Acts 2:1-4 & Romans 8:14-39
(Acts) When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
(Romans) For all who 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 of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a pastor who was preaching on loving your enemies. He expounded on the value of grace and forgiveness to all and how we are called to love our neighbors and our enemies as much as we love ourselves. The congregation was roused to action and filled with the Holy Spirit. The pastor asked them all, “Will you go out into the world and love your enemies?” Every hand in the congregation went up except for one. The pastor saw that it was a little old lady in the front row. He asked the woman, “Why can’t you love your enemies?” The little old lady said, “Pastor, I can honestly say I have no enemies.” The pastor said, “That’s incredible, may I ask how old you are?” “96.” The pastor said, “96 years old and no enemies? That’s incredible! Would you mind sharing how you have achieved this?” The little old lady tottered to the front of the church, turned around to the congregation, and said, “I outlived all those snakes!”
I suppose that’s one good thing about reaching 96…you can say you’ve outlived all your enemies! I can’t imagine there are too many good things about reaching that ripe old age. Sure, you’ve lost all your enemies but you’ve also probably lost all your friends and loved ones too. Not to mention losing your health and all the freedoms that go with it. No, getting to be 96 has few advantages so I’m glad that woman found at least one. No more enemies! For some of us, that can be a great advantage worth hanging on for. The number of enemies can add up over the years, adding up to be quite a burden. To get a little relief when they’re all dead and gone might be something worth fighting for.
Of course, nothing in our reading suggests the benefit of outliving enemies. What is similar is that little congregation being filled with Spirit, much like those gathered to receive the Spirit on the first day of Pentecost so long ago. And rather than coming with the rush of a violent wind, the Spirit came through the words of that bold preacher: “Love your enemies.” Not necessarily his words but the words of Christ, a far bolder preacher than he. Jesus gave us many words that have helped guide and sustain us over the years. And not only words but the Holy Spirit itself. Recall how Jesus told his disciples on the night he was betrayed, Passover, that he would leave them with an advocate. Sure enough, 50 days later as the disciples and a gathering of Jewish people were celebrating the beginning of the wheat harvest, the Spirit came upon them. The Spirit came upon them, and us, and forever changed our lives. Not that the Spirit hadn’t been among us prior to that event but it was at that event that we finally became aware of its presence in this world. It was such an unusual, inexplicable event that it was hard not to attribute it to God. A violent wind, divided tongues as of fire, a tongue resting on each of those gathered, each speaking in other languages and yet somehow understanding each other. It was a miraculous event, one that just couldn’t be explained or at least not with conventional wisdom. The more the disciples thought about it, the more they realized it was the work of the Spirit. The Spirit itself is inexplicable. Much like wind, it can’t be seen but only heard and felt. It goes where it wants to go and can’t be easily controlled. It has no form and is generally a mystery. Sounds awfully similar to the third part of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. It, too, goes where it wants to go and can’t easily be controlled. It has no form and is generally a mystery. Kinda makes you wonder why we would celebrate it all! The disciples and those they had gathered with on that first day of Pentecost weren’t celebrating it. In fact, they were greatly befuddled by it. “Surely they must be drunk,” said those that had witnessed the speaking in tongues. It’s interesting that the church chose to celebrate not only that event but the Spirit itself. It seems like the Spirit only brought chaos and disorder! Why celebrate that?!
Well, we know the Spirit doesn’t bring chaos and disorder. There is an order to the Spirit much the same way there is an order to wind. Just because we don’t understand it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The apostle Paul helps us to realize some of the order of the Spirit by having us consider its work as “fruit.” Megan and the Sunday school kids gave us a wonderful song last week to remind us of the “fruit of the Spirit.” What are the fruits of the Spirit? Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Right, so the Spirit’s work is to create these attributes in the world and the people it flows through. There is an order to the Spirit, a goodness, and it is this that we celebrate.
The Spirit has an order to it that works towards goodness. Whether it’s tearing down or building up, the Spirit has a purpose to reveal God’s love and goodness. We must hold this in mind when reflecting on other passages in Scripture that describe the work of the Spirit. Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians, “now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (3:17) The Spirit, in its own unique way, brings about freedom. Why? Because in freedom God’s love and goodness is revealed. The prophet Isaiah also taught us about how the Spirit works. “The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” (11:2) The Spirit gives us wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and a fear of the Lord. Why? Because in these is the goodness and love of God revealed. And in our passage from Romans that we heard earlier, Paul tells us the Spirit “helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (8:26) The Spirit helps us in our sorrow and times of weakness. Why? Again, because it is particularly in these times that we need to know God’s goodness and love.
So, yes, the Spirit is definitely worthy of our celebration this day and all days. The Spirit is hard at work revealing God’s love and goodness in this world. We may not understand how it goes about its work but we can take comfort in knowing why it does what it does. The Spirit plays an important role in this world. We need to know God’s love and goodness! Let us give thanks for the gift of the Spirit. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.