Pentecost Sunday, Year B, May 20, 2018
Ezekiel 37.1-14; Psalm 104.24-34, 35b; Romans 8.22-27; John 15.26-27, 16.4b-15
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
In May of 2009, I went to Haiti. On Pentecost Sunday I went to worship on the southern coast in a city called, Jacmel. I then traveled over the mountains three hours to stay in Port-au-Prince that evening before getting on a plane the next morning.
My husband, Ben was making his way up the guesthouse stairs where we were staying, when all of a sudden a man stood up from a circle of chairs where he was having a meeting with some others and ran up to him, started hugging him and saying, “Ben, Ben, what are you doing here?”
Startled, it took Ben a few moments to recognize him, as he was not expecting to see anyone he knew. The man turned out to be Livenson, a person who had come to the United States to study for a semester at our seminary, which is where we met him. Ben exclaimed, “What are you doing here?”
Livenson looked at him and said, “Ben … I’m Haitian … I live here.”
We marveled at how we would just “run” into one another in a city of over 3 million people. He of course, did not think it was a coincidence. He said to us: “It is Pentecost Sunday and the Spirit of God has brought us together!”
How could we argue with that?
Today is Pentecost Sunday, 9 years later.
This is a Sunday in which we focus on the presence of Jesus in this world in the form of the Holy Spirit.
Pentecost is not just one Sunday, but is a whole church season. From now through Thanksgiving will be the season of Pentecost, in which we will hear all kinds of stories of how the Spirit of God is active and moving in this world in creation and in human beings.
This season is about learning and growth, how the Spirit comes alongside us, teaches us, and dwells in us.
My friend’s comment of “It is Pentecost Sunday and the Spirit of God has brought us together!” is rooted in the movement of the Holy Spirit in this world. He calls to mind the work of the Spirit of God in our lives, not only that, but also in all of creation.
Paul writes in the letter to the Romans about all of creation longing for redemption. The Spirit of God cries out with all of us for renewal and new life. God is not apart from the struggle, but intimately entwined in the suffering of the world.
Often times on Pentecost Sunday we simply talk about the Spirit’s presence and activity in us, but rarely do we think much about the Spirit of God alive and active in all of creation. This is what Psalm 104 is all about. The same Spirit of Christ that dwells in you also dwells in the rest of creation.
Like the Spirit moving over the waters in Genesis, bringing life into being, and breathing into the dry bones of a war-torn people, we acknowledge and believe in the Spirit’s life-giving power and presence.
In our Gospel reading Jesus tells the disciples that it’s better for them if he goes to the Father because then the Advocate, the Holy Spirit will come and be with them. This can be somewhat confusing and disappointing because wouldn’t we rather have Jesus in the flesh right in front of us, rather than the Holy Spirit, who is like the wind, coming and going and blowing where it wills?
It can be easy to think that if only I could see Jesus or hear an audible voice from God, then my faith would really be something. Too often we can forget that the disciples had Jesus with them for years and they still struggled with their faith.
Think about it, it was only after Jesus ascended into heaven and the Holy Spirit was poured out and into the disciples that stuff really started to happen. They began to heal people, and share the story of Jesus without fear. The church grew exponentially, and a new family of brothers and sisters in Christ was created.
People forgave what was once thought to be unforgivable; people who hated one another were able to reconcile. Many people throughout history gave away all their wealth for the sake of caring for the poor and hungry. Such is the work of the Holy Spirit of God in the world and in each of us.
It is really important that we know that the Holy Spirit is the very presence of Jesus in the world. In human form, Jesus could only be in one place at a time. Because he has ascended to heaven and to the Father, the Holy Spirit has come into the world so that Jesus can be everywhere all the time at work in you and me. I know this is a wild concept, but this story might help explain what I mean.
In the 1930’s and 40’s there was a man by the name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who actively worked against the Nazis in Germany and their killing of millions of innocent people. He was eventually found out and imprisoned in a concentration camp. He wrote a lot of letters in prison, which eventually became books.
In one of his writings he reflects on Jesus’ saying in Matthew: “I am with you always.” Bonhoeffer explains that a person doesn’t need to do a lot of seeking and questioning and looking for mysterious manifestations of God’s presence in the world. He says that Jesus doesn’t just promise his coming and leave us wondering when that will be, or prescribe ways in which we can do something special to reach him.
“Rather,” Bonhoeffer writes: “[Jesus] says quite simply: “I am with you.” Whether we see him or not, feel him or not, want him or not … he is simply everywhere we are … (I Want to Live These Days with You, p. 140).”
What makes Bonhoeffer’s reflection so powerful is the fact that he was in prison. He witnessed so much death and suffering on a daily basis. He did not know what the future held for him, but he knew Christ was with him because of the promised Holy Spirit.
Ultimately, Bonhoeffer would die in prison, and yet, he continued to talk about God’s grace and presence even in a place of confinement and death. He found strength in knowing God was with him no matter what.
We too can find comfort and strength in knowing that Jesus is with us always because of the Holy Spirit that has been given to you and to me. God works in mysterious ways, and is present in places like prison. The Spirit helps us all to pray, and love, and forgive, and have courage, and know Jesus.
We pray for all who are newly baptized, like Brixton was this morning. We prayed that he would be sustained by the gift of the Holy Spirit forever. I made the sign of the cross on his forehead and said, “Brixton James, child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” And all of promised you would pray for him. That’s powerful stuff!
God absolutely promises in baptism to always be with us. The Holy Spirit of God, Christ’s very presence has made a home in baby Brixton, and we encounter Jesus in and through him, as well as each other and in creation.
It should not be just on Pentecost Sunday that we recognize that the Spirit of God has brought us together. Christ’s Spirit brings us together all the time! Certainly, sometimes we need Haitians to point this out to us, as well as Scripture.
You and I have an Advocate, the very presence of Christ dwelling in us. For this great gift, we give God thanks.
Let us pray:
“O Spirit of God, seek us;
Good Spirit, pray with us;
Spirit of counsel, inform us;
Spirit of might, free us;
Spirit of truth, enlighten us;
Spirit of Christ, raise us;
O Holy Spirit, dwell in us.
Bread for the Day, 2017 – p. 175