothing more and nothing less that the power that brought creation into being. “You send forth your Spirit”, writes the Psalmist, “and they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.” (Psalm 104. 30).
Now, if the Holy Spirit that has been poured upon is the power that brought creation into being, why do I often feel so weak, so helpless, and so powerless? We hear a lot about empowerment these days, where people take control of their lives, and make positive decisions based on what they want, and act with confidence and achieve results.
The empowerment of the Holy Spirit is very different from this. It’s for the sake of the works of love.
But when the descent of the Holy Spirit isn’t always accompanied with fireworks. The Spirit comes equally in quiet. When God fills us with the Holy Spirit, we doesn’t turn us into Superman or Superwoman or some other “superhero” with “super-powers.” The acquisition of the Holy Spirit is associated with the experience of weakness, and the experience of helplessness. “Like-wise”, writes Paul, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. “(Romans 8.26). He doesn’t take the weakness away! When in our weakness and helplessness we don’t know how and what to pray for, the Holy Spirit steps in and “intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” Sometimes in prayer, all we can do in prayer is take a deep breath, and sigh…That is the Holy Spirit praying His prayer in us and through us. “And God, who searches the heart, knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8.27). The acknowledgement of weakness, and helplessness is the entry and access point for the Holy Spirit. “O God make speed to save us, O Lord make haste to help us.” This is how the Church begins her Morning and Evening Prayers.
“And we ourselves”, writes Paul, “who have the first fruits of the Spirit”, we who have acquired e measure of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5.22) that is the fruit of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives,” groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8. 23)
What does this mean?
It means that even as a Spirit filled Christian you might get migraine headaches, you might suffer from depression, you might have aches and pains in your joints, you might COVID, or cancer, and land in hospital. And it is then and there in the midst of your suffering, that you “groan inwardly as you wait for … what? For God to release your spirit from the pain and suffering of your body? This is a pagan idea and not at all the Christian hope.
What we wait for, as we groan, is that just as through faith and baptism God released our spirits from slavery to sin and death, God will also release our bodies from the slavery to sin and death. This is what adoption means. When God adopts us into the family of which Jesus is our older brother, “He will, as it says in the funeral service, “transform our bodies that it may be like the glorious body of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the power whereby He is able to subdue all things to Himself.” (BCP, 602). This is the Christian hope that is ours through the bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
When at the graveside service, as the body is lowered into the ground, we hear the words, “Dust you are, dust you shall return.” And we think that’s the end. It’s all over. But in fact, it’s just the beginning. What is God going to do with this dust that we have become? In the Book of Genesis, we read that, “God formed man of dust from the earth, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. (Genesis 2.7.) So it will be with us when we die, and become dust in God’s hands. If we can say, “Amen,” to this, “Let it be so,” God will make us into a truly human being, and will breathe into our nostrils the breath of life, that is the “wind” and “spirit” of God.
But the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in your life is not to be understood in some impersonal force, as when, at his farewell speech, Obi One Kenobi said to Luke Skywalker, “The Force will be with you always.” The phrase really caught people’s imagination when Star Wars came out! Notice how it’s kind of worn off. You don’t hear people saying that much anymore.
When you do hear is Christians on Sunday confessing in the Nicene Creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord the Giver of Life.” In his farewell speech to the disciples, in today’s Gospel lesson from St. John, Jesus says, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, He will testify on my behalf.” (John 15.26)
What we see here is that the Holy Spirit, is not a force, but a Person. The third person of the Trinity, whom with the Father and the Son we worship and adore. The Holy Spirit has a specific role to play that of an Advocate. This is image taken from the law courts, and refers to someone who comes along side you, stands next to you, and speaks on your behalf and in your defense. This is precisely what Jesus did for his disciples as He walked this earth. What Jesus did while he walked this earth. He continues to do before the throne of His Father in heave. “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous.” (1 John 2.1) It is the Holy Spirit who advocates for us in our current trial.
Peter Abelard was a 12th century Christian theologian who for a time lived as a hermit, someone who lived all alone with God as His only companion. He dedicated his chapel to the Advocate, because, as he wrote, “I had come there as a fugitive and, in the depths of my despair, was granted some comfort by the grace of God.”
If in relation to us the Holy Spirit is our defense attorney, in relation to the world the Holy Spirit is the counsel for the prosecution. When the Advocate comes, says Jesus, “He will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement.” (John 16.8)
Well, as you go around and talk to people, and listen to what they have to say, you very quickly discover that sin, righteousness, and judgement are universal concepts. Everybody distinguishes between right and wrong, everyone draws the line somewhere to mark off and to judge what is acceptable and what isn’t. Question is, “Where to draw the line?” It’s amazing isn’t how quickly and easily the lines can be redrawn. What used to be wrong, isn’t so wrong anymore. What you used to be good and right, is now regarded as outdated.
The claim that at a certain time and place a line was drawn by God that established once and for all the meaning of sin, righteousness, and judgment is outrageous to the modern western mind.
So what is sin? Sin for most people has to do with some standard of behavior, where you broke the rules and said and did something that was incorrect.
But here in John’s Gospel the root of sin is unbelief. It is the failure to respond in faith and trust to Jesus Christ.
If unbelief is of the essence of sin, it follows that the essence of righteousness is not correct moral behavior, but rather faith, trusting where do not see. It’s why before coming to the Holy Communion, we pray, “We do not presume to come to this thy table, O Lord trusting in our own righteousness but in thy manifold and great mercy…”
If the world has its own ideas about sin and righteousness, it also has its own ideas about judgement. Both the secular and religious authorities pronounced judgement on Jesus by hanging Him on a tree. On what basis did they pronounce judgement? On the basis that Jesus threatened their safety and security. Caiaphas, who was the High Priest that year, put it this way, “Is it not better for one man to die than for the whole nation to perish?” (John 11.50) When safety and security becomes your supreme value, somebody is going to get crucified, and so Jesus has got to go. And to all appearances, having been hung up a tree, Jesus suffers and dies as someone whom forsaken and cursed by God.
But who is it that was being judged in the Cross? Jesus said, “the ruler of this world”, that is the devil, “the deceiver,” and “the father of lies” has been condemned.” (John 16.11). Jesus returned to the Father, via the Cross. It was Jesus whom God vindicated and judged to be in the right, for He trusted in God as the only source of security in this world, which radically calls into question all our “security systems.”
From now on the fellowship of those who have bene chosen and called to follow Jesus, submitting in love and obedience to His kingly rule, and sharing in His sufferings, will be the bearers of the kingship which overturns the world’s ideas of judgement, what it means to be in the right and in the wrong. And in this task, it is the Holy Spirit who comes alongside us and convicts the world.
Luke tells us that when Peter finished preaching his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, the people were cut to the heart. They thought they had done the right thing in approving Jesus execution. But when God vindicates Jesus, and shows Him to be in the right, by raising Him from the dead, they realize how desperately in the wrong they were, and how badly they had misjudged the situation. They cried out, “What must we do to be saved?” And Peter said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you for the forgiveness of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all who are far off, ever one whom the Lord our God calls to him. (Acts 2. 38, 39)
Christians, you see are not those spend their time looking for someone to victimize, someone on whom to pin the blame for all their problems, which has become something of art form in our culture under COVID.
As Christians we have our victim, and He has willingly takes upon himself all the accusation and all the blame for our problems. His name is Jesus Christ, and by virtue of His Cross, He is uniquely positioned to offer that which we all so desperately need; the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. And so, it is to Him that we must turn in repentance and faith.
It is to this end that God also grants His Holy Spirit. Amen.