Sermon for Sunday, May 24th, 2015 | Pentecost Sunday || Romans 8:22-27; Psalm 104: 25-35,37; Acts 2: 1-21; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15 || The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield
One of the best kept secrets of Christendom: That Pentecost is as important as Christmas and Easter in the life of church. On Pentecost we recognize the reality—and the power—of the Holy Spirit. And it is a mighty power, indeed. Consider that it transformed a roomful of terrified Jesus followers who were hiding behind a locked door, into the bold, ready-to-face-death, gospel-proclaiming apostles without whom there would be no church today. That’s some power!
Yet how often do we consciously rely on this power? How often do we call on the Holy Spirit in our prayers?
Phillips Brooks, the famous 19th century preacher and former Episcopal bishop of Massachusetts, once wrote that, “the Holy Spirit will surely help us…even if we do not know it’s name or ever call upon it. But there is so much more that it might do for us if we would only open our hearts and ask it to come into them.”
“There is so much more that it might do for us if we would only open our hearts and ask it to come into them.” That’s a pretty amazing statement—and it’s absolutely true. Some of you may remember my story about a professor I had in seminary who warned us in no uncertain terms that we should never pray “Come, Holy Spirit, Come” unless we were prepared to have our lives turned upside down. You see, the Holy Spirit is powerful. Powerful enough, Jesus says in this morning’s gospel, to “prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” Powerful enough, Paul writes in his letter to the Roman church, to intercede for us according to the will of God. Powerful enough, according to the Acts of the Apostles, to cause us to prophesize, have visions, and dream dreams. The Holy Spirit is powerful.
The Holy Spirit is as ubiquitous as the air around us, yet as mysterious as the human heart. Old Testament scripture tells us it swept over the face of the waters at creation, breathed life into Adam’s nostril’s, brought the Law to Moses, and inspired the prophets of old to speak hard truths to empire and power. It is what binds us to our Biblical forebears and to all of God’s creation –like some secret, sacred string of DNA.
It is no coincidence that in both Hebrew and Greek, the word for this spirit is the same word as the one used for “breath” and “wind.” It is this same Spirit that breathes life into us at every moment, inspires our most creative efforts and ideas, and moves us –sometimes gently like a breeze, sometimes violently like a storm—into new places, new experiences, new ways of being who God created us to be. The Holy Spirit is powerful!
New Testament scripture says that Zechariah was filled with this Spirit when he prophesied about his son, John the Baptist; that in fact John was filled with this spirit “even before his birth”; that it was instrumental in Mary’s pregnancy with the Christ child; that it inspired her cousin Elizabeth to proclaim, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”
The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at his baptism, anointed him for his mission and ministry, swept him into the wilderness to face temptation, and finally, on Pentecost, turned twelve fearful followers into world-class leaders, without whom there would be no such thing as Christianity.
Throughout history the Holy Spirit has swept away dying structures and institutions, breathed new life into the church, inspired both saints like Stephen and sinners like you and me. The Holy Spirit is powerful!
The Holy Spirit is what transforms church from something we do as a religious duty to something we are as followers of the Risen Christ. We are sealed with it at our baptism, strengthened by it at our confirmation, graced with it in the sacraments, blessed by it in our worship and fellowship, and united by it in our work together as church.
Oswald Chambers once wrote that, “If we have received the Holy Spirit, God expects the work of the Holy Spirit to be exhibited in us.” Chambers rightly added that we should “never allow the limitation of our own natural ability to enter into the matter.” Of course, it takes faith to rely on the Holy Spirit rather than our own abilities, but after all, we are a people of faith! And Jesus assures us in today’s lesson that the Holy Spirit will guide us and teach us and lead us in all truth.
The truth is, it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we stand a chance of carrying on Christ’s ministry of proclaiming hope to the hopeless; of loving the unlovable; and of dreaming God’s dream for those blinded by brokenness. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we’re able to live out of our very best selves, forsaking our narrow, personal agendas for the sake of God’s expansive, universal agenda of healing and reconciliation for all of creation. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we might really love as Christ loves–transformed, strengthened, and inspired as both life-givers and pain-bearers. The Holy Spirit is powerful!
So make no mistake, the same Spirit that hovered over the waters at creation, the same Spirit that rested upon Jesus at his Baptism, the same spirit that took a small band of confused and frightened disciples and built God’s entire church with them…that Spirit is here, in our lives and in this church, right now.
As Phillips Brooks said, that Spirit will help us…even if never call upon it. But just imagine how we might be transformed, and how God might use this church, if we were to open our hearts and ask the Holy Spirit to come in every week as we did at the beginning of this service by praying,
Come, Holy Spirit, come. Come to us at St Stephen’s. Come with winds of passion to enliven our minds. Come with tongues of fire to ignite our hearts. Breathe on us the wild breath of your life-giving Love. And then use us, Holy Spirit, as you will. And always to the glory of Christ’s name.