I love Pentecost.
This is not necessarily “normal” for Lutherans. Lutherans, similar to most ‘mainline’ Christian denominations, are intimidated by the Holy Spirit because we do not know what to do with it.
I have recently shared that Jesus was a radical teacher, however Jesus is ‘safe’ and essentially predictable in his words, teachings to the disciples, and actions.
The Holy Spirit, however, is an entirely different ball game. The Holy Spirit cannot be confined, contained, or controlled because it is too spirited, bold, and courageous… dare I say ‘feisty’. I love it, but we do not know how to deal with it.
Since we do not know how to deal with it, one Sunday a year we ‘let’ the Holy Spirit loose in our churches. It is the festival of Pentecost, thus we decorate with the color of red and the images of flames because fire is a perfect symbol/image for the Holy Spirit and its unpredictability.
While in Seminary, we have a systematic theology course that explores the systematic and organized composition of our beliefs and teachings as a tradition. The pattern used, which can indicate the hierarchy of importance, is not foreign as we mirror it weekly in the Creed (Apostles’ or Nicene):
- I believe in God the Father…
- I believe in Jesus Christ (God the Son)…
- I believe in the Holy Spirit… and all the “other” things.
During this course, the professor divided us into small groups and assigned each a theological subject to debate its merit in relation to the other subjects in a single elimination bracket. In essence, each small group sought to prove their subject as the “core” of our theology. My group was the Holy Spirit, we thought the final 4 was possible but doubted the “championship”.
Well… the Holy Spirit won that day, even in a room of Lutherans (voting).
(I will explain ‘how’ in a moment, hang on)
This experience is linked with a conversation in another course. We were again in small groups discussing the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Although these 3-persons are one and equal, these 3-persons are different (perhaps, THE mystery of faith). It is a challenge to teach, preach, and incorporate a balanced Trinity in congregational life.
A classmate/colleague was arguing that we, Lutherans, proclaim the Trinity “right” because it is balanced while Baptists and Pentecostals put too heavy of an emphasis on the Holy Spirit. I could not remain silent, causing trouble with the unpopular opinion but necessary point that we, Lutherans, are guilty of the same charge. We do not have a balanced Trinity, but instead of it being unbalanced towards the Holy Spirit it is unbalanced with an emphasis on Christ.
We, Lutherans, can benefit by learning from our brothers and sisters in the Spirit-filled traditions, because I will share with you the winning allegory and reason that proved the Holy Spirit’s worth… it is the MOTOR.
Where is your car (and you) going to go without a motor? Nowhere!
You are going nowhere (and nowhere fast) without a motor.
Jesus, in the Gospel of Luke, travels and is guided from one community to another, as well as one stage of his ministry to the next, ALWAYS led by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit led Jesus. The Holy Spirit was the drive, the motivation, the motor behind Jesus’ entire ministry.
On this festival of Pentecost, we (as the Church) receive that same Spirit which is why I love Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is the motor that drives us, the Church, forward.
Note: After the service, I was reminded that I was both confirmed and ordained on Pentecost.
At the end of our service, we will recognize and bless our graduates who are leaving one stage of their life and entering into a new stage, beginning a new chapter. Similarly, on the Pentecost of the Book of Acts, the Holy Spirit drove the disciples from their dark room into the world, into a new stage, beginning a new chapter in their proclamation of Christ in word and deed. Similarly, we are called into this ministry (vocation) in our own baptisms when we are sealed with the HOLY SPIRIT.
The Holy Spirit is more powerfully witnessed in our Old Testament (Ezekiel) text. Ezekiel witnesses dried up bones that symbolized the people of God who were saying ‘our bones are dried up, we are tired, and there is no hope’, but God tells him to prophesy to the dried bones in order that they are renewed, that these come back to life, and that the breathe of the Holy Spirit breath life into them.
There are questions about the fate of the Church (universal) and Christianity in our world today. There are people who envision the state of the Church again as time of these dried bones and I have recently heard such individuals praying for a Spiritual Awakening ‘like we have never seen before’.
Diana Butler Bass, a sociologist of religion, argues that we are already within the process of a Spiritual Awakening because you cannot have an awakening without slumber or death. She argues that the Christian faith is in transition. Christian faith has and is witnessing death AND new life emerging.
(Christianity after Religion: the End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening)
Thus, considering our scriptures this morning you might say we are witnessing the dry bones in the process of these coming together, skin returning, and new breath being breathed into these. This is not at my hands, your hands, or anyone else because ultimately we can do nothing without the Holy Spirit (our motor) working in, among, through, and even despite our best efforts of standing in its way.
Last Sunday, I concluded the sermon “What is Unity” about unity among people and Christian denominations with a prayer I continue this morning:
Come, Holy Spirit! Come!
Come, Holy Spirit! Let us listen to and for the life you have and continue to call us.
Come, Holy Spirit! Drive us out of those dark rooms that we are hiding, in order that we might serve your world and people living into the baptismal vocation we share:
- Proclaiming Christ in word and deed;
- Seeking justice;
- Acting with compassion and mercy; and
- Loving and serving one another.
Come, Holy Spirit! Come! Amen.
After the sermon, I continued with this prayer:
Give us your Holy Spirit to guide our minds and hearts upon your path.
Give us your Holy Spirit that we may know
which path to choose and which to refuse,
which choice to embrace and which to reject,
which action to engage and which to avoid.
Give us your Holy Spirit,
to enlighten our minds, to strengthen our wills, and
to empower our lives to reflect your grace and love.
Give us your Holy Spirit
to cleanse our hearts and minds of sin, to fill our hearts and souls with loving desires, and to transform our lives to be wise with knowledge, beautiful with love,
and useful with service.
Give us your Holy Spirit
to shine light upon your Word for us, to pray as we ought,
and to nourish our lives to bear fruit for the world.
Grant us all this for the sake of your world and in the name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
(Heavily adapted from Prayers for the Christian Year (c) 1964, author William Barclay)
The scriptures were Ezekiel 37: 1-14; Acts 2: 1-21; and John 15: 26-27, 16: 4b-15.
Originally Preached on 20 May 2018 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).