Day of Pentecost
A little girl was admiring the rose bushes outside her grandma’s house. There were some gorgeous blooms and bushes with flowers of different colors. The girl spotted a rosebud and she thought she would hurry the flower along. She thought by peeling back the layers a beautiful rose flower would literally pop out in front of her eyes. As you can imagine, it didn’t work out that way. Her attempt at pushing Mother Nature ended in a mess with broken petals in her hand. You might think she would have thought of being in trouble which would lead to hiding the evidence. Instead she took the wrecked petals to her grandmother and wondered why her attempt at forming a rose did not work. Grandmother saw a teaching moment. Grandma told her granddaughter: “You tried to force the flower open from the outside. But God, who has made all things, works differently: God works gently from the inside of the flower, and when all is ready, the bud blooms into a wonderful red rose.
Today the church celebrates a holiday, the Day of Pentecost. Just what are we celebrating you may ask? We are celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples that the time would soon come when he would not be with them any longer. He instructed his disciples to keep his commandments, commandments that can be summarized as “Love one another, just as Jesus loves you.” Jesus knew that we can have trouble obeying this commandment of love. So Jesus made this promise: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth.” The Holy Spirit is called “Advocate” which gives the meaning ‘one who will speak to you on God’s behalf.’ Notice Jesus further said the “Holy Spirit, teaching and reminding you about the truth of Jesus, will abide with you, and the Spirit will be in you.” It is something like what grandma told her granddaughter: the Spirit will work within us, from the inside out.
The Holy Spirit speaks to us through the gospel that is the good news of Jesus. We are thankful for the Spirit’s work within us creating faith. It was Martin Luther who wrote, “I cannot by my own understanding and strength believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with her gifts, made me holy, and keeps me in the true faith.” Years ago a man came to me and announced that he does not the Bible or church because the Holy Spirit speaks to him personally. This is of course dangerous, for we can fool ourselves into thinking the Holy Spirit or God told us to do things which can be hurtful. No, the Holy Spirit is our teacher, ever keeping us in the classroom of Jesus. And we ever need reminders!
When I served a parish in the U.P. Our Savior’s Lutheran Church was a beautiful, old-fashioned designed church, in the country. It had a steeple and a bell. Kids would get mischievous and ring the bell when there was no reason to do so. Outside was a sign that posted church service times. There was a member of the church from Louisiana; she was originally a Southern Baptist. She was the only person who told me the sermons were too short. Well, she thought the outside sign needed a message besides the service times. So she got out the box of letters, opened the sign and posted this message: “All sinners welcome: and this means YOU!” We can think we are just fine and don’t need to hear the truth about our sins. We may be burdened by a painful awareness of sin, and feel unworthy even to attend worship. So we need to be reminded what Jesus taught. The Holy Spirit reminds us through the word of the Gospel, the good news of Jesus. The Holy Spirit will remind us of Jesus’ words: If you commit sin, you are a slave to sin. But if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. Of course, the Son of God, is Jesus who came into this world to take away the sins of the world. The Holy Spirit reminds and teaches about Jesus, and his habit of welcoming those condemned by others and declared unworthy. Jesus would meet with them, eat with them, and basically say such judgments are overruled, for God so loves the world. The Holy Spirit reminds us of the cross where Jesus revealed the full depth of God’s love for sinners. The cross and resurrection of Jesus reveal just how far God came into this world to save us, forgive us, make us holy meaning set apart to serve, and to assure us of heaven.
At a pre-baptismal prep session one of the boys soon to be baptized today asked this question: “How can we know about God when we cannot see God?” You cannot ask a better question for Pentecost Sunday. This is the question we heard in the gospel lesson when the disciple named Phillip asked “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said, “Phillip, Phillip, Phillip, don’t you know that whoever has seen me, has seen the Father.” So this leads us back to the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, who speaks to us through the hearing of the good news of Jesus: Jesus reveals God’s love for the world; Jesus reveals you are surrounded and supported by this love. You are never forgotten or forsaken, but ever remembered and cherished by God. I was snooping through the Bible the baptized are about to receive; it is for children ages 7 through 12. It has suggested activities for kids. I looked up what the activity was for today’s gospel about the Holy Spirit: “Paste a photograph of yourself on a sheet of paper. Then draw a big, bright circle around your photograph. Let the picture remind you that God is with you, to give you strength to do right.”
We will have a baptism today. Baptism is described in the catechism as a grace-filled washing according to God’s word. Baptism also includes the gracious petition for the Holy Spirit. In so many words we pray “Come, Holy Spirit, come” and let us be confident the Spirit comes to renew and refresh the congregation, all the baptized. In the reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans, we heard what else the Holy Spirit is saying to you and me: “For all w ho are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry ‘Abba, Father! it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs with God and join heirs with Christ—if, in fact we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” It is natural to be afraid in this world, whether you are 8 years old or 80 years old. An ally of fear is worry. I was diagnosed by my third-grade teacher as a worry-wart—worried about getting good grades and being liked. So the Holy Spirit acts like a faithful counselor. The Holy Spirit, ever teaching and reminding of Jesus says “look at what Jesus has done for you. By the way, Jesus promised to be with you always and even prayers for you. The Holy Spirit in the classroom of Jesus goes to the white-board to give a whole list of calamities, but then concludes, not one of them, not even death can separate you from the love of God proven by Jesus, for you. The classroom of Jesus is, by the way, the church, where we must gather with other children of God, and be taught. The Holy Spirit has another lesson for us, a vocabulary lesson; know the word “with”. As children of God we are not slaves to fear, because we are ever with Jesus, who suffers with us. Life has its share of sufferings, but through them all, Jesus is with us, leading us to be glorified with him, that is to live with him forever.
If you ever listen to WXPR there is a feature called the “Masked Biologist”. Recently he talked about how you can tell a healthy ecosystem. Listen to the birds. If all you ever hear is just the cawing of a few ravens, you know the system is not what it should. Around here it is a wonderful ecosystem because you hear a wonderful choir: the inspiring beauty of the robins, the call-and-response of chickadees, shrieks of eagles, the chirping of finches, and even some crows. The Holy Spirit works to have a healthy church. welcoming people of all descriptions, no one voice dominating, but together in harmony, the harmony of Jesus’ command to love one another.
Holy Baptism connects us to Jesus and his beloved brothers and sisters around the world. In our ELCA magazine “Life Stories”, it told of a farmer in the African nation of Malawi. He was working in his field when he collapsed. He was overtaken by an overwhelming weakness. The nearest medical station was 12 miles away in this very rural area. No one had motor vehicles, so he was transported by bicycle to receive medical care. He was able to be treated successfully. The clinic provided medicines. The clinic provided something else, or should I say someone else. The clinic provided for him a companion, someone to walk with him the full 24 mile round trip for appointments.
This story reminded me of a gift from Holy Baptism. God provides us a companion to accompany us throughout our life’s journey. It is the Holy Spirit who accompanies us, ever staying with us: calling us through the gospel, leading us to church, strengthening us to obey Jesus’ command to love as he loves, and to bear witness to our spirits that we are not slaves to fear, but beloved children of God, enabling us to blossom beautifully as people of true and living faith.