John 15: 26-27, 16:4b-15 (CEB)
26 “When the Companion comes, whom I will send from the Father—the Spirit of Truth who proceeds from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 You will testify too, because you have been with me from the beginning.
“I didn’t say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I go away to the one who sent me. None of you ask me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 Yet because I have said these things to you, you are filled with sorrow. 7 I assure you that it is better for you that I go away. If I don’t go away, the Companion[a] won’t come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will show the world it was wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment. 9 He will show the world it was wrong about sin because they don’t believe in me. 10 He will show the world it was wrong about righteousness because I’m going to the Father and you won’t see me anymore. 11 He will show the world it was wrong about judgment because this world’s ruler stands condemned.
12 “I have much more to say to you, but you can’t handle it now. 13 However, when the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you in all truth. He won’t speak on his own, but will say whatever he hears and will proclaim to you what is to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and proclaim it to you. 15 Everything that the Father has is mine. That’s why I said that the Spirit takes what is mine and will proclaim it to you.
This is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Praise to you Lord Christ.
Sermon May 23rd, “Pentecost: Come Holy Spirit”
“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people!” This is a perfect prayer for Pentecost day. In fact, would you say it with me? We’ll say it in two parts. Repeat after me: Come, Holy Spirit. (Come, Holy Spirit). Fill the hearts of your faithful people. (Fill the hearts of your faithful people). One more time. Come, Holy Spirit. (Come, Holy Spirit). Fill the hearts of your faithful people. (Fill the hearts of your faithful people). Do you believe this prayer? Do you believe that the Spirit of God is present in your life, in this very moment, during this time of worship?
It’s hard to believe it. I don’t know why, but it is, at least for me. A few weeks ago I was meeting with my spiritual director, who is a Benedictine sister, and I shared with her how I thought I felt the movement the Spirit, but I was unsure. She looked at me very seriously and asked, “Why do you only think you felt the Spirit? Could it have been the Spirit?” After I initially thought, “Calm down Sister, things are getting a little real for me,” I realized I had a reluctance to name, see, or claim the movement of the Holy Spirit in my life. Maybe you do too.
Those first disciples, the closest followers of Jesus, wrestled with this. After everything the disciples experienced; following Jesus, watching him die, rise again and ascend to heaven, they gathered again during a Jewish festival known as Shavuot, which means “weeks.” It’s the culmination of the weeks between Passover and the celebration of the giving of the Law. Shavuot is celebrated 50 days after the first day of Passover, the word Pentecost can be used, which is a Greek word that means “fifty.” Even after Jesus preached about the coming of the Spirit, they still didn’t see it coming.
What we read in John 15 and 16 this morning is from what we call Jesus’ Farewell Discourse in the Gospel of John. In his final teaching he just lays it out there. Jesus said, “When the Companion or Advocate or Spirit of Truth comes.” He didn’t say if, but when. The Holy Spirit was going to come whether the disciples were prepared for her arrival or not. Jesus taught them that when he would ascend to his Abba and he would send them the Spirit. While we tend to think of a “Spirit of Gentleness” as we sang a moment ago, Jesus in John describes the Spirit of Truth who “will show the world it was wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment.”
Jesus seems to be saying that “sin” has to do with the heart, how we believe, and how we follow out of that belief. I think it also speaks to my struggle I shared before when I had those doubts or struggles in recognizing the presence or movement of the Spirit in my life. What the Spirit does in our lives is lead us and speak to us of the truth of Jesus. “The Spirit takes what is mine and will proclaim it to you,” Jesus told them. The Spirit will proclaim Jesus’ message, life, and teachings in new and changing circumstances that the church will face when Jesus is gone. I like the way that one commentary I read this week put it, “The Spirit will make the teachings of Jesus relevant to each new generation and to each new age.”
Sometimes we can’t handle it though. It’s hard for the church and the Christian to change. In fact, there’s this short phrase that spoke to me as I read through John this week. Jesus told the disciples, “I have much more to say to you, but you can’t handle it now.” I have to tell you that every time I read it all I could hear was “I want the truth!” and everyone response, “You can’t handle the truth!” It’s the famous line from the 1992 film “A Few Good Men.” “You can’t handle the truth.”
Jesus was right, so was Jack Nicholson. It’s hard for us to handle the truth that the Spirit brings because she challenges us, shakes us, and convicts us to respond. On that first Pentecost we read about in Acts, the followers of Jesus were all together in one place and read of a violent wind, flames alighting each of them, and all were filled with the Holy Spirt. They were able to understand each other even though they came from all over the ancient world. How did they respond? “They were mystified, surprised, amazed. They even asked, “How can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? How?” Later in Acts 2, we read that the disciples asked, “What does this mean?” I always find it comical how others thought they had been drinking and Peter’s first rebuttal to them is it’s too early to drink. They couldn’t handle the Truth of the Spirit. They couldn’t believe it!
The Holy Spirit can be a frightening expression of God. So much so, we tend to have two responses. We might attempt to domesticate or control the Holy Spirit. The other is that we don’t believe it to be true or present.
There are times when we try to keep the Spirit tame, or within our reach or within our worship bulletin alone. I understand that we are Methodists; we have a method for experiencing the Holy Spirit, while the Spirit is a reality and presence to be embraced. The power of the Spirit might frighten us or shock us, but I pray if it does, I hope it will shock us back to God’s reality and God’s dream.
One of the practices I have kept as a pastor is spending time in prayer in our sanctuary or chapel almost every day. I have done this in every church I have served. One time I was kneeling in prayer in the chapel and I had my prayer list with me. I was praying for members of the church name by name and I was stuck on one person. I just had that feeling like the Spirit of Truth was proclaiming something to me. I felt convicted to get off my knees and go call that person. From the moment I said, “Hello, this is Pastor Matt,” I knew it was the right thing to do. In fact, that person told me, “I’m so glad you called Pastor. It’s been a hard week and I’m so thankful to hear your voice.”
Now I could have told that feeling to stop, go away, or ignore it. I would have been trying to control the presence of the Holy Spirit in that time of prayer. Instead, I felt convicted to act.
The second response is that we don’t believe the Spirit is moving or present. That was my experience when I talked to my spiritual director. I’m reluctant to say this experience or that is the Holy Spirit. Maybe it’s the part that we often can’t handle. When the Spirit of Truth begins to reveal to us that God is active always and everywhere, but we’re just unable or unwilling to see it.
We need to be reminded of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Here’s how the Presbyterian theologian and writer Frederick Buechner put it, ““Who knows how the awareness of God’s love first hits -people? Every person has their own tale to tell, including the person who would not believe in God if you paid them. Some moment happens in your life that makes you say Yes right up to the roots of your hair, that makes it worth having been born just to have happen. Laughing with somebody till the tears run down your cheeks. Waking up to the first snow. Being in bed with somebody you love. Whether you thank God for such a moment or thank your lucky stars, it is a moment that is trying to open up your whole life. If you try to turn your back on such a moment and hurry along to Business as Usual, it may lose you the whole ball game. If you throw your arms around such a moment and hug it like crazy, it may save your soul.”
Do you believe the Holy Spirit is breathing life into you right now? Our doubts, our questions, our attempts to hold back the Spirit will not stop her movement, presence, and power in our lives. Sometimes we just need Pentecost moments to remind us that God’s Spirit has already been sent and given to each of us and dare I say all of us. God’s Spirit is poured out on all flesh, on all people, regardless of how we read and interpret Scripture, regardless of how we look at or judge one another, this inclusive God has already included everyone, all people, always.
Today, on this Pentecost Sunday, may we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The same Spirit that hovered over the waters at creation, the same Spirit that led Israel out of slavery, the same Spirit that spoke through the prophets, the same Spirit that came at Pentecost, now lives in you.
What we celebrate is not just another day in history as something that happened long go. Instead we celebrate and proclaim that the Spirit is here, right now. Would you repeat this prayer with me again:
Come, Holy Spirit. (Come, Holy Spirit).
Fill the hearts of your faithful people. (Fill the hearts of your faithful people). One more time.
Come, Holy Spirit. (Come, Holy Spirit).
Fill the hearts of your faithful people. (Fill the hearts of your faithful people).
May you believe that the Holy Spirit is present, here, right now, and always.
Leader: Let us pray.
Come, Holy Spirit and enter every heart and life on this day of Pentecost. Our lives are opened to you. We pray that your Spirit would speak in powerful ways just as it did long ago. We ask that your Spirit would challenge and empower us to live our lives for you. We long for your Spirit to inspire all who follow you to think, speak, dream, and live as true imitators of Jesus Christ. Amen.
 Ginger Barfield, Professor of Theology, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary