Pentecost Year A, 2020: Numbers 11:24-30, I Corinthians 12:3b-13, John 20:19-23. St. Timothy’s Lake Jackson, Texas.
The gift of the Spirit has been given to us! Happy Pentecost!
Just a couple of weeks ago, the gospel was Jesus’ promise to send an Advocate, a helper, to come alongside of us. To comfort and empower us.
Today in the Gospel of John, we hear that event. We hear Jesus breathe on his disciples and say: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The promise has been fulfilled — the Advocate, the Helper has come.
As you heard this gospel lesson — in which Jesus breathes on the disciples — I wonder if it evoked other scripture passages for you? I wonder if it took you back to Genesis.
John purposefully evokes Genesis. For John’s gospel begins with: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And how does Genesis begin? “In the beginning when God created heaven and earth … a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1, 2b).
Now, here near the ending of John, the second creation story is evoked: “…God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).
What happens here in John is the same. We receive the Spirit, we receive the breath of God, we receive life and we are a new creation. The good news of Pentecost is that the Spirit breathes life into us and we are — each of us, all of us — a new creation.
God has created us in the image of God and the Spirit animates us. And as Paul says, it is only through the Spirit that we have faith. It is only through the Spirit that we can confess “Jesus is Lord” (I Cor. 12:3b).
And it’s that Spirit which empowers us and stretches us into new ways of being. It invites us to live more deeply into our spiritual gifts.
And could there be a more important time for us to ponder this reality and to live into it? This is a time of challenge for us — we are scattered across town. But we are still the church. And we are celebrating the Spirit falling fresh upon us yet again.
Over my shoulder, draped over the altar are red ribbons for Pentecost. And on those ribbons are red cut-out flames with your names on them.
They have been prayed over — that you will receive the Spirit today: that you will experience that empowerment; and you will rejoice this Pentecost and ponder these questions:
Who did God create you to be?
Who is Christ redeeming you to be?
And what is the Spirit calling you to be?
In our present situation, the Spirit is calling us into new ways of being and simultaneously empowering us to be … what we’ve always been called to be:
Bearers of grace, forgiveness and reconciliation; willing to sacrifice for the good of others.
And we understand our scriptural mandate to care for the widow, the poor, the orphan, the stranger, the prisoner (Deuteronomy 24:14-15, 17-22; Jeremiah 7:6; Matthew 25:35-40).
This is the work that the church has always been about. And this is the work that St. Timothy’s has always been about.
But today’s challenge is that in our ministries … we are being called to carry them out in new ways, and in new expressions.
The Spirit — the breath of God — brings forth a new creation … and creativity … as we continue in our mission and ministry; as we figure out how to worship, re-gather, and be church … attuned to the needs of the world.
Speaking for myself, I’ve done more learning, pivoting, experimenting, and adapting in the last 3 months of my ministry than the last 13 years of it!
And this is true for the church, too.
I’ve already heard the Spirit stirring in your hearts as you ask: “what can we do?”
In the words of William Temple, a 20th century Archbishop of Canterbury: “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.”
God sends us the Advocate so that we can advocate for others. That the love of God can be expressed through us in this world.
So, the stirrings that I am hearing in conversations with some of you:
What can we do?
What can we do as economic and health concerns bear down on our communities? We know we have neighbors who are hungry. We know we have neighbors who are in fear of being evicted from their homes. We know we have neighbors who are being oppressed and denied dignity. What can we do?
Again, God has sent the Advocate so that we may advocate for others.
So, in this moment, I’ll take the words of Moses and say: “would that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”
That is happening. It is happening now. And will continue to happen.
Christ keeps his promise, the Advocate is with us — breathing new life and new creativity into us and into St. Timothy’s.
Allow it to lead and stretch us, that we may learn, pivot, experiment, and adapt … that we may be a new creation, moving into a hope-filled future, showing God’s love for the world by being the church.
The video version of this sermon can be found here.
 Luther Seminary Working Preacher podcast Brainwave #727: Day of Pentecost.