Today is Pentecost, the day we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit among the disciples who, 52 days after the death of Jesus and 50 days after his resurrection, still were not quite sure where to take it – that is, Christ’s mission – from there. We heard the story how God’s Holy Spirit comes like a fresh breeze, stirs up the disciples, and drives them out of hiding and into the streets – back to where life with all its joys and sorrows and messiness is happening.
I personally like it a lot that this year, Pentecost is celebrated at a point in our history when we emerge from isolation and sheltering in our respective places and enter life out there once more, as we again immerse ourselves in life to – almost – the fullest. It’s a great feeling, isn’t it? Maybe it’s a little scary, too, since we don’t quite know what lies ahead of us, but mostly exciting. We are back together here, at church! We can even offer our beloved coffee hour again!
But back to the reason why we celebrate this day: let’s talk about the Holy Spirit. What is the Holy Spirit?
(I know most of you went through confirmation class, and you had to learn the Small Catechism by heart, so you should be able to answer.)
Well, we don’t quite know. The Holy Spirit isn’t easily defined. Even the Bible is a little vague as it comes to describing the Holy Spirit. It comes upon Jesus at his baptism like a dove, we hear. It is like a wind, it is like tongues of fire, we heard in the Pentecost story today. God’s Holy Spirit cannot be pinned down, but is quite the shape-shifter – and also is a little unpredictable. What is the Spirit up to next? What might the Spirit do to us?
Earlier, we sang, ‘O Holy Spirit, enter in’. In moment, we will sing, ‘Come, come, come Holy Spirit come!’ But do we know what we are asking for? Are we sure we want to welcome and embrace this unpredictable Spirit, who might turn our lives, our church, our society upside down as it drives us out of hiding and into the places where life to the fullest with all its joys and sorrows and messiness is happening?
Now today, as we celebrate our in-person worship, we are not only celebrating Pentecost, but also the confirmation of K. T. K is a bright young man, and I truly enjoyed our weekly Zoom classes over the course of the last school year. These classes were pretty intense, one on one (for the most part), and K. wasn’t shy to boldly answer all the questions that I asked him. And by doing so, he sometimes surprised me with perspectives my well-trained theological mind wasn’t even thinking of. Now talk about the Holy Spirit stirring things up a little. And there were moments when I was just sitting there, baffled by the understanding K. exhibited, how he got it.
One such moment happened not too long ago, as we were talking about Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, specifically the Apostles’ Creed. Before we read Luther’s comments on the creed, we just read it out loud. And I asked K., ‘Can you see how this creed is structured?’ And K. began, ‘Well, first it talks about God the Father, who made everything. And then it talks about Jesus, basically summarizing his story we know from the Bible. And then it talks about…’
And here I was expecting him to say, ‘the Holy Spirit’, for isn’t it obvious that the Apostles’ Creed talks about God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? But instead, K. said, ‘And then it talks about what happens to us.’
And I have to say, K. nailed it. Sometimes, the three parts of the Apostles’ Creed are described with the headers, ‘Creation’ – that’s about God, the Father, ‘Redemption’ – that’s the work of Jesus Christ, the Son, and ‘Sanctification’ – which is the work of the Holy Spirit. Now the word ‘sanctification’ sounds very solemn, maybe even academic, but what this word means, literally, is that our lives are made holy. And not in the sense that we become perfect saints – as Lutherans we know that there is no such thing, that nobody is perfect, but that we are all saints and sinners at the same time – but in the sense that something happens to us, some transformation, as we turn our focus on the kingdom of heaven that breaks into our reality.
‘And then the creed talks about what happens to us,’ as K. said. And I want to emphasize the word ‘us’ here. Because the Holy Spirit isn’t about an individual experience and a personal relationship with God, but about community – the Holy Spirit, indeed, is about us. Let’s just recap what the creed says about this: ‘I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic – or Christian – church, communion of saints, forgiveness of sin, resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.’
Church, communion, forgiveness – the Holy Spirit is all about our life, together – be it here or in the grand beyond.
The Apostle Paul talks about the different gifts of the Spirit we all have in some form or another, and which we are called to share with one another as we live in community – because if we throw in what we can offer, together we can make things work. Other Bible passages talk about the fruits of the Spirit, which, again, we don’t grow for ourselves, but which we are to share.
And back to our Pentecost story from the Book of Acts: the disciples are driven out into the streets, among the people, to share the good news of Jesus Christ who offers us and all a new life. And if you continue to read the Book of Acts, you see how those first followers of Christ share their gifts of the Spirit, how they share their resources with one another and the needy in the community, and how they create a community like no other. And, no, this community is not perfect – there are squabbles and disagreements and even divisions – but it is a realm where in the end everyone is invited and embraced, no matter what skin color, gender, ethnicity, language, or socio-economic status. This community is a foretaste of God’s kingdom yet to come, a kingdom yet to be fully realized on earth as it is in heaven.
And we, today, are called to be such a community. A community that gives a foretaste of God’s kingdom of reconciliation, peace, and justice. A community where we may have our differences, but are able to treat one another with love and respect and gratefully accept the gifts everyone offers as we share what we have to offer. A community where everyone is welcome, no matter, who they are or where they are coming from.
And that’s the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, which is about us.
So it’s very fitting that K. is affirming his faith today as he is being confirmed – a faith into God, who created everything and who continues to create, a faith in God who loves us and saves us, and a God who makes us holy and whole as we come together as the Body of Christ. Today, we fully welcome K. – and not only into our community of faith, but the ‘holy catholic’, the holy and universal church. And we pray for God’s Holy Spirit to come, and to enter in – and not only into K., but all of us, that we may truly live the communion, the community the Holy Spirit drives us into.
A community of saints who have their quirks and shortcomings, but are nevertheless considered precious and beautiful in God’s eyes. A community where we find joys and sorrows and messiness. A community where we find a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven and life in all its aspects to the fullest.
And so let us be bold and courageous and pray: come, come, come, Holy Spirit, come. Amen
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