John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 • May 20, 2018
Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
If you missed our youth-led worship last weekend, you missed a wonderful Spirit-filled time of worship as the Easter season came to a close. Our youth are not the future of the church – they are an active and blessed part of the church alive in the world today.
I do need to clarify one thing that was said last weekend by one of the preachers though. One of last week’s preachers, whom Pastor Bob and I believe is well on their way to seminary and ordination as a pastor one day explained one reason why they wanted to be a pastor. “Why wouldn’t someone want to be a pastor?” They said, “I mean, you get to drink coffee and eat cookies all day.”
Today is one of the great festival days of the church – Pentecost. It’s kind of like the birthday of the church because this is the day that the church celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit. A gift that comes 50 days after celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. A gift that continues to come as the Spirit blows in so many amazing and life-giving ways through each one of us.
A couple weeks ago I shared in another sermon that this section of John’s gospel is known as Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. It encompasses chapters 14–17 of this gospel. In these chapters Jesus is preparing his disciples for what is about to come – namely the events of Holy Week and the crucifixion. He is also preparing them for their ministry and mission in the world beyond the time that Jesus is able to be physically present with them.
In today’s gospel reading, he is sharing with them that the Father is going to provide an Advocate for them.
An Advocate that comes in our reading today from the book of Acts with tongues of fire and languages from every nation under heaven being spoken at the same time. An Advocate, as Jesus says, that is one who will testify on Jesus’ behalf. An Advocate that challenges those of us who claim to be followers of this Jesus still today to also testify on behalf of Jesus. An Advocate that gives us hope in this work that we are called to do as children of God.
But, the obvious question for Lutheran Christians with all of this is “What does this mean?” And Pentecost and the breath of the Spirit and all this talk about an Advocate gives us pause to ask that question again and again to find meaning in the movement of the Spirit right now, right where we are.
Princeton Theological Seminary professor Keri Day answers our question “What does this mean?” in this way. “The joy of Pentecost is that it gives us a vision and a hope for a community made possible through the work of the Spirit. This miracle involves being open to the shocking and surprising ways of the Spirit, which empowers us to reach across differences in order to experience radical and insurgent communions.” [Christian Century, May 9, 2018, pg. 10]
Yes, as one of our preachers last weekend reminded me, cookies and coffee are one of the blessed parts of a pastor’s work and life. But the last 7 days in my life as a pastor have existed around an over-abundance of meetings, pastoral care and visitation appointments, presiding and preaching at 3 funerals, and way too many phone calls and emails to possibly begin to return within the framework of a 24-hour day.
It was also a week when Jesus words in today’s gospel spoke deeply to this journey. A journey with Jesus reminding me several times each day that I have an Advocate – the Holy Spirit – walking alongside me. The Advocate, who gave me peace and hope and endurance each day this week.
In just the last 7 days of my life as a pastor, God has provided hundreds of opportunities to witness the vision and hope of a community made possible ONLY through the work of the Spirit.
The work of the Spirit in the care and concern we share as we gather together as brothers and sisters in Christ in order to help families grieve and heal following the death of loved ones.
The work of the Spirit as Good Shepherd serves alongside a Leadership Class with the Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce to increase the number of locations offering Little Free Pantries for brothers and sisters in need in our community.
The work of the Spirit that is always a work of peace in spite of violence and evil that continue to ravage the communities and nations in which we live. The work of the Spirit as church school children and adult leaders celebrate the end of a church school year, by creating amazing pieces of Pentecost artwork that adorn our worship spaces this week.
Wendy and I recently attended the annual Senior Pastor’s conference. This is an event that gathers together Senior Pastors and their spouses from the largest congregations in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It’s a few days of learning, networking, rest, and relationship building with other pastors who serve congregations like Good Shepherd across this church. To be honest – it’s among the most important few days of the year for Wendy and me.
Pastor Reggie McNeal was one of this year’s conference speakers. Reggie’s most recent book is called “Kingdom Come: Why We Must Give Up Our Obsession with Fixing the Church – and What We Should Do Instead.” Throughout the week he encouraged us by reminding us to always keep our eyes and ears open to the work of the Holy Spirit. We don’t want to miss out “on being a part of what God is already doing in the world.” Reggie said. [Kingdom Come, Reggie McNeal, pg. xxi]
So, by now you might be wondering why I have a South Carolina license plate on the screens this weekend. Well, first, the Senior Pastor’s conference was in South Carolina this year. And, second, believe it or not, the tag line on the South Carolina license plate of our rental car reminded me of the work of the Spirit. If I wasn’t open to it, I probably would have missed it. Which is something that, unfortunately, happens more often than I care to publicly admit.
If we look closer, you’ll see that the license plate says, “While I breathe. I hope.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Spirit is still breathing. Jesus has a lot more to say to us. God has more to do through us. And the breath of the Holy Spirit that’s already been given to us and is living in you and me will guide us and be our Advocate along the way.
You are deeply blessed along this journey. Blessed and sent into the world once again this week with a vision and a hope. A vision and a hope that is radical and shocking and surprising – even for those who already follow Jesus like you and me. A vision and a hope that will bless you and those God places before you in ways that are only possible because of the work of the Spirit.
The Spirit is at work, brothers and sisters. Thanks be to God that it is. Amen.